Monthly Archives: April 2009

I Are A Genius. Using Filmmaking to Give Students Their Voice…

Every so often a project drops in my lap that I just can’t say “No” to. In the past I have written about the relationship my video production class has had with a group of local artists and filmmakers. The Association for Visual Arts has been kind enough to team up with us to create a pilot project that brings students together with documentarians to learn more about movie making in a professional setting. We made one movie two years ago, “Golden Grillz & Satan Like Puppies: A documentary on rock, rap the individual and the group.” It was not a bad movie and, as I have written before, it was entirely created, produced, shot and directed by the students. It was shown at several venues in the city and the Mayor’s Office has a copy on file.

This year’s movie is called “I Are A Genius” It is a documentary film about students taking a look at their own education. Honestly, I am not too sure they liked whaPromotional poster for "I Are A Genius."t they found. Most were surprised to find out that the education system is run like a business and that money matters as much, if not more, than the educational outcome. They were a bit taken aback to find that teachers and administrators and superintendents don’t all speak with a single voice. There is dissension in the ranks, sometimes vocal, sometimes not. They were also concerned about the number of educational professionals who were afraid to speak out against the system for fear of losing their jobs. We are in a down economy, the school system is making cuts and no one wants to make any waves…even if those waves help the students.

The students learned to set and keep appointments and how to talk to a professional without looking “like a kid.” They set up interviews with elected officials, teachers, administrators, students and even the Superintendent of Schools. They impressed me and they impressed themselves. They also impressed the people they interviewed. They shot and directed their own interviews, shadowed students for an entire day, invited their peers to a “round-table” discussion and even brainstormed some marketing ideas. Right now the group is working on a rough, off-line edit and I have noticed that the number of participants is diminishing. That doesn’t surprise me at all.

Editing video is an art and can be very exacting and very frustrating. It is also tedious and, to an outsider, incredibly boring. It also happens to be the part of film-making that I love the most. I can sit at the editor for hours and never even realize that time has gone by. But I can’t expect these novice directors to have my love of video editing. Nor can I expect them to sit for hours at a time doing anything at all. So the students will be a part of the rough edit helping to choose sound-bites and some B-Roll and to have some say in the direction and flow of the movie. Then one of our visiting artists will take the off-line edit and finish it to industry standard.

Anyway, this is just a little update and as soon as I can, I will post a trailer or excerpt from the movie. Until then, I have included a copy of  the poster for the movie.


The 11 Best DVD Covers…that I could find.

OK. This one is just for me.

I have been in and out of the video production business since 1979. During that time, I have worked on the radio, as a newspaper columnist, a news producer, creative services director and on and on and on. I have made hundreds of commercials and thousands of promos, directed nationally televised live sports in the fledgling days of satellite networks, and even created and produced my own entertainment program for a local TV station. But that was then. The “now” is very different.

Entertainment has changed since 1979. Back then, if we wanted to see a movie we had to go to the theater. That or wait for it to air on commercial TV in a year or so. Not many people know this, but for years my favorite place in the entire world was inside a dark movie theater waiting to see the next great movie. While living in Baltimore I discovered art films and revival houses. The hours I spent in The Charles Theater, among others, in Baltimore, Maryland are still some of my favorite memories. It might have been the company I was keeping and it might have been the feeling of discovering something that I only vaguely knew existed. Either way, I wouldn’t have traded those days for anything.

But going to the movies isn’t what it used to be. It is a $100 trip out for the family to see some over-hyped, underwritten blockbuster that may or may not be worth seeing. The odd thing is that the movie industry has had to compete against itself ever since the first Betamax and VHS machines made their way into the homes and hearts of Americans. Why spend nearly $100 bucks to sit in a tiny multiplex with sticky floors, crying babies and nitwits yammering away on their cell phones when we can wait a couple of months and buy a copy for less than $20? To keep people into the theaters, movies have gotten bigger but not necessarily better.

But the truth is, to a movie fan, VHS just didn’t cut it. Can anyone imagine watching “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in their living room? What’s the point? I’ve heard the argument that nobody really liked “Eraserhead.” But I did. Every frame, every bizarre turn. And I will never see it again because it won’t play at the Regal Cinema 16 Multi-Gigaplex and I think that where I was and who I was with had as much to do with my fond memories of that film as the film itself. Feelings like that just can’t be recreated on a 27″ Phillips TV. Fast forward a few years and DVD is now the standard home video format. The picture is better, the sound is better and the discs last longer than tapes. But the theaters are smaller, the tickets cost more and the movies are just not as good. The last movie I went to a theater to see was Ironman. I took the kids and they loved it and I loved it. So we bought the DVD as soon as it came out. And it just doesn’t hold up to repeated viewings. The pacing falls off, the climax is missing something and the last scenes are out of place. Still like it. Just don’t love it. And that just might be the problem with DVD.

Are movies really designed to be watched over and over again? Is there a single movie that can hold up to repeated viewings without some of the luster being lost? “Casablanca”? (On a side note, the first time I saw “Casablanca” was at the The Charles.) “Saving Private Ryan”? “The Empire Strikes Back?” Any ideas?

Anyway, this isn’t about the death of film making. It actually started out as a celebration of a very specific kind of art. The DVD cover. I just wanted to share a few of my favorite DVD covers. Nothing special, no great revelations here. Just some really good design. It started out as the 10 best and became the 11 best. I will most likely add to the list as something strikes me. Like whenever I find something else I like.

Missing. 1982

Criterion Collection.

Love the use of blank space. Typography is clever too.

Salesman. 1968

Salesman. The Criterion Collection.

Old school documentary. Color, logo, picture. It all works.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Blade Runner

Iconic movie with a great painted cover.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters For DVD

Aquateen Hunger Force Colon Movie

This one has everything. Period.

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet.

Perfect retro cover for this 1977 Eastwood flick.

This is Spinal Tap.

How much more black can it be? None. None more black.

How much more black can it be? None. None more black.

The Bad Sleep Well

Simple and effective.

Simple and effective.

The Last Seduction.

Dark. Smoky. Seductive. What else do you need?

Dark. Smoky. Seductive. What else do you need?

Star Wars Trilogy

The cover says it all. It's the REAL Star Wars.

The cover says it all. It's the REAL Star Wars.



Power and intensity.


One of my very favorites.

One of my very favorites.

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