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No Cash? Advertise In This Space
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Howdy. I'm Justin Hall, a freelance writer living in Oakland California. I spent much of the last two years living in Japan, researching the social impact of new technologies and electronic entertainment. Now I write articles, contribute to Chanpon, Game Girl Advance and TheFeature.
Thanks for stopping by this old web site.
Photo by: Robin Hunicke
November 30, 2004
cold, so cold
Damn it's cold. Fingers cold, icy chill in this little room where I work. I hear it was in the 20s in Los Angeles last night, and as another night looms, I'm taking up shivering to keep my blood flowing.
There's heat working in my house, finally, blessedly, but I spend my waking hours in my house mostly perched in an 8x8 foot thin-walled shack out back with all my media machines. I was hoping the heat from the computers might raise the temperature in here; obviously I'm not hacking hard enough.
I've got a ton of work to do to finish school this week: final projects - two films primarily, and a presentation. To help me get ready, I deleted 3913 appointments from my datebook as I was working to synchronize my Treo. Now I'm spending hours recovering them. Shivering, stomach in knots from stress, I realized I could take steps to improve my state of being: I put on a sweater and a stocking cap. I read a buying guide for space heaters and imagined owning one. I lit a candle. I put on Apocalypse Now, which I used to watch about every six months between the ages of 14 and 18 but I haven't watched it now for probably at least a year. I know the lines, the sound effects, the experience of descent is so familiar. Watching it is comforting, and provocative because I know more about film now since I've studied it; I appreciate the technique, the artistry more deeply.
I'm not any closer to finishing my own films but at least my heart is warmer.
November 27, 2004
I have three final presentations to make at school next week; two of them involve videos. I gotta edit down a total of about seven hours of raw footage on two separate subjects into two separate coherent 5-10 minute shorts: one fiction, one documentary. Whee!
I do love this work, or else I wouldn't have snuck a third video project into this weekend: I had planned to tape this holiday to have a record of my Mother's recipe for Thanksgiving eats. When she broke her wrist, I had to cook for my family; fortunately my Uncle was there to be head chef, allowing me a hand free to do some taping. Then, four hours of editing later, I end up with this ten minute short film about this occasion. Keywords: Thanksgiving, Nebraska, Turkey, rural/urban, ecumenical, fracture, stuffing.
The more time you have to edit, the shorter and tighter you can make the draft. Too many other assignments looming to spend more time on this now. I'm just glad to get something produced quickly - better to air some of my favorite bits now, rather than letting the footage mold while I carry the "should edit something together outta that" in my head. My family seemed to enjoy it! They probably got most of the jokes.
Briefly, my self-crit: there's some obvious technical problems here - a few of the shots are wildly over-exposed or badly backlit. Some effects compensation on the latter only begins the healing. Better camera work would be best - have to figure out how to stay on top of my camera technique while I'm running and gunning.
The largest problem in this video - inconsistent or inaudible sound. Uncle Jim is missed for too much of that long conversation in the kitchen. Subtitles are an incomplete solution. Ideally I would get a mic attached to my camera that could pick up sound a few meters in front of it - drawing focused sound from forefront subjects.
You can see my setup in the photos Robin took during my recent interview with Doug. I have a small reasonable mic - I just today discovered that I can attach it to my camera! Uh, duh - never noticed that before, or forgot. Gonna experiment with using that as my primary mic in the future!
There's some music spread throughout - some is reused from other recent films (a permissible sin, perhaps, considering the time constraints). But then there are brief moments of silence as titles play - maybe some kind of underlying track could be comforting, or at least continuing room tone during those moments.
As for content, the movie could use some tightening. Some sections run long. If the audience is family members, the patience level is probably high enough to permit this cut. But for a general audience more introductions and explanations might be necessary. For example, who are these characters? Some names or relations might be useful; again, for a broader audience.
At least any broader audience that watches this film through will come away with a simply smashing recipe for stuffing.
