Monday, April 14, 2014

Kurchar 3-D starring Brenda Contreras

After some set back I finally got to shooting the much needed pixie scene for the 3-D Kuchar film I'm working on.  I was supposed to shoot with someone else who ended up having scheduling issues.

So, instead I shot with the young and talented Brenda Contreras - filmmaker, curator and Angelino living in NYC.  She was visiting the Bay Area last week and we got to talking about the project.  I mentioned how I needed a performer and I wanted to keep the project in the same style as Mike Kuchar's other films - namely using non-actors to perform and often the performers are filmmakers or artists and so his films end up being an eclectic mix of cameos.

Brenda agreed and she made her way out to my place in Oakland and we spent a couple hours shooting on a green screen.  She was very accommodating allowing me to spray her with sparkle spray and stand in the sun for a few hours.

The picture above is a screen shot with some very primitive and basic photoshop work to give you an idea of what it will look like in the end.  It's still far from the final version.

During shooting the encouraging line was "you look just like Bjork!"

More to come soon.

In Memoriam to the Cinema Palace

The following is the original, raw and unedited version of an article presented in the the 26th edition of OtherZine.  You can see the edited, presentable version here:

The following represents a closer example of the writers voice, but it is also unpolished.  It includes the accompanying video that shows footage of the demolishing of the cinema described in the article.

“The death of cinema” is a term that is thrown around quite often.  British director Peter Greenaway said it came with the invention of the remote control (1983).  Susan Sontag suggested it had died in her article "A Century of Cinema" (1995).  Many cinephiles believe it died with the invention of video or at least when it completely took over cinemas.

For me cinema died today.  Not with any conversion or transition of our beloved images, but with the erasure of my first movie palace.  The Park Theatre, in Menlo Park, California, was 66 years old when the property owner decided it should be flattened and turned into office buildings.  That might not seem very old, but for California architecture that is ample time especially considering the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

Progress is haunting.  In one regard things change for the better.  Technology advances to make things easier, cheaper and more accessible, but not always.  Sometimes progress squashes beauty.  To what extent do we let progress determine our lives?  This was a question that spun around my head 11 years ago when the Park first closed it’s doors as a cinema to the public and now the wound has reopened and flows with blood once more.

Situations like this really make me wonder if the invisible decisions made by our current form of economy are really in line with our values.  When the pursuit of profit goes before culture, history and community it loses purpose.  Environment is a beast of a topic.  Books and artwork are archived.  Human lives are protected.  Buildings are quite different.  With property, or more specifically, buildings it is the owner that decides the fate.  A building, like a painting, can be protected, but this involves an active city council, experts and an interested community.  If someone possesses property of historic significance that they do not appreciate then why do they bother owning it?

The Dorothy Chandler Pavillion is only 50 years old and yet the Los Angeles Conservancy chose it to be apart of their Last Remaining Seats film series to recognize it’s historic significance.  The Park is it’s senior by 16 years and it left without a whisper.  However it was brilliantly orchestrated by the owner, Howard Crittenden.  Almost mysteriously so for me.  Eleven years ago he closed it’s doors to the protests of Landmark Theatres, who ran the cinema, and a few local residents.  I left for college to New York and later Los Angeles.  Upon my return to the Bay Area and after so many had forgotten and so much neglect to the building Mr. Crittenden decided to destroy the Park.  A completely unintended last laugh.

“In a critique of the lamentable state of American cities, there can be no appeal to the nostalgia for lost traditions and ways of life; our appeal can be only to the future.  This should not necessarily excite optimism.” - James Brook (“Remarks on the Poetic Transformation of San Francisco”)
In an essay on the development and short history of US cities, San Francisco in particular, Mr. Brook makes reference to a man named Nicholas Calas a European writer who immigrated to New York City in the 1940’s.  Having come from the old world with endless history in the walls of buildings and the floor beneath his feet he couldn’t stop writing about how bizarre of a hogpog construction that was the Big Apple.  A city that came from nowhere and grew not from history, culture or organic construction, but from market flow.  In many ways Calas was correct that in 1940 New York was still quite young and San Francisco even younger.  Buildings and places develop their true characters only after their initial purpose has waned.  
In previous times humankind's constructions were made to outlive their makers as a way to personify the power and creation of that period.  Now real estate developers are driven by profit, which is driven by current market trends.  It is as if the moment construction is complete that a building is already a burden upon the owner for not being enough of a cash-cow.  California is perpetually changing with the tides.  Landmarks barely have a chance to find their true personalities before they are razed and forgotten.  As Brook mentions this leaves us with only the ability to look to the future.

