If 2021 was a back to school year, then I suppose 2022 was a “practice” year. Here is a recap.
Shooting the final scene of Super Diva! in West Oakland.
- Health / Fitness
- TV / Film
- Grim Resoluteness
For Anne Hall. I published one new essay, originally delivered as a talk at Northeastern University.
It’s another in what I’m now calling the “bait-and-switch series” where I use the excuse of getting an invitation to talk a student group (which in all likelihood expects me to talk about business) to write something I’ve been thinking about (that’s really not business related at all).
Super Diva! I wrote this short film in 2021, and my highest priority goal for 2022 was directing it and submitting it to film festivals. The idea was that making a short film end-to-end would be the best way to accelerate my education in filmmaking, and I think this worked well – I learned a ton.
I worked on pre-production from Dec 2021 through Feb 2022, shot in Mar 2022, then worked on post-production til about Jun 2022.
It was my first time hiring (and directing) a professional cast and crew; it was my first SAG project; it was my first time working with a professional colorist, post production sound engineer, and composer; it was my first time screening something in a theatre (at the New York Shorts International Film Festival); and I’m sure it ticked the “first” box for many other things.
I’m pretty happy with the way this came out, and I feel very grateful to the whole team that helped to make it happen and all the friends / family that supported by loaning props or locations, crafting with me, coming out to the screening, or giving moral support. I am still waiting to hear back from a few more festivals where I hope this screens, so probably will be at least Apr 2023 when I can publish the short to the public internet / Vimeo.
Shooting the bake sale scene of Super Diva!
Feature Screenplay. I entered the year on the 3rd revision of this screenplay and ended the year with a completed 8th revision. I did a ton of other development work on the film as well:
- I shot a scene from this for a directing workshop.
- I conducted a table read of the 7th revision with some wonderful actors.
- I began working on a production budget and shooting schedule (with some experienced line producers).
- I created a sizzle reel to communicate the tone of the film.
- I found an amazing producer (Cynthia Arzaga Fredette), who has now on officially joined the team.
- I’m feeling very good about the script, and plan to shoot in 2023, so…
- I began fundraising and have a chunk of the production budget in place.
One of my favorite writing experiences this year was going into a revision in the fall and thinking, every time I fix a script problem, it’s an opportunity to add more humor.
Not only was this a lot of fun, but it resulted in some of the better plot twists / obstacles in the script – ones which I wouldn’t have come up with by just plotting the character arcs with index cards.
Plotting sequences for character journey in Figma.
Telling Mattresses Stories. Rob and I shot the interview for this doc in 2021, and we did a little bit more work on it this year, but I didn’t spend as much time on this in 2022 as I wanted to.
We did get to a pretty good edited version of the interview script, and now most of the work making it more visually compelling (which I expect will require a few more shooting days) – so we made some progress. But my goal was to publish it this past year, which did not happen, so now it’s a priority for next year.
Still from Telling Mattresses Stories.
The Moth. I happened to learn from my friend Leigh Himel (who I met in a screenwriting group) that she was shooting a short in ATL with her writing partner (and the director + DP for the project) Charlie Fisk.
Charlie and Leigh invited me to come help out (and shadow / learn) on set and I bought a ticket immediately to see how a pro who’s been directing far longer than I have runs their shoot.
It was a 2 day shoot - and a larger production than my short, with about 20 people on set. Many more in the camera / lighting dept. There was Charlie (director and DP), a camera operator, 1st AC, 2nd AC, Gaffer, and 1-2 others in lighting / electric.
They shot a set of Atlas lenses and made a lot of us of a Fisher dolly. I thought the dolly shots would require a lot more setup time, but they were actually very efficient.
I’m really grateful I got the chance to be part of this, I had a really great time helping out where I could, and the experience made me want to get involved with making more short films in the future.
On set shooting The Moth.
Something new I started this year, a series that’s not so much essay as recap of things I’m working on and learning about. I published 2 of these – and really I intended to publish more, I just didn’t follow through on it:
- film devlog #2 // Super Diva! screens @ Cinema Village on Sun 23 Oct
- film devlog #1 // Super Diva! short film trailer
I also added a ton of notes to DaVinci Resolve: Tips, Workflows, Keyboard Shortcuts which is a sort of part of this series – I actually feel pretty good about this document and reference it myself quite a bit when I’m using Resolve.
