Three Ways To Fix The Oscars

By: Tyler Schwartz

The month of September is one of beginnings, with schools, football, and fall TV, all officially starting in month nine. However, September also unofficially marks the beginning of the notorious “Oscar Season”. Prestigious film festivals such as Venice, Toronto, and Telluride (the three most predictive of Hollywood’s taste), all have hosted recent premieres for this year’s lineup of cinematic Academy catnip.

It’s always exciting to read about the new films that we’ll be following up to the big day, but it’s important to remember that currently the Academy Awards are in a dire place. Last year’s broadcast received it’s lowest Nielsen rating ever and the Academy’s recent announcement (and almost immediate retraction) of a “Most Popular Film” category received fierce backlash from both in and outside the industry. Put simply, The Oscars as we know it are dying a slow death, and the present Academy leadership has shown no signs of knowing how to stop the bleeding.

Hence, here are my three humble recommendations for fixing the Academy Awards.

1. Create an Academy Membership for the General Public

The Short of it – The Academy should create a membership for the at-large movie-going public that allows them to access screeners of potential Oscar films and the opportunity to nominate one film each year for Best Picture.

The Long of it – Being the Oscars and all you’d think the Academy would know this simple truth of storytelling: to best capture an audience’s interest, you need them to invest in your narrative. By opening their hallowed doors, The Oscars could access an entire new generation of filmmakers and moviegoers alike, all united under the larger Academy umbrella.

 

Furthermore, this idea is a profitable one for the Academy! The proposition is this: Every year the Academy will open an online submission period for new “At-Large” members. This submission process will require a monthly subscription to the Academy’s Streaming Service (ala Netflix or Hulu) where the members from the general public will have access to that year’s crop of Oscar bait. Over the calendar year they’ll be required to watch a certain percentage of movies in order to submit a vote for the actual awards. Come nomination time, the eligible at-large members will each submit a Best Picture ballot with the final winning film automatically receiving a Best Picture nomination. If this happens, think of the millions of everyday people who would tune into watch the nominations alone, hoping to see the film they voted for announced (side note, if the NBA Lottery deserves a primetime slot so do the Oscar nominations, enough of this crack of dawn crap). This would also solve the Academy’s quest for showcasing “popular films” without appearing trite or condescending. The People’s Nominee for Best Picture each year is just as official as the other nominees and will be viewed as such by the rest of the “Selected Academy”. If the goal is to guarantee phenomenons like Black Panther and The Dark Knight are rewarded with Best Picture nominations, this is the most fun and logical way to do it.

2. Release The Final Vote Counts

The Short of it – When the winners for each category are announced, release the percentage of votes received for each respective nominee.

 

The Long of it This one’s pretty simple, wouldn’t you like to know how many votes Moonlight beat La La Land by in the most infamous Best Picture race ever? You’re telling me we publish the vote counts for every single government election and we won’t do it for what’s basically a glamorous reality television show? We’re talking about the same awards show that once featured host Seth MacFarlane singing a song called “We Saw Your Boobs”? I’m all for honoring the (sometimes) dignified history of the movie industry, but let’s not pretend the Oscars have always been a goddamn cotillion of classiness either.

 

And once again, this idea could financially benefit the Academy! Imagine the money to be made if they created a Academy-sponsored betting service (ala FanDuel or MyBookie) to wager on the Awards. Just like a horse race, you could bet on nominees in each category to Win, Place, or Show. Or like a Super Bowl prop bet, you could wager on how many 2nd place finishes a film will receive. The options are endless. Once again, it allows the general public to truly invest in the outcomes of the awards, and with the advent of releasing vote tallies, not simply on who wins them either. With it’s recent legalization, gambling has started to shed the shady and degenerate stigmas often attached to it. That’s why it’s time for the Academy to follow suit and embrace a principle that’s woven into the very fabric of the Awards, predicting the winners and losers.

3.  Let the Hosts Pick the Hosts

The Short of it – Hire two hosts. After the first year, one host will leave and choose their replacement for the following year. Rinse and Repeat.

 

The Long of it – The idea of two Oscars hosts is nothing new, with Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as one recent example and James Franco sleepwalking next to Anne Hathaway for four hours as another. Despite the varying results, having co-hosts offers some real distinct advantages, giving each comedian a partner to riff with and allowing opportunities for fun celebrity pairings of Host and Presenter.

My proposition is thus, starting this year we pick two hosts, one man and one woman (since they have a new movie together, for this exercise, let’s go with Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish). Hart and Haddish (Can’t you see the Oscar Poster already?) host the 2018 Oscars. Then the following year, Kevin Hart (losing a coin flip) leaves his Host position and selects the male host for next year (since they have history together and it’s a no-brainer ratings wise, Hart chooses Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Then in 2019, Tiffany and The Rock (the poster – both of them covered in diamond studded suits – c’mon you know you see it!) host the 2019 ceremony and then Tiffany leaves and chooses her replacement (Haddish first asks Beyonce, but she’s too pregnant with her future 4th child. Kate McKinnon, Tiff’s 2nd choice, graciously accepts). The following year the process happens again. Rinse and repeat.

