Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bladerunner (1982) Convention Reel Found on Vimeo

A 1982 “convention reel” for the movie Bladerunner (1982) has appeared on Vimeo. It is very low quality, probably a transfer from the 16 mm but has some interesting material in it. In fact it contains some of the first efforts of Hollywood producers to destroy the noble art of visual effects by revealing the secrets of the arcane technology which is better held by a trusted elite and not just thrown out to the great unwashed of the filmgoing public.

This was still in the early days of “convention reels”, when film producers would pander to attendees of science fiction, fantasy and comic conventions. The success of the marketing of Star Wars (1977) could not be ignored and so studios and filmmakers started allocating money for short films describing the film in progress and sending those films along with a marketing assistant and possibly a star or two to the various conventions around the country.

Ridley Scott in front of a Bladerunner miniature

1982 would have been very early in this trend, before the directors and stars started routinely showing up at the convention.

Highlights of this reel include

-- A discussion by Syd Mead of the philosophy behind much of the production design, which is to say, a layered approach on the lower levels of accretions of technology on top of previous, no longer working, artifacts. I am not sure, but it looks to me as though they were building the set to Bladerunner on top of an urban back lot of existing facades, such as the Universal Back Lot, although I am not sure which one this might be.

-- A discussion by Ridley about why he did not want to use the word Android and instead made up their own word, replicant.

-- A discussion by Douglas Trumbull on the elements required to simulate the interior of one of the Spinners (flying police vehicles).

It is the latter that is the most disturbing as this is one of the earliest cases of the use of arcane technology of visual effects used to sell a film.  What a self-destructive behavior this is!  By revealing how the magic is done, the magic is itself undone, and the audience begins to become jaded and critical.  This process which took 30 years is one of the biggest problems the filmmaker has today.  But it is our own damn fault, or perhaps the fault of the producers who encouraged this kind of behavior out of a desire to market their film, in other words, out of short term greed.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Candidate for Michael


Now that it is almost certain that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, we are all being requested to fall in behind the standard bearer. And I expect that I will because the threat of another Republican administration, whether Trump or otherwise, is too horrible to contemplate. But I do resent it, because I do not like Hillary's policies, not even a little bit, its just that she is the lessor of two evils.

So to be specific, here are some positions I would like any candidate I support to have:

1. I would want any candidate I supported be in favor of canceling all H1B visas and that companies in this country should hire the many qualified Americans instead.

2. I would want any candidate I supported be in favor of a salary and compensation cap on executives, perhaps limiting them to some multiple of the lowest salary they pay, perhaps 35 (*) times the lowest salary.

3. I would want any candidate I support to be vocal about his or her desire to change the unemployment metric to include those who are long-term unemployed or underemployed.

4. I would want any candidate I support to be vocal about change to the poverty threshold to make it a more reasonable measure of those who are very poor in this country.

5. I would want any candidate I support to change the way we do loans for education, higher, lower or middle, to make it more along the lines of the Australian system.

6. I would want any candidate I support to be vocal about seeing that globalization is not artificially encouraged by lowering or destroying standards for environmental control, as has happened at the Port of Los Angeles.

7. I would want any candidate I support to be vocal about seeing that that those who encouraged and executed torture in our name to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

8. I would want any candidate I support to work to end the grossly unfair difference between criminal sentences for black people vs white and white collar crime. How can it be just for a black man who stole a stapler in Alabama go to jail for life while John Ehrlichman went to jail for 18 months?

9. I would want any candidate I support to be vocal about seeing to it that local police forces obey the letter and intent of the law, and that those who do not have criminal prosecution brought against them.

10. I would want any candidate I support to be especially vocal about ending the kinds of abuse that one finds in the Orange County Attorney General's office with its illegal use of informants and its perjury regarding the use of databases, and its use of such information to get convictions against innocent citizens.

11. I would want to know why the DOJ did not bring criminal prosecution against the DEA in San Diego.

12. I would want to know why the DOJ did not bring criminal prosecution against the many people in the savings and loan industry for their criminal malfeasance in the 2008 bailout.

