Armistice Day

Posted: 11th November 2018 by Cheap in Philosophy

Today is Armistice Day, the centennial of the end of the first World War. My thoughts about the violent nature of our species have evidently settled into my gut, because my reaction to events today is one of sadness over our futile waste of life.

World War I was particularly dehumanizing, because it was the first war fought with machine guns.  19th century combat tactics met 20th century technology, and a staggering number of people died.  Was warfare improved?  Was the ability of humans to settle their affairs improved?  No.  The cost was simply higher.  Much higher.  Since then, the United States has fought in many other wars.

Wars are fought over who is in charge, over political ideology, and over race.  All of these things essentially belong to the same category: tribalism.

Tribalism is a natural human instinct.  So is violence.  Together, they cause wars.

And here we are in 2018, and the level of tribalism is at an all time high.  We recognize and mostly denounce racism and bigotry, sexism, religious intolerance, etc.  However, we do not recognize party affiliation as tribalism.

We’re going to war.  Civil war.

Freddy the Pig Convention

Posted: 6th October 2018 by Cheap in Fiction, Filmmaking, Television
  • I worked on two films in August on back-to-back weekends.  I recorded sound for one and was the AD for the other.  The sound gig was frustrating, primarily because of the DP, with whom I’ve worked before, and with whom I was similarly frustrated the first time.  He has an attitude that drives me up the wall, because he won’t so much as acknowledge the possibility of having made a mistake or a bad choice.  His mistakes were plenty, but the ones that primarily concerned me were his complete disregard for the needs of the sound department.  Whenever he had created a conflict, rather than make any concessions, he would announce, “we’ll just shoot this MOS.”  The Director was young and inexperienced, and she just went along with it.  And then there was the time he trapped us all in a vehicle with no exits and an overloading inverter.
  • The AD gig went smoothly.
  • I have given up trying to watch Fawlty Towers.  The humor is just so dumb.  I have finished watching all of Community.  I watched Collateral, but that was only four episodes.  I accidentally watched the first three episodes of Castle Rock, but I’m not interested.  This leaves only Masters of Sex, in which I am only marginally interested at this point.  While I was thinking about what to watch, my mom suggested Doctor Who.  I haven’t watched Doctor Who since the seventh Doctor.  I did catch a glimpse of an episode of the ninth Doctor, and I was a little incensed that they were using modern lighting and photographic techniques, so I’ve always resisted getting interested.  However, my mom was raving about the different style of writing, and she urged me to give it a try.  Maybe I will.
  • I have figured out what I dislike about Masters of Sex and probably quite a bit of modern television.  It grates my nerves to watch characters constantly make such obviously bad choices.  Sure, it’s a plot device, and an easy one, but it has a downside.  It leaves the audience wondering why anyone would do that.  Thus, it is a technique that should be used sparingly and with adequate justification.  To use it over and over as the central drama of a television series is just bad, lazy writing.  I don’t identify with characters who do that.  Now that I can see it, I have no interest in continuing to watch Masters of Sex.  It’s very likely that I will quickly turn away from other television series when I see them using the technique.
  • I have read two Andre Norton novels, Witch World and The Zero Stone.  The first one wasn’t very good, but the second one was.  My mom left behind a box full of Andre Norton’s books, but aside from Witch World, none of the titles I think I might want to read are in there.
  • After seven chapters, I gave up on Dorothy Must Die.  I don’t remember now where I picked up the recommendation.  I knew better once I found it in the Teen Fiction section of the library, but I checked it out anyway, having been mislead into thinking that it was high art.  Now I would call it simple-minded and uninspired even if it hadn’t ripped off the world of Oz, and I can’t stand reading it.  I see the author has made a career of writing in this series.  I don’t know how many Freddy the Pig* books I read as a kid, so I guess I shouldn’t knock it, but in my advanced age, this sort of thing isn’t for me.  I will be taking it back to the library unfinished.
  • Exit Strategy, the last of the Murderbot Diaries dropped this week, and I read it the evening it came out.  It was good, as was the entire series, and it makes me sad to see it come to an end.  I have resolved to read other things by Martha Wells.
  • The Sirens of Titan was typically weird for Kurt Vonnegut, and it was obviously a huge inspiration for Douglas Adams.  Lock In was decent.  The Name of the Wind was good in some ways, but in other ways it suffered structurally; I probably won’t continue with the series.

