Friday, December 22, 2006

34 Inches in Boulder!!!

For the first time in years, we actually got a snow day at the University of Colorado! The plains region was hit by a massive snow storm that dumped almost three feet of snow on Boulder in less than 24 hours!

My little cat wandered out, and although she had seen snow before, she was not prepared for the mounds that surrounded her:

I found that the snow put me in a variety of different moods.



Um... "Other:"

The full story on that one can be found here:


Friday, December 08, 2006

How do people keep up?

I've been so neglectful of my little blog! I sometimes wonder how people keep up. I've been through the hell of trying to find a new job lately, but my work has finally paid off: I just got a great new job as a web developer!
To get it, though, I had to put myself through computer programming boot camp- learning and "reminding" myself of all of the different languages out there.

I had a great line of defense, though. I figured that if anyone asked me a question to which I had no answer I would just grin sheepishly and state, "I'm in Mensa."
Luckily, I didn't have to resort to such tactics. It turned out that all I had to do was be myself. They were more interested in my creative side (especially the film work).

I pop open a bottle of champaigne and share it with my virtual blog-reading friends! To tenacity! To being yourself! To... oh, hell, I'll just say it... a huge-ass raise that will keep the film production gears turning!!!

(And to Sudafed for giving me the buzz to share all of this in under 15 seconds...)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Finally Current!

Thanks, blog readers, for your patience! It was a struggle getting all of this up here. I had a rough time regaining my equilibrium (I traveled over three mountain ranges twice in a single week- going from sea level to 13,000 feet)! Then I had a job interview/test (yay). Then I had a "mid-term evaluation" at my current job (boo- I guess I don't file fast enough). Then Blogger crashed numerous times in the middle of all of my posting. But it's all here now, so enjoy! For those of you "just tuning in," start at "An Astronomer in Hollywood- Part I" and work your way to the top!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

News and "back-posted" blogs

Okay, I now have Internet access. Perahps even more than I would like!

I plan to "back-post" my trip. That means that I will change the dates on the post to reflect the actual date. Hopefully, this will not get too messy. I will give them each the title of the day of the vacation (i.e. "day one," "day two...") Stay tuned! There were some fun times!

I have finished (finally) putting together my DVDs! That means, if you have been on "the list" to receive one, fear not! Your disk is on its way! I plan to have them for sale on my site before too long. I really want to hit that Holiday season shopping frenzy (a DVD of hand painted films for Susan, a sountrack of buzzing sounds for Johnny)...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Road Trip Friends

These two guys were my buddies on the road. They told me everything I needed to know:

this is an audio post - click to play

Day Seven

The Return. On my way out of Vegas this morning (I lost four dollars in the slots and $2.50 at Starbucks), I happened upon this song:

this is an audio post - click to play

It's hard to hear. I posted the lyrics below. Except for being "New York City born and raised" (I was only there for four years), it's all pretty much true. I actually laughed when I heard the lyrics!

"L.A.'s fine, the sun shines most the time
And the feeling is 'lay back'
Palm trees grow, and rents are low
But you know I keep thinkin' about
Making my way back

Well I'm New York City born and raised
But nowadays, I'm lost between two shores
L.A.'s fine, but it ain't home
New York's home, but it ain't mine no more

"I am," I said
To no one there
An no one heard at all
Not even the chair
"I am," I cried
"I am," said I
And I am lost, and I can't even say why
Leavin' me lonely still"

So anyway, the drive back was awful and I was left with blocked and ringing ears accompanied by vertigo and an upset stomach (Pizza Hut salad bar in Utah= BAD IDEA). I also paid dearly for my In-N-Out beef fold-in. At a gas station in Grand Junction, I pulled over to grab some snacks. Suddenly, three double-decker cattle trucks pull up to the station. Not only was the smell awful (the cattle on top crap and piss all over the poor animals on the bottom), but the poor things were terrified and kept lowing. It was heart wrenching, knowing that they weren't going to a better place and knowing that I just played a part in it (not only that, but I actually ATE it). My stomach was a mess all the way home. The frequent stops meant that it took me about 13 hours, but I got there. Still, it was my journey back through Middle Earth, so I will end on the photos:

From here:

To here, in a matter of hours:

Quite a bit more exhausted. This was around mile 2,200- and the Pacific Ocean had taken my sunglasses:

But at least I learned the lyrics to all of my songs:

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Day Six

The Beach.

I don’t have photos. I was too introspective for that. I love the Pacific Ocean. When I first arrived here for the Expo, I drove to the shore at midnight, just to say "hi" to the Ocean. My hello was answered by sea lion barks. It was a very magical moment. On my way home, I saw a shooting star.

This day was wonderful. The water was cold, but swimable (for a Colorado kid, anyway). More In-N-Out fries. A lot of reflection. Water is good for that. I could live here as long as I could live close to the beach.

I thought back on my trip. In Utah, where the roads were wet, every car had this kind of mist accompanying it. It made it look as if everyone was driving on their own little cloud. I must have had my own little cloud, as well. Everything has been really great (except the plastic cup wine, but hey).

I also thought forward about my film. I’m just going to produce it myself. This trip has really given me confidence in my ability to do so. I’d be very happy to have representation from one of the agencies, but I don’t think I really need the production companies. Plus, I was pitching a script, but I really have no interest in being a "writer." Yes, I’ve had to write this and I wanted to learn how to do it well, but I didn’t pitch myself as a filmmaker to the producers, so I would doubt that they would let me direct the project. If I get that far and they let me and things work out, great. But I’m not waiting any longer for someone else to give me the green light. I’m giving it to myself.