13. I would want to change the capital gains taxes to exempt those with under a million dollars in capital, but greatly increase the rate as the capital went above 10 or 20 million dollars worth. In other words, no capital gains taxes for the poor or middle class, but much larger taxes against the very rich. And maybe even a tax on capital itself for those with over 250 M or some other suitably chosen number. In other words, I am not interested in hearing that we do not have the money for education when rich people fly around in their 100 million dollar jets. Just not interested.

14. I would want my candidate to attempt to restore many tax breaks to the middle class, such as the tax exemption for education which Reagan took away.

15. I would want to change our justice system so that the poor really do have access to good legal counsel instead of just paying lip service to it.

16. I would expect any candidate I support to be vocal about seeing that public education was as good as private education.

17. I would expect any candidate I support to work to bring a sense of justice and proportion to our corrupt medical system. I would expect doctors be required to work some percentage of the time in a clinic for the poor, that their salaries would be limited to that which a public servant makes, say, for example, teachers. I would want to evaluate what pharmaceutical companies charge for their medications. For example, I regularly do an off patent generic which sells for over 180 times its cost of production.

Of course, I would not expect any candidate to support all of these, but I might want him or her to support some of them. And I would not expect that he or she could get all or maybe even any of these through Congress, but I would expect them to try.

As Senator Bulworth said in the fabulous movie of the same name, to the black congregation of a church where he is speaking, “What are you going to do, vote Republican?”

I have no doubt I will vote for whoever the Democratic Party nominates.


(*) Any numbers suggested here are examples only and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kinky Sex and the Dream of a Regional Film Community in SF Fulfilled

Note: you have to get to the final third of this post before you get to the part about kinky sex, and while I have tried to write something that is safe for work, that might be debatable.

Suppose a local community achieved an incredibly difficult goal, to become a regional film center, but did not realize it perhaps because it came in an unexpected form?

I made my first trip to SF for many years and tested my theory with friends who lived there, who knew something about the history of filmmaking and related arts in SF. I am not entirely sure what my friends thought of my theory. Some may have been amused, and some were definitely not amused, but I am going to try my theory on you in this post.

For many, many years there has been a dream to create in San Francisco a regional alternative to the Los Angeles film industry and community. I can not tell you for certain when this dream first came into existence, but it was probably in the early 1960s or maybe even earlier. Anyway, it was before my time.

The hope, as I understand it, was not to supplant LA which was considered to be unbelievably crass and commercial, but to have a smaller film community that expressed in some way the culture and belief systems of SF, had its own style, and yet allowed artists and technicians to earn a living and express themselves in the cinematic arts.

When I first became aware of this vision, there was already efforts to achieve this goal, although everything was still in a very modest form. American Zoetrope had been founded by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. George was very successful from Star Wars (1977) and had founded Skywalker Sound, Editdroid was a work in progress, and ILM had moved from Van Nuys in Los Angeles to San Rafael.

Independent film from SF was having one of its periodic moments in the limelight and among these films was the very appreciated Chan is Missing (1982) by director Wayne Wang. The film was shot for very little money in SF's Chinatown and I saw it at Filmex.

So lets try to quantify the scope of this community in 1982 for purposes of comparison with the present time.

Colossal Pictures like all such entities would vary in size but perhaps at its largest might be about 100 people. ILM was perhaps a few hundred when working on Empire Strikes Back (1980) and was presumably about the same size or a little larger when working on Revenge/Return of the Jedi (1983). Pixar was certainly less than 100 people. A variety of other independents and experimental filmmakers who worked in the city perhaps added up to another few hundred. So a very rough estimate of those whose profession was the cinematic arts in any form in the greater Bay Area might be perhaps 700 or so people. Maybe even a few more if we include those teaching in the various schools, independent animators, people who lived in the Bay Area but worked mostly in LA, and so forth. I am deliberately leaving out the Game Industries and what we used to call Interactive Multimedia as that seems to be a different part of the entertainment industry, just as the music industry is a different part of the entertainment industry.

So now lets fast forward to today and see where we are and what surprises we might find.