(* Freddy the Pig was a precocious talking pig on a farm full of talking animals.  I stumbled on these in the Juvenile stacks at the library when I was young, and I ended up reading a few of them.  Published between 1927 and 1958, they were all pretty dated by the time I found them, and I thought they were obscure even then.  Googling it just now, one of the recommended search phrases was “freddy the pig convention”, which seemed ridiculous, so I clicked on it.  There is, in fact, a Freddy the Pig Convention, and it is happening this weekend.  I can’t even.)

Character Analysis

Posted: 10th September 2018 by Cheap in Fiction, Writing

A popular way to begin writing a story is to start by creating a character.

I have read plenty about creating characters, but it has occurred to me that perhaps I should examine a variety of fictional characters I already know, and analyze them on the basis of my book knowledge about character creation.  This might help me become better at applying my knowledge to create characters.

Some characters I could examine:

  • Jurdoc Jern (The Zero Stone): Not a particularly compelling or complicated character, but certainly simple to analyze
  • Everyone in A Small Town in Germany: The plot of the story is simple, but it is played out by getting to know each of the characters.  The interplay between the characters is what makes up the storyline.
  • Murderbot (All Systems Red): A very compelling character, though not as clearly articulated
  • Justice of Toren (Ancillary Justice): One of my favorite characters
  • Everyone in Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series: Numerous characters are created for this series, although they weren’t all fully dimensional.
  • Everyone in C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series: The characters in this series are what keep it going (19 books so far).  None of them are complicated, but they have something that makes us want to keep reading.
  • The protagonist in The Fifth Season: She is a very complicated character.

Oh, wow.  It occurs to me that much of the problem with Golden Age science fiction is that characters are only incidental to need to telling a story about some matter of science.  With the more modern science fiction that I enjoy, characters and worlds are more important than the science, which is often just a setting for a story to take place.

Adapting The Zero Stone to Film

Posted: 9th September 2018 by Cheap in Fiction, Filmmaking, Writing

It seems to me that The Zero Stone would be easily adaptable to film.  As such, I might make an attempt to write a film script about it, although it isn’t a novel that fills me with passion.  It is a fairly straightforward story.

Eet is a creature that would best be handled as CG today.  There was another minor non-humanoid character with four arms who could be handled as CG modifications to a human actor (he would make an interesting comedic cameo possibility).  There are humanoid natives which would either be CG or effects makeup, and a variety of creatures and plants, also CG.  It’s all starting to sound a bit like Avatar.

There is a fairly amount of telepathy.  However, most of it is verbal.  That could be recorded in the studio and treated with heavy reverb or whatever.  There is some mind reading, but almost none of it is described.  Instead, the fact of it is made evident through dialog.  There is one moment where two characters’ minds are linked, sort of like a Vulcan mind meld, and it would be treated similarly.

There is the Zero Stone itself, and it’s kin.  They don’t do much other than glow.  No problem there.

Spacecraft.  Lasers.  All standard stuff.  Some sort of primitive planet with religious zealots.

Off hand, there doesn’t seem to be any problem with the length.

Would it make a very interesting film?  The novel doesn’t make Murdoc Jern very interesting.  Perhaps a charismatic actor could make him more interesting.  The most interesting character in the novel is Eet, but Eet is not the protagonist.  More importantly, Eet is mainly interesting as a phenomenon, and he doesn’t have a very interesting personality.  On film, he could embody adorable cat characteristics, and that may have been part of the intention of the author.  He would have to be both cute as a cat and expressive as an actor.  Is the story, at the bottom line, an interesting one?  Its ending is not very spectacular.

