4 March
ibrews

A few weeks ago, a childhood friend recommended a book to me called Red Rising. I read it, and liked it, but couldn’t help but feel like there was nothing particularly original in it. Nearly every character, plot beat, and twist instantly conjured to mind another book or movie that had done the same thing, usually better. It felt like going to one of those New York City cafeteria’s like Bread & Butter, where nearly every food you could ever desire is available, but at a lower quality, and once you’ve consumed all that sushi and pasta and chicken wings and fruit salad to your heart’s content, you feel a little ill. By the end of this giant mashup of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Tooth of Crime, Star Wars, Divergent, Game of Thrones, and Red Faction, I felt like my imagination was left woefully unstretched.
 

But really, I enjoyed it. In that tub-of-ice-cream-kind-of-way (what’s with these food analogies?? I should go eat lunch… no wait, finish this.) The writing was fantastic, the exposition minimal, and the world-building was vivid. Heck, I’ve been thinking about it so much I even created my second tumblr just as a place to create memes about it. My reaction is similar to how I feel about The Hobbit films— deep inside there is something brilliant just struggling to get out, but man, it’s just not there.
 

Anyway, why am I talking about a book I read to preface a new play? Well my friends, inspired by my new-found hyper-awareness of common plot beats and character archetypes across dystopic tales, I wrote a satirical play making fun of it all. I tried to keep the sarcasm to a minimum and have the play come from a place of genuine love for these kinds of stories– I hope I’ve succeeded. So far the common word I’m hearing from my readers is that it’s “fun.” Good adjective, that.
 

The last time I wrote a ‘parody play’ was my very first, La Salle d’Or, playing with the way stakes get pumped up in even the simplest stories. I took the story about a boy asking a girl to a school dance and morphed it into a larger-than-life quasi-musical about saving the world.
 

Nine years after that first play, I’ve decided this is both a comfortable and fruitful territory for me, so expect more genre send-ups in the future!
 

Dystopiapiapia was written and edited in a mad rush of 3 days (15 rough pages in one day, even dealing with a puppy foster dog!). It’s timely completion was aided very much by Nick Douglas at Slacktory in a Thursday evening of mutually-assured-writing. As I have every year since 2012, I used the deadline of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival to force myself to produce something new. No dice for the last two years, but maybe the third time’s a charm?
 

I’m actually quite happy with Dystopiapiapia and would love to see it get a production, so I’m going to pursue as many one-act competitions as I can. Ideally, an existing theater group would produce it and I could just enjoy watching it come to life, but honestly, I’m interested enough in making this happen that I would happily produce it through WhAT (like my Sims play) if the opportunity arose. Take a glance and let me know what you think!
 

Download (PDF, 821KB)

 

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10 February
ibrews

I mean, I’ve made videos and stuff (check the Slacktory videos on my media page), but this is the first one I’m taking (somewhat) seriously. But I know your first question: why am I posting stuff about a film on my theatre page? Good question friend! Two answers: 1) Because the film is based on my play, ‘The Following is Based on True Events (from a Video Game)‘, and 2) Because I don’t really have a better place to write about this. Sure, I could put it on my media page, but if you look at it, well, it doesn’t really want anything text-based.

 

A little background: from the day I finished writing this play, I thought it could work as a short film. There were a lot of things that that we did in the play with the projector and, well, Dan pretending to be a mouse clicker, that are quite simply better-suited to post-production. I didn’t pursue this for a while, but then one day brought it up to my good friend Alex Schmidt (who introduced me to Nick Douglas at Slacktory), and he said that he’d be thrilled to help me make it happen, so he set off to try to find a director. There were a couple times when it looked like it might happen, but then something would go wrong and we were back at square one. Then in December, something silly happened: Nick Douglas sent me an e-mail with the jist: ‘hey, I love your Sims play. Would you mind if Slacktory made a short film out of it?’ Alex Schmidt and I had to laugh a little; why had neither of us thought to ask him in the first place?