 

This idea promotes both familiarity and freshness. Imagine the Twitter campaigns that will be launched in attempts to sway hosts to pick their rightful heirs. Imagine the first time a new host completely BOMBS (ala Franco or MacFarlane) and we have an entire year of news and articles in anticipation of the sequel performance. Like the previously suggested ideas, this proposed co-hosting system creates buzz around the event, capturing the zeitgeist each year and sparking country-wide conversation.

 

The SUM of it – By the age of thirteen, I had memorized in order every Best Picture winner ever, like a little cinephiliac Rain Man. It feels silly to say, but I feel personally invested in the Oscars. Over the years, some of that obsession has faded as I’ve grown more cynical and jaded, less impressed with the sight of seeing movie stars dressed to the nines while trying not to sweat. However, despite its many flaws I still love every second of it. No night of the year is more likely to have me in a puddle of tears as I watch artists, both famous and unknown, reach the pinnacle of their craft and acknowledge the many other shoulders that help carry them to this moment.

 

Similar to the NFL, the Oscars will never die. There’s too much history, too much established infrastructure, and too many die-hard fans like myself for either enterprise to every truly disappear. Yet, like the NFL, if they keep going in the same direction, the Oscars can and will diminish. They could diminish to the point where a future thirteen year old never thinks to even watch them (“I mean, like, what’s the point if it’s not on Twitch?”) That to me is the real danger.  For most filmmakers, watching the Oscars as children is their first initiation point into a future of moviemaking. I fear if the Oscars diminish to the point where it’s viewership numbers are trounced by reruns of NCIS, the trickle down effect will be felt when the next generation of great filmmakers are raised on Logan Paul instead of Paul Thomas Anderson.

 

The ideas for improvement I’ve suggested are only a few of the many the Academy should consider. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, they just need new tires because the tread on their current ones is running dangerously thin. So please, Academy members, heed this advice: Open Membership, Oscar Streaming Channel, Online Betting, Rotating Co-Hosts. You know what they call that in “the biz”? That’s entertainment.

 

The Art of Going Viral

By: Tyler Schwartz

The concept of “going viral” is nothing new. Ever since Charlie bit a finger and a man saw god through Double Rainbows, the world has accepted viral celebrities into the pop culture melting pot. However, we’ve never seen a video evolve from viral to full fledged phenomenon as fast as Shiggy’s “In My Feelings” dance.

For those somehow still uninformed the story goes like this…

On June 29th, Shiggy, a mildly popular comedian/Instagram personality, posted a video of himself gleefully dancing to Drake’s new song “In My Feelings”. Up to that point the song was just a lowly B-Side on his recent overlong album Scorpion. The song was a fun jam, but one with not nearly as much publicity and success as the previous singles “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What”. The beauty of Shiggy’s Instagram video was its sheer simplicity. It’s simply him on the sidewalk, just a young man dancing in his feelings if you will.

However what started as a goofy video transformed into a worldwide sensation. Celebrities like Odell Beckham and DJ Khaled made videos of themselves mimicking Shiggy’s dance and challenged others to #DoTheShiggy. Then the rest of the world caught on, streams of people posting themselves doing the #InMyFeelingsChallenge. Drake soon had another #1 Billboard hit without ever promoting the song himself. Drake rewarded Shiggy for this unexpected success by prominently featuring him in the recently released music video for “In My Feelings”.

So once again to recap… June 29th Shiggy posted the original Instagram of him dancing and by August 2nd he had appeared in the music video for the song he was dancing to. No statement may ever more accurately describe the state of pop culture in 2018.

 

Even BDLB caught the Shiggy fever. Check out these two #InMyFeelingsChallenges produced by BDLB for local charter schools Healthy Start Academy and Maureen Joy Charter School.

 

 

Documentaries… SOOOOO Hot Right Now

Written by: Tyler Schwartz

2018 has already seen the release of three critically acclaimed documentaries in RGB, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and Three Identical Strangers. Beyond sharing similar levels of mass critical appeal, each film has also succeeded wildly beyond expectations at the Box Office, causing many industry journalists to signal this as watershed moment for documentary filmmaking.

Here are two reasons America is going through a documentary renaissance…

 

