Monday, November 30, 2009

Anvil! & The 16:9 Stretch (Ugh!)

First, a friend highly recommended the documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil after seeing it in the theater (with the band Anvil! performing), then there was the outrage about Anvil! not being nominated for the Academy Award for best feature documentary. Naturally, I couldn't wait to see it as soon as it came out on DVD.

And the verdict: yes, it's a great documentary.

The title alone is fantastic. It's got all the elements of the popular documentary of recent years: it's personal (in this case two people as the subjects whom we can follow on their journey just like a "hero" in a fictional film); suspense (neither subject, filmmaker nor audience know where this story is going); vérité footage (so real - as if the audience is right there with the film crew); celebrity (short interviews and sightings of famous people who've been influenced by the band); personable and interesting characters, underdog story, cult following, 3-act structure, reversals, American dream (or Canadian for that matter), insight into unique culture, international appeal, etc... and of course the overall message that pulls at all creative people's heartstrings who still haven't had their big breakthrough: even if you don't get the fame'n'fortune, you know you are doing it for the love of creating and the joy it brings to you and others! (Maybe people who've had a big break feel the same - who knows...)

Here's the trailer

But oh no, what did I just see there when they cut to old (presumably VHS) footage of Anvil! back in the day? Why does everyone look so short and wide? Is it possible that the editor just took the footage shot in 4:3 and stretched it to fit in with all the current HD footage shot in 16:9? Nooooo!

(BTW, I very much wanted to believe that I had set something wrong on my TV, but even the trailer on the film's website and YouTube Channel shows the same distortion... Most importantly though, this technical issue does not by any means diminish the value of the film!)

Ever since I first saw an HD 16:9 TV set at my friend John's place and our friend Rob and I tried to fiddle with the settings to make sure all the people on TV appeared in the same proportions as the rest of the people in the world (resulting in John asking us to please return the TV to his preferred setting), the distorted image of 3:4 footage stretched to fill out the 16:9 frame has been a major pet peeve of mine. Major. So excuse me, while I go on a rant...

When watching anything made to fit a standard TV (ignoring widescreen for a moment, that's pretty much everything that's been on TV, VHS or DVD until very recently) on your fancy new HD 16:9 TV, the inevitable question comes up: "would you rather see people the way all humans look and have bars on the left and right or would you prefer to have your entire screen filled with image but then everyone/everything is stretched into surreal proportions?" (Of course, there is also the option to zoom in on the image in the correct proportions and thus loose the top & bottom of the image.)

This question has come up many times when we've attended screenings of All God's Children (which is in 4:3) and also apparently during the post-production of the  documentary Anvil!. I'm an adamant proponent of using the correct aspect ratio no matter what (which includes, watching anything that was shot "in widescreen" in the letterboxed widescreen format) - and I don't quite get why some people prefer a cropped or even more startling, a stretched image - especially in their own film. Is it possible that some people actually do not see the difference?

Enough of my opinionated tirade - here are some explanations and examples that hopefully will help distinguish between the different ratios. If you want to read more details on the history and basics check out Aspect Ratio on wikipedia.

First of all: aspect ratio is the relationship between width and height.

Television and SD (standard definition) video have been shot and shown in 4:3 (or 1.33:1) since the beginning of television:

Films (in the US) have been mostly shot in 1.85:1 (standard 35mm)

... or 2.39:1 (anamorphic widescreen 35mm / CinemaScope - although there are variations on this):

The relatively new HD TV sets, TV channels and digital video are in 16:9. This ratio was chosen by SMPTE based on various existing ratios.

Above you can see the difference of the four common formats if we were to set the widths all the same. Below you can see the difference if you set the height all the same (in essence, with the face remaining the exact same size, 4:3 shows the least amount of background image, whereas widescreen/CinemaScope/2.39:1 shows the most additional background).

