Monthly Archives: December 2012

Bleeding Edge Entertainment

Like most of the rest of the world I have seen “The Hobbit.”  Like a good portion of them I made the call to see it in 3D with the High Frame Rate (HFR).  Unlike a portion of the world I decided to use the restroom before the movie started and to not indulge in the 55 gallon drum of soda thus allowing me to sit through the entire movie.

In retrospect I may have wanted that bathroom break just get away from the visual bludgeoning I received.

I’m not going to get into a review of the movie itself.  This has been done to death everywhere else and I don’t know that I could really add anything to it.  I will say this much; I literally grew up with this story from kindergarten on.  Story time in school was this book and as a class we made a huge wall sized panorama of the whole book where I made The Arkenstone.  So I have a connection.  The movie is not the book.  I may not decide how I feel about that until all three movies(!) have been released.

In any case it’s not the plot I wish to talk about but the technology of 3D and HFR.

First, 3D technology.  We’ve been dealing with a variety of movie attempts at 3D for a lot longer than people might think.  The earliest attempts at 3D cinema were done in the 1890’s.  The first film viewed by a paying audience was “The Power of Love” released in 1922 and it used the basic “Red/Green” viewing technology most of us are familiar with.

From there the leaps in technology have been pretty minor in the grand scheme of the audience viewing experience.  The technology behind the scenes was mostly on process and creating projection systems that could handle the changes in process.  The main problems that had to be dealt with were largely caused by the need for dual projectors, dual projectionists and the complications of keeping the two films running in sync with one another.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that someone figured out a variety of ways to put the images on to a single film strip alternating frames and the use of special projectors and lenses to allow them to be seen.  Still, these came with their own problems mainly in how bright the images were or the sightlines in the theater being to narrow to get any proper 3D effect.

In 1970 we got Stereovision and thanks to the Porn industry a 3D flick called “The Stewardesses” where the frames were on a single strip but squeezed in side by side.  Soft and Hard core porn led the way for 3D for several years.

In the early 80’s we got more attempts at 3D with the sci-fi films such as “Spacehunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone”, “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn” and “Treasure of the Four Crowns.”  None of which could compete with the traditional 2D format of our beloved “Star Wars” and so 3D fell to the wayside again.

But IMAX came along in the mid-80’s and IMAX 3D started giving us a lot of documentary films at first followed by a whole slew of entertainment releases.

And now we find ourselves here in an age where 3D films seem to be making a real go of it with vastly superior technology.

And now we’re talking about High Frame Rate.  There is not nearly as much information on this technology because other than using HFR cameras to get super slow motion images the tech doesn’t seem to have been used for very much as far as entertainment is concerned.

Going back to those really old cameras and projectors there was no particular standard for film frame rates due to the simple fact that those items were hand cranked.  The frame rates didn’t standardize until the invention of Sound Sync technology and the creation of the first “talkies”.  In 1927 the first feature length “talkie” was the film “The Jazz Singer.”

So it was sound that drove the visual frame rate standard which became 24 frames per second.  That means when you look at that strip of film each and every one of those little pictures is racing by and you see 24 of them in one second to create the illusion of movement.

Which brings me to “The Hobbit.”

Peter Jackson decided that he wanted to do this movie at 48 frames per second, the first feature film to do so.  I’m sure you understand fully what that means now.

The first thing that I have to say is that in talking with various people who have seen the movie they have all come down hard on opposite ends of the spectrum with very little in the way of middle ground.  They either really love the 3D HFR or they really don’t.

The positives are the sense of realism and the very deep rich colors.  The experience is very immersive.

The negatives are the overwhelming nature of some shots as they go by so fast that the vividness of the images become too intense or even painful.  Certainly my wife and my apprentice both complained of being overwhelmed at times even to the point of headaches and a bit of dizziness.

If I am to be honest I’d have to say that there were a couple of times, especially during battle scenes, where the action became so overwhelming that I couldn’t follow what was going on or keep up with it.

But that got me to thinking; is it the technology or the direction itself?  Certainly there have been other films in standard 2D formats where things became so crowded and “action packed” on the screen that it became difficult if not impossible to follow everything taking place.  Can I really lay blame for that on 3D HFR?