THE LAST DAYS OF MONOCULTURE*

The slow death of monoculture has been one of the most interesting societal phenomenons of the new millenium. The days of half the country watching the Mash or Seinfeld finales are long gone. The word of the hour now is “choice”, and in 2018 audiences have more options than ever before. However, despite culture critics espousing the death rattles of monoculture, once in a blue moon a subject pops up that still captures our collective imagination. FX’s American Crime Story about the OJ Simpson trial is a great example of high-level content and mass public interest colliding to create a cultural behemoth. It’s no coincidence then that all three of these documentaries tap into our national consciousness in similar ways.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor profiles the iconic Mr. Rogers, the Johnny Carson of children’s television. Everyone from ages 20-60 grew up with Mr. Rogers in their living room. Beyond being our neighbor, Mr. Rogers was also our uncle, father and grandfather, someone three entire generations of Americans have grown up with, passing on his wisdom to their own children. Put simply, you’d be hard pressed to find a celebrity personality with a higher approval rating among Americans than the venerable Fred Rogers (no disrespect to our future president Oprah… or Tom Hanks who will be playing Rogers in an upcoming movie).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg may not have the same nationwide appeal as Mr. Rogers (especially not in red states) but RGB, the documentary that profiles her life and career, is uniquely situated to tap into the current zeitgeist. In the age of Trumpified politics, Ginsburg stands out as the final bastion of liberalism. The Notorious RGB is the OG blue-blooded liberal and the OG modern feminist. In a world run by Agent Orange tweets and harrowing #MeToo accounts, the story and ongoing legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has never been more timely (Kate McKinnon’s hilarious SNL impression also helps). Hollywood seems to agree, On The Basis of Sex starring Felicity Jones as a young and pugnacious RGB, will open later this year and has already garnered significant Oscar buzz.

Unlike the previous two films, Three Identical Strangers doesn’t chronicle the life and times of well known cultural figures, however that doesn’t make its story and message any less prescient. The film tells the tale of three identical triplets who are separated at birth and later reunited as young adults. To elaborate on the many twists and turns this incredible story takes would be to spoil a worthwhile night at the movies. All I’ll say is that what begins as an uplifting yarn about long lost brothers turns into a true crime witch hunt that forces the audience to ponder a basic premise that defines all humanity: What shapes who we are, Nature or Nurture? These identical strangers may not be household names but the virtues taken from their life story are primal emotions that every human can relate to.

 

COLLECTIVE TRUTH IN THE AGE OF FAKE NEWS

As Americans we’ve grown accustomed to talking heads on cable news shouting different opinions. However, in 2018, we’re also confronted with conflicting facts. The presidency of Donald Trump has ushered in the era of “fake news”and this unfortunate phenomenon is another reason why the impact of non-fiction films is felt so strongly right now.

An oft made mistake when watching documentaries is to accept everything appearing on-screen as fundamentally true. This simply isn’t the case. If it were, we wouldn’t need more than one documentary profiling the lives of Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King as opposed to the hundreds that have already been made. Documentaries may be non-fiction but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an agenda or that they’re telling the full story. In their most basic form, documentaries are propaganda, carefully shaping the narrative of “reality” to fit whatever the filmmakers want us to see. This isn’t inherently wrong, it’s just storytelling. However as our country becomes increasingly more divided over what “Red Facts” are true and what “Blue Facts” are false, American audiences continue gravitating towards non-fiction content that forces them to choose for themselves.

A great example of this are two recent Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer and Wild Wild Country. Both of these shows do a great job of presenting the facts, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. This makes sense when you think about it. In a society that has become increasingly filled with grey areas,  it seems fitting that audiences would want to decide the difference between black and white for themselves. Non-Fiction films aren’t constrained into the ‘Hero’s Journey’ that most narrative films are forced into. They can live inside the grey area, exposing both black and white, and encouraging the audience to relate the story to their own life without hitting them over the head with a “message”.  

Whether the recent documentary craze is a flash in the pan or dawning of a new era still remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain. As long as movies exist, documentaries will continue to shine a nonfiction light on the good and evils living inside this world.  And there will always be a line of people at the movie theater waiting to see them, eager to decide for themselves.

 

*For those of you (like Janice) who need a quick definition of monoculture, it is: a culture dominated by a single element: a prevailing culture marked by homogeneity.

10 Tips for Giving a Great Toast

In your entire life there are only a handful of times when all the family and friends you love most come together in one location to celebrate you. Your wedding is one of those times, and considering that we don’t really have retirement parties anymore, and you won’t be at your funeral (depending on how you look at it), this is really the only time. So, you can probably see why I think toasts are one of the best parts of a wedding.

 

And while I definitely feel that way as a filmmaker who uses these toasts to drive the stories in our films, I also know that toasts are not always the guests’ favorite part of a wedding. Why, you might ask? Well, to be totally honest, they’re not always good.

 

After 7 years of filming weddings I’ve seen incredible toasts that bring the guests to both fits of laughter and tears of emotions, and I’ve seen toasts that leave guests looking around at each other like ‘Did they just say that?!’  So we decided it’s time we put some of our wisdom down on paper. Whether you’re a future toaster or a future listener, here are our top 10 tips for writing and delivering a great wedding toast.

PLAN IT. I know, you’re great at ‘winging it’. I’ve heard this before, and you’re probably not as great as you think. And if you really are great at winging it, you’ll be even better with a little bit of extra thought put in ahead of time. This an important moment for that couple- don’t waste the opportunity to say something meaningful that will stick with them for years to come.

