In Medias Res

I started my undergraduate studies in the admitted Fall of 2013. I remember, with photographic clarity, the day I moved in to the decades-old dorms just off of Old Main on the (remarkably/unfathomably) beautiful campus of Sam Houston State University campus. I was excited. Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, terrified and indescribably excited by the notion of staying outside of some sort of notion of “home” past a certain recognized time of day/night (AKA midnight). I was completely unaware of the inevitable demise of one’s frame of mind in score for a person completely out of their depth and completely lacking of any sense of a community.

The year…literally the year I applied to and was enrolled in the program within the communications major track within SHSU, the entire academic community within the school of communications on campus that specifically pertained to the major track I was and have been interested in and passionate about since before transferring to University of Houston) was disbanded and no longer viable as a community applicable to the students on campus. I had put all of my unplanned, ineffable creative eggs in the basket of a school that favored criminal justice majors over any liberal arts majors at any time of the droning, depressing day in Huntsville, TX.

I found myself staring down the options of going to class which, at that point in my career (which was horribly early and in need of a very simple change), was not a wasted choice or…of following the unforgettably serene backroads of Huntsville instead. The choice is pretty obvious. It is why it has taken me so long to get to my senior year. I was supposed to walk on May 8th. Seven years have passed since I chose to give up a gap year in favor of joining a film program that managed to send its students to Cannes Film Festival once and once only. Plans of returning to Cannes or anywhere else were canceled the year I was enrolled at SHSU.

Irony is a good thing for the soul. It keeps you honest, and it is great content. Irony might have been the biggest factor in molding myself into the person I am today. Without the rather tragic irony of my “failed attempt” at higher education the first time around, I would not have found the community I was able to call home until early March of this year.

Happy graduation to all of the seniors who have worked their asses off, in various yet equally compelling ways, to get to this moment. We may not be walking across the stage, but our biggest steps remain ahead of us. Only this time within reach.

Dreamer’s Ball Music Video

I am very proud of this video. I put in a lot of hours shooting it with my actors, and I put a lot of hours editing it. It is still very clumsy, but the amount of work I put in is my point of pride.

The dreamer’s ball is where we all go when we are missing someone who has left us behind. This video is an exploration of how some people choose to go to the ball. Maybe some of them never come back.

I hope you enjoy!

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Avenues of Creation These Days

Arts have been deemed this entire quarantine as non-essential, but so many artists have found ways to still be creative and to still encourage each other to keep creating. Bands are performing concerts via video streaming services, writers and magazines (including Glass Mountain and Defunkt Magazine) are scheduling virtual workshops and generative writing sessions, and so many other artistic avenues have opened up in the wake of this global crisis. People are coming together through their art.

Glass Mountain even devoted their most recent edition of Shards, their online mag, to the stories of artists affected and even inspired by what we are all going through right now. So far, they have received several submissions and even thanks from writers all over the Houston area for allowing people the opportunity to talk about how their lives have changed since the world ended.

There is still a whole world out there to experience, but it will have to be from the comfort of your home for a while longer. A concert in your living room will have to suffice for now until you can scream and jump with the crowd in (hopefully) a few months’ time. Writing and reading your scribbles on Zoom will have to be good enough until you can meet at the bar and do it in person over a cocktail. We can get through this together, and we can use our art to help with it.

Animation as a Vehicle for Social Discussion

Jack Halberstam, a trans queer theorist, devoted his entire book titled The Queer Art of Failure to discussing the way children’s television shows and animated films have provided a space for communication about social aspects not normally spoken about in non-children’s media (excluding the news, which does not discuss rebellion and subversion of norms anyway).

An important argument posited by Halberstam in one of the early chapters of the book covers the fact that cartoon creators often load their shows with social issues and their intentions for doing so. One may read into this decision by animators and conclude that they are doing this because it is impossible to talk about this anywhere else, or one may conclude that these animators are covering these topics (such as gender identity and sexuality in Steven Universe: Future) because children are the people who need to understand these aspects of the human condition more than adults who have already made their minds up about the world. The minds worth sculpting are the minds tuning in to Cartoon Network (for the most part, of course, as adults like cartoons as well).

