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Deep Thoughts from Vegas: Day One

Day one is two days and mumblemumble dollars short. Vegas, man. What can I say? I DID write it on day one.

DEEP THOUGHT: connections.

Wandering around the south hall today shortly after it opened, I found myself bouncing from person to person, many I knew and some I didn't. This has become somewhat expected by now -- you're in one room with a couple hundred people from a relatively small community (of which the Internet sub-community is even smaller), of course you're going to run into each other. That's part of the fun. However, today I had a bit of a different experience with making connections.

I've blogged a bit about working on an independent film called The Impersonators. At the end of May, we'll be doing a significant chunk of pick-ups to enhance some story points. Because of reasons, I won't be around for the shoot much so I've been looking for a DIT to manage the on set media and make sure I get what I need. I was fretting a bit about this: twelve days of shooting, unpaid, prefer if you have any idea what you're doing.

I asked a friend of mine who works for Ball State University if he could pass on my needs to the telecommunications department the day before I left for Vegas. This morning, Monday, I got an email back: there's a student who is very interested in the gig. He's worked with RED material as a DIT before. He even developed the workflow.

And the student saw on my blog that I'm at NAB this week. He is too.

I called him from the show floor and we met up in the lobby of the lower south hall and talked for a while about the film and his experience. Don't tell anyone, but I think he knows more about this than I do. Kids these days.

It's funny, I expect to go to NAB and meet creatives from all over the world. And I do. But I also found and hired the DIT I never thought I'd find.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 10, 2013 at 6:14:17 pmComments (2) nab show

Deep Thoughts from Vegas: Day Zero

Today's deep thought is brought to you by free wifi a day late. It's hard to post a daily blog from a wifi-only iPad.

ANYWAY. Today's actual deep thought is about what lies behind the curtain. The man back there we're not supposed to pay attention to until the little dog comes and bittes his leg.

Vegas is all about the facade. It makes you feel loved, desired, wanted. Vegas lusts for you. Come here, give us a hug. It's okay to spend your paycheck. We'll make sure you don't know how many hours you've spent wandering around with your head in the clouds. There there, Vegas says. Here are some pretty girls who care about you!

In this way, it's the perfect venue for NAB.

Literally looking behind the curtain today, I walked the lower south hall as an exhibitor for the first time. Last year I saw the shiny show floor. My first impression this year? Shambles. Fork lifts, tarps, people yelling at each other. I wondered how the hell they'll get it together for the next day. Like I said on Twitter, it's like learning the truth about Santa. A big fat man doesn't break into my house? These booths don't just appear in the night?

Then looking behind the curtain even more, I attended my first press conferences with Sony and Avid. They're very slick, and very polished. But I noticed when I looked around the room and focused on what was behind me instead of on the stage (in 4K, of course), it was nothing but men in suits looking very worried.

Preparing for what new items might be released today, I noticed again how secretive some companies are about their products. So much so that when it appears this secret has been breached, it obviously becomes the talk of the dinner table. Tweets retweeted, blurry pictures shared on iPhone screens in Vegas dives. You start to wonder if this is a glitch behind the curtain, or a strategic move leveraging the instant nature of Twitter. As a professional conspiracy theorist, I almost always assume the latter.

And of course, behind the curtain of products themselves. Companies adding a lot of features that aren't new and haven't been new in a million years. And being revered for it. Don't get me wrong, I'm always happy to see updates and feature requests fulfilled. But thinking as a person from the other side of things, more critically than accepting, I can't help but see how this isn't the same as those frilly Vegas showgirls. We love you, give us your money and we'll dance around a little bit and make you feel good.

It's very interesting at NAB this time around. Last year was all about bright lights and loud noises. Now you start to pay attention a little closer and see some things you don't normally see, and you can start to see the seams.

Off to day one! I'm going to go bite some legs and see what kind of trouble I can get in to.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 8, 2013 at 12:55:54 pmComments (1) nab show

Come see me in the Small Tree Communications booth, y'all.

South Lower Hall, 6005. Find Orad from the main aisle and turn left. It's looking pretty freakin' sweet right now. Lots of great stuff to show you...or just stay for the huge circular screen.

I'll be there Tuesday and Wednesday. Walter Biscardi will be there Monday and Tuesday. No matter when you come, you'll see some COW friends.

Not gonna lie. This is pretty fun already.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 7, 2013 at 12:54:59 pm Nab show, Small tree communications

Deep Thoughts from Vegas: Day Negative One

Yeah, so, NAB, am I right?

Alright, look. This is my first year seeing NAB from the other side in many ways. I'm very much an observer. I will tweet a lot of strange pictures and probably a lot of nonsensical thoughts over the next week, but I felt like I should at least attempt to contribute something worthwhile during this thing.

There's a deluge of coverage from the show floor. People who have been around a lot longer and actually have strong opinions will be covering everything anyone could possibly want to know about new products. That's not really my calling anyway.

So I present to you: Deep Thoughts from Vegas.