Calas believed that the poetry of a city could be found in the forgotten spaces and "flow" from one wondering place to the next.  The accidental or intentional additions to a sidewalk that leads to a building that's followed by a path through a park.  This is what I saw in the Park Theatre.  After 50 years of movie goers, employees, accidents, violence and love.  It was in the walls.
If enough people love something can it ever be killed?

In an age where most people are regretting the slow fade out of the medium of celluloid film, for me, this overrated argument takes a back seat to the erasure of the elegant classic movie palaces that are now on the verge of extinction.  This is a thought that runs through my mind knowing that Mr. Crittenden is also the owner of the last remaining classic cinema palace in Menlo Park, the Guild; due to turn 90 in just about two years from now.  Will we be lamenting the destruction of that elegant construction in ten years time?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A cliche "Best of 2013" list for you

So, as the year turns over and I slept my way through the first 12 hours (minus the first 5 hours) of 2014 I reflect upon last year. Many folks seem to be glad that 2013 is out the door.  For me it was mixed with extremely good thing and some pretty heartbreaking and difficult things.
I've decided to compile a list of some of the great things that happened for me in this last year.  It's not so much for you, the reader, as it is for me.  A time to remember my accomplishments and how I want to improve upon them.

1. My latest creation "Antiquities for the Queen of Angels" created apart of the Echo Park Film Center's LA AIR residency.

2. Showing "Antiquities..." at the flEXiff with CineWest in Sydney, the award they bestowed upon me and the successful and amazingly supportive crowd sourcing campaign that got me out to Sydney (thanks to all my supporters!).

3. Moving to Oakland.  What an accomplishment on such a minor budget! I got rid of so many possessions that I really didn't need and I worked diligently until I found the right place with a great group of folks at ABCO.  I do miss some folks in LA, but the general culture there I find very oppressive and closed minded (I hope no friends take that personally).

4.  Having a great and final screening at RedCat of the wonderful Jodie Mack.  That was an intense four days with lots of complications dealing with analogue film and the waning of it's use.  I was glad to work one last time with the RedCat and CalArts staff - Bill, Tony, Ian, Steve and Berenice and pass the torch on to Gina.

5. Being appointed a board member of the iotaCenter.  Really this speaks to all the volunteer work I've done with them over the past couple years, but it was quite an honor.

6. In tandem with that is the production of the DVD of Robert Darroll's Korean Trilogy.  That took
may months and some film scanning complications, the help of the Academy Film Archive and Mark Toscano.

7.  Attending the demolition of the Park Theatre in Menlo Park.  Yes, probably the worst thing that happened to me this year, but I was glad to get to go inside one last time, take footage and flip through the memories.

8.  I finally made it to the LA Conservancy's Last Remaining Seats screenings and got to enjoy it was some wonderful friends.

9.  I climbed Yosemite Falls with my dad.  We spent a couple peaceful nights camping out and I realized he has a tremendous amount of more stamina than I do at backpacking, but still had a great time.

10. I went to HK for my first time!  Even though I was only there for two days and I interviewed for a position that I didn't get I still got to see a beautiful city and spend time with my great friend Mike Robinson and his lovely lady, Meco.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Kuchar in 3-D

So, a couple years ago the Hollywood King of 3-D, Ray Zone, gave the Godfather of Queer Cinema, Mike Kuchar, a 3-D camera. Let me take a little step back. Ray Zone was probably the single biggest advocate for Stereoscopic 3-D imaging that could ever be compiled in a living being. He was very positive, loveable and really interested in everything you had to say.

I was opening my semi-secret gallery and screening space in the dark corner of Skid Row in LA. My very first film screening was a selection of Mike Kuchar's videos. I flew him to LA and set him up in my apartment/gallery. It was his first time to LA in almost 3 decades. It was a great show with a full house including Mr. Ray Zone. I believe it was the first time Ray had seen Mike's work, but he knew of Mike's reputation. Ray being the generous person that he is and also always trying to spread the gospel of 3D gave Mike the new Fuji W3 Finepix 3D camera telling Mike that he "just wanted to see what he would do with it".

Mike graciously accepted the camera and when he returned to his home, San Francisco, he began making plans to start on a new project. Mike shot a few scenes with some of his regular stars, but at a certain point he simply had to abandon the project. You must understand, Mike is a very traditional filmmaker. Sometime in the 80's he transitioned from film to video and later still he transitioned to digital video tape. All of these processes are radically different and each transition took many years for him to master. Now, in his 70's, he seems reluctant to make the transition to digital video files (SD card) based footage. This is due mostly to the fact that he has no computer and no way of editing the footage.

The camera sat on the shelf with the footage for months. It sat as Mike witnessed his brother, George, fight his battle with cancer and lose. It sat for another year when Ray unexpectedly suffered a heart attack and left us with endless questions.