 

Fast forward to Monday January 27th. I’ve recast TJ Clark and Mike Finn who played Mortimer Goth and Bob Newbie, respectively, in the original play. We’re in the apartment of a friend of Nick’s who has a sizable green screen. Nick is running sound. I’m directing and camera-operating. Alex Schmidt is there doing every conceivable other task, from operating B-camera, to fixing falling green screen, to running to Wendy’s to get burgers (for the burger scene). We filmed from 10 AM to 2 PM and everything went great (I think).  We worked out a SAG New Media contract, used two $100 Panasonic Handycams, and I’m thrilled we were able to use nice audio equipment (audio is always the quickest way I’m able to tell if something is professional or not). The only real problem was lighting, since the apartment wasn’t really set up to handle greenscreen so we relied on a skylight, providing inconsistent lighting.

 

Anyway, I’ve got a ton of lead time on this– it’s going to be a 5 minute-or-so sketch video, and doesn’t need to be done until The Sims 4 comes out sometime in the Fall. Since I can take my time and really do this right, I thought it would be neat to chronicle my progress; I’ll articulate my thoughts, problems, and questions as I progress through the post-production process, and hopefully you’ll give me your advice and ask me the kinds of questions that will lead to a better product. It’s also nice to imagine that many of the struggles I’m bound to go through in the coming months will be common ones, and hopefully solutions we find to my issues will be helpful to others as well.

 

Here’s some things I currently know very little about that I’m going to have to learn a lot about:

 

  • Color grading
  • Camera tracking/stabilization
  • Chroma Key (I made this Breaking Bad Parody for my office’s Holiday Party a few weeks ago, but that’s about it)
  • Inserting virtual 3D models into real-life footage
  • Simulating fire/explosions/smoke
  • Simulating stuff appearing and disappearing out of nowhere
  • Matching shots of this with shots from the actual Sims video game
  • A whole host of things I don’t even know that I’ll need to know about yet

To start, I’ve decided to upload all of my footage at private links on youtube so that I can peruse what we captured at my leisure and use youtube’s comment section to call out anything from takes I like to issues that will need addressing. If you’d like to make such comments, you’re more than welcome!

 

Footage from Camera A

Footage from Camera B

Random Photos

 

Here’s some of the software I’ll be using:

  • Adobe Premiere CS6
  • Adobe After Effects CS6
  • Adobe Photoshop CS6
  • Audacity (never really liked Adobe Audition)
  • 3ds Max 2014
  • Vray 2.0

If you plan on following this, thanks~! I look forward to your feedback and hopefully teaching each other a few things. I’ll also be charting these posts over at Filmpunch. So what am I doing right now? Watching all that footage (obviously), but also watching lots of tutorials regarding After Effects and Premiere Pro.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

 

AfterEffects:

  • don’t use AfterEffects for Camera Tracking. Use Mocha.
  • don’t use AfterEffects for Rotoscoping. Use Mocha.

Premiere Pro:

  • use the shortcut keys while editing to seamlessly switch between ripple edits, sliding edits, double-sided edits, etc.
  • delete that pesky cuda_supported_cards.txt file in the Premiere Pro directory to make everything a thousand times better. Geezum crow how did I not know this?

 

More soon!

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22 November
ibrews

A

 

First, a little back-story.
 
As you’ll see by looking at my Theatre Scores,  I’ve actually already seen No Man’s Land. It was London in 2008, and is 1 of only 3 productions I’ve ever given an A+ to. Why? It made me feel things I’ve never felt before, most notably among them: menace levied by dark humor. The wind and release of tension was so masterful that by the end of the show I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh about the whole thing or curl up in a ball and cry myself to sleep.
 
The imposing stature and unpredictable nature of Michael Gambon’s Hirst paired with the no-nonsense-fuck-you-ery of David Walliams and Nick Dunning’s performances set against the uncomfortable and squirming nature of David Bradley as Spooner put me in a thoroughly nauseated state– the best kind of nauseated state.
 
During the show I was convinced that at any moment someone was about to die (oh that menace!); I hung on every word said by every character, convinced it could be the last word they ever said before either killing someone, or being killed themselves.  The sense of displacement, of failure, of hopelessness was all so very tangible. So very real. I’ve thought about that production often in the five years since– a true reminder of the power of theater, done right.
 