I call today day negative one. Day 1 has to be Monday and Day Negative Two sounds stupid so today is negative one, tomorrow is zero. Though it seems that stuff starts to get interesting tomorrow, which gives today a sort of Christmas Eve vibe. Soon all the post pros will be nestled snug in their expensive suite king sized beds while thoughts of Resolve 10 dance in their heads. In between the less savory things; it is Vegas after all.

"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to Adobe my soul to keep."

Which leads me to today's deep thought: absurdity.

If you take a half step back, this is all just a little bit incredibly absurd. People furiously tweeting, speculation and rumors out the wazoo, press releases practically being tossed out into the streets like ticker tape. It's absurd that I'm writing this on my iPad while crammed in a middle seat between two dudes I don't know while my husband is in another middle seat crammed between two ladies he doesn't know.

It's just barely skating the surface of sanity, this week. The frenzy, the freebies, the things we do to our bodies. And that's perfectly fine. This is what we do for a living. The NAB Show defines the rest of the year for a lot of us.

But come on, I'm right, right? It's all rather lavish. Over the top. Decadent. Absurd.

This isn't a thing that says we're going overboard and need to reign it in, because I think it's pretty much amazing. Because what's not absurd in the least are the relationships forged or renewed at this thing. Friends, contacts, employers, employees. Listening and learning is the take-away, along with the free t-shirts.

If you're here, count yourself lucky. You shined up your comfy shoes, snapped your badge onto a fresh lanyard, and you're heading out into the night to drink with like-minded nerds and talk about 4K. If you aren't here, count yourself lucky too: you aren't crammed into a middle seat.

I'm just saying an ounce of gratitude this week will do your body good.

Also, probably 20 ounces of water before bed each night.

That's my thought. Absurdity and gratitude. I promise some of these may even be funny and not at all preachy.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 6, 2013 at 5:20:03 pmComments (1) Nab show

Reminder: Give Credit To Your Mentors

Last week I found myself in Urban Outfitters for some unknown reason, and started looking through their mostly novelty book collection. Recipes for hemp, something about beards, veganized Betty Crocker, even the classic Tumblr Feminist Ryan Gosling is now a coffee table book. In the piles of hipster literature and cat pictures, I found a book called "Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!)" by George Lois. The book is, as you'd guess, a list of advice largely aimed at young professionals, arranged with one point per page with a succinct paragraph explaining it.
I glanced through a few pages and landed on one that basically said this: don't forget to honor your mentors when you're successful. Give credit to those that helped you in some way.

I thought, really? People need to be told to do this? Why wouldn't you share your success?

But then I remembered a time when I used to keep my gratefulness to myself. Introverts tend to think a lot of things, and a lot of us in post are introverts by nature. We appreciate what people do for us and would always give them credit for helping us along the way if someone asked, but do we ever tell them? Honestly, all this junk gets way too close to having feelings and emotions, and most of us just aren't down with that kind of stuff.

I've been lucky to have a few mentors along the way so far, but there was one person I saw recently, and I realized I had never told him the impact he had on me. We only worked together a couple of days a long time ago.

In 2006, I accidentally found out that there happened to be a small independent film community in Indianapolis. I say accidentally because I was eavesdropping on a conversation at work. A girl mentioned her dad was an actor, and it snowballed from there until I was walking up the driveway to a stranger's house while people I don't know assembled a dolly outside. The film was an independent feature drama about a pioneer woman who got lost in time, and they were shooting two scenes outside the house that day. I had volunteered to be a production assistant. I'd never been a PA before, so I had no idea what I was getting myself in to with it.

I spent the day doing everything you'd expect a brand new PA to do. Moving stuff, getting people drinks, moving stuff, moving stuff. Around evening, some people had to leave, and the assistant director asked me if I knew how to script supervise. Nope, but I can learn. So he showed me. A couple more people left, so I had to script supervise and do the slates. And it was night, so I had to shine a flashlight on the slate. And then grab my script notes. He worked with me, showing me how to number and letter the takes, what to say, where to hold things. He was incredibly kind and patient for a dude on a film set dealing with a mostly clueless 19 year old, heavy on the positive reinforcement. After we wrapped, I helped wrap cable and we spoke for a while about my career and schooling, and he wished me luck.

Having been on a lot of sets since then, I know that they're usually at least a little tense. I was lucky to have a first experience with an AD that wasn't screamy and stressed out. If my first experience on set had been negative, I'm not sure what would have happened next. But the AD's kindness showed me that there are a lot of good people in film, so I continued to volunteer and pursue more experiences with indies. Over the years, I've been able to work my way through crew jobs and meet dozens and dozens of great people. And of course, this eventually led to me editing a feature myself.

I figured I should probably tell him, right? So I did, via a quick note online. He was happy to hear, and he told me this: please do the same for someone you just met. Which is also great advice, and something I've always aspired to do.

