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12-7-08
The man who created "Sci-Fi" has passed on.
- Nic Brown-

It is with great sadness that I write this entry. Forrest Ackerman may not be the best known figure in science fiction, but he was one of the people who made the genre what it is today.

His list of credits is too long for me to begin to touch. Visit his page here to learn more if you don't know much about him. I will say that Ackerman is the man who discovered talent such as Ray Bradbury and in the 1950's coined the phrase "Sci-Fi' after hearing a comercial for a 'hi-fi' radio.

Ackerman described himself as a human sponge soaking up everything sci-fi. He inspired many of today's great filmmakers including Lucas and Spielberg, but it's hard to say how many people he really touched in his life. He was a pebble dropped into the pond of our collective imagination and the ripples he created are still growing and spreading as other artists carry on his tradition.

Thank you Forrest Ackerman for what you have given our world. Though many don't realize it, you made it a better place to be for us all.

You may click here to read the news story of his passing on the BBC website

11-19-07
Why film festivals are a good idea for indy-filmmakers.
-Nic Brown-
Film Festivals, they seem to be everywhere from the Cannes in the south of France, to Park City Utah. Some draw major industry attention such as Sundance, and some such as Tromadance, linger in obscurity to the majority of the film industry. What sets some film festivals apart from others though is not the movies that they show, but the opportunities they offer for independent filmmakers. There is of course the opportunity to show their product to an audience, gain some attention and possibly walk away with an award or two. There is also the chance for filmmakers to network with each other and the studios in a bid to gain wider distribution. But one opportunity that some festivals afford to attendees is in the form of classes and forums where they can learn from each other directly.

A perfect example of this was at the It Came From Lake Michigan Film Festival, which was held just outside of Milwaukee, WI in October. Aside from drawing in over 60 features from independent filmmakers around the world, ICFLM also offered a wide line up of educational opportunities during its three day run. Classes covered a variety of practical subjects that were of interest to filmmakers including: working with HD Video, risk and insurance issues, musical scoring for films, and special effects.

Among the speakers was German Filmmaker Uwe Boll. Boll, best known for his adaptations of video games such as Bloodrayne, House of the Dead, & Alone in the Dark, into commercially, if not critically successful films. Boll discussed marketing, financing and distribution; subjects he knows well since he is personally involved with these aspects of each of his films. Boll's films are all independently financed through investors and Boll is even independently financing the marketing of his $65 million movie In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.

Uwe Boll wasn't the only guest there to share his talents with his peers. Las Vegas, Nevada filmmaker Mike Conway presented a class on special effects for movies. In it he showcased some of the many techniques he'd learned from his 25 years in filmmaking. His class covered everything from prosthetics and fake blood; to the latest in CGI techniques such as cloning. In fact clips from his three feature films and over 50 shorts were used to illustrate the practical applications of all the special effects subjects he discussed.

Although not as prestigious as the Cannes Film Festival or as well known as Sundance, at the end of the day the It Came From Lake Michigan Film Festival also did not involve the same costs as those festivals either. All access passes were only $150 and accommodations in Milwaukee are much easier and cheaper to come by than in Park City Utah during their festival. So for many filmmakers the opportunities provided by smaller independent film festivals may be hard to beat for the price!
5-14-07