 

KEEP IT SHORT.  5-7 minutes is perfect. It doesn’t need to be too short, but too long is problematic for several reasons. It can bore the other guests, who are typically waiting for the toasts to be over in order to eat, drink or dance. It can throw off the timeline, which the planner and couple have spent months meticulously designing. And, it can cut the party short. If toasts are supposed to last 20 minutes and they last an hour, that’s 40 minutes the couple doesn’t get to enjoy the dance floor at the end of the night. Be respectful, and cut yourself off at 7.

TOAST, DON’T ROAST.  It’s their wedding day. Funny stories are okay (though reference #4 before deciding which make the cut), but don’t spend too much (or any) time tearing anyone down. The point of a toast is to share your favorite parts of them as individuals, and as a couple, with all the guests who are there.

 

USE STORIES INTENTIONALLY.  Develop your theme and your key points first and then select stories based on which best illustrate those points. Don’t just tell the funniest, craziest, silliest stories you have because it’ll make you laugh. Those stories usually don’t go over very well, and they certainly don’t strengthen the overall message. Hand in hand with this…

AVOID INSIDE JOKES. I’m sure if you are best friends with the couple you have lots of shared experiences and inside jokes. It’s okay to tell stories (again, reference #4), but if everyone in the room except for you and them is going to look around confused, leave that one out. You don’t want to alienate the audience mid-toast. They’re easy to lose but hard to win back.

 

SPEAK TO THE INDIVIDUALS, BUT ALSO THE COUPLE.  If you are giving a toast you likely know one half of the couple better than the other half. Don’t hesitate to share what you love most about the person you’re closest with. In fact, that should probably be your focus. But it’s always nice when you go from there to comment on them as a couple, or how you saw them change when they first met their significant other.

AVOID GENERALITIES. Unless you can ground them in specific stories. There are lots of clichés and quotes about love, and anyone can string them together to make a 5 minute speech. But it won’t mean anything to the couple, and it certainly won’t help the guests get to know the couple any better. Focus on their story as individuals and as a couple, and only use generalities if you can follow it up with a specific story about them.

 

Don’t talk about yourself too much. You’re giving the toast, but the toast isn’t about you. Keep the focus on the couple.

PRINT IT. Or use notecards. Call us old fashioned, but reading from a cellphone is problematic for several reasons. First, the print is often small and it can be hard to read, making the toast less natural and more scripted. Secondly, and this is a big one for us videographers, the light from the phone is going to cast a weird light on your face. The room is likely going to be a bit darker, and this contrasting bright light on your face isn’t going to look good on camera (or in real life).

 

PRACTICE. Even if you’re planning to read from a paper, or reference notes, reading through it out loud, standing up in front of a mirror or a friend can make a big difference in your comfort level.

Wedding Day Advice from a BDLB Groom

by: Tyler Schwartz

 

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop to look around once and awhile you could miss it.”

– Ferris Bueller

Substitute “life” for “weddings” and Mr. Bueller’s quote rings even more true. Weddings are beautiful, spiritual, and joyous, however they’re also emotionally overwhelming, physically taxing, and psychologically exhausting. With such a strict schedule and so many different plates spinning in the air at the same time, couples often feel a sense of whiplash by the end of their big day. Ask a Bride or Groom right after their wedding what their favorite moments were, and you’ll most likely get two blank faces unable to articulate specific details from the day, almost like they’re trapped inside a “wedding fog”. That’s because no matter what, your wedding day is going to be a blur. It’s a fact of life. So many friends, relatives, and strangers. So many hellos, goodbyes, questions and answers. Yet inside of this blur are genuine miracle moments, eternal life memories that you’ll never want to forget. So while a little “wedding fog” is to be expected, here are my humble suggestions for truly soaking in all of your special day.

 

  • Remember to Breathe. Little known fact: asphyxiation is the 2nd leading cause of death in men and women on their wedding day. The first, you ask? frostbitten feet.

  • Stop and Smell Your Roses. What does your wedding day smell like? The flowers? The candles? Your great-aunt’s perfume? Use your freshly wedded nostrils and take it all in. These are the aromas of your life, the scents of your past, the redolent of your present, and the fragrance of your future.

  • The Little Things Matter. The minute details of your wedding are the things that make your day unique. You’ve made so many tiny decisions throughout the process that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of it all. Don’t forget to take a moment and appreciate all the little pieces of beauty the two of you have created. The Table Settings. The Food. The Cake. The Decorations. All of these choices have lead to this picture-perfect tableau. Like any classic piece of artwork, enjoy it from afar, but make sure to get a close up and appreciate the fine strokes that create the greater whole.