My plan was to head out to Vegas at about noon and arrive at four or five in the evening to eat and see the strip. I stayed at the beach until 4:00 and just used Vegas as a place to sleep (I didn't get there until about 9:00). It’s a strange place for a solitary girl to just "hang" by herself anyway! So here are some pictures from the road- the sun setting on a journey of self-discovery:

(This was the line of cars for 100+ miles coming back to L.A. from Vegas)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Day Five

The big day! I had all of my pitches today. Plus, some of the creative team from Pixar were there to talk to the Expo. They were amazing! I heard Andrew Stanton (director of "Finding Nemo"), Brad Bird and Mark Andrews (director and head of story, respectively, of "The Incredibles"). It was really inspiring. These are people who love film (particularly my early love- animation) and have managed to really fight the studio system to get their work made (though Andrew Stanton warned that he is not a good person to ask for industry advice because he doesn't work in Hollywood, he works in "Fairyland"). I totally agreed with Brad Bird (who also made "The Iron Giant-" a really incredible film) when he said, "I would do this job for free. What they actually pay me for is to deal with the bureaucracy." Amen to that!

Anyway, the pitches:

What a strange reality that was! All of these people were in their mid-to-late twenties. They were all junior executives and interns. It was a little surprising. It was also very eye-opening. We were on different sides of the same struggle: beginning a career in film. What they need is talent to represent or produce. What we need is representation and support! The edge disappeared and I was able to be myself. Essentially, I was meeting with peers. It was like mingling at a bar (especially since it was necessary to scream over all of the noise in the room). Suddenly, they were all just human. Out of six pitches, three producers and two agents want to see my work. I was floored! Really? The only one who turned me down was admittedly looking for television ideas.

Of course, I won't hold my breath or assume that this means anything, but at least I know that I can pitch a project and that the film I am working on at least sounds interesting! I saw plenty of disappointment and head shaking, so I didn't get that, at least. What floored me even more than acceptance was that one agency rep became interested in me when he learned that I knew Stan Brakhage. "No way! I love his work! My buddies and I were so bummed when he heard that he passed away two years ago." Huh? I would never have imagined driving to Hollywood and dropping Stan Brakhage's name to a junior exec at a talent agency! Suddenly, I was able to see that my two film lives didn't need to be so exclusive of one another.

Still, the experience was a bit surreal. At 15 minutes before your pitch, you are herded (with about 60 other people) into a room. At 10 minutes before your pitch, you are herded to the other side of that room. At 5 minutes before your pitch, you move to the "five minute zone" (a new room) and stare into the pitch pit (a bunch of long tables with numbers, pitchers and pitchees). When the referee announces that the current pitchers have one minute, you are told to file into the room, find your rep, and hover quietly over the person finishing up their pitch. When the bell rings, you count to ten and if the person sitting in your seat has not moved, move them. On my third pitch, I made the mistake of trying to move the rep rather than the pitcher. Oops! It turned out to be the most successful pitch, actually. I felt totally spent after the experience.

My day went from 8AM-11PM, so I am rewarding myself for a script well pitched and taking the final day off tomorrow to hit the beach. Oh, and my brilliant inter-species/racism scene (see day four) only got a score of 83. You needed a 90 to make it to the next round. No $5,000. Even better, I’m off the hook and can get a little sunshine on my ghostly skin!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Day Four

No pictures today. Unfortunately, I couldn't find an unarmored place to pull over on Mulholland Drive to take a picture of the spectacular view of Los Angeles! I was surprised by how beautiful it was. California has an interesting topography. I got a little lost on the winding road, which concerned me. It didn't go well for the woman in the David Lynch movie, so I just hoped I'd be okay!

Obviously, I am. I did waste most of my Expo time being lost today while trying to "take in the sites". I nearly accidentally ran into the (former) set for "That 70's Show," though, so that was fun. When I wasn't lost, I was stuck in traffic. "If you are thinking about heading out right now," said the voice on the radio, "think again." "Sig" alerts everywhere. Traffic backed up on all of the highways (especially the 405, which was the one I needed). I tried to be "clever" and take alternate routes using the sun to navigate (an interesting note: being from Colorado, where "West" is determined by looking for the mountains, it is VERY confusing to be in California where the mountains are to the East). Alas, traffic was bad everywhere- every little neighborhood street and side street! Eventually, I managed to find Sepulveda Boulevard, which pretty much runs parallel to the 405 (but was moving much faster). I got back THREE HOURS later than I had planned!

As for the Expo, I started out with my million dollar cup of coffee and attended a panel about women in the film industry. While I admit that we have been underrepresented and undersupported, I'm getting kind of sick of dwelling on it. I really don't consider myself a "woman filmmaker." I try to just think of myself as a filmmaker, period. True, I haven't had a lot of role models that "look like me," but the second I think of myself as belonging to any sort of a minority group, it changes my thinking (see my post below about grandpa's comment). Sometimes it was a little rough being the only woman in the film lab. Once I established my expertise, though, I was just another lab technician (minus the sex jokes). Still, I do think that we need some support of the "encouragement" kind. It's true that I know many men who have been dragged through the film mud just as mercilessly as my women friends, but I think the biggest problem is that girls are never told that they have the option in the first place. Come on! We have every right to grow up and be equally brutally rejected and stabbed in the back!