  • Somewhat on impulse, I picked up a Canon 77D.  I figured this would be a good camera to have around for filmmaking, without being terribly expensive.  The APS-C sized sensor is certainly more appropriate than the full-frame sensor in my 5D Mark II.  The video quality is good, and the autofocus is quite good.  That said, the 77D is a cheap-feeling camera body, and it lacks a number of nice features.  I’m glad I didn’t spend a fortune on it.
  • I am into the third season of Community, and I am enjoying it reasonably well.  I watched the newly released second season of GLOW.  It was good, but not quite as good as the first.  I’ve also watched Goliath.  The second season is what caught my eye, but I wisely watched the first season first, which was really good.  The second season took a while to get good, but it eventually did, though not as good as the first.  I also picked up where I left off with Masters of Sex.  I’d gotten through the first season, but hadn’t started on the second.  I have started watching Fawlty Towers, because it is given as a good example to illustrate the structure of episodic comedy, but so far I’m not just not enjoying it that much, I suppose because the comedy is so unsophisticated.
  • I have broken out of a reading slump.  Notable reads this year have been The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin and Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty, both through my book club.  The latter is a Hugo nominee.  I also got to read Artificial Condition and Rogue Protocol, the second and third in the Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells.  I’ve decided that I like her style of writing so well that I am going to try some of her other works.  I read The Collapsing Empire, another Hugo nominee this year by John Scalzi, which is the first in an upcoming series.  I also read Neuromancer, by William Gibson, the so-called noir prophet of cyberpunk.  I read The Guns of Empire and The Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler, which completes the Shadow Campaigns series.
  • My hot pepper plants are finally producing.  Jalapeño and serrano had started producing first.  Some of the plants were dropping buds, and when I investigated the cause, I found out I was using the wrong fertilizer.  Nitrogen makes pepper plants grow big, but it also discourages it from growing fruit.  Instead, I should be using magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt).  I dosed the plants with it, and it already seems to be making a difference.  I finally have viable peppers growing on all of my pepper plants, and the serrano and Carolina Reaper are beginning to turn.
  • I got to watch one of my films in the St. Louis Filmmaker’s Showcase, plus a bunch of other films that friends worked on.  The rest of August is going to be a busy month for filmmaking.  I’ll be doing sound for two films and Assistant Director for another this month.  I am working on producing another film, but that probably won’t shoot until April.
  • My neighbor passed away.  It wasn’t much of a surprise, because his health had been dogging him for a couple of years.  I would call him a friend.  Not a close friend, but closer than I’ve been with any neighbor since my childhood.  He finds his way into my thoughts often, mostly because I tend to wonder what he will think of the things I do to my yard.