But I have a large backlog of things I learned about I want to publish to the devlog, so if I were scoring myself on this bucket, I’d give it a C.
In 2021, I took 10 film classes with Sundance Collab. This year, even though I wanted to focus more on making things than on classes, I took 3 more Sundance Collab courses where the coursework overlapped with projects I was working on outside of class.
Directing: From Prepping Your Short Film to Submitting for Festivals // Asher Jelinsky // Mar 2022
This Sundance Collab class nicely coincided with work I was doing on my short film Super Diva!
It was kind of a mix of a directing 101 and producing 101 that covered all sorts of material – pre-production, casting, production, editing, festival submission, marketing.
The instructor Asher Jelinsky was great. My TA Omer Ben Shachar also had some good tidbits to share – on seemingly mundane (but actually quite practical) things like how to communicate with your composer.
Screenwriting: Rewriting Your Feature // Terah Jackson // May 2022
Right after I wrapped production of my short, I had a deadline to submit for a competition hosted by The Gotham. So I scrambled to finish a bunch of ideas I had for the feature right before I began this Sundance Collab class taught by Terah Jackson.
Terah used a phrase – the “back in the drawer” period – for the time between finishing one revision and feeling ready to dive into the next rewrite.
I got a bunch of great feedback from classmates and my TA (Ian Hendrie), but I think that starting the class hot off a major rewrite left me “in the drawer” for the remainder of the class, so I didn’t get as much out of the class as I might have. Note to future self: don’t do a rewrite right before a rewriting class!
Directing: Workshopping Your Film // Michael Kang // Jun 2022
My TA for this class – Joey Ally – was such a force of positive energy, wisdom, and energy. She uplifted the whole group. (Also, her movie The Hater is great – you should see it!)
The final project for this class was to “workshop” a scene from whatever we were working on, cast it with professional actors, and shoot it. Each week, we spent a ton of time in our breakout groups, going through whatever each person needed for their project – giving script feedback, doing a table read of their script, trading pre-production or production notes, giving feedback on rough cuts. As a result of all this live collaboration, of the 13 classes I’ve now taken, this one had the most class camaraderie.
Originally, I intended to shoot one of the more comedic scenes from the first act my feature, but Michael advised choosing a scene from Act 2 where the character makes a pivotal decision. So chose my midpoint scene – a scene where I really wasn’t buying the motivations for 2 of the characters. It was one of the least comedic / most dramatic scenes in the story. I’m really glad I switched to this scene at the last minute, because I ended up significantly rewriting the scene to make it “work” better.
One of the biggest things I learned in this class was how difficult it is to communicate tone. In the casting call, nearly everyone went completely camp with the script (an impulse I totally understand) – but I was envisioning the tone far more deadpan / straight, at most a little arch. This got me completely rethinking all the comps, notes, and references I was using to explain the direction – far MORE The Graduate, more Coen Brothers, and a bit LESS Rush Hour.
Hollywood Camera Work Master Course in Blocking & Staging
I bought this cinematography course when a friend (Han Soto) recommended it, and I absolutely loved it.
It’s entirely produced with a very low fidelity Unreal Engine aesthetic, but I think this ultimately works in favor of the course, as it keeps you focused on the right elements.
It covers (often in excruciating detail) all sorts of blocking and camera movement techniques – handoffs, pivots, deep staging, keyframe shots.
I plan to re-watch the entire series again before my next shoot.
You can watch a few of the sample videos on YouTube here .
Pivoting a camera on a track.
OpenAI released the open source transcription project whisper this year and it works FAR BETTER than any other speech-to-text software I have tried.
I created a small helper tool that makes my life video editing a bit easier: av_transcribe.
It’s a slim wrapper around whisper that looks at all the media files in a project directory and transcribes them – creating subtitles and text files for all the audio and video.
It makes finding segments of interviews much much easier.
Subs generated by av_transcribe imported into DaVinci Resolve.
I spent some time over the summer learning Unreal Engine, which I was excited to do for a few reasons:
(1) To play and learn virtually with lighting for film / camera. I learned a ton about composition and framing by playing with Storyboarder and figured the same type of thing would work for lighting in Unreal. I didn’t get too far down this path, but am still excited about Unreal as a tool for learning lighting.