It is important to understand that rebellion is alive in animation, especially the animation involving matters of love, togetherness, “fighting the good fight,” and learning about who you are. These are things I did not see much of when I was a child watching whatever cartoons were coming on (with the obvious exception of SpongeBob SquarePants), and the children of today are lucky that Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe, was able to air the first animated lesbian wedding ever shown on Cartoon Network.

The Art of the Full Circle

Many television shows make a big show of bringing long-developed arcs to a close with a wonderfully rounded full circle. Shows that come to mind when thinking of a well done full circle are Steven Universe and How I Met Your Mother. One is a cartoon and the other is a sitcom. In Steven Universe there are a lot of plot points that do not get satisfied until the Future season in which the series draws to a close. The same can be said for the final season of How I Met Your Mother.

Of course, the end of something is the perfect time to tie together all of the loose strings used to tug at the audience’s emotions. However, it is in the way the writers are able to achieve this without drawing too desperately on cliches and tropes (of course, everything is a trope at this point anyway) that makes all of the difference. For the fans of Steven we finally got to see Lars reach closure with Sadie about how they are unfit to be together, and we finally got to see Steven try to learn how to be human. In HIMYM, well, we finally got to meet the “mother.” The full circle is one of my favorite aspects of a television show or film because we so rarely get to see things like this in real life. Art can provide an escape in many ways, and sometimes it’s nice to escape to a world where the loose ends never stay that way.

Ideas for an Apocalyptic Movie Night

As we all are very painfully aware, the world is a little on fire all around us. We are locked down and staying inside. Our fears of the collapse of society are at an all-time high, and the debate about how logical these fears are is not why you are reading this right now. You are reading this to see if you can find a good movie to watch during these completely novel times of (as we all can tell) apocalyptic nature. I’ll include a mixture of camp and non-camp options because there is no better recipe for stay-at-home movie night.

  1. On the Beach (1959) has all the elements of a classic—there is romance, drama, and (most importantly) an apocalypse. Nuclear fallout is the culprit in this one, and it has affected the Northern Hemisphere almost entirely. The survivors who have been herded to Australia are forced to wait out the rest of the time they have left before all life ends entirely.
  2. Planet of the Apes (1968) has both camp and pure suspension into a world we used to think we could never imagine for ourselves. Be transported to a world where the issue is not a virus but, rather, a species more powerful than humans ever dreamed of being. Humans will always lose, but it’s fun to see what creative minds cook up for how we lose.
  3. Mad Max (1979) is a high voltage adventure down the roads of dystopian Australia long past the “end of the world.” We follow a highway patrolman through his days fighting off criminals who run amuck fighting for scrap and gasoline. Just think of the car parts and fuel as toilet paper and Clorox wipes and this movie will make more sense than it already (really) does.
  4. Akira (1988) is a fever dream anime film, in which Neo-Tokyo is threatened with utter destruction at the hands of a secret military project. The elements of impending doom are consistent and they make the atmosphere that much more exciting from start to finish. In addition to being an apocalyptic adventure, it becomes an adventure fueled by unbreakable friendships and togetherness.
  5. The Road (2009) is an adaptation of the melancholic Cormac McCarthy novel in which the apocalyptic event is never disclosed to the audience. We only see the aftermath and the journey of father and son as they head for the sea. It’s a sad one, and I would recommend watching this before something more upbeat that might not even be on this list. It is still an important experience, though. Its over-arching theme is that, after all the smoke clears to reveal the destruction, we will only ever have each other.
  6. Melancholia (2011) is another doozie as far as the emotional elements are concerned. It’s a difficult watch if you find you can’t exactly handle the thought of the “end of the world.” This film brings the end of the world to its characters. There is no such thing as running or even fixing it. All they can do is watch. This is why I recommend you watch it once and never return to it…unless you think you can take it. It’s visually enticing and its vicinity to realism (at least in the way that it looks) are probably the most amazing parts.
  7. Take Shelter (2011) is an interesting look into the mind of a man who cannot get the thought of doomsday out of his mind. In 2011, everyone was preparing for 2012 (our second coming of Y2K), so this film fit perfectly with all of the mindsets we were seeing in the media. He becomes obsessed with the idea of building a shelter for his family. Preparation for some sort of doom is on the mind of everyone these days. This is an interesting exploration of our obsession with preparing for every possible threat that might befall us.
  8. Retreat (2011) begins with our main characters enjoying their time away from civilization on vacation from their normal lives. Their vacation ends when a man randomly shows up and gives them news of civilization’s collapse at the hands of an airborne disease. Their isolation ceases to be a choice, and hysteria runs high very quickly. This is a very topical item on this list for, well, obvious reasons.
  9. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) is a very insightful look at the fear of being alone at the proverbial “end.” A man is left alone as an asteroid nears the earth. He finds someone to spend their last days with. It is a an adventure of purely human proportions, and it is rife with humor as well as bittersweet sentiment.
  10. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) is a true-to-form science fiction film that effectively encapsulates what we are experiencing in our homes right now. Well, of course, certain elements of the film don’t exist in real life (I’ll avoid spoiling them). However, being forced to isolate inside and hunker down with only the resources you readily can spare is something we can all relate to.