First of all, Pixar is a gigantic success in Emeryville, with a fabulous lot, interesting buildings and perhaps 1,500 people on the full-time payroll. Second, ILM has moved from San Rafael to the Presidio and while it varies in size depending on the work, can probably be estimated to be about 700-1000 people at any one time. Phil Tippet Studios is perhaps 50 people. Although Colossal Pictures is no longer in business, there are many other people working in the modern equivalent of advertising and motion graphics in the Bay Area, many of them in-house at the various agencies and technology companies. It is hard for me to estimate how many people this may be, but probably it is at least in the range of 200 people and possibly many more. I am not entirely sure where we should fit the various game developers into this, nor am I sure what size they would be, but many hundreds of people of various skills. And of course there are many independent animators, filmmakers, sound designers, graphic designers and so forth who live and work in this community, some of them for the cinematic art forms, some more for the internet, others for games and so forth. Skywalker Sound still exists and there are various post production houses as well. American Zoetrope is still with us and the Bay Area still has a healthy roster of those who are less mainstream and more experimental in nature.

There is certainly a lot of ambiguity here, but Pixar and ILM alone add up to about 2,500 people so it would be perhaps 3,500 people and possibly quite a few more.

I think this is very impressive. But now we get to the part of the story that was a surprise to my friends, but it really should not have been. You see, there is another pillar of employment in production located in the Bay Area and while I do not know all that much about them, I know enough to respect that they are keeping many hundreds of people employed in making films of a certain sort and are doing very well financially by it. On top of that they have rented an important building in SF, helped to restore it, and have turned it into a center of production capability called The Armory Studios, based as you might guess at the San Francisco Armory.

And on top of that, they produce many short films a week, for distribution on the Internet and each of these films stars actors, actresses and models in short narrative films that certainly can be said to express a somewhat unique SF and Bay Area aesthetic and lifestyle choice.

Technically these two images are not from Kink.Com but are based on a social event held at the Armory. I am using them here because more authentic images from are very much NSFW.

Although there are several corporate entities involved, the main production company, or perhaps the umbrella brand that then points to the individual sub-genres of kink is, logically, Kink.Com has produced literally hundreds and hundreds of short films in a variety of genres of sexually oriented films usually with a kinky, S&M, B&D aesthetic. Although sex positive fantasy films are a bit controversial, some would say they are pornography, and not all Feminists and fellow travelers approve, they certainly seem to have a very positive attitude towards the whole genre. I noticed, not looking all too closely, that for example they would have an interview section after the main film where the actors and actresses would chat with each other about their experience and their feelings about each other after tying each other up and ... um, well, doing things to each other. It all seems very healthy to me if a bit specialized.

Of course, this being SF, they are very ecumenical in their sexual preferences featuring, in different brands, male/male, male/female, female/female, male/female/other and every other possible variation between humans, usually who are involved in a variety of complicated scenarios involving ropes, harnesses, and so forth. From what I have heard (and to the extent I have checked, which is not too much, or so I say), they seem to produce very high quality films, employing very attractive men and women in a reasonable SF aesthetic, very sex positive, even when people are tying each other up, and so forth. Now I could be wrong about this because I have not looked too closely (am I protesting too much) but you are welcome, when not at work of course, to see for yourself.

The point is that this is no small operation. This group is obviously doing very well, have done well for years, and generate a lot of media all the time. I would not begin to guess how many people they keep employed full or part time, but certainly it is in the hundreds.  Probably most people are employed on a part time basis, but they would certainly include makeup, costumes, a rope or bondage specialist, a cinematographer and probably a lighting assistant, a director, and of course the stars which includes at least two people, and an editor.

Without doubt they are a big success, and without doubt they are part of the thriving SF / Bay Area “film” community, one which is not only doing well, but in many ways may be healthier than the similar production communities in Southern California which has been, they tell me, devastated in recent years.

The Armory Studios

The Drill Court at Armory Studios
American Zoetrope

Colossal Pictures

Chan is Missing (1982) on IMDB

Friday, March 18, 2016

Will Sex Workers Rush to Silicon Valley to be Sodomized?

