Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Think You Should Know Thursday

This Thursday I think you should know a band that is (geographically) close to me, the Syracuse, NY indie rockers Ra Ra Riot. The band formed in 2006 on the Syracuse University campus and started out by playing at house parties. They, like many of the other bands I have been profiling on Thursdays, have been gaining some recent popularity with songs on television shows, but for the most part they remain under appreciated.
I found Ra Ra Riot on Pandora and it was another one of those moments where a song came on and I froze because the lyrics completely described my life at that time. I love the upbeat, multi-instrumental sound I'm and sucker for string instruments.
"Call You Tell" from the 2008 album "The Rhumb Line" is the fateful song that got me into the band. I feel like it is one of those songs that everyone can relate to. Also, the video is really cute.
"Oh what am I supposed to do?
It's hard to stay cool
Oh , when you smile at me
And I get nervous every time you speak."
"Too Dramatic" from "The Orchard" (2009) has been getting more play recently. It has a very different sound than "Can You Tell" and shows off the band's versatility. It is one of those songs that constantly gets stuck in my head. 
"You know I couldn't live here that way
You said it before
He left Cincinnati, just sixteen
Had his fill, boy
And though I guess
There's nothing honest

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Adventures in Filmmaking: I Think I've Gotten the Hang of This

Every time I want to give up on my production class, I manage to surprise myself. After fretting for weeks about what I was going to do with my second film project, I finally came up with an idea. The second project had to be an installation, something that was simple, but involved more than one monitor or screen. My professor stressed simplicity and the importance of the image and sound and how it all looked as one piece.
As always, I over thought it. I really wanted to make a "chose your own adventure" type film with the screens starting off in one place and then ending up in different directions, but I could not figure out how to begin or what I would film. Then I thought of another idea: using the films as two different directions, I could make a film about choices and following different paths. On the weekend I shot footage in my University's Nature Preserve, an area of protected land where students can go to hike, run, or just hang out. I positioned my camera at every trail junction and filmed the world of choice as seen in nature. For the first time, I was shooting with a purpose, not just pointing my camera and hoping for something lucky like last time.
As I was filming the paths in the woods, I kept thinking about the nature of choice itself. It is all around us. Everyday, everything we do comes down to making choices. I wanted to incorporate that into my film as well and being a person so in tune with popular culture I decided to represent choices not only through nature, but through media as well. The more I thought about my project, the more I wanted to add. If I had more time I could have kept going; the more I thought, the more ideas I got.
The installation aspect of the film was something I also had to consider. I had to think about what was occurring on multiple screens and how to make sure the right image appeared on the right screen. It required a lot of close time spent with my friend Final Cut Pro. We've actually been getting along much better lately and developing what I would like to call a working relationship. I hope to one day actually be able to call it a friend.
Also, the actual projection aspect was difficult. I wanted to have three different screens of the same sizes and set them up with one on the left, one on the right, and one in the middle. I wanted to force the viewer to turn their head and make a conscious choice over which screen to watch. However, with the equipment that my university's cinema department has this was difficult. I could not find three televisions of the same size so I had to settle for one flat screen and two TVs probably from the 80's with really fuzzy pictures. Then I had to connect them all to power, make sure they all had sound, and connect them each to the correct DVD player all while trying to sort out where everything was and what we actually had in the classroom closet. Needless to say it took me almost 50 minutes to set the instillation up. Then, when I finally went to show it to the class, the sound was very faint.
My professor was complaining that he could not hear it and was so busy worrying about the sound that he did not really get a chance to fully enjoy it so I did not get too much feedback this time. However, the first edit (the one below) got great feedback from the entire class. My teacher really liked the opening, as do I and found the playfulness, even if snobby film guy didn't. They all seemed really impressed and actually got the concept which was nice for once. The only critique they had is to remove the shots of the people in the paths scenes and to make the focus on nature so there is a contrast between my shots and the found footage. I personally liked having the people in the shots, but in my final edit I ended up taking them out because it was the only major criticism I received.
This is one of the first times in a cinema class that I have actually enjoyed myself and felt that my project was one of the better ones. I like being proud of my work and as much as I joke around about it, I really am getting the hang of Final Cut Pro. I feel like I am gaining experience and confidence in myself and my new abilities. It makes me believe that one day, it might be possible for me to get some sort of job in cinema. Maybe. One day.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sweet Home, Alabama

Me putting together the wall of a house
 Now that Spring Break is over I can get back to my normal blogging schedule (or as normal as I make it, when I have time in my busy schedule). I will say that I had a great time exploring the southern United States. I got to cross two more states off my "to visit" list (I want to visit all 50 before I turn 50). I spent a week in Alabama with a quick stop in Knoxville, Tennessee on the way down to cut down the drive. From my University in New York the trip was 12 hours, not including stops for gas and bathroom breaks.
Alabama was more urban than I expected it to be. We were in Fairfield which is about 30 minutes from the city of Birmingham. I spent the week helping begin one house by putting up siding and walls and finishing another house with paint and stain. After all these builds I think I am getting better at using a hammer, but I am still a bit slow. Putting the walls together was hard work, we had to follow the plans which were not always correct and we had to build one wall three times. Staining was easier, but tedious. And it kept raining which caused some problems. Overall, the week went really well. It never really seems like work when you are volunteering with Habitat because you know it is for a good cause. We also had a day off to check out the local flavor at Dreamland BBQ, where I had some of the best ribs of all time. We also went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which I really enjoyed.
A deserving family with keys to their new home
The best part of the trip however took place on Friday morning. After touching up the house for two days, we got to see the house we were working on and two others given to their new owners. There are no words to describe the feeling of seeing a person getting the keys to their new home for the first time. The families were overjoyed and so proud to show off their new properties. I felt proud too, having taken part in such an event.
Planning a trip for 18 other people was stressful to say the least, but it was all worth it seeing the smiling families and the other people on the trip experiencing the joy of volunteering for the first time. Habitat is something that will definitely be a part of my life for a long time and I hope I can convince others of what a worthwhile cause it can be.

I Think You Should Know Thursday

This Thursday I think you should know Kina Grannis. I first discovered this lovely California songstress in 2007 during the Super Bowl. Doritos had sponsored a contest called "Crash the Super Bowl" which allowed the viewer to create their own commercial. The only thing I remember seeing was a girl with long, curly brown hair sitting on the roof with a guitar singing with an utterly beautiful voice. I instantly went out and bought the song.
And while winning the contest did not launch Grannis into stardom, she has been steadily making music and touring with some of her songs appearing on television shows. She may not be the most famous artist, but I still think she is someone you should know.
I like Grannis for her upbeat and bubbly sound. To me, she sounds honest and real-like a friend you may know. Her voice may not be the strongest, but at the same time it is pure and her music makes you feel good. Her songs are about love and happiness, two things we need more of in this world.
"Message from Your Heart" is the fateful song from the Doritos commercial that made me want to listen to more of her music. I really like the lyrics and the imagery that it evokes of the heart and the meaning of love.
"This is a message from your heart
Your most devoted body part
Taking blood and making art
This is a message from your heart
Pounding away into the dark
You can thank me for the start"
"In Your Arms" is from Grannis' new album "Stairwells" (2011). The video is really cool and her voice and songwriting skills seem to have grown over time. The song is a little less upbeat but has a soft beauty all the same. 
"Anything we have known, anything we've forgotten
In the rain, in the dark we'll lay
In your arms, in your arms I'll stay
Anything we have known, anything we've forgotten
In the rain, in the dark we'll lay
In your arms, in your arms I'll stay"