Progress Report: “Dreamer’s Ball” Music Video

I finally have a first draft. In its entirety, it tells the intended story that I storyboarded and wrote out. I will be refining the cuts before I finally call it a complete edit, but I am very proud of the work I did in preproduction, production, and postproduction. I am proud of the work I put in before this point because it means that I got more than enough shots. I had a choice in editing of which shots worked the best, and the choice was actually difficult for the most part. This is extremely laughable, as it shows that I have been finally doing what I have been supposed to do. But the progress I have made with this music video shows the progress I have made since starting my journey in media production. I am getting the hang of getting the hang of it, and it feels like a trophy.

I am seriously looking forward to the final product of this project, and I am excited that everything I have gone through until this point has paid off in some way.

On Hunters from Amazon Prime Video

Hunters was created by David Weil, and among its executive producers is Jordan Peele. It stars Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Carol Kane, Josh Radnor, and many other new and not-so-new names in acting. Each member of this team performed at peak levels, insofar as what is visible to the audience member.

I hate that this show came to us from Amazon, but I am going to (even though it is problematic) ignore that for this discussion of the merit of the show. Hunters is a beautifully crafted tale of fictional characters in mid-70s NYC who hunt Nazis who were relocated to the United States by our own government. This story is based on a mix of fiction and fact, the most overwhelming fact of this story being that our government really, really did relocate Nazis after the war. That is part of the reason we got to the moon when we did.

The show looks good from start to finish, and its performances are strong from start to finish. It is a visceral, emotional, entertainingly brutal (at specifically Nazi-killing times), and even funny experience all the way through. There are problematic aspects to the show, though. I have to bring it up, if only to discuss the labors of adapting whatever historical fact available into a fictional story (without turning the story into a revisionist piece). Much of the depiction of cruelty shown in the concentration camps throughout the flashbacks in the show is pushed far to the side of caricature, much to the viewer’s dismay. It seems as though this might have been meant to make us feel pure hatred, but…we already feel that for these figures in history. We do not need to be reminded of what they are and were. In fact, fictional depiction of Nazi cruelty during the war might actually have hurt the show’s chances of actually paying respect to real-life victims and their real-life experiences.

What makes this show a very important watch, regardless of its problematic nature, is just how topical it is. We have lived among Nazis ever since such a culture was born, and it is important to have a cathartic experience of watching scenarios play out in which they are not the most dangerous people for once. Of course, the bigger message of the show is that Nazis remain the most dangerous snakes in our grass to this day. They really, really do.

It is not a light viewing experience by any means, and it does have quite a few flaws as a show. It takes very kitschy twists and turns that made me gag they were so trite. However, it remains a show in which the good guys and bad guys are plainly visible. It makes it easy to understand what is right and what is wrong, and I like (sometimes) not having to figure that out for myself. I suggest giving this show a chance because it tells the story from a perspective we rarely get to see in such light. The survivor.