The intent of Peter Jackson and the other directors that will follow him (James Cameron plans to use 3D HFR technology for his “Avatar” sequels) is to create a rich world that invites you in and gives you a powerful experience.  They wish to “push the envelope” with “new and exciting” technology to make your movie experience “one of a kind.”

Suddenly it was those buzz words and phrases that pushed my buttons and got me to thinking.  Isn’t that what story tellers do?  Isn’t that what our imagination is for?

Really, as fantastically exciting and even beautiful these worlds are, do they compare to what was in your imagination when you were a kid?  I grew up with “The Hobbit.”  After it was read to me as a tiny kid I read it again and again for myself over the years.  Eventually I saw the animated Rankin and Bass production.  I even played the children’s album story of “The Hobbit” over and over again wearing out groves in it.

But it was the book, and my imagination that filled me with what hobbits and elves and dwarves and dragons looked like.  It was my imagination that took me thru the horrors of Murkwood Forrest and to look upon the face of Gollum.

It was good solid storytelling.  J.R.R. Tolkien told a magnificent story.  Certainly I know there are those who don’t like his writing style, but that isn’t the point so much as it’s about story telling.  Pick your own favorite author whose work has been made into a movie.  Is the movie ever as grand as what your imagination created from the story that took you too far away places?

I would argue not.

So is 3D HFR just a waste of time?  No, I don’t think so.

But neither do I think it is the answer.  Right now Peter Jackson and his ilk are playing with it.  They are seeing what they can do with it.  And as visually spectacular as “The Hobbit” is ultimately going to be, I will be willing to bet that it’s going to be the original story teller, the director who uses the technology with restraint and artfulness who will ultimately produce the greater product.  If the visual bludgeoning I received watching “The Hobbit” is any indication at all Peter Jackson isn’t the artful director I am looking for with regards to this new technology.

Yes, I completely enjoyed the first installment of “The Hobbit” and if truth be told I fully expect that I will see the remaining two installments in 3D HFR as well.  I’m a complete-ist like that.  That’s how I started my “unexpected journey”, that is how I will finish it.  Peter Jackson is to be commended for the job done thus far.

In my perfect world someone is going to come along and they are going to give me a 3D HFR movie with an original story, talented actors and an artful use of the beauty that can be created by drawing me in to a space that seems to surround me.  I look forward to that cinema experience.

The Ethics of Party Fortune Telling

In a few days my apprentice and I will be entertaining for a large corporate holiday party and we both decided to write about it, each from our own perspectives.  (You can read her thoughts here.)  We will be there to tell fortunes using various methods such as Tarot cards and Palm Reading.   This kind of entertainment option at large parties is remarkably well received.  In fact I can tell you with all assurance that whenever I have done any sort of entertainment event if the package I provide includes fortune telling it is always a hit.

Now this may seem a bit odd coming from me.  People who know me know that I do not believe in the supernatural in the least.  In fact I actively debunk such things when given the opportunity.  In this day of fake psychics (a term which is entirely redundant), talking to the dead, every television channel offering up every variation they can come up with on ‘ghost hunter’ shows and all manner of homeopathy/alternative medicine bullshit it is all I can do to keep up with the relevant information.

Given all of that why would I be willing to provide such a service?

I could argue that I’m just giving the customer what they want.  In the end I have bills to pay and if they are going to give me good money to listen to me hold forth on their prospects for the future why shouldn’t I collect?  My wife has often joked that “there are stupid people and we need their money.”  We have often joked that given all that I do know how to do as a magician it would take very little effort on my part to start a cult.

The truth is I have come to a compromise in providing this service and it is based entirely in the ethical stance I have chosen to take with regards to the differences between my client’s potential beliefs and my own.

You see there is an argument in the magic community about certain types of entertainment.  Magicians who use their ‘power for evil’ such as fake psychics (there’s that term again) are universally shunned.  Magicians who use their ‘powers for good’ are seen as entertainers.  I offer up for your consideration Uri Geller and Derren Brown.  Uri has long claimed he has real powers.  Derren admits up front that he has none yet gives performances that far outstrip anything Uri has ever provided.  Browse YouTube for examples of both.

This upcoming event is a perfect example of how I have found it possible to do these things in a manner that I find ethical and still respectful of any of the possible believes of my clients.  Allow me to set the scene for you.  I will be sitting at a table off to one side.  Able to view and participate in the party but slightly secluded so as to avoid to many casual observers at any given time.  I will be dressed very nicely and slightly mysteriously.  Which is to say that I will wear small but subtle accessories with my outfit which will suggest a ‘magical’ nature to my character.  Given that the party is to have a “Mardi Gras” feel to it this is entirely appropriate.