  • A Moment of Prayer. This is one out of my own personal playbook. From the time we played sports as little kids, I’ve always been the pre-game motivational speaker in my group of friends. My own wedding day was no different. Right before we went to lineup for the processional, my groomsmen, father, and soon-to-be father-in-law, all kneeled down, huddled together, and I led us in a brief but emotional pump-up speech. However, this speech was unlike others I had given in the past. In fact this speech didn’t feel like a speech at all, it felt like a prayer. While speaking, it dawned on me that I was surrounded by all the men in my life I love most. The men who have helped mold me into the man I am today. My prayer became a sermon, a way for me to thank them for their support on this day, and furthermore, a way for all of us to thank the universe for launching such a cast of disparate souls into each other’s orbits. Their wasn’t a dry eye in that circle by the time we were done. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever, a moment of spiritual serenity in an otherwise chaotic day. On our honeymoon, my wife and I finally debriefed our wedding day experiences. When I told her about this moment she started to cry. It was partially a happy cry because she was glad her dad had that experience. But it was also a sad cry because she immediately regretted not having a similar moment before the ceremony with her family and bridesmaids. They were too caught up in getting ready that they simply ran out of time. So heed this advice, no matter how busy your prep time, no matter how far behind schedule you’re running, take the time to kneel down with your loved ones and send a blessing of love and gratitude into the universe. Whether you’re religious or not, I promise that the sense of peace and harmony you’ll feel after is the perfect remedy to any pre-ceremony jitters. So acknowledge the love surrounding you, and with that feeling, let the universe launch you together into forever.

Artist Soapbox Podcast

Last month I got to sit down with Tamara Kissane from The Artist Soapbox. She is the host of this Durham-based podcast featuring creative entrepreneurs, and their perspective on what it’s like to turn a passion into a full-time gig. I LOVED the chance to sit down with her and talk bigger picture about some of the things that are on our minds daily here at Big Dog Little Bed, and excited to finally share it 🙂  You can find it HERE, or by subscribing to Artist Soapbox using the Apple Podcast app.

Some things we covered…

[1:05] What is the line between narcissism and documenting our stories?

[6:14] Bringing the dream from hobby to full-time. The steps to launching a creative and product based business.

[13:30] Product, process and point of view. Why we often skip the last one, but how it can be game-changing for our businesses.

[19:42] Observations on gender in both filmmaking and entrepreneurship.

[26:44] Maintaining a creative spark in the midst of a growing business.

[31:15] Brand Story Films: What are those? Why are they valuable?

[34:03] Grappling with the question of how we create films that inspire us creatively and are also good for the world.

3 Reasons This is the Best Campaign Film You’ll See This Year

Written by: Tyler Schwartz

In my inbox the other day I received a link to a recent campaign video for Democratic congressional candidate MJ Hegar. Upon watching, I can confidently say it’s one of the best campaign ads I’ve ever seen. What makes this video so unique and exciting is that it’s the rare political ad that doesn’t really talk about politics. Additionally, in a medium that often relies on politicians talking to camera and trying to tell their story, Hegar’s video succeeds in showing us her story by putting us inside of the action.

From my perspective, here are the three defining characteristics that separate this ad.

 

1. Stealing from Scorsese

The video opens with the viewer omnisciently floating through a front porch and entering a house. The background music sounds eerily like the opening chords of “Take Shelter” by The Rolling Stones and then the voice-over hits. These cinematic elements are all hallmarks of Martin Scorsese, and they help us peel back the curtain to see how the “Ad Sausage” gets made. Within the first 15 seconds of the video we get a classic Scorsese opening line ( MJ’s “This is a story about doors” = Goodfellas “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster”), followed by some classic Scorsese exposition. Before a single cut occurs, we learn that MJ lives in Texas, is married with children, and is a former Air Force Pilot. All within 10 seconds! Therein lies the power of cinematic voice over. We’ve barely met Hegar, and yet we’re already predisposed to trust her because she’s our narrator, and as viewers, we’re trained to believe that narrators always tell the truth. Compared to more run-of-the-mill Ads where a hired Voice Actor does the narration or a when the actual candidate themselves speak to the camera, this method allows the viewer to connect with MJ on a different level; she’s not a candidate, she’s a character.

 

2. Seamless Editing

At a run time of 3 minutes and 28 seconds, this video is longer than your typical campaign ad. The reason it doesn’t feel overlong is due to the seamless editing that guides the viewer throughout the story. Similar to what DP Emmanuel Lubezki and Director Alejandro Inarritu did with the film Birdman, the filmmakers here hide their edits with well timed whip pans, dissolves, and match cuts, creating a feeling of total engrossment for the viewer. The great editor Walter Murch once said that an editor’s job is to anticipate when a viewer is going to blink, at that moment is when a cut should occur. While there aren’t many “normal cuts” in this video, the filmmakers still allow room for “viewer blinking” by intentionally going static on certain images. The benefit of these brief moments of stillness are that they provide the audience with a “blink point”, which then works to solidify the visual theme on screen. Walter Murch again sums it up best when he says, Blinking is some way of tabulating – a kind of carriage return, click, or save to disk – that helps the process of ‘Okay, now change the subject.’ Every time you move your eyes, there’s an interruption in the visual field – you go momentarily blind when your eyeballs are moving.”

 

When remembering this video, what are the images that stick in your memory? The helicopter door, the ROTC sign, Flight School, the Purple Heart, the Closed sign… all of those moments occurred during a “blink point”, yet because of the seamless editing, the emotional power of the images is digested entirely on a subconscious level. As the audience member, we’re tracking the story, but as potential voters, our minds return to these blinked “save points”  and deliver us the information Hegar actually wants us to remember: She’s a Mother, an Air Force Pilot, a Purple Heart Recipient, a Feminist Lobbyist, and finally, she’s running for Congress.