To show an image shot in one aspect ratio on a screen that has been built for a different aspect ratio, there are three options: 1- distort the image to make it fit, 2 - add bars to the top (letterboxing) or sides (pillarboxing), 3 - crop the image (zoom in).

These are the three options of showing the common 4:3 image on your brand new 16:9 TV set:

Choose wisely...

Just like I'm trying to make a wise choice right now as I'm looking at all of my 4:3 footage for All's Well and Fair and determining how it will fit best into a 16:9 world... Because just like the guys working on Anvil!, I'll have to figure out: do I want to zoom & crop (which will make everything look more blurry unless I uprez my SD footage) or do I keep it in 4:3 and envision pillarboxing... one thing is for sure I will not stretch/distort the 4:3 image into 16:9.

And if you still don't have enough, this is what the two most common US film formats would look like on your 16:9 TV if you were going for the letterbox option (which might make obvious why 16:9 makes film lovers so happy):

So one of the beauties of the new 16:9 TVs is that there should be no more "pan & scan" in our future, since the film format now fits almost perfectly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Poor Little Bunny" or "The Man Cold'

This is one of my favorite sketches and most-watched* clips online. It's from the British comedy show Man Stroke Woman and already a few years old. I guess you could say it's a seasonal favorite. And it's that season again.

Maybe you can imagine what's going on at our house right now? Actually "my poor little bunny" isn't suffering quite as much (anymore) and I do hope he feels back to normal again by tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

YouTube Greatest Hits = Clever Band Promotion

The video "100 Greatest Hits of YouTube in 4 Minutes" has been out for about 2 months and has turned into an instant viral favorite (3.78 million hits as of today) by featuring super short clips of everyone's previously favorite viral videos. Almost a no-brainer project that someone had to do sooner or later (and I'm guessing others have actually attempted).

What I found fascinating, when trying to figure out who was behind putting this video together, is that it seems the video actually originated with the band that "provides the soundtrack": the British band Hadouken!. Or in other words, this doesn't seem to be a viral video with a random up-beat soundtrack put together as a calling card for an online video editor, but a music video put together to specifically promote a band and their song "M.A.D." (I'm basing this on the fact that the video is hosted on YouTube by the band's channel and all the links given are for the band and the song.)

How very clever to think up what would be an extremely successful viral video and then use that idea for your next music video. Is there a better way to promote your band... not to mention: cost-effective?

I was actually surprised I couldn't find out more about who came up with the strategy or cut together the video since they deserve some credit.

The part that's confusing with the "clever music video" theory is why they had already put out a completely different video for the same song a month earlier...

... and why the "100 Best..." video isn't embedded on the Hadouken! MySpace page. Did they get approached by an individual video editor after all, who just wanted to use their music, and they jumped at the opportunity? But then shouldn't there be some info out there about the creator of the video?

Here, from the original YouTube posting, is the list of video clip sources:

George Bush shoe attack
Zidane headbutt
Sneezing Panda
Inspired Bicycles - Danny MacAskill April 2009
Man Dominates Exercise Ball
Exercise Ball Compilation People Getting Hit owned funny
Boogie Board Faceplant
fat girl on treadmill
keyboard cat
fire baseball
Soccer goalie is hit in head by rebounding ball
Break dance accident
Billy's Balls 2
OK Go - Here It Goes Again
Treadmill Fail
Extreme Caterpillar Breakdance
Fat Woman Falls off Table
Travis Pastrana Nitro Circus backflip
Monkey Business: Monkeys as waiters in japan
Christian the Lion- Reunion!
Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up
Amateur - Lasse Gjertsen
stealth cat
Dramatic Chipmunk
Bizkit the Sleepwalking Running Dog
close landing
waterslide jump
MEGAWOOSH - Bruno Kammerl jumps
Diet Coke + Mentos
star wars kid
backflip fail
afro ninja
Guys backflip into jeans
Jumping From 50 Meters High To Water.
Diving Fail
Will It Blend? - iPhone3G
Guiness World Record for most T-Shirts worn at one time.
Shoes the full version
Fat Kid Falls in River
Nattliv - Swedish hostess throws up on live TV!
hey marine
david after dentist
leave britney spears alone
Best Sex Ever
charlie bit my finger
Laughing Baby
Kassie Kicks Monsters Ass
Victory Fail
balcony jump failed
Boxer Hits Himself In The Face
leeroy jenkins
Jumpstyle duo by Jumpforce
Beyonce Single Ladies Dance
breakdancing baby
Tokyo Dance Trooper in Shibuya
break dance
Ridiculously Hot LATINA girl dancing, not asian!
Susan boyle
Hardstyle Republic
dubstep dance
the evolution of dance
Barack Obama on Ellen
Crush On Obama
Where the hell is matt?
"Thriller" (original upload)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Three Column Blog & Google Friend Connect