My LOVE / HATE relationship with movie theaters
I have always enjoyed going to a movie. No ifs, ands or buts. To me the best way to see a film is on the big screen. Whether that screen is in a dark movie theater, or though the front window of my car "under the stars the way God intended" (as Joe Bob Briggs would say) at a Drive-In, I don't care, I love them both.
Part of that love may stem from one of my first jobs: working in a movie theater during college. I worked my way up from the guy selling the tickets, to the guy running the projection booth, and finally theater management.... If there's a job at a theater, over my 6 year tour of duty with Loew's theaters in Lexington, I did it. For some people, working at the movies would spoil the whole thing, you start associating the thing you love with the downside of the job (rude customers, late nights, low pay, working when everyone else is having fun, sticky floors, etc...). I'm lucky, most of what I remember was getting to see the first "Batman" film the night before it opened when we screened the print, or decorating the lobby with dinosaur stuff for "Jurassic Park". For me, movie theaters are one of my favorite places to be.
However, as the Grateful Dead would say "Every silver lining has a touch of grey..." and movie theaters are a double edged sword. Yes you can see the film on the big screen, with the super sound system, now-a-days you even get stadium seating and cup holders as standard features. But, when you see the film at a theater, you give up control. The quality of your experience is directly affected by the skill of the projectionists working at the cinema. Have they taken care of the print, or is it a scratched, spliced, mess? When they run it do they even check to see that it looks good on the screen? You'd be amazed how long it takes to get someone to fix an out of focus or out of frame movie at a multiplex. The little things like that can really make a big difference when you've paid $30 for tickets and snacks.
The other thing that can make or break the trip to the movies for me is the audience. When the audience is into the film, you can feel their energy around you. Everyone jumps at the scary bits, laughs at the funny bits, and cheers when the good guys win. You've been in that movie, you know what I'm talking about. Unfortunately, many times that is not the case. Especially with a lot of the traditional "B-movie" genre films like horror and sci-fi. Instead of seeing the film with a room full of strangers making it a better experience, you learn why Georgia O'Keeffe lived all alone in the desert. People can be the most annoying animals on the planet. They love to talk, both to each other and to the screen. Cell phones ring, and ring, and ring, and when they are finally silenced it's only to be replaced with the "WHATZ UPPPP?" as the conversation you didn't pay to hear starts up. Babies cry, which is what babies do, but when they start, why do the parents usually not take them outside? If I wanted to hear children crying I'd go to my sister's house and babysit.
Maybe I am getting old. No strike that, I am getting old, but at the same time courtesy is still courtesy and pride in your job is still something everyone should try to have. If you go to a movie, go to the movie, turn off the phone and keep the comments to yourself (or at least keep them quiet enough that others don't have to share in them). If you work a theater, and I'm talking to all you projectionists out there especially, take the time to make sure the movie runs well, not just that it is on.
These days with big screen TVs and digital technology, the visual experience of going to the movies can be duplicated at home. Coupled with the speed at which movies are out on DVD and pay-per-view, and I can see trouble ahead for the movie theater business. I don't ever think there will stop being movie theaters, but as the times and technology change, I see their numbers decreasing. That makes me a little sad, because the movie theater will always hold a special place in my heart. A place that I hope others share with me. So if you have the chance, go to the movies at a theater. If you've never been to a drive-in theater, find one, there are still quite a few out there. See the movies on the big screen, in doors or out... just remember to keep it down, there may be a grumpy b-movie fan sitting next to you.
10-27-06

Televised Paranormal, the good, the bad & the Gary Busey…

Before I begin, I want to make one point clear. I believe that there are things in this world that cannot be explained. To quote Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Those are words to live by in my book, and I want to make it clear that I enjoy paranormal investigations, ghost stories, and other paranormally related topics.

That’s why I’m pleased in some ways that ghost hunting, paranormal investigation, spook spotting, whatever name you want to give it, has become a hot item on television lately. Turn on the TV and you can find shows on The Sci Fi Channel, The Discovery Channel, The Travel Channel, now even VH1 has gotten into the picture with “Celebrity Paranormal Project”.

You have to take the good with the bad in life and that is especially true with television. “Ghost Hunters” is a fantastic show on the Sci Fi channel. The show follows The Atlantic Paranormal Society as they use good solid scientific methods to investigate reported hauntings in everything from mobile homes to luxury ocean liners. They specifically go in to disprove hauntings. They spend their time looking for evidence, but also trying to debunk reported activity. Along the way they explain their methods, philosophy and techniques, making them a good deal more credible than some similar shows I’ve seen.

Of course much like every hero needs a villain, one of the things that helps to make “Ghost Hunters” so good is being able to compare it to shows like “Most Haunted” from the Travel Channel. “Most Haunted” follows a similar track to “Ghost Hunters” except the “Most Haunted” team visits historic castles and manor houses in England, where they proceed to curse, scream and shout any time they hear a noise during and investigation. It’s like the “Most Haunted” investigators are terrified of ghosts, but go looking for them anyway. They also depend heavily on the services of two “psychics”. I don’t mean to say that there are not legitimate psychics, but the way these two carry on it must be tough for them to go to the store for a gallon of milk because everywhere they go they are channeling spirits or getting possessed; “Oh I’ll just nip out for a pint at the pub and….aww gawd no! I’m in contact with the spirit of the cat that lived in the pantry at the pub and he’s making me buy cheap American beer…NOOOO!” In the end I enjoy watching “Most Haunted” not because they do a good job investigating, but because it’s fun to play drinking games and listen to them cursing in a British accent.

Finally, we come to the new kid on the block, VH1’s “Celebrity Paranormal Project”. This show is like watching a train wreck. It’s awful, you cry out for the humanity of the souls involved, and yet, you cannot turn away. The celebrities, and I use the term loosely for some of them, change every week. During the premier episode the team was made up of actor Gary Busey, comedian Hal Sparks, Survivor winner Jenna Morasca, Toccara from America's Next Top Model, and Baywatch original Donna d'Errico. This band of merry misfits (sorry Hal, I love your work but was it really worth the paycheck to be on this show?) was sent to investigate the paranormal activities at Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville Kentucky.