This will undoubtedly get buried under the sea of NAB news about to flood the feeds, but if you're heading off to Vegas or getting your RSS feeds ready to see the latest gear and "game changers", remember the people. Give credit where it's due. Honor your mentors (or those that were kind to you in some way) when you have any kind of success. Remember that nobody gets there alone. It works out great for everyone. Your mentor is encouraged to keep it up. You get some much needed humbling. And you might even get another dose of good advice from the experience. It's win-win-win, ya'll.

Now everyone hug.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 5, 2013 at 9:08:20 am post production, mentors

A Stream of Consciousness Recap of B&H in NYC

Disclaimer: This has almost nothing to do with anything. It's a stream of consciousness of my brief pilgrimage to B&H in New York City. I'm not really sure because I wrote this sentence before I wrote the thing, but it could very possibly become over the top.

Honking. Wind. Buzz. Orange camouf-what! Oh. I jump sideways to dodge a bike messenger.

Orange camo? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

I look up from my phone, realizing I probably shouldn't stand right in the middle of the sidewalk while I check my map. Maybe if I were an actual New Yorker. My pink (yes, pink) backpack and I are alone in New York, and we have an agenda. Technically, the agenda is AFI's Directing Workshop for Women. But that's tomorrow. Tonight? Twitter Taco Tweet-up. But today? Today it's me and the city. Checklist item number one? B&H.

Yes, B&H. The largest non-chain photo and video equipment store in the US. It's mere blocks from me at this moment. I think, anyway.

The city and I are getting acquainted near 7th Avenue in the Flatiron District. I told the cab driver a random intersection in the neighborhood to make things a bit more interesting for me. I can't remember the exact cross-streets anymore because I ended up walking miles through Manhattan that weekend. I do know I could see the Empire State Building from where I stood, so I figure that's a good place to start. And let me say right now if my geography seems off, it probably is because I'm freezing cold. Just go with it.

I try to avoid looking too much like a tourist since I'm alone. I fail at this at the base of the Empire State Building. You see it in movies forever, but when you're at the base staring up and unable to see the top, you understand what humans are capable of, but in the good way.

I'm only walking for an hour before my face completely freezes. A nor'easter is brewing and it's not letting anyone forget.

As I pick a new direction, I end up passing by Penn Station and the Flatiron building, among a few other things where I say "OH HEY THAT'S THAT THING" and then quickly stick my hands back in my pockets and keep walking in the direction of B&H. I swear I'm downwind of that new electronics smell. It's like a siren call leading me forward in the blustery wind.

As I'm crossing a road I look aside to check for cars (because apparently no one waits for the walk sign in New York) and I see the Freedom Tower. Over the course of the weekend I realize you can see it from almost everywhere even though it's not yet complete. I remember what humans are capable of, but in a bad way.

Finally, like a mirage in the desert, a green awning appears in the distance. A green awning displaying that oh-so-familiar logo. The logo on the massive multitude of magazines that hit my mailbox on a quarterly basis.

B&H Photo Video at 9th Avenue between 33rd and 34th.

Like all the best places in New York, it's in sort of a nondescript looking brick building. I go inside and pass the bag check. A bearded man greets me. Then I'm suddenly inside the world's greatest candy store. I half expect Willy Wonka to somersault down the carpet at me.

The store seems to take advantage of every square inch of space available in the building -- all 70,000 square feet of it across two floors. That's like almost two football fields. (Non-America readers can do the conversion to soccer field for me.) Display cases with audio mixers shine brightly like jewels. An entire aisle of cables hang carefully and conspicuously not tangled. Cameras, lenses, every type of storage media conceivable by man. Anything you could ever want or need or want is in this store.

After I wander the perimeter, checking out some things I was ogling in the magazine recently and trying to remember that most of it won't fit in the single backpack I have, I stand near an employee talking to a curious shopper.

I suppose it's worth noting that B&H is owned and operated by observant Satmar Hasidic Jews with hundreds of Orthodox Jews on staff. To me, a staff of people in traditional Orthodox garb is both welcoming and intimidating and I can't really tell you why. It's like the authority of uniform to another level. But I can tell you that all the salesmen are so completely friendly and knowledgeable, there's no way you'd leave the store without talking to someone, if only to say hello.

Of course, in the few moments I eavesdrop on the sales guy talking to the customer, I realize the guys can talk circles around me because they actually know their s--t and I blank out on any questions I may have ever had. I don't think they want to talk to me about the meaning of life, they have things to sell.

I make my way upstairs and find the stuff that I really like to window shop -- lenses and hard drives. I love a good hard drive. The air in the store is perfectly balanced with equal parts fresh electronics and old New York building. They should bottle it. Eau de Camera.

As I'm walking around, I noticed bowls of also-nondescript candy placed at the end of aisles. It looks like the kind of candy I usually avoid, so I don't try it. Later I kick myself when I bring up the candy to post nerd New Yorkers and find it's phenomenal. If you're going, try the candy. Let me know what you think.