A single individual will approach my table, sit down and ask to have their fortune told.  I will immediately swing into action, asking questions and gathering information on them by their answers and by their appearance (even in costume many things are revealed if you know what you are looking for) and I will proceed to give them a reading most probably with Tarot Cards.

At the end of this reading I will ask more questions usually if they understood everything I have told them.  They may ask for clarification, they may not.  This is okay.
Inevitably there will be one question or statement that will come up.  Someone will ask me if really believe this stuff, or they will comment that I have a “gift.”  Something along the lines of questioning or verifying my belief in the supernatural will come up in these conversations.  In fact the more convincing my act is the more likely I will generate this question, if not right away, certainly be the end of the night as my reputation spreads among the crowd.

I will have earned this question.  After all I came to their party for the express purpose of reading their future.   By my appearance I will have put myself into the character of someone who is ‘in touch’ with other realms of reality, the psychic realm, ghosts or spirits perhaps.  I have presented them with a plausible if not completely convincing reading of their future.   I will definitely have earned this question.

And here is where the schism in the magic community presents itself.  Do I tell them that I do indeed have a gift?  Do I tell them that I receive messages from my spirit guide, a faery named Sand, or perhaps my guardian angel.

Or do I tell them it’s all a trick?  I have no special powers, I have simply been manipulating them and the cards to my own ends.  Do I shatter the character I have created for them and their enjoyment?

Sadly there are plenty of magicians and charlatans who would opt for the former.  They would justify themselves with the idea that either they will get more gigs out of the reputation they have built among a bunch of credulous individuals or perhaps they will simply assume they’ll never see any of these people again so why not tell them such a story?

But I am there for their entertainment.  I’m there to do a job and the job is to provide them something they will enjoy.  If I just say “nope, it’s all a trick” then I’m doing more harm than good.  I am at the very least humiliating them by pointing out how easily they have been fooled in a situation where they have put their trust in me and at the very worst I have challenged and mocked their beliefs in something beyond themselves.

And while I might like to challenge their notions of the supernatural this is not the place to do it.  Professionalism alone dictates that.

So, how do I do it?  How do I walk this line between what they may believe, what I believe, respecting the contract and my professionalism?

Theater.

In the end this is a show.  I am a character.  I am portraying someone with a mysterious gift.  But when the time comes the actor must be revealed.  And there has to be answer to the question.

“That was amazing!  You must have a gift!”

“I do, but probably not the one you’re thinking of.  It’s not so much a gift as it is a skill, one everyone can learn.  You can learn it too.  It’s not hard to learn but it takes patience to practice because it’s all about asking the right questions and really listening to the answers.  And in the end, it’s all about telling the best story possible.  I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it.”

So this is my ethical answer.  To tell them the truth.  Because right there is the secret to every type of fortune telling or psychic speaking to the dead you have ever seen.

It’s all about the questions you ask and really listening to the answers you get.  Sales people know this.  They call it Active Listening.  Psychotherapists know this as Active Listening too.  Magicians call it Cold Reading.  It’s all in the questions we ask.

Will they believe me?  Will they accept my answer?  That depends on the person really.  I’ve given this answer, or some variation of it, every time I’ve been asked.  Outside of any performance context I have made my position very clear and inside of the performance context I have stuck to my position but softened my words for the sake of the atmosphere and the event.

Yes, there are times when people refuse to believe me.  I have been told that people understand if I want to keep the truth about my gift to myself.  There is a person in the building where I work who is still absolutely convinced that I have psychic powers after I read her fortune five years ago and explained how I did it.

After a certain point what more can I do?  Even when I have argued the improbability of various supernatural things with believers in a basic debunking discussion I have always encountered those who simply refuse to give up what they believe in despite the evidence provided to them.  This is always going to be the case.  I can’t worry about the people who refuse to believe my explanation for how I do what I do inside the context of a show.  They have made the choice they have made.

I expect that this gig will be fun.  As I mentioned at the beginning this is both myself and my apprentice who are going.  She is far more versed in a wider variety of divination methods than I am.  She has written her own article about preparing for this particular event.  It is a very interesting to read.  Please check it out.

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