 

Waverly Hills was tuberculosis hospital during the early 20th century (“What’s tuberculosis?” asks Toccara from America’s Next Lobotomy…., I mean Top Model). This show played more like an episode of “Fear Factor” as the group is split up into small teams to accomplish tasks. The tasks mostly involved wearing camera harnesses and running around the sanatorium while people off camera screwed with them by moving stuff, making noise, and so on. It is possible that there was some genuine paranormal activity in there somewhere (I give Hal Sparks the benefit of a doubt on some of his experiences), but somehow I don’t think that supernatural beings were in on this, if for no other reason than because something seemed to happen EVERYWHERE they were assigned to go. If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. If nothing else this show has given me a new admiration for the fine job that the road did on scrambling Gary Busey’s brain during his motorcycle wreck years ago. Helmets off to you Gary Busey, and please keep riding! We can only hope that when the dust (it’s not orbs in that picture Yvette from “Most Haunted” it’s bloody dust!!) finally settles shows like “Celebrity Paranormal” and “Most Haunted” won’t undo all of the work accomplished by “Ghost Hunters” and other legitimate investigation programs in helping people take paranormal investigation seriously. Boo!

 

10-23-06

The Grudge 2: The Horror of Hair!

 

I liked the Grudge (the US version, I haven’t seen the Japanese one yet). The Grudge told a story, it was creepy and interesting.

Because I liked the first one, I decided to check out the Grudge 2 with some friends. When the movie ended we all looked at each other and asked the same question “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ABOUT?”

 

The film jumps back and fourth between picking up at the end of the first film, two years later in Japan and some time later in Chicago. Many films, most notably “Pulp Fiction” use this technique with great success. In the Grudge 2, it just muddles the story. Oh, wait did I say the story? I meant the series of death scenes strung loosely together with no discernible purpose.

 

The Grudge 2 jumps from place to place, and time to time in an effort to show how all the events are interlinked and generate a sense of tension. In this case the actual affect is that it builds annoyance in the view as you work to figure out why and where things are happening. Many of the individual scenes are done well and the acting is very good, but the movie does not string all the good pieces together into a good film.

 

My final word on this film is HAIR. Watching the film, the viewer comes to realize that the most horrible thing in the Grudge 2 is the killer Japanese hair! Based on this film I would advise anyone planning a trip to Japan to take a couple of cans of hair spray and a pair of scissors. I’m pretty sure the unstoppable horror of the Grudge could be destroyed with a good bit of hairspray or better yet a well placed bucket of Nair hair remover!

 

If you’re scared of hair, this is the film for you, otherwise watch the first film and pretend this one didn’t come out.


9-26-06

When did ECW Wrestling become SCI-FI?
I'm not sure when it happened. I am a regular viewer of a number of shows on the Sci-Fi channel and I was tuning in to watch the new show Eureka (great show by the way) and I noticed ads for ECW Wrestling. I wasn't paying attention to them, or most of the other ads honestly, so I didn't notice where the wrestling was going to be on. I was a bit taken aback when I discovered it was on the Sci-Fi channel right after Eureka.

Now do not get me wrong, I don't have anything against wrestling, but I am not sure how Sci-Fi justifies having it in their line-up. Maybe if it was robot wrestling, or gladiatorial combat with exotic weapons in a mock arena (not to the death or anything, this is TV after all!), but it isn't, it's just professional wrestling.

The Sci-Fi channel is supposed to be a channel devoted to Science Fiction entertainment. I turn a blind eye to all the different versions of "Giant Snake vs insert mutated and or abnormally large animal name here", these may not fall into the exact definition of Sci-Fi, but at least they are in the same dictionary! Professional Wrestling is called "sports entertainment" (emphasis on the entertainment) and it has no place on the Sci-Fi channel. There are hundreds of different channels where wrestling can be shown, in fact I'm surprised there isn't an all wrestling channel out there already (if there is let me know, I will stand corrected), so why is ECW Wrestling on the Sci-Fi channel? I can think of one reason: ratings. Wrestling draws in viewers. In fact I would bet that a significant portion of the audience for it is not a traditional Sci-Fi channel veiwer. So it is my hope that they would be using this as an opportunity to introduce some of their other shows (the Science Fiction ones) to non-traditional viewers. It does worry me though because I can see the next step being World Tournament Poker followed by Dawg the Bounty Hunter. I have nothing against those shows either, but Sci-Fi should be for Sci-Fi and that's all I have to say about that!



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