Skipping over the parts where I oooh and aaah over stuff I either can't afford or can't fit in my backpack, I make my way downstairs again and admire the engineering happening above my head. Either taking advantage of the space or simply working with the space they have, the building has been set up with an elaborate conveyer belt system in the ceiling. What seems to happen is that you decide to make a purchase after talking to one of the sales guys, then you go to the maze of cashiers near the exit and get in line. While you do this, your item is sent from storage, into the conveyer belt, and magically flies into the room of cashiers so they can give it to you as you pay and depart.

I'm pretty sure that's what happens. It's thrilling to me. I like conveyer belts. The store is like a living organism that feeds on curiosity and converts it to happy.

Realizing I should get out before I make any bad (good) decisions, I carefully navigate the cashier maze at the exit. With a friendly salutation from the door watching man, I'm back out on the street wondering what just happened.

For a moment I consider going back in for another ride. But instead, my main checklist item fulfilled, I wander back to Penn Station to see what other trouble I can find.

The new electronics smell fades into the heavy subway stank and the gentle whirr of B&H blends into back the cityscape.

Of course, I end up getting stuck in New York two extra days thanks to Nemo (and a day in DC, but in the airport) so I could have spent the whole EVENING people-watching and equipment-ogling at B&H. Next time maybe I won't be traveling so light and I can afford the space for a new lens cloth or twenty foot cable. What cable? I don't even care. I'll find a use for it.

(Saturday morning in Brooklyn after the storm, for good measure. It was kind of cold.)

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Mar 22, 2013 at 9:16:30 amComments (2) b&h, video production

The Best Excuses from New or Underemployed Filmmakers and Freelancers

This blog post is going to skate really close to rant territory. I'd apologize for that, but I'm actually not sorry. You've been warned.

(I did, however, take out all the swearing that would normally accompany this if we talked in person. That's a premium service. Contact me for an estimate.)

For some reason, I've been asked for my advice about getting started in an editing or filmmaking career or how to find indie films to work on more this week than ever before. I'm not sure why it's all happened at once, maybe I'm giving off a vibe. Or scent. Regardless, it's cool. I love sharing my experiences and opinions. Passing on advice that worked for me is a lot of fun and I'll always do it. Mutual curiosity about career stuff is a fun conversation topic.

But you've really really got to stop being lazy and making excuses for not getting what you want. Seriously. It's sad and it makes me sad for you. So sad in fact, that I've created this BEST OF compilation of stupid excuses. It's perhaps a little more brash than my usual fare. Don't mistake this for arrogance. I'm young and stupid too, but I'm still allowed to almost rant. Pseudo-rant. Pretend I made you cookies and you're eating them as you read this.

"I want to shoot/edit/work on some short films but I don't know anyone."

Okay, two options. Do it all yourself, or meet people who share your ambition. Which one sounds easier? (It's not the first one.)

When people ask me how I meet people in film, they're dismayed when they realize that I actually left my home and talked face to face with other human beings. Yes, it's true! Even here in Indiana we have a great filmmaking group called Indiana Filmmakers Network. They meet once a month, every single month. I always pass along this information to locals that are interested in filmmaking. The general response? Maybe two in ten people actually look into it. Maybe ONE of those two people actually attends and starts and conversation with someone new. Repeat visitors to the group, even less than that. Yes, there are half-people wandering around meetings here. It's grotesque.

There are meet-ups and user groups like this all over the country, why aren't you taking advantage of them?

"I went to a networking event but I didn't meet anyone."

WHY? Networking also isn't a matter of simply showing up. If you go to a meet up with a group of people that know each other, you have to be the one to take initiative because they're all going to be busy catching up with one another. Elbow your way into a conversation, introduce yourself, and be interesting and useful. If you don't get anything out of a networking event, it's nobody's fault but yours.

"I met some people, but they never got in touch with me."

Why didn't YOU get in touch with THEM? You didn't call or email or write or carrier-pigeon them? Why should it be their responsibility to reach out to you? Come on, dude. And once you get in touch, it's also YOUR responsibility to continue to cultivate the relationship by the way. And while I'm on the topic, remember: people are people, not commodities. Treat them as such.

Networking isn't instant gratification, which is maybe the biggest turn off for people. It took me over five years of meeting people and working on their sets before I got to the point where I was even editing. These all started as side projects, purely for enjoyment. And that's how it primarily remains. But I get a lot of really great, professional experience, and I've gotten significant paid work from it too.

"I don't know why I'm not getting any freelance work at all." (My response: how are you looking for work? Their reply: "Online".)

These days, it seems so common to rely completely upon electronic communications. Find a listing or company email, send an application or forward a resume, profit. Except the third one doesn't happen that much, does it? How many frustrated hours do people spend on the Internet, sending bits into the ether, hoping someone they don't know comes along and says why YES, this 40 word email is precisely what was missing in my life!

The best work I've gotten has come from knowing people who know people. I'm not saying the Internet isn't useful for job hunting by any means. Or for making initial contact. Or even for maintaining contact. But when someone is frustrated and lacking in work and they haven't done a single thing beyond sending formal emails to HR accounts, I want to slap them with a hand full of glitter.