Rockpile Mountain

Posted: 13th June 2018 by Cheap in Camping, Filmmaking, Hiking, Outdoors, Television
  • My overnight backpacking trip in the Rockpile Mountain Wilderness Area went well.  I didn’t have any equipment problems, and I didn’t forget anything important.  I did add a couple of items to my list for next time, but they aren’t serious (like handy-wipes).  I didn’t forget to bring my hammock, but I was unable to find it, and it was missed, since there’s really no other good way to sit and read, which I wanted to do more of.  My tent worked.  The MSR Groundhog and Mini-Groundhog tent stakes worked great.  I perspired quite a bit, and I drank a surprising amount of water in a struggle against dehydration.  I realized right away that I should have pre-hydrated on the drive down, and I should have acclimated myself to the warmer temperature in advance.
  • I worked sound for another film my the same filmmaker I worked with in January.  This time, the problems were much worse, and near the end of the first night of shooting, I came out and told him that I don’t want to work with him again.  We started hours late on all three days.  It didn’t occur to anyone to bring lights for shooting in a basement or outdoors at night, and half of my time was spent trying to salvage his shoot from a lighting perspective, rather than doing sound.  The Director, who knows nothing about lighting, kept vetoing the lighting advice from the two people on his set who do understand lighting.  A week later, he tried to talk me into agreeing to work with him again, and I nearly relented, but then he started in on my attitude, telling me I can’t be sarcastic anymore.
  • Over the Memorial Day weekend, I backpacked for two nights in the Irish Wilderness.  The trail was much better and suitable to backing than Rockpile Wilderness.  I enjoyed the challenge, but I’m left wondering how much I enjoyed the experience.  I have something like a hundred tick bites, and more than two weeks later they still itch.  My brief encounter with idiots spoiled a lot of the fun.  Poison Ivy.  Spider webs.  Heat and humidity.  Part of the problem is that I just don’t find Missouri to be all that scenic or romantic.  I grew up here, and it’s not special.  I would absolutely enjoy backpacking out west, but in Missouri, it’s kind of boring.  I’ve been planning to spend a week backpacking the Great Smoky Mountains next year, but I am beginning to wonder whether I should bother.
  • I worked the 48 Hour Film Project this year, collaborating with a local Director to organize a team.  I had trouble finding someone to cover sound.  I stepped on a few toes in the last-minute rush to find someone, and then the guy I found bailed on me at 3AM.  I was livid.  However, I covered the job myself, which wasn’t so bad.  In the end, we wrote a decent script, achieved reasonable production value, and succeeded in submitting a film on time.  Sound aside, it was a fairly well organized exercise, for a 48 Hour Film.  I went to the screening, and among the films I saw, I thought ours had the best story.  Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything.
  • I have finished watching all of The West Wing.  Overall, I have to say it was a decent series, and through it all I kept wondering why we don’t make television like that anymore.  The lighting was excessively dramatic for a couple of seasons, and they played with some hypothetical situations that were a little over the top, but all in all, it was very good.
  • I have finally picked up a tripod that is suitable for filmmaking, a Benro S8.  It is the first tripod I’ve owned with a half-bowl mount, which is a much easier way to level the head.  It has plenty of capacity and a pretty good height range.  This is the first time in a long time that I’ve bought a tripod from a brand other than Manfrotto, but Manfrotto’s tripods in this class just didn’t review well.
  • After three years, I have finally gotten around to mounting my projector from the ceiling and routing the cable through the wall.  It looks good up there, and more to the point, the living room looks better without that lame shelf in the middle, and I wish I’d done it sooner.  I’m having a screening party at my house later this month, so I wanted to maximize the visibility.  I figure I’ll have space and seating for up to eighteen people.
  • I’ve started watching Community.  I guess we’ll see how it goes.  I’ve been wanting to watch it for a while because it has Alison Brie, but Gillian Jacobs is interesting, too.  I ended up subscribing to Hulu to get it, and I was pleased to discover that Hulu has a commercial-free membership level, which they hadn’t had the last time I tried Hulu.  I could probably stick with this for a while.

Backpacking

Posted: 23rd May 2018 by Cheap in Camping, Hiking, Outdoors

As a kid, I grew up camping with my family.  Car camping, we would call it now, in a tent.  We camped mainly in our home state of Missouri, and farther north for relief from the heat, in Michigan and Wisconsin mostly.  We were limited by how far we could drive, and our drives were limited by the tolerance of the kids.  I was in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts for a couple of years, and I primarily enjoyed the camping opportunities they provided.  Those were also in Missouri.

More than fifteen years ago, my sister graduated and relocated to Denver.  There she quickly got into the Colorado outdoors, including backpacking.  She invited me to come out for backpacking one year.  I had never gone backpacking, and I was a bit daunted, but I purchased some gear and we spent the night camping at the Maroon Bells.  I enjoyed it, especially the scenery, but it was also a rough experience for me.  I was more out of shape at that time of my life, in my naivety and frugality I had an excessively heavy pack, and I was not at all acclimated to altitude.

This experience is undoubtedly part of why I didn’t go backpacking again until this year.  Also were changes in my lifestyle.  I didn’t camp again in any form until 2015.