(2) Pre-vis / storyboarding. I found a bunch of very cool “hatching shader” tutorials on YouTube (eg by KamilHepner). This is a technique for creating an animated / pencil sketched aesthetic in Unreal Engine. I anticipate using Unreal to generate static images for pre-vis for film projects in the future.
Screengrab of hatching shader tutorial WIP.
(3) Designing 3D / virtual experiences. Rob and I came up with an idea for a virtual exhibit extending the Telling Mattresses Stories doc project, and we began prototyping this in Unreal Engine.
3D scanning a mattress to import into Unreal Engine.
Learning about Unreal Engine got me pretty excited about virtual production – the level of quality and tooling around this stuff is already quite good, and I would bet a ton of interesting stories will be told using virtual production tools like UE over the next few years.
DaVinci Resolve 18 added cloud collaboration, so Rob and I stopped using sq to manage a remote postgres database for remotely collaborating on Resolve projects.
But I do still use a bunch of the other tooling in
sq, especially the media backup and synchronization via s3.
One annoyance I ran into a lot more this past year is that the only option for internet service provider I have is Optimum, and they seem to have automated some sort of throttling of large file uploads. Whenever I try to upload a single file greater than ~50GB, they terminate my internet connection and I need to restart my router and modem.
This got really annoying, making it virtually impossible to upload large files to s3. So I added a resumable upload feature to sq, where it will upload each file in up to 100 chunks. If I’ve uploaded 50 chunks and the internet connection dies, it will pickup at the 51st chunk the next time I try to upload the same file.
Resumable uploads with sq.
Health / Fitness
Running / Biking. I didn’t run / bike nearly as much as I did in 2021. This year I logged:
- 152 runs
- 92h 54m
- 94 rides
- 46h 6m
I did, however, end up varying my exercise quite a bit more, with a lot more soccer, boxing, and yoga than in 2021.
Nutrition. I don’t think I’ve been eating quite as healthy in NY as I was in CA. Specifically, I want to get back into the habit of eating in fresh / raw salads for dinner more often.
Of the 25 or so books I read this year, there were a few highlights:
When We Cease to Understand the World. The best book I’ve read in years. In a word: exhilarating. It made me excited again about the possibility of books. I recommend learning nothing about it and just reading it blind.
The Code of Capital. The most accurate analysis of the structural problems of big business and corporate law by an academic I have ever encountered. It’s remarkable no one paid off Katharina Pistor to NOT publish this book. Not exactly a “thrilling” read, but a must read if you are worried about plutocracy in the 21st century.
Getting Out of the Rat Race: Is an “Age of Leisure and Abundance” Possible?. The older you get / the deeper you go on a topic, the harder it is to be surprised by coming across something that pushes you to think about the world a differently. This INET paper gave me that pleasant feeling of maybe I should reconsider a few things?
For a long time, I’ve been a big believer in redistributing cash as one of the best ways to counteract some of the power imbalances that naturally result from capitalism.
This paper from INET argues that historically income increases have mostly gone straight into an arms race for positional status goods (housing, education). And spending in these categories has just driven up prices without driving any sort of material improvements in quality.
Consequently, the authors argue, policy might better focus on providing (and implicitly, rationing) services to citizens rather than giving them cash to spend as they please – not because they’re not rational, but because the “rational” actor in the game-theoretic sense will always just spend to the point of driving up the prices of positional goods.
My one hesitation with reports using historical data like this is they assume a lot of other policies held constant, so I’m not sure how much weight to give them if more radical changes are on the table; ie, if some sort of radical redistribution or UBI scenario is on the table, will people be as motivated to compete for houses and education (or will the status these goods bring with them be unnecessary)?
Despite my reservations, I have been thinking a lot about this paper since reading it and it has definitely led me to change the way I think about the world in important ways.
The Pale King. Just great – and now I think I’m really running out of David Foster Wallace to read…
TV / Film
I don’t really watch TV, but I saw a few good mini-series-es in 2022.
Q: Into The Storm. HBO mini-series on QAnon. Best documentary I have ever seen.
The Vow. Another HBO doc limited series. The psychology of the NXIVM cult – the way it preys the fears and dreams and desire for meaning of smart people – is absolutely fascinating. It got met thinking about how our dominant cultural narratives do the similar things to people who aren’t in what most of us would label “cults” (ie to people like me!).