Concerns have been expressed that one result of the law suit against Michael Goguen of Sequoia Capital may be a glut in the availability of aspiring sex workers and entrepreneurs trying to cash in on the extravagant prices paid by senior executives in Silicon Valley for sexual services. As the news of the $10M fee received by litigant Amber Baptiste for sodomic services has spread worldwide it has resulted in many new and current sex workers announcing their intent to move to the area. Ms Babtiste is suing Mr Goguen for failure to pay the remaining $30M of her agreed upon fee of $40M.

Sex workers both self-employed and those held in slavery expressed admiration for Ms Baptiste for her lawsuit and for actually receiving the first $10M. “People all over the world get butt fucked for a dollar but Amber got 10 million! She is my hero” said one sex worker who wants to remain anonymous because she is currently an underage sex slave in a middle-eastern country.

Others expressed concern that a sudden influx of sex workers from all over the world to Silicon Valley offering to be sodomized might depress the market. “We dont want them here, they should stay home and get fucked there” said Gloria Standfast, a prominent Silicon Valley sex worker and industry advocate.

Although controversy surrounds the lawsuit everyone that this reporter talked to seemed of the opinion that Ms. Baptiste got a pretty good deal. “Lots of people get fucked up the butt by venture capitalists, but not all of them get as well paid as Ms Baptiste” said one entrepreneur at the Game Developer Conference.

“This is the kind of behavior that made America great and it shows how the free market works to help ordinary workers” said Rep Nelson Freeport (R-CA).

For more information on the relationship between Mr. Goguen and Ms. Babtiste, click here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Depression, Unemployment, Health, Memory, Stress and so Forth

If you are unemployed then you probably already knew how fucked you are. But those of you interested in the details may wish to review the following links.

1. Long term stress erodes memory. I keep forgetting to post this one, ha ha.

2. Accepting a job below one's skill level can adversely affect future employment prospects.

3. Depression is more than a mental disorder, it affects the entire organism. Well, who said it was a mental disorder anyway, and what does that mean. Nevertheless, you may read this study here:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Los Angeles and Architecture in Die Hard (1988)

Many years ago, I was driving down Santa Monica Blvd late at night and ahead of me in Century City was a new building that created a fabulous National Socialist light sculpture on top of one of the new buildings that seemed to extend the building into the sky at each corner.

The night was particularly foggy which no doubt enhanced the effect.

It looked fabulous and yet I never saw it again.

Then I heard it was for the movie Die Hard (1988) which I had never seen.

So I downloaded this seminal and important film and I still did not see what I saw that night.

Oh the building was there just fine. And there were even clearly lights on the top of the building for certain important scenes near the end. But that transcendent and inspiring architectural idea that I had seen and been so impressed by was not there. It did not exist. It was an artifact, no doubt, of shooting some of the movie at night and the atmospheric conditions and not intended by the filmmakers, or the architects, at all.

Yes, one more time, I had given Los Angeles and Hollywood, each in their own way, too much credit. This building was and is intended for studio executives, lawyers and accountants. No inspirational pillars of light needed here. No striking architectural innovation. Nothing controversial at all. Just a well-made building for rich people and former presidents.

Once again, Los Angeles is true to its values.

Die Hard (1988) on IMDB

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Scientists Stunned as They Are Handed Supoenas as Part of DOJ Investigation

The World Economic Forum (21 Sept 2015) in Davos, Switzerland took an unexpected turn when US Marshalls from the Department of Justice issued supoenas to attending Computer Scientists as part of a larger investigation into alleged fraud at the very highest levels of Academia. The scientists had been attending the conference as part of an effort calling for a ban on the research and development of autonomous weapons.

Giddyup ya lazy war doggies !  Time to go kill !

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said that the government was finding it difficult to believe that scientists had been taking grants from the Department of Defense into Machine Intelligence and related fields without understanding what the research was for. “It seems to us that this is mighty late in the day to suddenly announce that they thought it was a bad idea to pursue this technology. What were they thinking when they took all that money for the last five decades?”

Scientists replied that they had no idea that when they did projects for the Department of Defense on Artificial Intelligence in the Combat Zone that it had anything to do with weapons.  "How could we possibly have guessed that was what on their mind?", asked one scientist.

Many scientists appeared stunned when supoenas were handed them as they left the session. One scientist was heard to mutter “Dont they know who we are?”