Anyway, the other Expo activity that I participated in today was the "Screenwriters' Open." You have 1.5 hours to write a 6-minute scene. My parameters were: "your protagonist, their love interest and a third character of your choosing are stuck in a dark place. The protagonist is injured and loosing blood and one of them holds a secret that, if revealed, could save them all, but would put their relationship with the others at risk." Most of my time was spent thinking of these characters.

Finally, I chose to write about a Chihuahha and two sibling Siamese cats. The dog had convinced the other two that he was really a cat because he was in love with the sister. When the brother cat dares them all to jump in the trunk of a car, the Chihuahua can't quite make it (because White Dogs Can't Jump) and gets his tail caught in the door of the trunk (injured and losing blood). The brother picks up on this uncat-like behavior. The Chihuahua knows he can save the day because, as a dog, he can sniff the trail back home, but he doesn't want to offer this for fear of losing the sister cat's friendship. By the end of the scene, the brother cat forces him to reveal his secret. It had everything- racial tensions, cats and dogs, a car chase (kind of)! I'm sure to win the $5,000 prize!

Now to celebrate with a $5 cup of wine. That's right. A cup of wine. A plastic cup of wine. Hey, this joint is classy!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Day Three

It feels a little strange and "fakey" to be posting all of this in "live" style, even though I did write all of this down as it was happening, but I guess that's movies for you! Actually, that's Hollywood for you. And this, as well-

This is Los Angeles summed up in two pictures:

(The expo is in two hotels near LAX)

For those of you who may not know, In-N-Out is famously good. Everything there is made fresh- the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc. are all cut right there, the buns are made of fresh, old-fashioned sponge dough (nothing frozen, no preservatives) and the cheese is real. The fries are cut from fresh potatoes and fried in vegetable oil right there in the store and the shakes are made from real ice cream (this sounds so simple, but in the fast food world, this is pretty miraculous). And the menu is: burger, cheeseburger, fries and shakes. That's it.

So as a former meat-eater and one who is really trying to get back on the full-time veggie bandwagon, this was a pretty big fold on my part. I will occasionally eat it if I feel that I "need" it somehow (sometimes are bodies just let us know), but this was pure, guilt-ridden craving cave-in! I indulged guiltlessly in the fries, though! They really are the best fries in the universe (at least this side of it).

On the screenwriting side of things, day three was pretty interesting. It was essentially a "how-to-pitch" day, with a panel of screenwriters and producers sharing their advice and stories. The most valuable piece of information that I got was that whether they end up being successful or not, everyone has their "first pitch."

One of the writers shared his story, which involved vomiting the night before the pitch meeting. Another's involved having to go to the bathroom so badly that he ended up using an Evian water bottle in his car and inadvertently "spilling" on himself minutes before the pitch. When he tried to explain it to the producers, they wouldn’t believe him (he’s a comedy writer)! It definitely took the edge off!

I also learned that what I will be doing is not a "real" pitch. This is a five minute stone throw that you hope makes ripples that might one day grow into a full 20-30 minute pitch. I’ve lost a lot of my nervousness about Saturday (six pitches in a row).

Another good thing to know is that producers tend to frown upon costumes and props! I guess a few people last year decided to pitch through puppets and wear funky costumes. Never really crossed my mind to use them, but if it ever does, I won’t!

I must add this note: this is an expo packed full of activities. In fact, there is very little time to run in and out of the hotel to get food and whatnot. There is a Starbucks in the hotel, but they charge $2.05 for a SMALL coffee!!! Way to blackmail the fatigued! This was also the case at the Stratosphere. There, it was $2.55 for a small. We’re not talking lattes here, either. Just plain, brewed coffee! I guess these are hotel franchises and don’t need to follow the corporate guidelines (which are still outrageously expensive)!

Wireless can get tangled too!

My dreams of blogging on the road have been crushed by the corporate hotel giants! The hotel in Las Vegas and the hotel hosting the expo in Los Angeles want $10 PER DAY to access the Internet. I do need enough money to make it back home, so the "live" blogging will have to wait (with the exception of the Las Vegas ambient noise below- I can call my blog, I just can't figure out how to write to it)! The wonderful woman running the Kinkos here noticed that I was making my business cards out of 6"x4" index cards cut in quarters ($1.34 compared to $20-$40) and kindly let me have some internet time.

Anyway, despite the fact that I've been lugging my laptop around for no reason and killing my already tired neck (20+ hours on the road), things are great! Everyone is much more laid back than I thought. I haven't met any of those notorious "Hollywood types," wherever they might be. Maybe I'm deflecting them somehow. A few people have randomly asked my what my screenplay is about, which I wisely chose not to answer. Actually, I did answer, but I kept it vague: "It's about someone's life and something that happens to them between their birth and their death." They shake their heads, certain that I'm setting myself up for trouble with such a lame pitch and leave me alone about the details.

Do stay tuned. I have pictures, videos and all sorts of stories from the road. In-N-Out. Oh boy! Best fries on earth!!!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Day Two

Traffic into Los Angeles was a nightmare!

I got stuck on I15 between Vegas and L.A. for about two hours. They decided that the middle of the day was the best time to close down a lane to repave the highway! So there I sat, in the middle of the Mojave desert with 1/8th of a tank of gas left, too much water in my bladder, and stuck in a nightmare of a traffic jam.

Traffic was smooth until I hit the city (though by this time, I was able to listen to my favorite public radio station- KCRW- and know that I was only a few miles from the station, so I was pacified). There was a major jam caused by a car accident. Not uncommon in Los Angeles, but the strange thing about this was that a car ran into an entire funeral procession! As if being in a funeral procession wasn't bad enough! I have yet to figure out what a "sig" alert is, but apparently, it means that you really, really want to avoid the area for which the sig alert was given!