Besides the networking events and meet ups, you should be doing everything you possibly can to make connections. Call a company directly (unless they say not to -- follow instructions for the love of *%&^). Make contact with individuals and ask for informational interviews or tours. Invite someone to coffee. Send mini muffins. Whatever! It takes up a lot of your time and it's a lot of effort, but the return on your time investment is going to be much higher than sitting in a dark room sending 1's and 0's to already-stuffed-full inboxes.

(But you do have a website, right? Okay, good. Oh wait, it's grammatically correct and stuff too? Okay, just checking.)

"But I'm an introvert, I don't like asking for things."

So am I and neither do I. Bummer. Do it or change careers, man.

"I did work for someone but they never contacted me with more."

Did you do good work for them? If not, then you're screwed. If you did good work, did you stay in touch with them and follow up about more opportunities? If not, do it now. I'll wait. Because you might not be screwed. But ya know, they may just not have any work or money. It shouldn't matter to you, you should be working on other connections. Don't take it personally. Just keep checking, move on, and have another plan.

"I'm too busy to look for work."

This makes no sense. If you're too busy to look for work, how are you not too busy to do work? This is a time management issue that should be figured out before you take on clients.

The part where this becomes a rant is not the questions I'm being asked. It's the response I get. Physical effort? Feh, I can't deal with that. I'm skilled, people should be knocking down MY door to hire me.

That's not the world we live in. No one owes you anything, especially not if you put in the minimal effort of getting a college degree or doing an online course. I don't have an easy solution. I'm not luckier than you. While there is a big element of being in the right place at the right time, you don't magically find yourself in that right place. Most often, the right place is a consequence of forging a new relationship and working really hard. And not being a poopy person. The time is what you have less control over, so you can pray to the leprechaun in the sky or the holy unicorn for help there.

So stop making stupid excuses and get out there. Yes, put on your shoes. Socks go on first. Good! Here's a cookie. Now go out the door. You might need a coat, it's been pretty cold lately. Go find someone, shake their hand, and talk about stuff. It's flu season, so maybe take this hand sanitizer. Look both ways before you cross the road, call if you need anything. Good luck!

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 29, 2013 at 8:54:45 am filmmaking, freelance

Setting Goals for the New Year

I hate New Year's resolutions. They're the worst. I think the year flipping from 2012 to 2013 is entirely arbitrary and should have no bearing on what I do with myself, mostly because nearly all resolutions are forgotten by Valentine's Day anyway. However, it seems as good a time as any to set overall year-long goals and check in on how you're doing, right? But not resolutions. If you call 'em that, you're going to bail and you know it. Plus, you can always add to them throughout the year if you feel the need.

For the last several years, I've set a list of goals at the end of December and evaluated how I did with the previous year. It's sort of a public accountability thing even though no one really holds me to it because really, who would remember? Twelve months on the Internet is basically a century. Still, actually writing things down in a sorta-permanent way makes them slightly more legit....even though I could edit this post and pretend I met all of my goals because I am infallibly amazing. But no, I would never do that.

Or have I already?

I'm sure I've mentioned repeatedly in my blogs how much of a goal-oriented list-checker-offer psychopath I am, so literally writing down words that describe the things I want to fulfill so I can actually check them off a list makes me giddy. If it doesn't make you giddy right now, I recommend doing it anyway. Maybe by 2014, you can share my giddy sickness.

Either way, I think it's important to set and achieve goals as a video editor even when you've reached a point where you feel comfortable with your skills and surroundings -- because things change way too fast to ever be complacent, ya'll.

If you want some motivation in considering your focus for the new year, here are my goals for 2012, and how I did with them. I thought about including them in this post, but they border on braggy at times if they're outside the context of my personal blog so they can just sit over there. If you're on my page, anything goes without apology. Overall, I did pretty well with the main ones. A couple slipped by. And a couple just became less important to me as the year went on.

And that's one thing I think is most important about goal-setting and ultimately my point. Goals are always in flux, and you can re-evaluate them at any point in the year, not just when the human construct of time dictates a tally mark in the year column.

And a goal is better than a resolution. A goal is something to achieve. A resolution feels like something that is wrong with you that needs to change. It feels like it's set in stone forever and if you don't do it, oh well, trash it. Goals and resolutions can be the same thing, but the word "goal" is much more positive. In my opinion, anyway.

So, 2013? I have some goals. In the interest of practicing what I preach, here are a couple. I expect you, dear Internet, to hold me to this.

1. Read more books.

I have a Kindle and I should use it. I'm also filing "read more scripts" under this category. Reading scripts for films you've seen or will see teaches you a lot, so I'm going to do more of it.

2. Watch more films.

I've always felt like I consumed a lot of media, but compared to others, I kind of don't. I go to the movies a lot, but I have a lot of catching up to do with classic films.

3. Fluency in Avid.

This doesn't really need to be on this list since I'm continuing to cut Impersonators and have another film lined up. But part of fluency (to me) is actively pursuing additional training to add to the knowledge I gain from hands on experience (including considering the C word).