So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to see that the show was being done again in NYC, this time with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, my very favoritest old people best friends. Always aware that I am currently young and not-yet encumbered by countless children, I decided to organize a posse and make a go at rush tickets. Based on my Death of a Salesman experience, I knew this would require waking up at an ungodly hour on a day I’d usually be catching up on sleep, but to get $200 tickets for $30 kind of makes it all worth it– plus this time I’d have friends! And– once I actually saw the rush policy, it seemed too good to be true: No Man’s Land was being performed in repertory with Waiting for Godot (same cast), and if we got rush tickets on a day when one show was the matinee and other was the evening show, we could buy 1 rush ticket to each show! And if that wasn’t excellent enough, I then also learned that the entire front row of the theater was being reserved for rush ticket holders. WHAT?!
 
Saturday November 16th, we ventured to the Cort theater at about 6:30 AM to find one person already in line, a young aspiring actor named Ned who at 1 AM had driven all the way from Ithaca, so joyoused by the notion of seeing this. We made him feel good about his timing since he had only arrived 20 minutes before us, and we felt good about our timing, since by 7 AM a large group arrived behind us. From there on the line just kept swelling. We had a jolly morning telling stories of the type you only tell when you’re mentally exhausted, watching a live taping of the real Fox and Friends, not-being-bombarded-by-street-construction (Death of a Salesman experience) and  and by the time the box office opened at 10 AM the line was insanely long. At 9:50 AM, a young man and woman arrived in a private car, presumably thinking that 10 minutes was enough leeway to guarantee them rush tickets, then quickly made a spectacle out of their clear hatred for the situation (and by extension, each other), eventually storming off in opposite directions.
 
So we got our tickets and it worked out great– front row center to both shows. However, we realized all too late that our new friend Ned actually only bought 1 ticket when he could have bought 2 (he needed to drive back to Ithaca after the matinee show). Dammit! We could have asked him to buy his second ticket on our behalf so we could get another friend into a show. Oh well– we told ourselves that hopefully the final person who gets a ticket thanks to our non-greediness will be enormously thrilled by their good fortune (I imagined a Tiny Tim-esque boychild leaping in glee while supporting himself on his tiny wooden crutch). The reality turned out to be almost that good– our friend Alex Graham arrived at 8:15 AM, uncertain if he would be able to get a ticket since the line was already pretty long at that point. We told him to stick around– he might get lucky. You’re probably ahead of me at this point but you’re right– he got the last ticket. Oh happy day! His seat was up in one of the $220 premium boxes, and he was grinning ear to ear through the entire performance of Waiting for Godot.
 
With our tickets in hand, we had to find a way to pass the time until the first performance at 2 PM (No Man’s Land) so we went up to Dan’s and worked on board game stuff while Liz slept. Grabbed a wonderful bite at a diner, then ventured into the first show praying that we wouldn’t fall asleep. Goodness gracious, our seats were pressed up right against the front of the stage! How cool.
 
After the first show, we visited the Nintendo Store at Rockefeller Plaza, then found an empty cafeteria place that had horrible food but space and quiet to play Yomi and Rivals for Catan until the 8 PM show started. And yeah! That was… well, you’ll see in my mini-review.
 
Ahem.
 
So just kidding, that was a lot of backstory.
 
Last note before my show-thoughts. I considered reviewing these two productions separately, but by seeing them both in one day, one after the other, they’re inextricably linked in my mind. The shows also had so much in common, from the fallacy of memory, to the nature of reality, to the absurd nature of several of the characters, that is just seems natural to discuss the two in tandem.
 
Here we go.
 
—————————————————-

Hoo-rah!