In terms of filmic influences here, definitely Les Blank's "Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers" which I finally saw after years of hunting - there was a special screening at USC for their 75th anniversary, and I got a chance to meet Blank and hear him speak about his craft. I asked him about how you can get your camera so close to food and to life and to people's details and keep the trust up and he said, basically, you've got to establish and keep good relationships. And that takes time! He said.
Blank's "Garlic" reflects something deeply earthy and wholesome, celebrating life and taste and passion across culture and language. It has a sun-dappled optimism, treating the quotidian to a depth of inquiry and exploration meant to reflect accessible joy. It was touching and exhilarating.
November 23, 2004
wet game pen
Bit of writing about games recently; school has me busy, but I'm finding ways to overlap extracurricular writing with my class discussions or projects. I interviewed game designer Doug Church for Gamasutra; he presents a strong case for the intrinsic qualities that games and interactive media present over films and linear entertainment. The article is here (registration required), and I wrote more about it here: on my IMD blog.
November 22, 2004
Learning Shower Curtains
Natalie convinced me to ditch the bulky shower door, to open up the tiny bathroom here. She offered a lovely white fabric shower curtain as a substitute; it definitely made my bathroom look more sophisticated than its most frequent user.
That curtain picked up a few blemishes, so I washed and dryed it. Now it's lost about 20% of its width and height, so it no longer covers the plastic liner down past the lip of the tub. Minor inconvenience really, but not so good looking.
I started wondering what kind of shower curtain I'd like to get to replace it, if I had my druthers. I like to think about learning stuff during down moments. For example, it would be great to have a poster of basic Arabic letters and sounds hanging in front of my toilet, so if I forget reading material when I'm sitting on the can, I can always brush up on the written language of the Middle East.
Needing a new shower curtain makes me wonder what I could learn as I clean myself, or if I look left from my throne. So far it looks like the best I could do is a World Map: this one has nice flags along the bottom, but looks like it loses track of Africa. This one devotes more time to "great sites" than world flags; after seeing the fantastic-looking flag of Macedonia on Wikipedia, I'd rather look at that than a sepia-toned pic of the Eiffel Tower.
I suppose I could get a Map of the NYC Subway System to study as I shower or shit, but that's not too relevant for me now. Unfortunately, there's no map of the LA freeway system available yet. Neither is there a Dymaxion Map shower curtain - now that would be neato.
I'm sure Natalie would not be happy to hear that I'm thinking to improve upon her vision for white plain modern simplicity. Maybe I should take a moment and acknowledge the wonderful peace and tranquility that comes from the plain white face of the shower. But I like casually studying stuff! I need to find Learning-Shower-Curtains.com - or maybe there's a way I can fashion my own.
Spent about 11 hours today shooting a movie; I was the director, with a crew of four other people. I had a script I loved that someone else had written, and a team to lead putting it together. Now the film is in the can, as they say, and within our small crew the task of editing falls to me. I love editing, I do, getting my fingers on the controls, setting the shot sequences, fading ins and outs, sound levels, foley, all the tweaks of film geekery have grown on me immensely. In some ways it was hard to imagine turning over the footage I directed to anyone else.
But film-geekery control-freakery means I have a film to edit, in the next week. Three hours of footage condensed to eight minutes. And another eight minute film besides that, with a deadline only two days later. So that's many hours of editing to be done in the next ten days. It's finals time in film school. Project, project, project. I decided to go to grad school in part because I realized I would be making stuff. Well here I am, making stuff, and I'm so deep in media stuff I'm making I can barely see. Driving home from the Sunday shoot, I picked up a cheese burger and fries and root beer and had a Tecate alongside it and passed out on my couch watching Slacker for the first time. I would go to bed now for solace and surrender but my electronic life has gone unanswered in a day; bad footing for the week ahead.
A trip to visit my family looms for the Thanksgiving weekend. I had some plans for pleasure during that time; maybe some relaxation, even a recreational personal film. Now I'm trying to figure out if I have enough portable hard drive space to get all my formal capturing and editing done while I'm on the road. There's this sense that what I'm doing is temporary - finishing this semester will put me 1/6th through the film school/interactive media studies experience. But this is it, I'm living my life. Online. Not even Aikido can save me - I still feel a little bit zoned out. Many thin blue lines running behind these eyes. The semester ends on December 2. I will then face about six weeks of no serious plans. How to promote my humanity during that period? First, finish my school work. I'm learning storytelling! Still.
