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Saturday, August 29, 2009

••◊ Returning to Mecca

Yesterday I took myself on a little birthday shopping trip to the media Mecca - Hollywood that is. The intent was to buy a wireless lav system for my 5D camera, so I can have a much improved field documentary setup. More importantly, the first stop was lunch.

My friend's girlfriend lives in the Silver Lake district in LA, so she sent a laundry list of restaurants to try. I was only going to be in LA for the afternoon, so the selection had to be parred down to one: Local. Local is a place on the north corner of West Sunset Boulevard and Silver Lake Drive just off of 101. They specialize in using local product (thus the name). I'm always a fan of locally produced organic stuff, so that made the choice somewhat simple. People were nice, friendly, and definitely treated you like a local. It reminded me of a place in the University or Fremont districts in Seattle (that's a good thing). Highly recommended if you have to be in LA and feel, well...not like a local.

Since traffic was backed up from Irvine to Santa Ana due to a traffic accident I didn't really have much time to be a tourist. The next stop was Coffey Sound, which is a retailer, rental gear place, and online shop that is situated just across 101 from Universal Studios. The reason I drove all this distance is that I'm really picky about sound gear. On the Creativecow.net's audio professionals forum I inquired about medium priced lav systems. They replied with various suggestions to at least get me on the right track, but microphones really need to be heard to understand the difference. What I ended up getting is the Countryman B6 lav mic and a Sennheiser G3 wireless system. Unfortunately they didn't have any of the B6's pre-wired for sale (just rentals), so I have to wait another week to get those shipped to me. The other two recommended mics: Sennheiser MKE2 and Sanken COS-11 just didn't sound nearly as good at the flat response B6. I didn't even like the mid-bump B6, so that shows you just how picky I am. The G3 purchase was a financial compromise. The Lectrosonics sound a little better in my opinion, but are 4x the cost and I didn't have $5k to spend. Overall, I'm glad I went on this trip in person. Kristie, their sales person, is a super nice gal and spent about an hour with me demo-ing the equipment...and she just bought a pro-tools rig and is ready to do sound post for anyone looking in LA. As a side anecdote, I was thinking just last week "I wonder what ever happened to all those laser disks?" Now I know. Coffey Sound uses them to decorate their bathroom walls.

As you can tell by the initial picture I had time for one brief tourist in-n-out mission up the hill to the Hollywood sign (and yes, I realize I'm whiter than the sign). For anyone looking the directions are 101 to North Beachwood to Ledgewood to Deronda. Oodles of nice homes up there tucked away in the brush. They don't let you hike up to the actual Hollywood sign for some reason. The gate that blocks the road is about another 50 meters up the hill from where I'm standing in the picture. Nick, a tourist from London, gets the photo credit here. He and two other buddies were in LA as tourists. I took a picture of them in return. On the way down, sure enough, there was someone filming in the crosswalk. I had somewhere more important to be - had to go.

Amy Campion is a high school alum and I was meeting her in Korea-town at a place called Cafe Mak just off of Wilshire and Shatto Place. Amy has an MFA in dance, teaches, and manages a hip-hop dance company that performs all over. She is definitely living the Hollywood life, making movies and doing public performances, but more importantly she has an alter ego: "Bgirl Catfox." It seems like celebrities now days have managed to get their alter ego names down to one or two syllables (i.e. Puff Daddy=Diddy or Madonna=Maddy/Mads). Something for her to contemplate. Even in high school I remember Amy as being smart, motivated, and willing to live a more daring lifestyle. The rumor was that she spent more days skipping school than generally allowed to go snowboarding, but made up for it by not having to study very hard.

Back to the subject of food...Cafe Mak offers a sweet potato cake, which is a very different take on cake. It's like Russet potato with sweet milk in a form factor that looks like a scoop of ice cream. So interesting I had to try it.

Since LA traffic is so bad on Fridays I had time to kill before attempting the long haul back on I-5. Traffic moves like a constipated snail before 8pm, and only slightly faster there after. Amy recommended the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a few miles west on Wilshire so I decided to spend a little time there. Among many items are original Warhol's, Picasso's, and many artists I've never heard of, of course. My favorite object among them all was a 10 foot tall metal sculpture that looked like a balloon animal of a dog; shiny Mylar-type finish and all. Fun.