4. Go outside.

Probably the most difficult goal when you're busy trying to watch more, read me, and learn more stuff. Plus the sun, it burns us, precious. But physical activity is important, unfortunately. Blergh.

There ya go. Four perfectly attainable yet challenging goals. I think it's best to have a good mix of measurable and abstract. And while it's not a bad thing to have goals that are really reaching, I always try to limit those because I know I'd just get overwhelmed and give up before I start. Maybe really-really-hard-to-reach goals are what motivate you. In that case, you should definitely put some awesome stuff on your list and tell me about it.

So, Internets, what are your goals for the Earth's next trip around the sun?

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 17, 2012 at 10:02:10 amComments (2) video production, goals

Why Hobbits Are Important to Me as a Filmmaker And Human

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about the movie that had the most impact on me as an editor in response to my attendance at Editfest NY. In the post, I stated that Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring was my first instinct, but it was a wrong choice if we were talking specifically about being inspired as an editor. I also mentioned that Lord of the Rings deserves a blog post all of its own, because it was a whole different phenomenon.

Well, The Hobbit comes out this week, so in an attempt to be topical, here is that blog post. Fellowship of the Ring wins the prize for inspiring me to tell stories.

I was a freshman in high school when Fellowship was released. I had never read the books. Other than a healthy obsession with X-Files and a couple of books here and there, I wasn't really into anything overly fantastical. But then one day when I was standing in my cousin's living room on Thanksgiving break, I caught a TV spot for it. It was basically a shortened version of the "Shortcut to Mushrooms" bit toward the beginning of Fellowship where the four hobbits first encounter a wraith and Frodo nearly puts on the ring. I had no idea why, but I was completely hooked.

I told my friends we should go see the movie. I think a couple of them had been interested, but largely the group was just as in the dark on the plot as I was. We went to see it during Christmas break sometime in January 2002.

I can't recall a time before that when I was so utterly captivated by a movie.

Sometime before this, I had started playing around with video production and filmmaking in general. I had put together a few little shorts and been shooting a lot of random stuff, playing around with assembling it. Fellowship flipped a switch somewhere in my brain: storytelling mode ENGAGED.

Funnily enough, my circle of friends and I became slightly obsessed with everything related to Lord of the Rings. We all read the books, bought the merch, and speculated about the adaptations while we eagerly awaited December 2002 and The Two Towers. We were all bookish drama nerds, so this was a pretty good fit to say the least.

I found a home video recently from a Lord of the Rings party we threw. The day the theatrical edition came out, I was assigned to retrieve it as I was the only one who had a drivers license. I ran to Target after school, grabbed it, and ran to my friend's basement. Teenaged girls laid all over the dark floor, swooning over Viggo and Orlando, bawling at Gandalf, and lamenting the months until Two Towers.

Screenshot from our party video. It's not much, but you can see how emotionally invested we are, right?

I went to a midnight release of Two Towers. My (female) friend dressed up like Gandalf. To this day, I've never been in a more engaged, dead quiet movie theater. When Haldir died in Helm's Deep, the collective gasp of the audience actually scared me. It was fantastic.

Anyway, back to Fellowship. The months in between seeing Fellowship and buying it on DVD were probably the most important to me as a storyteller. Remember here that I was 15: I downloaded a bootleg version of Fellowship (recorded in the back of a movie theater, had Chinese subtitles!) and watched it repeatedly. Then I made mash-ups with it. I recut it, made my own trailers and promos, and intercut things I had shot with it. No, I don't bootleg anymore. I only really ever did the once, for that film.

I've seen Fellowship about a million times (lost count around 75) because of this experimentation. I've torn it apart and put it back together. It didn't teach me editing, but it taught me how to tell a story. A big, complicated story with a lot of moving parts. All the stuff that goes into telling an effective story I learned here.

But what it really showed me and what really inspired me to keep pursuing filmmaking full on was the understanding that large portions of this movie are completely made out of thin air. Like Rivendell, when Frodo is on his balcony? All that stuff is computer generated or miniatures someone built or a matte painting or a combination of everything. What the CRAP man! All the creatures populating Middle Earth? Pretty much built by people. The amazing landscapes? Meticulously scouted and enhanced with computers. Everything from the architecture of Lothlorien to the impossibly ancient ruins of Moria to the simple forced perspective camera trickery absolutely blew me away. None of this stuff exists, but it does. It could have all been AWFUL, but somehow these people managed to put it all together, and it's nearly seamless.

It felt real, but it was a movie. It was fantasy, but it was built on real emotion. And people built it for my enjoyment. It felt flawlessly expansive, and it inspired the hell out of me to keep creating.

After Fellowship of the Ring and the months that came after, I made more stuff, and I thought about it differently. I read more, wrote more, and played around with Premiere a lot more. I made a lot of stuff and I put it on the Internet. Things that had a beginning, middle and end. Things that had rising and falling action, twists, character development, and emotional appeals.