Dope Sick. Must-watch dramatic mini-series on the opioid crisis / Purdue Pharma / Sackler family.
Everything Everywhere All at Once. So much fun. So smart. And an honest ending that doesn’t make you want to kill yourself. Hats off!
Force Majeure. Really smart and hilarious social satire. My favorite of the Östlund films I have seen. Particularly inspiring were the reaction-shots held for an extremely (and uncomfortably) long time while 2 people off camera were holding a long conversation.
Red Rocket. Good movie most notable to me for the production ethos / hustle. Guerrilla Filmmaking and Low Budget Filmmaking talk about how a 10 person crew shot this in 23 days on 16mm film – and it looks fantastic!
This year, it felt to me like there was a current in the zeitgeist where people were making an extra effort not to despair.
Something about the tenor of this effort felt a little off to my ear – phrases like “pragmatic optimism” or “the perils of pessimism.” I want to write more about this at length – but in the interest of keeping this recap from sprawling even longer – I’ll just say a lot of this talk felt a little self-delusional (like Voltaire’s Candide).
I’m not saying we should despair, but to me the way David Chapman frames the alternative to despair sounds a little less naive: “grim resoluteness.”
So in the spirit of the #gratitude section, I’m adding #grim-resoluteness section – things happening in the world that are a reason to get out of bed and keep trying every day.
Sortition. I learned about this in James Bridle’s Ways of Being. Sortition is a process where you select a random committee of citizens to legislate a policy. It seems to sidestep a lot of the pitfalls of democracy in a mass media / influence dominated world where elected officials with more money (more corporate donors) can buy more influence.
Civics. One of the things I like about sortition is it’s a sort of civic duty involving time (not money). Really, the one civic duty we have in the US is jury duty, and all our other responsibilities amount to taxes. While the economic efficiencies of taxing to fund specialized teams to do public work make sense, I feel there is a huge missed opportunity / hidden cost where we miss out on the solidarity you can build working with a team of other people to do something for the collective good. The Pale King has an excellent chapter on why we only seem to have rights and no responsibilities as citizens in the US. It’s really worth a read.
SaveArtSpace. A non-profit organization that replaces outdoor ads with public art. I LOVE THIS.
#degrowth. I recently learned there’s an official umbrella for a lot of the themes that have most occupied my own thinking and writing over the past few years. From wikipedia: “The main argument degrowth raises is that an infinite expansion of the economy is fundamentally contradictory to finite planetary boundaries.”
We Are What We Eat. I love Alice Waters’ idea for sourcing all the meals for public schools from local farms. Prolly works far better in the part of CA where she’s from than in a lot of other places, but nonetheless a fantastic thing to get behind as much as possible wherever it is possible.
“Heterodox” Economics. I feel like I see more and more serious economics papers and policy ideas that would have been laughed out of the room 20 years ago. The Code of Capital, GDP 2.0, tons of great things from INET and RadicalxChange.
Radical Taxes. A policy idea of my own that I’m still very excited about as a practical way to remediate the lopsided returns that result from capitalism.
“Constant Vigilance.” A phrase I heard about what it takes to make the world even a little bit just. Reminds me of the refrain from the The Road: are you carrying the fire?
In 2022, I spent a huge hunk of the year working on my short film Super Diva! and my feature length screenplay.
And I’ve had nothing but support from everyone I know – friends, family, classmates, teachers, mentors. I’m really grateful for this support, because doing anything artistic can be quite a lonely, manic-depressive roller coaster.
I learned a ton from everyone on the Super Diva! team. The actors were phenomenal – without this cast, it would have been an entirely different film. And the entire crew was so generous, gracious, and efficient – we got a lot done with a really small team.
I’m incredibly grateful to have Cynthia on the team as producer for my feature film. It’s awesome to have someone who believes in the project working with me to help make it happen, and I’m constantly learning from her.
Finally, I’m grateful for the set of amazing investors who believe in the film and are already onboard to provide the initial financial backing to help get it into production in 2023.
On that note, I think I’ll end.
The big big thing for me next year is making my first feature film.
While I’m sure the film is going to consume a huge amount of my time, I also want to: do more writing than I did last year, finish up the mattress doc with Rob, collaborate on a video project with my friend Matt, release Super Diva! on Vimeo, and write the first draft of another screenplay I’ve been taking notes on for the past year.
But top priority is the feature film!