I have driven I-40 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a few times now in the past several years.  The first time, we made a couple of stops and walked around.  I decided then that I wanted to backpack in those mountains.  Years have gone by, and I still haven’t.

Last year, in 2017, I went on a camping road trip to Glacier National Park.  The place is beautiful, and it speaks to my soul.  However, very little of the park is accessible from the road.  The place is made for backpackers.  I only had a couple of days in the park, so I didn’t have time for backpacking, even if I had been prepared.  I went home dreaming of giving up my job, moving to live close to the park, fully exploring the park, and then selling my services as a backpacking guide.

I didn’t believe that was realistic, but it did help motivate me to get back into backpacking.  I had been hiking more, training for Glacier (after failing to train properly for the Grand Canyon the year before).  I had been camping more.  I started to buy newer, lighter gear.

Earlier this month, I went backpacking for the first time in over fifteen years.  I am going to do it again over this Memorial Day weekend.  Assuming the confidence and experience I get this year, I am planning a week long backpacking trip next year in the Great Smoky Mountains.  And if that goes well, I’m thinking about going back to Glacier in 2020, to experience it the way it was meant to be.

Screening Film Gigs

Posted: 21st May 2018 by Cheap in Filmmaking

I am beginning to think I need to figure out how to screen film gigs.  How do I decide whether a gig is one that I want to work on or not?

I had an unpleasant experience on a film in January.  The director tried to film a thirty page script in two evenings.  He technically succeeded, but they were long, grueling evenings, and the production quality was poor.  It wasn’t a well-written script in the first place, and I am beginning to doubt I will ever see the film.  After that experience, I didn’t want to work with the filmmaker again, but I thought maybe he deserved a chance to do better.  So I had a conversation with him about scheduling, and I let him book me for another shoot.  The next shoot was worse.  It was another poorly written thirty page script.  He had a schedule this time, but he blew it immediately.  A three day shoot, we didn’t get started any day for hours, and two days had delays in the middle lasting additional hours.  Worse, there were no lights.  When I accosted the director about this, his response was, “I can’t think of everything!”  I was the sound guy, but I was salvaging the shoot by trying to creatively light the sets with flashlights that I happened to have in my car.  I was wearing a sound rig, but I was the guy schlepping “lights”, dressing the set, placing marks, etc.  He doesn’t know anything about lighting, but he kept vetoing all reasonable lighting suggestions made to him.  I gave him 26 hours of my life, all of which were miserable, and if I ever see the final product, it know it will suck.

I worked a handful of student films a couple years ago.  I decided that film students were too arrogant and deaf to advice to work with, although in hindsight, it might only be Webster students who are that way.

Up to now, I’ve basically been taking any non-paying film gig, as long as I’m available.  I have decided that it is time to be more discriminating.  But how do I make an informed choice?

Length

I definitely want to work with new and inexperienced filmmakers.  I can tolerate inexperience, poor production quality, insufficient crew, insufficient gear, and probably even a bad script — as long as I don’t have to give up a huge part of my life for it.  One long day, or a couple of short days.  A script that is five to eight pages is probably ideal.  If it’s longer, I need to have assurances that it is a good team with some experience.

Crew & Equipment

Is there going to be a reasonable crew?  At minimum, there should be a director, a DP, a gaffer, a location sound recordist, and at least one PA.  There should be reasonable camera, lighting, and sound equipment.

Release Plans

I need to be able to see the finished film at least once.  I’d like to see it in a theater, and then I’d like to be able to watch the film in the future indefinitely.  Submissions to film festivals are good.  If it’s not going to be posted online, then I’d like to receive a disc.

I’ve never actually sought out footage for a reel, and that’s because so few of the films I’ve worked have produced footage I’m proud of.

Payment

I don’t want to be paid.  However, I don’t want to work for free if others are being paid.  If anyone is being paid for their time, then I’m not interested.