I've occasionally heard from people my age that Lord of the Rings was their Star Wars. It took me a while to understand that, but I really do feel the same way. Like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings became this all-encompassing experience of an entire world built just for you, unlike anything you'd ever seen before. If I hadn't seen Fellowship when I did, I'm not really sure I would have been all-in with the whole media thing because I might not have realized my own creative storytelling ambitions.

Despite all the controversies of frames per second or 3D or 2D or too many movies, I'm getting pretty excited for The Hobbit. I'm really happy I can enter that world again and experience a new story in Middle Earth.

My butt will be firmly planted somewhere in the upper middle of a 2D showing for The Hobbit by 11:30 PM this Thursday night. I hope you'll join me. Hairy feet optional.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 10, 2012 at 6:41:21 pm filmmaking, lord of the rings

Critical Analysis of Interpersonal Relationships of the Hit 90s Sitcom 'Friends'

Alternate Title: 2000 Words on the TV show Friends that Nobody Ever Asked For

I know, right? Didn't that show end like years ago? Who has thought about it for more than a millisecond since then, other than to brainlessly watch the hours of reruns on 5 different channels at any given time?

Well, me.

I am a rabid fan of Friends. The last few seasons, I recorded every episode (ON VHS) for my friend who didn't have access to it for some reason. I've seen every episode about a billion times. Nobody will play my Friends trivia game with me because no one else can ever win. My favorite episodes: The One with the Blackout, The One Where No One's Ready, and The One with the Embryos. I didn't have to look those up, and I didn't actually really have to think about it.

Just so you know the level of crazy you're dealing with here.

I usually talk about post-production in my blog, since that's what I know. I also like talking about story, and from there, character relationships. I enjoy writing, and thinking deeply about how characters would behave in real life situations in order to build real relationships into a script is something I've been working on. What better exercise than to tear apart a show like Friends? And before I lose you completely, know that my point is to demonstrate that you can think critically about storytelling anywhere, even aged must see TV with laugh tracks.

Plus, editorial on Friends is not that interesting to me, at least from a technique perspective. It's a multi-camera show, and I watched a vignette about the editing of it once. It was cool at the time, and now it's more of a "aw that's quaint" kind of a thing. It's an adequately edited sitcom, that's pretty much all I have to say about that.

Here's a weird thing. Friends ran through the 90s into 2003, so when I watched it I was pretty young. It ended when I was about 15..maybe 17. I was just watching a rerun the other night (duh) from later in the series (not even the beginning!) and someone referred to Monica as a baby-crazy 25 year old woman. I'm 26. It is weird to age when these characters will never get any older.

Anyway, now being older and having some knowledge of story and characters, when I think about the various relationships on the show, I get kind of irked.

[I would say spoiler alert, but seriously?]

First, Monica and Chandler. Here's my problem with the Monica/Chandler relationship. I didn't like that they ended up together from a random drunken hookup, especially considering she was looking for Joey originally. I liked the characters together though, so I wasn't really bothered. I could basically write that off as a thing that happened if I really had to, but it felt like a cheap ploy to quickly get them together without any of the messy character junk. How do you bring two characters together that have had a good platonic relationship for YEARS and originally hated each other with a 22 minute-at-a-time run-time? Get them drunk in London, I guess.

However, I did feel like Janice was Chandler's great love, and he let his immaturity allow her to get away, but only because the writers made her more unbearable than any person really ever would be. He was annoyed at her quirks and eventually broke up with her because he couldn't take it, and we cheered for him because OH. MY. GAWD, right? That kind of sucks for Janice, as a character. But to a less interesting degree, I can see this happening in life. Then there was the point when they accidentally met online and got back together, but Janice was in an unhappy marriage at the time and Chandler decided he didn't want to break them up since they had a kid. So they probably would have ended up together.

But then at the end of the series they go for the cheap shot with Janice, bringing her back for a couple last gags where Chandler is completely repulsed by her. And I don't believe that for a second. Chandler is an impressionable guy, and he just takes on the repulsion from Monica. Deep down, he's still hot for Janice. There were multiple times when he was totally fine with being with her forever, what changed? Nothing, just poor writing. His character goes from A to C without any of the stuff in the middle, and the audience buys it because "hahaha, Janice is legit stupid, yo."

Now, an example of a decade-long platonic relationship becoming something else that I felt really failed: I never bought Rachel and Joey as a thing. Joey starts to see Rachel as more than a friend suddenly, then Rachel does the same, and it's all this weird sort of convenient-to-the-plot bullshit for a while. But then they make out and are instantly repulsed by each other? Wha? I guess I can see what they're going for here, trying to illustrate the idea of suddenly being in love, and suddenly dropping out of love from a lack of sexual chemistry, but it's like preschool level interpretation. This relationship was just a way to pass the time, and it was rather silly from a writing perspective. Audience manipulation at best.