Still, I managed to arrive just in time for the pre-expo party. I met some very down-to-earth people there. I was pleasantly surprised. Not a lot of food (and $3.50 for a bottle of water? You've got to be out of your f*&%in' mind), but good conversations. We'll see what the rest of the expo brings!

So, basically, The Day= Driving+Arriving+Driving+Partying+Sleeping.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Day One

Eagles on the highway
Swirling whisps of clouds on mountaintops
A control burn of a ski area
A car overturned in the snow
Sipping hot cocoa during a snowstorm in the desert
Seeing the lights of Vegas from 100 miles away
A communications antenna taller than the mountain it sat on
"Writing" seven scenes of my film in my head

These are some of the things I would have missed if I had chosen to fly rather than drive. It was a long haul, but I've done it before and I wasn't really alone. Ten years ago, I had The Beatles, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan to pull me through the Rocky Mountains. This time, I had some new friends: Imogen Heap, Cat Power, The New Pornographers and Massive Attack to name a few.

(me and Imogen Heap)

(me and Cat Power- I'm not really depressed, I'm just concentrating on driving in the snow while taking my own picture)

I experienced such dramatic changes in climate that I almost felt like I was traveling through Middle Earth! My "One Ring" was self doubt and fear and rather than lembas, I had ranch flavored soy crispettes, but it was still quite the journey.

I stopped in Vail to photograph a control burn and eat some peanut butter sandwiches. I also had to "control burn" some CDs on my laptop. I lost all radio by this point and the rental car did not have a tape deck for my mp3 player (I had one of those adapter things). Technology can be great!

It can also be a burden. Eager to blog, I plugged my laptop in the second I got to Vegas. Alas, the hotel charges $9.95/day for access.

Vegas is the strangest place. Never before in my life have I seen so much religion juxtaposed with so much vulgarity! People "prayed" for their gambling luck and a nearly naked woman was present for everything from a lap dance to a wakeup call to a children's magic show.

I stayed at the Stratosphere hotel, which is essentially a large penis. Everything in the hotel is shaped like this. These objects were even more phallic than the tower itself! They took the pointy tip off to make it child safe, which made it nice and rounded. I saw a child sipping from the tip of a large phallic drink container and my shampoo was even offered in little phallic representations of the tower.

There once was a roller coaster at the top of this structure. That was deemed unsafe and replaced by three "thrill rides" or, as they put it, "The Threesome." One spins you around in a circle over the edge of the building, another slides off the edge and dangles you 1100 feet above the ground. The third is the funniest of all: it is one of those rides where they strap you in, pull you up a tower and then drop you. Not so funny until you see it: The seats wrap around a bright, glowing red tower. Not only do the raise you and drop you once, but they do it repeatedly. From the ground, you see a black ring stroke the tower up and down as people scream orgasmically! This one is called "Big Shot." If you think I'm reading into this too much, the motto for the thrill ride threesome is "Get Down, Get Up, Get Off." You know, for the kids! I rest my case.

Vegas Ambience from the Casino Floor

this is an audio post - click to play

Not sure that this captured exactly what I was after, but...

Monday, October 16, 2006

An Astronomer in Hollywood- Part 3

(Because everything is better when it's a trilogy)

So enter the world of the divorce where people freak out and do things that they normally would not, such as... oh, I don't know... drop their film career, move halfway across the country and go back to school for Astrophysics while working for a makeup counter in a mall? Not that any one of those things is bad, in and of itself, but when all you do at either place is think about how you can use what you are working with in a film (cosmetics)/movie(astrophysics), it's time to do some soul-searching!

So what the hell does any of this have to do with anything? Good question. If you find a blog anywhere that has the answer to that, I'd love to read it.

Just kidding.

With these two seemingly incompatible halves to my film personality, I am once again packing my bags and driving out to the West Coast alone. This time, I will be attending Screenwriting Expo 5 in Los Angeles where I will be pitching my narrative scripts to people with money, in the hopes that they might take a swing. All of this is making me laugh somewhat since the title of my first script is "Stealing First" (as in First Base in baseball- the one you can't actually steal). Hopefully, I won't need to resort to such rule-breaking behavior.

I hope to post to my blog from the road. With any luck, I will have some amusing, insightful but hopefully not tragic views on the world of screenwriting or just road trips in general. I hope to make my next post from the road!

An Astronomer in Hollywood- Part 2

Part I was the first-year film student biography; the "follow your dreams" biography. It ended with me unable to afford CalArts and settling for an in-state film studies education under the guise of a degree in French to make the parents happy. Go ahead and ask how much I've been able to do with a degree in French...

The foundation biography picks up where that left off and goes something like this (trimmed slightly so as not to bore):

In 1998, I began working with legendary filmmaker Stan Brakhage as a student projectionist at the University of Colorado. I discovered that we shared many of the same foundations. Although my passion for film was firmly in place, Brakhage opened my eyes to the possibilities in the cinematic medium. We soon became close colleagues and I learned much about his hand-painted film techniques.

In 1999, I traveled with this newfound passion to Paris where I studied experimental films with filmmaker Pip Chodorov and began my first animation projects using a Super-8mm camera. I furthered my film studies by traveling to the Cannes Film Festival as an intern. I lived in France for six months while I wrote my thesis on the films of François Truffaut, for which I graduated cum laude (see above comment on "degree in French").