Just gave this blog a bit of a visual and functional overhaul. Even though I started with the notion of wanting to make the actual blog column wider to be able to display 16:9 videos larger, I ended up switching over to the three column look. Not quite sure if I'll stick with it. What do you think? 

And here's some techie stuff: To change over from 2 to 3 columns and not lose all the widgets, keywords and tracking code to Google Analytics, I needed to make changes to the actual html code of the layout (it's based on the Rounders 2 template) and couldn't just download & install a new template. By the way, I'm a total dork when it comes to html. I used these two sites to help me change over: The Blogger Guide and Three Column Blogger (beware the images for Rounders do not exist anymore). 

With both of them I was still getting errors. One of the biggest problems was the rounded header image that has to be available somewhere online in the matching size. In the end I had to create my own header image (which gave me the opportunity to add our logo), upload it through "add page element" and then kind of blindly hack around in the html code. The header- and outer-wrapper need to match the size of the header image (in this case 990px) and then at least one margin needed to be set to 0 so the header would left-aligned with the left column (total trial & error style). 

While fiddling around I also added the Google Friend Connect/Follow gadget. Not convinced about that one yet. I guess they're trying to compete with facebook? Or just generally want to keep better tabs on us? Or maybe it's totally awesome? Or maybe it's supposed to make you feel sad because you don't have many people connected to your site? But maybe it's simply something that will show its benefits more clearly as more people utilize it... Do you use it? 

Last but not least, there is the new Blogger editing interface & functionality. It'll take some getting used to it - but I like it. Except, WAIT, where did the spell check go? Noooooo!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beer Can Turkey

Scott and I recently worked on a "how-to cook a turkey on a can of beer" video for - he directed/produced and I produced (the shoot only). The project was really fun because of all the great people we got to work with.

Crew & Cast: Scott Herriott (sound), Don Downie (camera A), Ethan Fixell (comedian), Emma Feigenbaum (chef)

Unfortunately, due to the way food2 handles their videos, you can't see the "Beer Can Turkey" Video in its HD 16:9 glory - but that doesn't impact the humor nor recipe, of course.

And yes, the meat eaters confirmed, the turkey was delicious. If you'd like to try it yourself, check out the recipe with all the ingredients measurements.

One of the best parts of the shoot was the magnificent view of Central Park in the fall.

The North of Central Park

The Center of Central Park (The Reservoir) with silhouettes of Scott Herriott, Scott Solary (director and for just one glorious moment holder of slate), Ethan Fixell and probably Terrence Elenteny (camera B)

South of Central Park

Crew with a View: Terrence Elenteny and Moe Hamzah

Don Downie with his brand new HPX 300

Monday, November 16, 2009

Concept Albums and um... a "multimedia orchestral-rock song cycle"

Two weeks ago I was inspired to write about this - but somehow more important stuff (work) kept getting in the way. Now God Help The Girl's "Funny Little Frog" just played on my iTunes (so lucky to be able to listen to music while working) and I remembered.