Phoebe and Mike are lovely and I wished they were together longer so we could see how that turned out. They had their moments of well that's a little convenient, namely when they decided to move in together before discussing marriage, Phoebe realized Mike didn't want to get married and she did, then they call it off, then they're back in in dramatic fashion when she's being proposed to by an old lover. The later seasons of Friends were pretty hard to believe compared to the early ones, but I guess you have to figure out how to keep it interesting somehow. I always appreciated that the writing was easy to related to even if it was dramatized, and the last few seasons lost that edge.

There's a big part of me that felt Richard and Monica were the best relationship on the show. Plus she was infertile, so they could have totally skipped kids anyway! Not that Monica, the baby-crazy 25 year old (really? How many single girls do I know that have considered sperm donors? None!) would have been good with that idea. I think in the end, Richard just wanted to be back with Monica (another oh no I've been proposed to by two guys in one day situation) out of loneliness and that wouldn't have worked very well. Once they did have kids, he would have eventually resented them AND Monica and would have probably jumped off a building or something. Pete (Jon Favreau) was her best choice. He was cool as hell, and he would have gotten over the whole cage fighting thing after a while. To break up with him because you can't see him hurting himself? Bummer, and a lame way to write off a recurring character.

And here's the big one: I DEFINITELY didn't think Ross and Rachel should have ever been together. The writing for their relationship was among the worst in any sitcom, ever. They could have been interesting, but the writers never knew how to deal with them when they were together. They were an interesting couple, having a history and coming into each others' lives here and there. But they were boring together, so they constantly split them apart. When Ross cheated originally (WE WERE ON A BREAK -- no Ross, that's not cool), that should have been the end. But then they go on to make a whole series of poor decisions together. Yipee!

Rachel's ending was dreadfully bad, too. Her story within Friends was about growing up, gaining independence, figuring out what she wanted out of life, and making it happen. In a way, the entire show was really about her specifically because she actually had a full character arc. Minus the complications of Ross along the way, a love which is more out of convenience than anything, she followed a pretty good, believable path. She didn't always take big steps forward, and that made her character believable and likable. Then by the end, she's made it as a fashion executive and a single mom, and she's got the chance of a lifetime to live her dream in Paris. She'll finally be free of the constant distraction of Ross and meet a nice french man who will actually not be neurotic. 

So what do they do? Have Rachel ditch Paris at the last minute to come back to Ross, for the 8th or 9th time. Oh yes, it'll stick THIS TIME! Way to go, writers. You destroy a decade's worth of character development by making her too co-dependent to take the next step in life and get the f*** away from her crazy on-again-off-again boyfriend of 12 years. Normal people don't DO this. I hated it so much. And their feelings all came back around to one drunken hookup that re-awakened things. I'm sorry, but that's also not a thing that usually happens. I understand it's a sitcom and you can't exactly portray a complex moment of weakness turning into love or whatever, but come on! We went down this road with these characters over and over, and there was NO indication that this time they were different people besides the fact they made a baby. It made Rachel weak and Ross stupid, and that was the end. What does that tell women who followed Rachel's story and drew inspiration from it?

While I'm on the topic of making babies, I'll comment on one of the high points of the show, in my opinion: that Monica and Chandler couldn't conceive. I can't remember that ever being a topic that had come up in a sitcom, let alone a prime time sitcom, and I appreciated seeing that side of a relationship and how they dealt with it, especially because of Monica's previously mentioned obsession with babies. It was a great way to approach the whole "baby episode event!!!" in a fresh, modern way. This was a real situation that the characters had to deal with and figure out instead of some cheap audience manipulation like running to the airport at the last possible second. The easy way to go would have been getting Monica pregnant with twins and hilarity ensues. Instead, she has to deal with the fact her dream won't come out just the way she thought it would, which is often how things actually go. At least a lot more often than getting proposed to by two guys at once.

As I think critically about characters and how they interact, digging into television I enjoy or used to enjoy is actually a pretty interesting exercise. You're familiar with the characters and stories, but when you look at them critically, it's often quite different. It also helps me to avoid a lot of the tropes, or use them effectively. With a show like Friends where you have 6 primary characters interconnecting with each other and doing little else, there's a lot of angles to consider. And loads more short term relationships I didn't even think about.

(Notice that I didn't touch on the unbelievability of their living conditions or work life, or the fact they're always sitting around together at a coffee shop. I want the people themselves to be real, but if I wanted to watch 6 people try to live in a shoebox with no air conditioning in the Village, I'd probably find something on HBO instead. My belief is effectively suspended in the ways that matter.)

Story isn't just important for writing. As an editor, I obviously have to cut things in a way that are believable. If I don't understand how humans talk to each other (and I often don't), I can't cut a scene in a believable way. That's how I'm justifying this rant, anyway. The TV box tells me things.

You can find storytelling exercises anywhere. Even on TBS, six times a night.

There you have it. My bizarre fandom in 2000 words on a television show that ended a decade ago. I regret nothing.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 3, 2012 at 8:11:49 amComments (6) friends, storytelling

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Focusing on post-production, from editing and motion graphics to personal experiences and the psychology of being an editor.


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