 

3. Politics without Politics

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the entire Ad is the complete lack of politics mentioned within the video. There are no mentions of domestic policies or foreign affairs. No mentions of Trump, Obama, or Hillary. Not once does Hegar even mention that she’s running as a Democrat. The message here is simple, you’re not voting for MJ’s politics, you’re voting for MJ’s story. This is a tactic that has been used before for both good (Obama’s “Hope” campaign”) and evil (Trump’s “Make America Great Again). In both instances, voters were directed to vote with their hearts instead of their minds.

 

On a national scale this method can become overwhelmingly populist no matter who’s employing it. However, for a congressional seat, this heart-on-your-sleeve approach does its job in investing the viewer in Hegar’s story. If you’re really interested in her views on abortion or gun rights, there’s plenty of reading material online at your disposal. My guess is that Hegar’s team is betting that the average Texas voter doesn’t really care about policies. They’re not selling you a person’s politics, they’re selling you the person and believing in her is all that matters.

 

I had never heard of MJ Hegar before watching this video. I don’t live or ever plan on living in Texas. I’m not even a registered Democrat (I’m proudly independent). Yet, with all that stated, and even without really knowing what her true political views are, I’m fully prepared to vote for MJ Hegar. Why? Because I believe her. She comes across as no-nonsense and forthright and that’s what I want in my politicians. In the world of Trumpified politics, I believe the American people want truth and honesty. Hopefully come November, the good people Texas’s 31st district will give Hegar a chance to prove her motivations and sincerity. My feeling is that if they do, it’ll be because the power of visual storytelling opened the door to their political hearts.

Can You Be a Filmmaker Without Film School?

The Role of Storytelling in Videos, Movies & Films 

Written by: Tyler Schwartz

 

I recently sat down for lunch with my friend’s younger brother. For brevity’s sake, let’s call him Sonny. Brother Sonny is (adopts Casey Affleck accent) a wicked smart 18 year-old kid with ambitions of one day being the next great Director of Motion Pictures.  He’s a movie nerd, a theater geek, and a film buff – He reminds me a lot of myself at the same age.

 

Sonny’s older brother arranged our meeting so I could talk to Sonny about film school. As a high school senior Sonny was starting the great scourge of adolescent society more commonly known as the college application process. They wanted my advice on the pros and cons of a film school education.

 

West Philadelphia, born and raised (Lower Merion to be exact, shouts to Kobe), I departed for the West Coast in 2007 to study theater at USC. Eventually I lost my absolute devotion to theater and matriculated to The Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood where I studied Directing and Screenwriting. After graduating I worked both inside the industry (on the camera or production crews for Music Videos, Commercials, and Independent Feature Films), adjacent to the industry (as a featured background extra on shows like Glee, True Blood, and American Horror Story), and outside the industry (as a ballroom dance instructor at Arthur Murray and a third party kitchen flooring salesman at Home Depot).

 

Staring back at Sonny while I munched on delectable Parts and Labor french fries, I realized that the question of “why film school?” had completely evolved over the decade since I first faced down the question myself. The answer used to be simple – You went to film school if you wanted to make movies. That was it. There wasn’t really another option back then (you know, back then, in the mid-aughts… sigh). The script was incredibly straightforward. Go to film school. Make a thesis film. Work odd jobs during the day while writing your feature at night. Sell your body, blood, eggs or semen, until you raise enough money to finally make your “Feature Debut”. Get your film accepted into Sundance and… BOOM – (Clooney in The Perfect Storm voice) You’re a Goddamn Filmmaker.

 

As much as the world has changed since then, so has the entertainment industry. Over the past 13 years, or what is otherwise known as the “Age of YouTube”, I’ve witnessed firsthand what was once known as “The Motion Picture Industry” fracture into three distinct branches. While talking to Sonny, this unjaded young soul so very similar to my old self, I did my best to explain this triple industry fracture in more detail.

 

Branch 1: Video

The aforementioned YouTube truly did change the game forever. It brought video making and viewing to the masses. The sudden ubiquity of online video pushed companies like Canon and Nikon to make affordable DSLR cameras meant for online video making. It convinced Apple to commit millions of dollars into upgrading its iPhone camera to the point where it’s now more powerful than any motion picture camera I ever handled during film school. It literally created an entirely new (and consistently profitable) sub-industry of the entertainment business – I don’t how the kids are saying it now but old fogies like myself still call it “Vlogging”.

 

YouTube’s leveling of the digital “playing field” acted as both a blessing and a curse. Obviously a gift to us all for providing a platform for classic videos like “Charlie Bit My Finger” and “Double Rainbow Man”, plus an infinite amount of groin kicks and animal cuteness. Less obviously, it’s been a curse. To put it best, why would any titular “Industry Exec” care about who wins Sundance when there’s Bobby Teenager who live streams himself playing Fortnight and has 10 million channel followers. The industry money always follows what young people are watching. For better or worse, young people are watching videos on YouTube, not movies in theaters. Not to say that it’s not entertainment, it certainly is. But, for the most part, it’s also not real storytelling.