I suggest giving this show a chance because it is clearly influenced by Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino and so many others without lending its time to borrowing more than only a few elements from these filmmakers. I suggest giving this show a chance because it is raw, and not once does it deviate from the primary emotion of anger toward deniers and sympathizers and, basically, everyone who is on the wrong side of history right now.

For your consideration, a list of articles not already linked:

How Hunters told the truth

WWII: Operation Paperclip

A historical review

How to Use this Time

I have spent much of our time in quarantine worrying over how to proceed rather than finding something to keep myself busy. I think I am going to return to my post-production processes for current projects as well as projects-passed. Being stuck at home can be an opportunity to polish editing jobs as well as polish scripts I dare not show people right now. Who knew artists could benefit from time alone at home for extended (excessive) spans of time?

I have also been spending this time trying to meditate on the way my life has developed the past few years. Without 4381 much of the accomplishments I have acquired would not exist. I would not know what I know about the industry and myself within it. I would not have any sort of orientation within this realm of creation. That’s why social distancing protocols have made me feel, well, distant from the life we had just begun to find our stride in.

I know these changes are temporary, whatever that means in the long run. It still feels as though our return to the life we will have to re-acclimate to will be not be the same. Perhaps that is not a bad thing. Perhaps now is just the time to figure out how we will return to our lives when this is over.

A List of Movies to Ease the Quarantension

  1. Wayne’s World (1992) is one of the few Mike Myers films that has aged better than most fine wine. It’s funny, exciting, and it always makes me forget my troubles. Watch them running around and partying on to distract from the fact that you can’t.
  2. Cabin Fever (2002) might be a nice fictional departure from the real horrors of the world. Enjoy this not-so-contained freak-out about uncontrollable flesh-eating bacteria, it’s topical in a not-really-all-that-topical way. Also, nudity.
  3. Parasite (2019) can provide an interesting insight on much of the chaos we are hiding from right now. It is a film rife with social commentary, but, rest assured, it is called a comedy for good reason.
  4. Rear Window (1954) is an interesting portrait of the passive (captive) audience. Who else are we right now if not the character with every reason to stay inside and no reason to stop watching as what to him looks like an atrocious disaster. Only difference is that, for us, it’s kinda a disaster out there. Relish in the fiction of it all. And the lighting.
  5. Alien (1979) is a fun, gross, and spellbinding tale of people trapped in space rather than the comfort of their own homes. The xenomorph is a good time and the set design is a guarantee that you will, for the most part, feel like you are watching a movie set in space. It’s pretty cool.
  6. The Princess Bride (1987) compares with the experience of #1 of this list, as it is an adventure. A kid, home sick, hears a story filled with ridiculous character names and some of the best humor I’ve seen wrapped in a “for children” bow. Stan Cary Elwes.
  7. The Shining (1980) encapsulates being trapped by geography rather than sickness, but some form of ill finds a family who has set up to take care of a hotel off-season. This is another opportunity to commiserate with people who, for fictional reasons, have it a hell of a lot worse than we do right now. Think of it as an exercise in trading your real worries for fake ones.
  8. Oldboy (2005) includes both elements of this list: an adventure and the sense of being trapped. However, the adventure begins when our protagonist is set “free.” The movie ends when he finds himself trapped again with no chance to escape until he dies. It’s got very sad undertones, but it looks so damn good. All the way through. Take the ride, what else do you have going on?
  9. Get Out (2018) is a story also rife with social commentary. The sense of being trapped in this movie comes from the purely psychological effects of systemic oppression on individuals on either side of said oppression. If you have not already seen it, it’s just another way to remind yourself that your confinement is more temporary than others’.
  10. The Mummy (1999) is purely and simply one of the greatest adventure films ever made. It ends cleanly and happily, and none of the main characters die. Also, Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz make an amazing couple on-screen. You can’t go wrong in escaping to Egypt from the safety of your own home.

These films have been listed in no specific order, and I would suggest breaking the “trapped” titles up with the “adventure” titles. Nothing would soothe my own quarantined melancholia better than a healthy balance of what I’m experiencing with what I am missing.