E85

Posted: 11th May 2018 by Cheap in Camping, Travel
  • My vacation was fraught with problems, the biggest one being the sudden and massive coolant leak in my truck.  That’s fixed, but now I (probably) have a blown head gasket.  I wasted days of my vacation on it, and ultimately I had to coax it home despite chronic misfiring.  I will end up spending weeks working to repair that, and ultimately I may not be successful.
  • The second biggest problem was the wind at Padre island.  30-35 mph winds are evidently fairly common.  I have a tent that can handle that, but that’s not the tent I brought.  I didn’t get much sleep my second night there, and finally I took the tent down in the middle of the night for fear of it tearing.
  • I bought a second car.  I’ve been wanting one for a long time, mainly because it is such a hassle when someone’s vehicle is down, as will be the case for weeks while I’m rebuilding the Ranger.  I bought a Ford Focus in a hatchback configuration.  I’ve figured out that I’m not much of a sedan guy, being just me, and I’ll be glad for the cargo space when I’m working on film projects.  I’m actually quite impressed with this vehicle.  I expected an under-powered economy car, but the 2.0 liter motor is surprisingly effective, yet somehow the thing averages 34.5 mpg.  I measured 42 mpg on a recent highway road-trip.  It is a flex-fuel vehicle, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for E85 and give it a try.  It is a 2012, so the thing is seven years old, but it’s very clean, inside and out, and I still haven’t found a single thing wrong with it.  I went a little outside my arbitrary budget, but I’m glad I did.
  • At the beginning of March, I started seeds for five varieties of hot pepper plants, including Carolina Reaper.  They are doing well now.  They’ve all been transplanted into bigger pots and hardened in preparation for being moved outdoors.  I have planted one of each variety in my garden, which is really not a garden, but simply the landscaping in front of my house.  I don’t know how well they will do here, because the only part of the yard that gets full sun all day is out front away from the house.  I don’t think the neighbors will tolerate a vegetable garden there.  It looks like something, such as a bug, has been eating the Carolina Reaper plant.
  • I have a new backpack, a Deuter Aircontact Lite 65+10, and I am nearly ready to attempt my first backpacking excursion of the year.  My pack, fully loaded for an overnight hike, weighs 36 pounds, which is quite acceptable.  There’s quite a bit of extra room in the pack.  I think I will order a smaller version of this pack and save this one for longer treks.  I’ve also finally found a holster that basically works for the sidearm I intend to take backpacking, an SP-101 with a 4.2″ barrel.  I’m also going to get to try out my Eureka Spitfire Solo for the first time.
  • I just saw some information about the most popular national parks.  Glacier was #10 in 2016 and 2017.  Great Smoky Mountains is far and away #1, and Grand Canyon is #2.  There are two on the list I’d never heard of, and two more I know nothing about.  I guess I don’t know my national parks.  When I got to Padre Island, I was surprised to learn that it is run by the National Park Service and wasn’t more like a national forest.  Next year, I am planning to backpack at the Great Smoky Mountains, which is probably the closest and most accessible national park for me.

Being Single on Television

Posted: 5th May 2018 by Cheap in Film, Men and Women, Television

As a single guy in the real world, I am surrounded by couples, married and unmarried.  Among my friends, I can’t name anyone who doesn’t have a significant other.  It’s obviously a factor in why I’m alone.

In fiction, it’s never like that.

I have long been aware of this problem, the laughable improbability of the male and female characters in fiction both being available and both being interested in each other.  A love interest is a standard requirement in fiction, and writers don’t bother to make it realistic.  The worst thing that happens is that, for honorable reasons, they don’t act on their feelings.

I’ve been binge-watching The West Wing.  The entire cast of characters, with the exception of the president, is made up of single people.  If they could have gotten away with a president without a first lady, I’m sure they would have done that too.  All of the characters are available to develop romances with other characters, and indeed all of them have, some of them several times.  It’s completely unrealistic.  Look at the senior staff of any white house administration, and they’re almost all married.  And even if they were single, all of them would be in relationships nearly all of the time.

I find it quite frustrating to watch all of this easy romance, given how non-existent it is in my real life.