As I finished explaining this first branch of the industry to Sonny, I checked in to see if he was following – “Yeah, I think I get it, you’re saying Video is for amateurs”. I quickly set the record straight, “No that’s not what I’m saying. Plenty of professional videographers are very talented and absolutely deserve to get paid well for what they do”. What I explained is that if he only wanted to be a videographer that makes videos to sell products and/or document events, you don’t need to attend Film School. The internet has enough video making tutorials to fill the Library of Congress twice over. Amazon has enough affordable video making equipment to deck out an entire studio warehouse. If your professional goal is to make videos for YouTube, then there’s no better teacher in the universe than YouTube itself.

 

Sonny responded, “No, that’s not what I want. I want to make real movies”.

 

BRANCH 2: Movies

In 1988, the year before I was born, the highest grossing film of the year was Rainman. The following year, 1989, the highest grossing release was Tim Burton’s Batman. While the seismic Hollywood shift towards flooding the world with Superhero movies wouldn’t fully happen for another decade, the juxtaposition of Rainman and Batman (both classic films), perfectly illustrates the growing chasm between the definitions of MOVIES vs. FILMS.

 

Since the year 2000 (the year Brother Sonny was born), only two “Original Films” have gone on to become the top grosser of that given year. The first of the two is James Cameron’s Avatar from 2009. Ignoring the fact that Avatar isn’t really “original” (it’s basically a live-action Ferngully sans Robin Williams), it was also made with the intention of multiple sequels (Avatar 2-5 will be coming to a theater near you every year from 2020-2025… seriously). If we put an asterisk on Avatar, that means the only truly “original film” to be that year’s highest grosser is 2014’s Bradley Cooper starring, Clint Eastwood directed, American Sniper. If you peruse the rest of the list, familiar titles continue to pop up – Multiple Star Wars appearances, Harry Potter, The Avengers, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Pirates of the Caribbean, and (Yul Brynner’s King and I accent) “et cetera, et cetera”.

 

In today’s Hollywood, the name of the game is IP (intellectual property). Most of our great young directors have had to abandon original ideas all together or at the very least are forced to sneakily hide them under a thick layer of product placements. These commercial restraints make it all the more miraculous when a regular “popcorn movie” transcends it’s industry trappings to become a legitimate film. To me that’s what differentiates movies from films – movies are visual stories intended to entertain, films are visual stories that can entertain, but are intended to make you feel and think both about the characters, yourself, and the world around you. Recent examples of this can be seen in Logan (on its surface an X-Men sequel, at its core, a post-modern meditation on Westerns, American Masculinity, and fatherhood, that also doubles as the best Clint Eastwood film Eastwood never made), and most recently in 2018’s highest grossing film, Black Panther.  

 

“I loved both Logan and Black Panther” Sonny tells me, “Those are definitely the type of movies I want to learn to make”. It’s at this point where I had to explain an ugly truth about the profession of filmmaking. Even though these blockbusters are getting bigger and bigger budgets, the industry is actually making less and less movies every year. This means there are less and less opportunities for all the up and coming Brother Sonny’s of the world. Put simply, the chances of Sonny becoming the next JJ Abrams are roughly the same as his High School’s Varsity quarterback of becoming Tom Brady. Sure, it could happen, but it’s extremely unlikely, and what’s worse is that actual talent means even less in Hollywood than it does in the NFL. I told Sonny that if he really wanted to work on projects like this, he should abandon his desire to be a Director and pick a specific vocational skill (Editing, Lighting, Production Design,). These skills will lead to way more industry opportunities than being the billionth white director dude who works at the local coffee shop.

 

I could tell Sonny didn’t really like this answer. 18 year old me doesn’t like this answer either. 18 year old me wants to do everything and truly believes he can. 18 year old me is very stubborn. Very ambitious. And also very stupid.

 

“Tell me about the third branch then… Tell me about Film.”

 

BRANCH 3 : Film

My generation of film school students are the last of a kind. We’re the last students to actually attend “FILM SCHOOL” and not be lying. Why you ask?

 

We actually learned how to shoot on film.

 

Those days are now long gone. It’s simply just too expensive to shoot on film. Sure, maybe a few schools will demonstrate how to properly load film into a camera but that’s like a 1st year Law Student reading the Bill of Rights. Helpful to know, but not very practical knowledge inside an everyday work environment. So since the actual technology of filmmaking no longer even involves actual, you know, film, we’ve been forced to redefine what actually makes something a film.