Upon returning to the States, I was eager to apply this knowledge to my own film work, but desired a distinct voice. Serendipitously (because this was a grant application and it is important to have at least one six-syllable word), I was called upon to aid a physics professor with a presentation involving crossed Polaroid filters on an overhead projector. Under normal conditions, this would block out most of the light and the result would be a black screen. However, the demonstration was to show the properties of birefringent (double-refracting) materials, such as liquid crystals. The result was a screen full of vibrant, changing colors, produced by the bending of nothing more than a plastic fork. I was presented with the final piece in my desire to find beauty in the mundane: polarized light.

My imagination was ignited by the possibilities within this newfound world. I realized that the technique used to project these materials onto a screen could be modified in order to film them. I acquainted myself with various birefringent materials readily available in the world around me: plastics, soaps, liquid crystalline paints and cosmetics. I experimented with different lighting and equipment setups. Bending, twisting and congealing became my new brushstrokes. I soon had complete control over the color spectrum. My medium became light itself.

I moved to New York where I gained access to an optical printer and made my first films. “Gossamer Conglomerate” (below) made use of cut pieces of birefringent polyester splicing tape, placed upon clear film leader destroyed by "vinegar syndrome." I shot the film through crossed Polaroid filters, which isolated the vibrant colors of the splicing tape. By applying these fresh film materials to the decayed leader, I made film that represented the life cycle of film and its rebirth as a new and personal work. It was suggestive of a butterfly’s flight from the darkness of the chrysalis.

In “The Light Touch Dust Nebula,” I painted upon this colorless film leader with thermotropic liquid crystal paint. Used in mood rings, this paint changes color with heat. As the film sat in front of the lamp of the printer, the paint changed color in each frame, giving the image the look of twinkling, luminescent dust. Finally, “Munkphilm” (below) employed plastic that I had melted onto the same clear film leader. It was a cinematic meditation on melted plastics in a plastic medium.

I gained employment as an optical technician and film and video artist at a film laboratory in New York. I was granted me access to film equipment and various emulsions. I collected objects that would ordinarily be thrown away in order to expose their beauty under polarized light. In this unique and ambitious recycling program, a discarded plastic wrapper or spool of unwanted film became a prism. To make my film “Ether Twist,” I used these bits of discarded materials along with recordings of very low frequency (VLF) transmissions from aurorae, thunderstorms and sun spots. I created “Snow Flukes” (below) by applying heat-sensitive liquid crystal paints to a 1920’s silhouette cartoon that had been abandoned in the film vaults. From strips of discarded lab tests, I created “Sweet Intuition,” meticulously cutting out thousands of 16mm frames, pasting them on 35mm film with birefringent glue, and filming them through crossed-polarizers.

I set out to complete my most ambitious project to date: “The Galilean Satellites,” a film series dedicated to Stan Brakhage. The films explored the possibilities of life on the four largest moons of Jupiter, discovered by Galileo. Just as his discovery changed the popular view that the Earth is not the center of the solar system, I hoped to offer the view that the amazing beauty seen on this planet is a common thread connecting the Universe. This series of four films incorporated several birefringent materials upon recycled film stock and original footage. The soundtrack consisted of radio transmissions from various space probes of the atmospheres of celestial bodies. In this way, I was not only exposing the unseen vibrancy in seemingly ordinary and colorless materials, but the unheard symphonies emitted from seemingly silent objects. I hoped that they would be, as Jonas Mekas would later comment upon seeing them, "The true music of the spheres."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

An Astronomer in Hollywood- Part I

I've just had to "introduce myself" as a filmmaker for a couple of different audiences. It's always an interesting exercise for one to try to define oneself. The first audience was a foundation from which I am seeking funds, the second was a class of beginning filmmakers. Needless to say, I had to tweak my story to fit each audience. I thought I might share a bit of that biography here and then explain the journey upon which I am about to embark:

I have wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of five. Why? I was terrified of E.T. Fear drove me to my desire!

I guess I should explain that. E.T. scared the living crap out of me. I'm always surprised when I meet people my age who weren't frightened by this long-necked, sickly-looking, Debra-Winger-backwards-talking creature, but I guess most people found him and his creepy smile to be "cute." Yikes. I was convinced that he lived in the downstairs bathroom- the creepy, cold, dark one down the hallway from the roaring washer and drier and in front of the garage (which was full of poisonous brown recluse spiders that bit my mother on the arm- and people think children have irrational fears). We only used that one when we came in from playing in the snow and had to go to the bathroom so badly that we could not hold it to make it upstairs to the "real" bathroom. I might add that my fear for this room was confirmed by an accident involving my father confusing "D" for "R" in the family truck and driving through the wall of the garage. I digress.

My mother noted my fear. It made her a little sad that a child should be terrified of such a touching story. She decided to show me the "behind-the-scenes" clip of the film. She showed me that not only was E.T. just a puppet, but that he was hatched from the creative mind of this guy named Steven Spielberg. While I still avoided the downstairs bathroom (what do parents know, anyway? After all, it looked like Drew Barrymore thought it was pretty real), I was fascinated that something someone had once imagined could become so real to someone like me; real enough to provoke this strong emotional response. I decided right there and then that I wanted to be a film director just like Steven Spielberg.

Another film that stood out in my mind was "Pete's Dragon" (made the year I was born, I saw it much later on television). The concept of "real from imagination" became even stronger when I learned that the dragon was nothing more than a series of drawings! How could this be? I became obsessed with the concept of animation. I made flip books out of my scary biology textbooks (yes, I had some strange fears as a child, but even E.T. didn't like frog dissections) and dreamed of the day I could play with a film camera and make my drawings come alive!