So please just pretend it's the Monday after Halloween - or if you're staying on top of your music news, feel free to tell me that most of this is pretty much old news from at least 6 to 12 months ago anyway - but not quite as old as the first concept album, which, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, was released by Lee Wiley 70 years ago.

But to get to the point: Halloween night I was delighted to attend the live performance of "The Long Count" at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Thank you, Erica!)

"The Long Count" at BAM
This and many other great pictures by Julieta Cervantes are featured on the
Brooklyn Vegan review of the performance

What we experienced that night was a magnificent production loosely based on Mayan mythology (involving twins, ball games and the Mayan calendar that some claim predicts the 2012 destruction of our world) and conceived by visual artist Matthew Ritchie and the musical wonder twins Aaron & Bryce Dessner of The National. Experimental video projections underlined the thirteen songs played by an orchestra and mostly featuring vocals by the twin sisters Kim and Kelly Deal (The Breeders/Pixies), Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and Matt Berninger (The National). I wouldn't say that there was a clear narrative you could follow (although the program provided explanations and connections) but I don't think that was necessary to enjoy the atmosphere and beauty that was created.

Download: Live recording of "The Bull Run" from 'The Long Count' (

The joy it evoked reminded me of going to the opera (which I used to do a lot when I was a teenager in Hamburg and which I just put on my "things to do in NYC before I leave" list). But it wasn't an opera or a musical or (dare I even write this?) a rock opera. Ben Ratliff called it a "multimedia orchestral-rock song cycle"
in The New York Times review, which seems quite fitting in a European salon sort of way.

And then the next day, during a much overdue record shopping spree, I was reminded of the perfect term, if only they would RECORD the "song cycle": a concept album.

High on my list of records to get was the self-titled album by God Help The Girl, a project put together by Stuart Murdoch (Belle & Sebastian) and featuring a variety of female singers, some of whom had submitted auditions via So this album already had a "concept" in the way it was produced.

The record has been out since this summer and I fell in love with it bit by bit through free downloads of various songs that were made available for a limited time through their website. Goes to show again that circulating free songs can boost sales. To be quite honest, I also believe that not-officially-endorsed (read "illegal") free downloads can boost sales - as per this article in The Independent.

BUT it's even better when you get the actual physical album. Because what I hadn't realized until I bought it was, that the entire record was a concept album in the purest sense: it came with a full short story and an indication of which character sang which song and all the connecting pieces. So suddenly a few songs that pop up in different mixes have turned into something more magical: an album you want to sit down with on the floor in front of your stereo with headphones on, flipping through the liner notes...

Could this even be a new trend? Maybe one that is to encourage the listener to buy entire albums again instead of just purchasing a song download here and there? There were a few other recent albums that came to mind, like The Decemberists' "Hazards of Love" (although Colin Meloy apparently prefers to call it a folk opera) and their previous release "The Crane Wife". And then there's Green Days' "An American Idiot", which has been turned into an actual on-stage musical. Can we call it a punk rock musical... if it's on Broadway?

"The Rake's Song" by The Decemberists from their folk opera "Hazards of Love" (The video is the UK Art School Competition Winner)

No matter if this is a trend or even if this is financially motivated, I just realized that I'm a sucker for the concept album because I love stories and music. This makes
God Help The Girl my favorite album of the moment - fighting off serious competition from The Avett Brothers and Elizabeth & The Catapult and Florence & The Machine (... during the same shopping spree I was also looking for Marina & The Diamonds; making me wonder what might be the cause for the naming trend...)

Even my favorite dance song right now is by God Help The Girl: "I'll have to dance with Cassie". Go get the album. Legally, of course.