Eventually, Mike decided to give me the camera. He knew I worked in 3D and lucky for us all the footage that Mike shot was still on the card in the camera.

I started working on the footage, but quickly realized that even though the W3 camera is revolutionary in putting 3D easily into the hands of anyone it still has many bugs. With this camera there is a problem with the alignment of the two images and for 3D that is an enormous problem. It's basically the difference between seeing 3-D and giving everyone a headache. So, I spend much time fixing the footage to prepare it for editing.

Now I am finally at the stage of editing. It's still going to take more time, but for now I have a few images for you to see - to be viewed in anaglyph (red-blue) glasses.  Not perfect, but getting there.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Movie palaces

Well, I'm already behind in my project for the Echo Park Film Center's LA AIR (artist in residence) program.  I have until Feb 28th to make a film.  I'm working with my buddy Ale again and he's made a great soundtrack.
I've shot just about everything I need (I think) and I'm editing.  I had to scrap the idea of shooting entirely on Single-8 fuji film, but I still shot some stuff on Single-8 and I'm waiting for it to get back to me.  Yet, I have to say every day that passes I'm less hopeful I'll get the footage in time to use it (and I even gave them a cool Kodachrome pin when I returned my footage - have been a huge hassle).

Well, now I am editing and thinking how daunting all my animation and FX work will be.  I want to add all the missing marquee sign and neon lights to what is up to 7 minutes of footage, but will likely be closer to 10 minutes.

These are the images I'm referencing.  The theatres include the Mason, Orpheum, Loew's State, the Philharmonic Auditorum, Olympic and Tower (during the Newsreel days).

Philharmonic Auditorum

Philharmonic Auditorum


The Philharmonic Auditorum has one of the most elaborate signs and lights of any of the downtown LA movie palaces.  It's actually really hard to tell from some pictures but the roof top sign is shifted back by about 20 feet and on the East most building and so it's just right of where you would enter and all the lights go up the building.  A little strangely positioned.

The Orpheum was originally a Vaudville house.  And the rooftop marquee used to have that in the title.  It also used to face both East and West because the old Central Station where people would get off after spending the last 3 days traveling from New York, Chicago or somewhere else was located directly East of here.  In the 30's Union Station was built where Chinatown was, Chinatown moved and so did a lot of interest in entertainment and business.  Lucky enough the Orpheum was restored and looks amazing.  But the "Vaudville" part is gone.

 The State used to be called "Loew's State".  Yes, the same as the Loew's theatre chain originally established by Marcus Loew.  The building used to have a sign that ran up to the top and a couple different entrances with signs directing you to them.  It was quite elaborate.
 The Mason was originally an Opera House back at the turn of the last century.  Later it became the first cinema in LA to be exclusively Mexican Cinema.  Now?  It's that giant hole of a block next to the LA Times building - ugly, stupid and anything would be better then that...even a parking lot!

A less remembered cinema, was not on the Broadway strip, but still interesting and found itself in a few movies over the decades.  The marquee is still there.  The building facade has changed (for the better), but the marquee is painted almost completely black.  It seems obvious that the owner wants to get rid of it.  Kinda sad.

 This is a quick mock up of how I want to put the Loew's State together.

And here is a postcard I made and came out with a nice fake neon and florescent glow look that I'm going to use for the actual film.

So, I have a lot of work ahead and I might not finish in time, but I think whatever I do get done will be amazing.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Single-8 film: a missed lover

A little history:
Single-8 film, one of the more rarely used stocks.  This was Fuji's version of Super 8.  So, to explain this a little, Kodak originally created S8 to be extremely easy to shoot for home movie purposes.  It came in a cartridge so there was no threading at all.  It was just like sticking a cassette into a tape deck.  They, of course, patented this cartridge so that no other company could manufacture the stock and therefore most camera companies made Super 8 cameras.
Fuji decided to make their own version of the cartridge and did so in such a way that you could do one or two of the functions that was impossible with the Kodak cartridge - namely run the film in reverse (this might seem simple and unnecessary, but can come in handy for camera tricks).  This warranted the need for Sinlge-8 cameras, which were only manufactured by Fuji.  This stock and cameras were really only popular in Japan.

As a film stock, Single-8 is identical to Super 8 except for the cartridge (and Fuji film has a polyester base where Kodak mostly has an acetate base).  So, once your film was processed and returned you could still use your Super 8 projector to run Single-8 film.

Last year Fuji discontinued the final stock of Single-8.  This was a time when I was struggling financially and therefore I could not purchase any film, sad to say.

Single-8 and me:
A couple years ago I met a generous and elegant filmmaker named Sky David through my involvement with the iotaCenter.  He told me he had quite a bit of film equipment that he wanted to get rid of and that included Sinlge-8 camera. So he inquired if I might know anyone who would want it.  I jumped at the opportunity and exclaimed that I would.  He quickly mailed me this extremely complex Fujica ZC1000.