These dreams were quickly snatched from me. My grandfather decided to give his Super-8 camera away and I begged him for it. Even at the age of 10, I knew I could not animate with my father's video camera because it couldn't shoot single frames. He merely told me that I wouldn't know what to do with it and gave it to my cousin (who I'm sure threw it in a closet when he realized a video tape wouldn't fit into it). Besides, he added, it wasn't a toy for girls anyway.

Not a toy for girls? Why not?

This stuck in my mind. Indeed, I only knew of one female director, and that was Penny Marshall. At such a young age, I was not interested in the types of films she made. I was convinced that the only way I was going to be involved in films was to become an actress. As I took absolutely no interest in my appearance, I saw my chances of working in film become quite slim!

Still, I stubbornly held on to my dreams. You can't stop a child's imagination. On the Catholic school playground, I directed the other children in reenactments of Disney cartoons, using those Tinkerbelle read-along books as my script. My mother and father were called in for a parent-teacher conference. While I was doing very well, my teacher noticed some...strange things about me. My desk was a mess. The top was designed to open up to a metal storage tub. I was not using the tub to store my papers and books (which were piled under my desk). I was using the tub to... well...

She opened the desk and my mother recognized it immediately: it was the entire set of the show "Moonlighting," recreated in miniature and clearly labeled. It was a show we used to watch together. One episode stood out in my mind: the detective team is chasing the "bad guys" and suddenly, they wind through the film set (it was a comedy)! They run past gaffers, extras, and cameramen! My mind wanted to fill in the blanks and figure it out. What did that set look like? To my parents' credit, I was not scolded. I was, however, advised to clean my desk.

My brother and I began making movies with a borrowed video camera. I would "direct" and my brother and his friends would "star." The stories usually involved dinosaurs or space travel. I became famous among his friends for creating "dino-vision" and a science lab explosion in the basement (I did get in trouble for that). Of course, I became infamous for ruining their illusions when they took away my creative control! I did things like zoom in on their empty cereal bowls that were supposed to be full of food and exposing the fact that they were eating Air-on-a-Spoon.

Despite our creative differences, my brother and I were tight film partners. We'd watch the same films again and again, trying to memorize the lines of our favorite characters and noting all of the continuity errors. As brothers and sisters tend to do, we drifted apart a bit when he entered high school. My film interests matured slightly. While I still found Sci-Fi fascinating, I also started developing an appreciation for drama. My biggest revelation came when I saw "The Piano." Finally, a film I loved, directed by a woman! If Jane Campion could do it, maybe I could, too...

My obsession with film (particularly animation) continued. Although I was attending the University of Colorado (in state=cheap), I decided I wanted to go to film school. I weighed my options and chose CalArts, where both my interests in directing and animation could be cultivated. I drove out to Los Angeles alone at the age of eighteen...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Screening and Ranting

It's been a while since I've posted. There's an exciting reason for that, and I plan to unveil it soon. In the meantime I just wanted to send out a little announcement that a couple of my films are going to be screened in the San Francisco Bay area as part of the MadCat Film festival:

MadCat Program

I must add a rant. While I had agreed that any of my silent films could be accompanied by live music, "Europa" is not at all silent. Its soundtrack actually incorporates Voyager recordings of the magnetosphere of Jupiter- pretty cool stuff. I'm kind of sad that it will be turned off and replaced with something else. I mentioned this twice to the festival director to no avail (with twelve programs, I'm sure she has plenty to worry about- I just let it drop). Still, it's listed as a "silent" film, which gives the wrong impression. It's like billing "Raging Bull" in a comedy program and replacing the dialogue with slide whistles. It's okay, though. I'm usually rejected from women's film programs because my films do not obviously deal with "issues," so I'm glad to be a part of this.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who joked and said it "served me right." I imagine he was referring to the fact that because I had agreed to let my silent films be shown with music and thus violated "my" artistic integrity, I had no right to complain. Fine. This is a fairly common view in the experimental film world (which at times- I will take this opportunity to note- can be more rigid than the "traditional" film world from which it claims freedom). Music video is often viewed as the lowest of the low, so musical accompaniment probably hovers just above death. Now, I love my friend and we see eye-to-eye on most things, but I also like music videos. Some of them are brilliant, in my opinion. I also admit that if I could actually compose music, I would probably be a musician, so I admire anyone who chooses music as their canvas. I can play a mean Bartok and sing all the Tori Amos songs I want, but most of my "original" compositions turn into "Mary Had a Little Lamb" after a few measures. I would love to direct a music video for any one of my favorite musicians.

To defend the experimental film world:

A. This isn't everyone's view. It's just a very vocal subset (and don't even mention George Lucas or Spike Jonze to any of them). For the most part, I love my imaginative and supportive experimental film community.

B. I understand their frustration. Many people would rather organize pocket lint than sit through a silent film. These people inevitably ask, "have you ever thought of, like, putting some techno music or something to that stuff?" As if techno will make anything bearable.

Still, I grow tired of hearing that I've sold out every time I find a penny on the sidewalk on my way to a screening. It's exhausting to sell out so frequently and never reap the benefits. At times, I wish I could just sell my screenplay and direct my narrative feature for a few million dollars. That way, when I'm accused of being a sell-out I can at the very least afford to drink a good wine while listening to the accusation! After a good sip of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I could just smile, nod, and drift off into my wildly landscaped dream world where I don't have to alphabetize nauseatingly colored file folders all day so that I can afford to paint on strips of film! As it stands now, someone accuses me of selling out because I have a fancy web site and all I can do about it is dig in the cracks of my car upholstery, looking for enough change to by a box of Mac and Cheese! Of course, things have gotten a much better since I've really sold out and taken a variety of jobs that have nothing to do with anything I am interested in. Now I can eat at Qdoba (sometimes).