Other related videos:

Various videos for songs recorded live at SXSW 2009 from "The Hazards of Love" by The Decemberists (one also featuring Shara Worden)

Official videos and more behind-the-scenes documentaries: YouTube Channel for God Help The Girl

Green Day - "American Idiot"
"American Idiot" - The Musical Trailer

The Avett Brothers - "Perfect Space" (live)
Elizabeth & The Catapult - "Taller Children"
Florence & The Machine - "Drumming Song"
Marina & The Diamonds - "I Am Not A Robot"

The National - "Mistaken For Strangers"
My Brightest Diamond - "Inside A Boy"
The Breeders - "Cannonball"
Pixies - "Here Comes Your Man"

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Discussion Continues

Mark Earely from the BreakPoint website

On Thursday Mark Earley published an excellent 4-minute audio commentary about the documentary All God's Children. You can listen to it or read the transcript on the BreakPoint website. The transcript then was re-posted on several other Christian news sites as well, including Catholic Exchange and

We especially appreciated the report because it focused on the idea of sacrifice, which the film emphasizes but which hasn't been discussed much in other articles or reviews.

Apparently Mark Earley received responses from listeners that prompted him to add a written comment, pointing out "that the events portrayed in the film occurred 40 to 50 years ago at a single missionary school" and listing positive actions by the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

What strikes me is that this subject continues to be controversial and spark discussion.

Reading his added commentary I know there are other people now crying out: But it did NOT just happen at one school. It did NOT even only happen within one mission-sending organization. And it did NOT just happen 40 to 50 years ago. * Others will have a few things to add in regards to the C&MA's action.

People have strong feelings about what has happened, what they think has happened and what they would like to believe didn't happen. The abuse of children at the hands of religious leaders and staff is a difficult one to grapple with and in the case of the missionary kids there is still a great lack of communication and information.

We are grateful that Mark Earley took on the subject for his show and has thus helped to get more information out. "Communicating about it" is the first step to prevent abuse and to help survivors heal (and to bring change to organizations that play a part in the prevention and healing).

Unfortunately the BreakPoint website does not offer the option to add your comment publicly. Obviously, you could contact them directly via email/phone as others have done. But you can also add your comments on the version on Catholic Exchange and Crosswalk.

Or you can leave your comments about the film and this discussion on the film's facebook page - as Shary Hauber did: "I did not like his comment at the end that this was an incident in one school a long time ago. It is still happening today. It happened 20 years ago at the Fanda School in Senegal in a NTM school. It is happening today but we will not hear about it for another 20 years, children don't talk when threatened. Mission boards don't want to deal with this even today."

* I would like to add that our film does indeed only focus on the events at that one school and that the abuses depicted in the film took place in the late 1950s, 60s and early 70s.

At first we were thinking of making a grander scale film about all the various reports of abuse at missionary boarding schools - to show that this was a systemic issue and not just a single case. But we decided we wanted to tell a more personal story and only focus on this school, which is the first one we knew about (Scott's second cousins attended) and more importantly which was the first one to have an investigation (which inspired the investigations of the Presbyterian (USA) and United Methodist schools).

Furthermore we decided only to included the accused abusers and events that were experienced or witnessed by the the missionary kids in the film. We have heard horror stories from the decades before and about various other abusers. We've been especially regretful that we were not able to include any of the stories about the Smiths, who were known to be so cruel that the children actually invented a game called "The Smiths" where you would try to figure out the most cruel thing to do to another child. But we chose to not include any of the "hearsay" stories to keep our account of the events factual and personal.

Based on our knowledge, our film only tells a sliver of the story and we look at it as a way to spark conversations and possibly investigations into other events and systems similar to what brought on the mistreatment of the MKs of Mamou.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Discussion Guide, Recommended Movies, Taking Action Suggestions...

Yesterday our Good Hard Working People newsletter went out (if you didn't get it and would like to get the next one, you can sign up for it on our website). The focus again was All God's Children - more precisely, it was all about what tools we set up to encourage people to utilize the documentary for education and outreach.

We made the film in hopes that it would play its part in breaking the silence about abuse of children in the missionary community in order to help adult survivors of abuse as well as at-risk-children. We've been astonished to find out that the film resonates with survivors and advocates from all different backgrounds - not even just with people affected by abuse in religious settings.