November 17, 2004
Ed Wood's The Pillow Book
Just finished my final individually-produced film for my totally stimulating film production class. I posted about it in the section of my site where I dwell on sex. Because, well, that's the kind of film it is.
Posted by Justin at 12:10 AM
November 13, 2004
For the first time in months, I went to an Aikido class. I loved it. It wasn't my dojo, I didn't feel encouraged towards enlightenment the same way I did most days at East Bay Aikido. Still, it felt so good to use my body. To roll around on the floor. To have contact with another person. I thought about Candace, and my last test - I actually worked on Aikido for a year. That was some regular discipline! A movement towards mastery. Of course, a long way to go. For me, attending different schools, learning new ways to dance, that has something to do with my understanding. Appreciating new teaching - at this local dojo, they talk about using the whole body. And that's something I need - I've been all about my fingers and my tongue since school started. Time to start something with these thighs. My trunk!
November 06, 2004
November 04, 2004
next film - ritual romance
Got my next film in mind. "Ritual Romance" - working to understand how intimacy might be formalized. How people can explain the desire for human connection. I'm terrifically excited to film and edit this one. I'm going to use layers of images, like Peter Greenaway's the Pillow Book (look at these images - besides Ewan McGregor's shlong, you can see superimpositions and picture-in-picture, artfully rendered). Here's a casting notice on Los Angeles Craig's List. Also up on Now Casting. Wish me luck! Total of three short films to make in the next four weeks. Whew! I'm just now sprouting a fresh pimple for each one.
November 03, 2004
black mood, I wanted to stay home and write today - burn things, watch the smoke trails, and see what wisdom there is in small signs. Trees in my neighborhood don't care about the election, right? Wait - what about permission for polluting power plants and standing against the kyoto protocol.
after months of immersion studying the issues and the white men that stood for them I'm in a massive sort of hangover moment. nothing I would have intended has come to pass. I could perhaps feed off of "the other side's" happiness but I'm just mostly scared.
but I can't skip school, for my classmates. we're showing films today and we comment on them and to skip class is to disengage from that shared evolution experience. I love it but today I'm not doing it so well. The films are not distracting me! They're sending me deeper.
I had a family member in Florida counting ballots. He tried his best, he said, and he saw many other people working hard too. For "our side." For the side that seems to me to represent reasoned debate, compassion, freedom and responsibility. But there's just more of them, he said, audibly shaking his head. We have to acknowledge that. There's just more of them. And this is their country.
meanwhile, I was at an election watching party in hills over Los Angeles. a lot of people watching wall-sized projected images from network television. I went around sharing my concern with partygoers: "I think Bush just took Florida" and many replied, "is that important?" the group showed signs of movement and energy when a spirit chant for victory was proposed. we stood in a circle, surrounding a candle, and willed our energy to drive democratic success. that didn't pan out I guess.
A number of my friends proposed leaving the United States if George Bush is re-elected. Groping for a silver lining to the Republican-Evangelical control of the House, Senate, White House, and soon, the Supreme Court, I say, well at least we should see a flourishing of the arts and culture. Local and cultural initiatives to fight control. To argue on behalf of a shrinking minority population it seems.
Something great will come out of this. Another day alive on the earth is a blessing. I want love between all people. Whatever we can do
November 02, 2004
picture voting today!
In Culver City City Hall, wearing the most Middle-Eastern looking clothes I own, voting early this morning. I woke up at 6:05, unable to sleep more, too excited. People were in line at 7am; I managed to finish voting by 8:15. I voted on a provisional ballot, since I was too-freshly registered to vote they didn't have me in their listings. Hopefully I will be counted. I used my Treo to read the LA Weekly's endorsements; I think I went along with most all of them.
Thanks to Robin for inspiring me to take pictures of my voting; I uploaded a picture to her Voting Booth Photo Booth, and so should you!
November 01, 2004