  • All four leads shined in their dual casting. More than anything, I was blown away by the deliberateness of the movement of each actor. I think of Ian McKellen breaking my heart in a moment in No Man’s Land when he reaches toward Hirst after being accused of never helping him. I think of Billy Crudup’s disturbingly vivid portrayal of Lucky in Waiting for Godot, even more heart-wrenching after seeing his Jude Law in Sleuth-evoking performance as Foster. True masters of their craft.
  • The set design was gorgeous, drawing parallels between the shows with a sense of decay, peeling, and looming elements while also detailing their differences– the stark, barren wasteland of a post-apocalyptic Waiting for Godot versus the decadent yet suffocating world of Hirst’s living room in No Man’s Land.
  • I’d never seen Waiting for Godot, and while I consider it to be a little more light-hearted and absurd than No Man’s Land, it is fun to speculate on the world in which it lives. The obvious answer seems to be ‘after the rapture’, full of language like ‘then we’ll be saved’ and even images like Ian McKellen’s empty shoes front and center at the end of Act 1. However, the play reminded me most strongly of the days I’ve spent waiting for a repairman to arrive at my apartment, never to show. Seriously– it captured that frustration and awkward ‘how do we pass the time’ sensation perfectly. Ah, the beauty of interpretation. Also, although No Man’s Land as a whole hits me deeper in the core of my being, I’ll likely be having nightmares about Pozzo and Lucky for the next few weeks.
  • The writing in general is top notch– both shows lend themselves to either washing over you, or line-by-line scrutiny depending on how you want to take it in.
  • Loved the way the shows talked to each other– I had to convince people it was all in the script! My favorite moments:  1) In No Man’s Land, as though commenting on Waiting for Godot: “Can you imagine the two of us gabbing away like I am? It would be intolerable.” 2) In Waiting for Godot, as though referencing Ian McKellen’s part in No Man’s Land: “Don’t I look like a poet?” 3) Finally, Ian McKellen seemingly commenting on his film roles when he says in Waiting for Godot: “I’ve always compared myself to Christ.”
  • Music and sound cues were spare in both shows but struck just the right mood.
  • The comic timing of these guys is impeccable. Any one of them could do stand-up comedy.

 

Blech…

  • As great actors as Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are, there’s just no hiding what great friends they are. In Waiting for Godot, this is an asset. In No Man’s Land, it removes much of the menace of the show.
  • A giant gob of Ian McKellen spit on Lucky’s hat was super distracting. Also the fact that we could see Ian McKellen’s injured leg before he actually received the injury.
  • I think a case could be made that both shows were played just a little too much for laughs, removing some potentially potent dramatic energy. Honestly, both these shows are still sitting with me, and I’ll likely continue to update this review as I see fit.

 

Tales from After the Show…

  • Normally I’d hang out at the stagedoor after a show to enjoy seeing an actor out of character interacting the a mass of fans, but we were all so very tired by 11 PM that we skipped all that. Too bad… I had a small glimmer of hope that, video camera in hand, I might be able to get Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart to read the audition lines for the casting call for the 17-year old leads of Star Wars Episode VII. You know that would’ve gone viral.
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2 November
ibrews

A-

 

Hoo-rah!

  • Matthew Bourne is always fantastic– no exception here.
  • Wonderful adaptation of the classic tale– he pulls the best plot beats from the various adaptations we’re familiar with, and even. How do we make Aurora’s true love stay alive long enough to be with her when she wakes? Vampirism! Why not?
  • Loved how when we see the ‘predicted future’ presented to the king and queen, Aurora and her true love where masks that make them faceless, signifying that they are not yet real people.
  • Love the casting of Carabosse (Maleficent in the Disney version) as a guy, still in high heels, towering and terrifying. Then to also have the same actor/dancer playing her avenging, don-juan-esque son was perfect.
  • Costumes were gorgeous. Excellent balance between the fanciful mystique of the fairy world and the period piece nature of the first half of the tale. Always the right flow to accentuate that character’s movements.
  • Clearly that last bullet point was dictated to me by Liz. Here’s another: the dancer who played the good fairy was a standout– his movements were alternatively strong, elegant, and ethereal all in the service of his character.
  • Forced perspective set design was perfect. Particularly loved the veranda… looking up at the ‘only a model‘ palace with a dramatic sunset behind it. Sublime.
  • 100 year jump forward was a wonderful idea, and the costumes (mostly hooded-sweatshirts and jeans) provided ripe opportunities for dance styles that would have been near-impossible in the period piece outfits.
  • The killing of Carabosse by the good fairy (spoiler alert!) is excellently done. Catharsis!