Through speaking with audience members, especially survivors, advocates, psychologists, pastors and educators over the last few months of traveling with the film, we've become very encouraged to offer materials that can help anyone to set up a screening, host a discussion or just explore the subject further on one's own.

I'm really excited to announce that I FINALLY finished piecing together all the documents and that we now offer a whole series of supplemental materials to be utilized by anyone ranging from someone who is grappling with the subject on their own, to a first-time event organizer and all the way to a professor at a university putting together a lesson plan.

Table of Contents from Discussion Guide

The following documents are all available as free downloads in the Resources Section of the All God's Children website:

How-to Facilitator's Guide

Tips on how to organize your own screening.

Discussion Guide

Everything you need to explore the subject of All God's Children further with a group or alone - including background information, discussion prompts, further resources, "taking action" suggestions.

Invitation / Flyer

A letter-sized invitation - set up for you to add your personalized information and use to promote your event.


Short overview of All God's Children.

Fact Sheet provided by Missionary Kids SafetyNet

Additional information about the situation of missionary kids past and present.

Critical Acclaim

List of endorsements of All God's Children.

Additional Resources (Support & Research)

List of organizations and materials for further support and research, including advocacy organizations, support groups, books and films.

Taking Action

Suggestions of how the audience can get involved.

Taking Action Suggestions (excerpt from Discussion Guide)

For a private home screening or a class room screening (as part of a regular curriculum) all you need is a home viewing DVD ($19.99), for a public screening, please purchase the appropriate public screening DVD (for as low as $60).

Please be so kind to share this information with anyone you think might be interested. We are "self"-distributing this film and these accompanying materials and through your help we can reach more people and turn this into a "group"-distributing success.

And while I have your attention: how about rating the film on the page? You don't have to write a review (although we have really appreciated the new insight we've gained from recent comments) - just rating would be great.
Getting ratings brings attention to the film - from other potential viewers but also from the media.

Thank you so much!

List of recommended Fiction Books and Documentary Films (excerpt from Additional Resources)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Fischers

Through my travels with All God's Children this year, I met some amazing and inspiring people. A couple that stood out right away when I first met them at the SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) screening in St. Louis are: Kim and Tim Fischer.

It was the first time we had screened the documentary for survivors and advocates and it meant a lot to us when Tim came right up to me and pointed out how much he appreciated the tone of the film. It turned out that he felt well-represented because he himself is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest. And that's when I found out about all the impressive work that Tim and Kim do and how much they must be helping other people.

Since 2006, Tim Fischer has been writing a very personal and moving blog called "it's about me" that recounts his story of abuse as an 11-year-old, his journey of recovery and his search for justice.

The first lines of Tim's first blog entry.

Tim is a great advocate who is also active on twitter and facebook. I'm sure he's a wonderful person to talk to if you're a survivor or an advocate. I personally also appreciate his love for music - if it wasn't for him and our frequent ichats I would have never been at that secret St. Vincent show.

And if those weren't enough bonding reasons: Kim Fischer is also a documentary filmmaker! And not just that, she's also been working on projects about child abuse by clergy!

Kim and camera
(photo from Kim Fischer's website)

Here is a great short video about the hard working Barbara Dorris (SNAPs Outreach Director), who we owe a lot of gratitude to for all the outreach she's done on behalf of our film.

Kim had submitted the video about Barbara Dorris to the first round of the YouTube competition Project Report. She made the cut and eventually for round three submitted the following video, which features Tim Fischer and for which all four subjects were given a camera to record themselves.

The next time we saw Kim was at the SNAP conference in DC, where she was interviewing and video taping non-stop for a full documentary about SNAP.

The image of the one-woman-camera crew looked enticingly familiar and I immediately felt the itch to shoot something again. But for now I'm chained to the computer for editing and distributing and sending well-wishes out to a sister-in-films. Good luck and much energy, Kim! I can't wait to see the film!!!