But he also included 4 rolls of film, which I was not expecting.  They all referenced an expiration date of some time in the early 80's, which only added to my excitement receiving this treasure in the mail.  This was the first time in about 5 years or more that I had some film to shoot.  I still had my 16mm bolex (with light leaks) and a Super-8 camera that the motor was wearing down and only running intermittently.

So, I'd just been given my best working camera and film.  It took me some time, but I'd decided to finally shoot the rolls of film.  Some on my roof top (with an amazing skyline of downtown LA) and some in other places.  But then I was in a predicament.  I didn't know where I could process the rolls.

I'd contacted in Japan, but they'd quoted me something to the effect of $50/roll for processing.  So, $200.  No thanks. I looked into Rocky Mountain Film Labs, which normally is extremely helpful, but not in this case.  I searched and searched online for any processing information, but to no avail.  So, I just hung on to the rolls for almost two years - exposed, but unprocessed.

Eventually, I'd decided, for some reason, that I was going to try hand processing using the E-6 technique.  I got a small kit from Freestyle Photography in Hollywood and I did a snip test including these rolls and some other 16mm film I had in my arsenal.

To my surprise the only rolls that worked were the Fuji Single-8 film.

This ended up being some of the best stock I'd ever shot.  Specifically the Fujichrome R25N, which has a greenish tint to the stock.  Of course, you can see there are color shifts due to the old date of the stock and there seems to be some mold or something that animates about half way through, but it looks amazing!  I was in love....

Kodak usually ends up being more of an orange colored stock, but the R25N being green was really breath taking.  There was only one roll of RT200 and that ended up being kind of blue as well.  So, I was not as keen to that stock, but it was still fun to shoot.

The breakup:
From this experience it renewed my interest and desire to shoot some more film and as the Fuji camera was my only working camera I'd decided to get some more Single-8.  The only place I can still find some Fuji film and specially in the Single-8 cartridge is from based in Tokyo.

In November I decided to use this film for my current project with my residency at the Echo Park Film Center.  However in dealing with Retro8 over the past 3 months I've so many delays and frustrating occurrences with them that I can not use Single-8 film and finish the project on time.

Originally, I'd decided to get one of their variety packs.  I wanted to test each of the stocks that they had and then pick one to make my project with.  This consisted of the R25N, Cinevia 50, Cinevia 100 and Retro-X (b/w) all reversal stocks and some of them were custom made.

In particular the Cinevia 100, which I tried shooting and shooting and shooting, but something was wrong.  Eventually, I decided to test the stock to see if it was moving in the camera at all and I found out that the take-up side of the spool was not pulling the film through.

So, I had to send it back to Retro8 to fix.  Which took a few unanswered emails to figure out what to do and get it done (I even included a nice note in returning it and a Kodachrome pin I'd gotten from EPFC as a nice Japanese style gift, but that didn't seem to help).

This was back in early December and now 6 weeks later I have received nothing.  I was told that the cartridge was shipped before Christmas and I keep emailing Retro8 for updates, but they are always reluctant to respond and demanding that they shipped it off with no interest in trying to make this ordeal any better.

So, again, I have 3 rolls of exposed, but unprocessed film.  I paid $250 for these four rolls and that included processing.  So, I still have to go through the same BS when I have them processed.

Unfortunately, I payed them via paypal, which only gives you 45 days to dispute a charge.

And now it's too late to use the film for my project, which makes me very sad.  At this point I don't think I'll want to use Single-8 film again.  It's sad cause the moment I fell in love with it was also the moment that it became out of reach.  It's like a one-night-stand.  Leaves you happy, but wanting more and now they won't return my phone calls.

The only thing I'm trying to figure out is if I can recycle the old cartridges from the films I hand-processed.  That way I can use any film (and I have a roll of Kodachrome in a S8 cartridge - unexposed) and insert it into the Single-8 cartridge.  It seems doable, but I can't figure out how to pry the cartridge open without damaging it.  Then I'd also have to correctly put new film into complete darkness.

Seems tricky, but I still want to try it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Artist in Residence

In February I begin my AIR (Artist in Residence) at the EPFC (Echo Park Film Center).  I have a lot of things I'm preparing for this right now.  So check back for updates.

For now keep in mind I will have a screening with a few films including a brand new one I will be completing for this residency, which will take place on Thursday Feb 28th.

I will also be hosting a workshop on film projection and expanded cinema on February 23rd starting around noon.  As a projectionist for over 10 years and the current head projectionist at RedCat you might learn a thing or two ;)  I'll also be discussing some of my secrets of when I do live visual or expanded cinema performances.