Blech…

  • Too much baby. I get it– it’s a cute puppet, but 20 minutes of it were more than enough.
  • Music not as memorable as the Swan Lake or Dorian Gray productions.
  • A critique of the City Center venue : Liz and I were seated in the mezzanine in seats A1 and A2. Those sound like good seats, right? We were close to the stage, and would have had a great view, if not for the inexplicable extra depth in our row which placed the heads of those seated in front of us squarely in our view of about 40% of the stage. Add a jittery, and you have yourself a lot of breaks in your suspense of disbelief.

 

Random Fun Fact:

  • Stephen Fry was there! I walked right by him! He was rocking his Twelfth Night goatee! Awesome.
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12 October
ibrews

B

 

Hoo-rah!

  • Well-written script by Bruce Norris– compelling story that never felt too spoon-fed, and all very real characters who reminded Liz and I of actual people in our lives.
  • Appreciated the balance of the slightly absurd theatrical elements with grounded, true-to-life depictions.
  • The show moves swiftly with excellent pacing– all scene and set changes happened while the action continued, and characters would move from one scene to the next without missing a beat. This was used to great comedic effect in a scene where the wife (fabulously played by Laurie Metcalf) tells her lawyer there’s no way they’re going to become the kind of people who talk to a therapist, and literally a second later they’re sitting down talking to a therapist. I believe Bruce Norris/Anna Shapiro (the director) have mastered the theatrical smash-cut.
  • ‘Theater in the round’ style of the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre felt intimate, and the blocking was such that you never had more than one character facing away from you.
  • Ian Malcolm– the later years! Jeff Goldblum was an excellent choice for a philandering, unfaithful, selfish prick who could still entertain and hold your interest.
  • Loved the Cambodian daughter never speaking to her family, but continually giving a school presentation throughout the show that progressed into further and further humiliation for various male species of animal.

Blech…

  • There’s definitely a better title for this show than ‘Domesticated.’ Maybe they were playing off the whole domesticated animal thing in addition to the family dynamic, but when I hear a show is called ‘Domesticated’, I imagine a somewhat inane, low-stakes family drama. This wanted to be called something grander, perhaps ‘The Descent of Man’ or ‘Humiliated Male Species 101.’
  • As much as I like the idea of it, I don’t really buy that Bill (Jeff Goldblum) would stay quiet through the almost the entire first act of the show. He clearly loves the sound of his own voice, and as we learned later, wasn’t really ashamed of his actions, so the notion that he would allow a constant barrage of verbal abuse without speaking up rang untrue.
  • While the ensemble casting was certainly efficient (7 performers covered about 20 characters), it definitely caused confusion. A couple of the more bothersome double-takes: the actress who played the wife’s lawyer also played her best friend, and the actress who played the defending lawyer of an injured prostitute and her mother also played an Oprah-esque talk-show host who interviewed them. Costumes/hair-styles/demeanor– not sure what or how, but more certainly could have been done to distinguish some of these parts.
  • One of the actresses took me out of the moment a number of times: she spoke far louder than the other performers, and never really disappeared into any of the five roles she was playing.
  • Jeff Goldblum has a strange physicality when he plays heightened emotions. He bangs on things over-dramatically, makes big gestures, and swings his whole body– it struck me as unnatural, but maybe I just haven’t seen enough tall, lanky people get angry.

 

Fun Facts:

Jeff Golblum plays a guy who can’t stand to be monogamous with his wife, and keeps going after younger people. In real life, Jeff Goldblum was married and divorced twice, then has dated on and off with numerous people for the past 23 years. His current girlfriend is half his age.

 

Laurie Metcalf plays Jeff Goldblum’s wife and the mother of their two children. She is sickened by her husband’s actions and can’t stand the sight of him anymore. In real life, she recently filed for divorce after a nearly 20 year marriage, also with two children.

 

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