Many people see the mind-numbing day job as necessary. "Yes, but we've all done that. None of us cares about spreadsheets." Fine. Then we're all sell-outs. Let me design my web site in peace.

Humor aside, this MadCat program looks like fun. The rest of the programs look great, too. I really have no problem having my work integrated into someone else's artistic vision (sound). I wish I could be there to see the results.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Time and the Aquarium

I should probably preface this by saying that I am not high, nor is anyone painting, gluing or doing anything else with fumes in my vicinity. That being said...

The other night, I was thinking about time- a normal activity for an astro-filmmaker (especially one who just had to shove a whole story into a single minute of video). I think it's fascinating that we don't really know anything about time, yet it seems to have always been a part of our reality. It's so intangible, yet integral to science, philosophy, art, and life in general. How do you measure it, really? Every form of measurement is pretty arbitrary- every "standard" having been created by humans for convenience more than anything else.

Still, we know it exists. We feel it pass, sometimes painfully, sometimes fleetingly. It seems to be our measurement of reality (manipulation of time being a common way to imply altered states in film and music).

What the heck is it?

I was thinking about all of this while watching my aquatic roommates float in the current of their aquarium. Do they know that a mechanical pump is making this current? Do they even understand what a current is? For them, it is just something that happens- they know it innately from Nature.

I began thinking about fish in the sea. When the current is turbulent, do they understand that it is because there is a giant hurricane blowing over the water and changing the pressure? How could they? It would blow their little fishy minds to see that giant spinning cloud! ("And why," they might imagine, "does such a thing exist at all?") They don't even see that side of reality, except through a shimmering, blurry lens. All they know is the water.

I feel that we live in a similar reality when it comes to time. Time drives our "currents" (oh yes, pun entirely intended), creating pockets of turbulence and calm. What if we are like fish- unaware of enormous vortices of time that drive us while we swim in our sea of "reality." Almost everyone has experienced deja-vu or even "missing time-" phenomena that challenge the "linear time" reality that we know best.

And are there the "dolphins" of our world who can exist in both worlds (albeit temporarily)? Dolphins use the "mysteries of the world above the water" to ensnare their prey. They blow circles of "bubble nets" around schools of fish. The fish, afraid to pass through the strange shiny bubbles, school together while the clever dolphins take turns picking them off.
(Actually, dolphins love playing with "air reality" in water. For more info, see this article from Scientific American. They seem to be very good at manipulating it!)

I think there are dolphins amogst us. Many people throughout history have claimed to have manipulated time in some way or another. There was also Einstein, who presented the concept of time dilation in his relativity theories (time dilation was later proven). Some of the brightest minds have imagined (and even proven mathematically) some strange time realities- like those involving black holes and wormholes.

And then there are us filmmakers. Some of us just like playing with time. I've never met an experimental filmmaker who hasn't liked playing with slow motion, high-speed, or reversed action!
For the dolphin in all of us- keep blowing those bubbles!

Monday, August 14, 2006

One Big Happy Family

Just a quick update:

My neighbor told us that the baby deer were down the street, so we went on a walk to see how they were doing. Not only are they fine (one is quite a bit bigger than the other now), but their mother was there too! Although I am still sad for the deer that was hit, I am relieved that it wasn't her. I was so happy to see her there, nuzzling the necks of the little ones!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Touching the Stars (Without Leaving My Seat)

I have been researching the Harvard Computers for a while now.

Never heard of them?

I'm not talking about Dell or Mac, I'm talking about Fleming, Maury, Leavitt, Cannon (and that's Annie Jump Cannon, not the imaging company), and later, Payne-Gaposchkin. I'm talking about people. Women, to be precise:

The notion that women "suck at Math" is relatively new. Around the turn of the 20th Century, women were sought out by the director of the Harvard observatory for their mathematical abilities, their attention to detail, and, of course, their relative exploitability. They didn't seem to mind the tediousness of their work, and most of them had no aspirations to do their own research- a job in astronomy was glory enough. Interestingly, though, many of them still managed to make some extremely profound discoveries.

Henrietta Leavitt, for example, tracked variable stars (specifically, Cepheid variables) in the Magellanic Clouds. She discovered a curious pattern- the period of the variable star was related to its brightness. Brighter variables had longer periods and vice versa. She published her findings in the Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College. She continued to study this phenomenon until it could be confirmed that there was, in fact, a direct relationship between the two. This discovery became one of the most important "yardsticks" in astronomy. If you can monitor the period of a star, and based on this relationship, determine its true magnitude, you can calculate (based on how bright it appears here on Earth), its distance. These findings were used to prove that the Magellanic clouds and Andromeda, then thought to be nebulae, were actually distant galaxies and not part of the Milky Way!

Cecila Payne-Gaposchkin was the first person to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard (that's right: first person, not just woman, to get a Ph.D. in astronomy, though she would later go on to become the first female professor there). Her work as a computer was a little more comparable to the kind of work the average graduate student would do (and she had to fight for that). She studied stellar spectra. She was able to (accurately) apply ionization theory to the spectra of stars and relate their spectral classes to their actual temperatures- effectively establishing that Hydrogen was the most abundant element in all stars (before this, it was thought that different spectral classes indicated a presence of different elements- a bit too much to explain here).