On Friday nights the museum is free with a donation and they also have a concert stage with a jazz band in the courtyard (pictured above). A lot of neighborhood families gather for a picnic in the grass or couples dress up for date night. It's a nice community atmosphere.

So that's it. I'm waiting for the mics to show up before giving the system a go. I guess that will be another blog post waiting to happen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

••◊ Skewed Perspective

I've been actively watching the discussions regarding health insurance reform lately. What really troubles me is the skewed perspective given to the american public by major media corporations. When the nightly news comes on you see citizens angry and yelling at politicians. Passive observers may be lead to think that the majority believe that this is the wrong direction for America. In reality the statistic is that 27% of Americans currently oppose one or more of the four bi-partisal drafted proposals being developed in congress. It's one thing for a documentarian to push an agenda, but it's completely another to have a news organization that is supposed to maintain journalistic integrity to have an agenda.

Take for instance my last post of the
Ranchos womens' racing team. I could have editted together a very selective video showing the women stuttering their sentences and made the video about them failing to finish the race. That wasn't my agenda. I wanted to show them as the competent racers and intelligent individuals they are. Having worked on a documentary before and seeing enough of others' work you realize that most documentaries aren't told from a neutral standpoint because you want to make people passionate about the story. When news organizations cross this line, such as is typically done with Fox News, what we end up with is a mis-informed public opinion that leads to doubt. When people have sufficient doubt they tend to vote no by default. Let's face it; those citizens who are too lazy to take the time to understand the truth behind something as fundamentally shifting as health insurance reform are more likely to accept their favorite web site's/news channel's headlines and five second flash of disturbing images.

The headline grabbing part of this equation comes from bitter Republican politics, such as those from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. She recently went on the attack telling the public that the administration will allow end of life councelling (i.e. "death panel") in the bill. This provision, which since has been removed, was initiated by *Republican* Senator Johnny Isakson. Palin's objective is to promote fundamental Republican-ism by denouning the provison as belonging to Obama, not reform health care. Of course news organizations latched on to this headline and showed town hall meetings where citizens were screaming at their senators about this very subject. Did the news show the real discussion? No, but that wouldn't have made for as interesting of a five second video.

The Democrats have been less than perfect as well. The government accountability office (GAO) says that the current set of plans are not budget neutral, as President Obama has said in recent media statements. The President has also recently claimed that the AARP has endorsed his plans, but in reality they haven't yet. I watch one of his town hall meetings in Colorado yesterday where he made this claim again. The meeting was broadcast on C-SPAN, which tends to have fairly neutral (but borning) coverage of government affairs. With a neutral presentation of the public discussion at least only the political rhetoric remains.

Surprisingly the most neutral coverage I have seen recently is the PBS show "Bill Moyers Journal." Despite the show's documentary facade, he brought on generally neutral experts to discuss the points of the proposals. Maybe this has something to do with not having to sell E.D. drugs and soda pop every 15 minutes.

The point of this post isn't to push my opinion of health insurance reform; it's to understand the difference between a documentary and journalism. Good journalism is neutral, a good documentary generally isn't. I am personally disconcerted that the major news organizations have chosen to cross that line which seems un-democratic and, as such, un-American.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

••◊ Ranchos racing

This last year Robert Fagnant, an experienced bicycle racer and member of our team, coached the Ranchos women's racing team. I have to say he's done an extraordinary job. The women are racing hard, winning state championships, *and* they all seem to get along. Not an easy job for any "directeur sportif."

Given the wonderful job these women are doing in promoting Ranchos and our sponsor, I knew I had to do a short documentary on them at our cycling club's annual race. Once again I borrowed the LX3 camera (with cringe-worthy audio quality) and my DSLR to do the task. The wind kicked up in the afternoon making me a little nervous about the interview footage, but the audio was mostly usable. I also had to dial down the exposure compensation a little to compensate for the southern California summer sun; which almost works if you can see the viewfinder. A new technique I tried this time was to gather some over head shots by sticking the camera on a tripod and waving it over the cyclists like a poor man's jib. Despite having to estimate the shot framing I was surprisingly able to get usable footage.

So here's my latest short interview with the ladies. As always the HD version can be viewed