Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering Forward

Honoring Grief or Glorifying Hurt?
I've seen these lights each year for the last nine, but this year I stopped and took a picture for the first time. Ten years has passed. Life did indeed go on even for those who felt it couldn't possibly. Yet everyone still feels differently about this date and its forever embedded events- sorrow, hopefulness, resilience, stubborn incomprehension, and still anger. Though less raw, it still breathes fire into the efforts at civic discourse and rebuilding, like the neighborhood mosque. I went by there the other day and peeked inside. People were praying. Seemed a shame that a police officer had to guard the place, ironically, from "extremists." I look forward to the time when we can all truly share something- beyond pure, unfiltered emotion- about the tragic events of 9-11. What have we learned from our trauma and loss of innocence? Listening to a special episode of On Being with Krista Tippet, from St.Paul's Chapel helped me make some sense of the different journeys being made toward healing over the long term. Echoing through the cavernous streets of Lower Manhattan now are the names of the people who lost their lives that day...interrupted by the noxious roaring Harleys of some leather-clad motorcycle club from some other state. Here to share or here to keep rage alive?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How Video Can Improve Education

I'm a terrible cook. If I have a recipe I can wade through it, but I'm someone who simply cannot improvise in the kitchen. My mother says I never learned to cook because I preferred watching re-runs of Bewitched to hanging around the stove like my sister (who's a great cook, naturally). Mom hoped I was learning something else, and I guess I did. I became a TV producer. But this generation of parents may likely shoo their kids out of the kitchen and in front of the boob tube (or computer screen), specifically to watch videos by a former hedge fund analyst turned video producer named Salman Khan. And with good reason. These videos have been designed as homework. Videos as homework?? Yeah, and guess what. It's working. The kids who watch are learning and school districts around the country are starting to take note.

If this is the first time you hear of Khan, great. It was mine. But I think it clearly it won't be the last time. Goes to show how video is just another tool in the learning arsenal. But in the right hands, this method might give our kids a fighting chance at learning to learn, and this country a fighting chance to get back into the global game and compete with American brains.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

One Reason to Watch the Oscars This Year

With all the country-wide educational cutbacks going on these days- why is it always the art and music that are the first to go? It's things like music that inspire kids so much, and what really gives them boatloads of confidence. So the story of how the Staten Island, NY PS22 glee club got invited to sing at the 83rd annual Oscars gives me faith that on some level people know what's right in the world. There is just absolutely nothing like hearing these emotionally unencumbered voices singing popular tunes- well, actually seeing them sing is even more inspirational and heartwarming. One Youtuber comments, "these guys could bring peace to the middle east." Kinda feels true. They are having so much fun. (I guess singing just makes people feel a little happier than doing geometry). This group of 10-yr olds and their incredible teacher were invited by Anne Hathaway herself and they were ecstatic:

Why does growing up have to dampen our spirits so much? And why does hearing children sing so beautifully make us cry?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How to Make A Documentary

(Director of Photography Tony Hardmon on location in Parshall, ND)

Many people have asked me how to make a documentary and really there’s no simple answer. I think at the outset though, the key is to find a good story that inspires you enough to push it to the next level, and the next. The story of my friend Rachel Libert’s latest documentary series, Boomtown, which airs tonight on Discovery’s Planet Green Channel, is really a great example of how you can stumble upon a story, investigate, and find a route into the heart of a great tale.

Rachel first read about the town of Parshall, North Dakota in 2008 while reading an AP story on Yahoo news. She found the idea of a tiny, remote town suddenly striking oil fascinating and called the local public officials, thinking it likely that some other film outfit would have already been filming. “Amazingly, nobody else had contacted them,” she said. A week later, she and her DP husband, Tony Hardmon, were there and started filming for the next few days. Within a couple of months they had cut together a short trailer and began to shop it around to broadcasters.

“We basically looked at what programming was out there,” she said, to see which network offerings were closest to their content and approach. Since it a documentary, and not a narrator-driven non-fiction series, “the list became pretty short,” she said. But nine months after they cut the trailer they had a deal with Planet Green to produce the five-part docu-series.

For any filmmaker or producer who has tried their hand at development and pitches, nine months is actually pretty quick. The reason for this says Rachel, was the timing. “Time was of the essence,” she said, as the story was unfolding too quickly and key events would have passed if they’d been forced to wait. That's a big risk that filmmakers make all the time but luckily it paid off when the project fell into the visionary programming hands of Laura Michalchyshyn.

For the entire next year, Rachel and her crew filmed the ups and downs among the people in a tiny town suddenly made rich by oil. She loved the people there and was drawn to how their personal stories were connecting to the mega shift in their world. It was this intimate personal perspective that allowed her to tell the story of Parshall. “My approach is not to think about what I want to say,” she explains, “but to listen to the story unfolding in front of you and to be patient.” As a storyteller, there are things you hope will happen, she continues, but life doesn’t always happen that way. No, it doesn’t.

The irony here is that sometimes in order to tell the most human and honest stories, you really have to let them tell themselves. And that, quite simply, is a splendid way to make a documentary.

Here's the link to the facebook page:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Potential of Video

I never cease to be surprised by the many ways video can be used to teach and inspire. If a picture (1 frame) says a thousand words, then video (30 frames per sec) says it exponentially. Speaking of math terms, that's a language Vi Hart, the YouTube "mathmartist" is revamping in her personal and increasingly viral view of where life and math intersect. She's created an entirely new way of appreciating shapes, concepts, and numbers and hinging them to everyday things. This one on snow angels is a good example. Brrrrrr...

Sure, the video could use some improved production value, and graphics always help, but she's finding her voice and with that hopefully a new way to bring math into daily conversation. I, for one, don't think this way, but if I could borrow some of these insights, I might be able to help my own daughter appreciate how math is everywhere in life and not fear it as an evil alien topic through which she's doomed to slog (like I was and did).

The video revolution is what allows this innovation to happen. Chris Anderson, best known these days as the Ted Talks guy, calls this "crowd accelerated innovation" and discusses the influential power behind how video communicates the subtleties of human thinking and action. Role models can be anywhere and anyone. Thanks Vi Hart. You are changing the world with video.