If I went on to list all of the important achievements and discoveries made by these women, this post would be too long!

I find it interesting that while I am studying these women, I have become a "computer" myself! Right now, I am using a virtual microscope to search for interstellar dust grains that might be hidden in 40 to 100 out of 1.6 million movies! The project is called Stardust@home. It involves the sharing of millions of images with the general public to help scientists find interstellar dust particles- the largest of which may only be a few microns across. These are the remains of distant stars that have traveled across the expanse of space to our solar system.

The Stardust spacecraft flew through the tail of a comet and then through a stream of interstellar dust particles, collecting bits of comet dust and star dust in tennis racquet-shaped aerogel collectors. Aerogel is some pretty cool stuff. Below, a sample weighing a little over two grams suspends a five pound brick (from wikipedia and NASA):

This is an image of the collector from the Stardust@home web site (note the hand on the left of the image for size comparison):

It's not for everyone. There is a test that you must take and you are frequently presented with "test movies" to keep you on your toes. I've gone through hundreds already, but there are a few folks who have already gone through thousands! Like I said, there will be only 40 to 100 grains in the 1.6 million "slices" of aerogel.

Who better than a filmmaker to determine whether an imperfection is a scratch on the surface of the aerogel, regular "Earth dust" on the surface or something embedded a little...deeper. Furthermore, a woman with a tedious receptionist "day" job (ahem) is all too happy to give some of her time to stardust hunting! Without the help of thousands of people like us, it would take them about twenty years to go through the whole thing! I'm not sure if they are still accepting volunteers at this point, but if you have a keen eye for detail, they need you! Click on the link above to learn more.

So far, I have detected about a dozen candidates, though we won't find out for a while if they are dust particles or not.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

(Avant-Garde Blog-A-Thon) Liquid Crystal Films

I debated over what I was going to write about for this blog-a-thon (organized by girish). A friend of mine told me that she thought some people might want to know the science behind my liquid crystal films, so here we go:

My work is made using a technique known as cross-polarization. This technique utilizes two Polaroid filters which are placed at right angles to one another. Under normal conditions, this blocks out most light.


Most light waves, seen head on, propagate in all directions; up and down, side to side, etc. Polaroid filters work as "prison bars," blocking out all light except that which is propagating in the direction of the alignment of the "bars." This is called polarization. Incidentally, this happens when light is reflected, as well (this is why your polarizing sunglasses block out "road glare" which is reflected, polarized light).

By placing a horizontally aligned Polaroid filter in front of a filter that is vertically aligned, one can create a sort of "light prison" trapping all light between the two filters. To visualize this, see the diagrams below:

When both "jail bars" are aligned vertically, a vertically vibrating light wave can make it through both sets of "bars," while all other vibrations are blocked.

When a horizontally aligned set of "jail bars" are placed in front of vertically aligned "jail bars," the vertically vibrating light wave that makes it through the first set of "bars" will be blocked by the second set, preventing the light from "escaping" from its prison!

Artists are often required to bend the rules. I bend the light waves, liberating them from their polarized prisons!


By using liquid crystals, of course! Liquid crystals and some other materials display a property called birefringence (double-refracting or light-bending) Liquid crystals are materials that are not quite solid and not quite liquid (despite what we are taught in school, there are more than three phases of matter).

Using these "double refracting" materials, I can selectively bend the vertically aligned light waves that make it through the first set of "bars" so that they are vibrating in a horizontal direction and can pass through the horizontal "bars!" Through experimentation and study, I can choose my pallet by choosing the materials I use, the severity of a bend, the harshness of a twist, or the depth of a scratch. In effect, instead of painting with different colors of pigment, I'm painting with different wavelengths (colors) of light waves.

"Enough, chatter, egghead! Show us the results!"

Fair enough:

Stills from "The Light Touch Dust Nebula" and "Callisto"

From "The Light Touch Dust Nebula"

From "Callisto"

In these films, I used temperature sensitive (thermotropic) liquid crystal paints (available through Edmund Scientific at a reasonable price). This is the stuff that makes mood rings and those rainbow thermometers work. To obtain different colors in "Light Touch," I blew on the paints (and nearly passed out). For "Callisto" I decided to use an air blower and the evaporative effects of rubbing alcohol (much better).

Stills from "Europa"

This made a HUGE mess! The liquid crystal at play here is soap, which doesn't like to stay in one place for too long! Soap is a lyotropic liquid crystal (changes based on its concentration)

Stills from "The Counter Girl Trilogy"

I unveil my newest films!

From "Snake Oil"

From "Anti-Rides"

From "GWP (Gift With Purchase)"

This is a very special little trilogy for me. This film features three different shades of lip gloss that I got from my job as a makeup counter attendant. This particualr liquid crystal...(drum roll)...cholesterol! Can you imagine using that as a selling point? "Ooh! You'll love our new lip gloss! It contains green tea extract, Vitamin-C and a suspension of thermotropic cholesterol in its chiral nematic phase!" Which, I guess, quite a few of the cosmetics companies employ (click here)!

I have worn it, and yes, it does taste "greasy." Here is its "before" picture (this was the shade I used in "Anti-Rides"):

You can see how nicely it refracts the light...

The images in "GWP" show what this liquid crystalline material looks like when simply lit from above. In "Snake Oil" and "Anti-Rides" the material is cross-polarized to even further isolate and exploit the colors.

If you would like to see more examples, please click on this link to my site (or click on the film image to the right).