 

From my standpoint, the prerequisites of what makes something a film are story telling, artistry and intentionality. A film tells a story, it doesn’t “sell” a story. A film uses cinematic artistry to convey emotion, theme, and subtext. A film uses precise and intentional visual language to showcase Point-of-View, whether it be of different characters or from the filmmaker themself. I’d also add one final crucial rule, that films aren’t made to make money. That doesn’t mean the filmmakers don’t want to make money, but that’s not their first intention. Story and characters forever remain King when it comes to making FILMS.

 

I listed off a few recent examples for Sonny. Short Term 12, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Florida Project, Moonlight, all capital ‘F’ FILMS that showcased a slice of human existence heretofore unseen on the silver screen. They also share another commonality, none of their entire lifetime grosses add up to even half of what Avengers: Infinity War made on opening day alone. I attempted to explain this harsh reality to Sonny as honestly as I could;

 

“It’s a tough pill to swallow but you’re going to learn it one way or the other. The simple fact is it’s hard to make a living as a filmmaker in 2018.”

 

“So what would you call yourself then? Are you a filmmaker? Or are you a videographer?”

 

I knew this question was coming. It’s only natural. I’d just spent the last hour stomping on this kid’s dream of becoming the next Spielberg, it’s only right for him to start questioning my own career path and credentials. Had I really become the old guard already? Thinking back on our conversation it did start to feel more and more like I was the old guy reminiscing about “the glory days”.

 

So I explained to Sonny what I do, what Big Dog Little Bed does, and why we do it the way we do. Part of BDLB’s business is wedding videography. However, we don’t deliver “wedding videos” to our couples, we deliver “wedding films”. We don’t just document their day, we tell the story of their life and love through the prism of that day. We use our artistic eye to capture real moments of raw emotion that most videographers wouldn’t even think to look for. We employ intentionality in how we utilize music and create the rhythm and look of a film. No two couples are the same which is why no two wedding films can be the same. The whole team strives for that distinct originality in every film, every frame, and every cut.

 

I explained that not every company was like this. I know because I used to work at one. A production company that was practically a McDonalds in the way it could churn out cookie cutter content. At BDLB we strive for something more profound. Something that goes deeper than the surface level “that’s pretty”. We may not be making Moonlight, but filmmakers indeed we are.

 

As I closed my bar tab, I looked back over my shoulder at a bewildered Sonny. Poor kid didn’t know what had hit him. All he wanted to know was whether film school was a sound educational investment. Instead I had delivered a dissertation on the modern entertainment industry.

 

“Look, at the end of the day, your path will find you. There’s no right way to do it. And no experience is universal. Maybe film school is perfect for you. Maybe not. Either way, the best way to become anything in life is just to do it. As much as you can, whenever you can. That’s the best piece of advice I can give you Sonny.”

 

“Thanks I appreciate it. I think I understood everything you said.”

 

“Ohhhh really,” I probed, “then break it down for me in one sentence Sonny boy.”

 

Sonny paused and took a deep breath, searching for the right words to pass my pop quiz.

 

“Regardless of what kind of screen size it’s playing on or who made it, Videos entertain for 2 minutes, Movies entertain for 2 hours, and films you remember forever. That about sums it up, right?”

 

… With answers like that, maybe filmmaking isn’t a dying art after all.

 

Writing Personal Letters: Our Point of View

Two months before a wedding we like to sit down with our couples (ideally over a local beer with atleast one dog) and talk through the schedule of the day. For the most part as videographers we’re simply there to document what happens as it happens. We don’t do much (or any) directing aside from possibly cleaning up the background of a shot or moving closer to good light. Aside from that we’re there as observers and documentarians, not movie producers.

 

That said, there are a couple parts of the day where we can be a bit more involved, and one of them is when you exchange gifts and/or letters.  Many couples opt to exchange these gifts before they see each other, and one option is to read the letters out loud, on camera. This is a completely personal decision, but today we’d like to share three reasons why we love it when couples choose to do this.  Followed, of course, by one of our very favorite films where you can see the outcome.

 

  • Our #1 goal of every film is to tell your story. We do this by driving every wedding film with great audio from the day. The officiant during your ceremony, the toasts at your reception… all are great ways to tell your story, but none are actually coming from you. Reading your letters out loud is a way to help tell your own story, in your voices.  While friends, family and officiants know a lot about you as individuals, and as a couple, they are still outside observers. We often find these letters are such a personal way to get a glimpse into the history of your relationship.

 

  • You’ll get to keep the full version. Even if we don’t use all the audio from the letters in the film, we always deliver the full versions on your final flash drive. While you might one day misplace the actual cards, this allows you to always hold on to the content. The family historian in me can’t resist this one.

 

  • It’s okay if you cry. Some people are hesitant to read them out loud because they’re worried they’ll cry. We’re here to tell you that crying on camera is 100% okay. Weddings are supposed to be emotional!  Showing emotion is totally normal, common and probably a good sign about the decision you’re making.

 

Now, here’s one of our favorite films from 2016, where the couple read their letters out loud while getting ready. We loved this wedding, and film, so much because of the beautiful story of these two and their families.  While their ceremony and toasts also did an incredible job of incorporating that story, there was nothing quite like hearing it from the two of them.