The fifth and final season of BIG LOVE is currently rolling out and, with it, a rash of parallel content either on-air or on-line. We shot all of it: behind-the-scenes pieces, premiere pieces, Inside-the-Episodes, and, my favorite - a true phenomenon in the world of integrated content - Margene’s Blog. What a thrill it was to work on the set of this boldly iconic show with the hugely talented Ginnifer Goodwin (”Margene”). This year she was joined, in episodes of the vlog, by Douglas Smith and Cassi Thomson as well. I am pasting examples of all this content below. We also shot interviews for a major “retrospective” show which will premiere before the final episode - Big Love’s grand finale. It’s very sad to see the show go but I believe it will live on beyond its run and, even, gain from the hindsight that ending will provide. It was brave, it was prophetic, and it was a labor of big, Big love. I am proud to have been a tiny, integrated, part of it.
An example of an “Inside-the-Episode” - in depth examinations of every episode featuring the show’s creators Will Scheffer and Mark Olsen.
Beautiful piece about entire season based on my interviews with principal cast.
Special Buzz piece on the premiere of the final season of Big Love.
“HUNG” SEASON TWO
That’s a beaver, if you can’t tell. Another object of fetishization and re-definition in the complex symbol system of the HBO show HUNG, the second season of which will premiere on June 27th, and the making-of which we painstakingly documented over the last few months. I don’t want to give too much away - except to say, it’s going to be great. The scripts, masterminded by Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin, in my opinion, mine new territory in terms of character and thematic complexity in the 1/2hour comedy format. They are both sharper and deeper than last year - and that’s saying a lot. The cast, including Thomas Jane, Jane Adams and Rebecca Creskoff, among many others, remains deftly off center while becoming even more impeccably lived-in. The camera work by Uta Briesewitz - constantly searching, drifting, adjusting and surprising - beautifully reveals the many tones of the material. What can I say? I’m impressed.
Also, there’s beaver. The only working beaver in Hollywood. A survivor (her handlers told us she killed their other two beavers). An enigma. “The Elusive Beaver” was originally the name of the episode in which she appears this season, but it was changed to “Beaverland”. As Dmitry said in one of his interviews with us “Beaver - no matter how many times you say it - it’s always funny.” Especially, that is, in the hands of HUNG.
Shooting a scene in Hancock Park. That’s Anne Hesche, very tiny, framed in the door. And DP Ute Briesewitz on her ever present Movietech Magnum Dolly which, like her, is made in Germany.
Principal head-shots on the wall of the Writers’ Room.
Title doodles by writers on the wall of the Writers’ Room.
Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin getting ready for a “double” interview in the Writers’ Room. That’s Kyle Peck, ladies and gentlemen, on the right.
Colette and Dmitry laugh about beavers. Really. When I asked something like “Is the beaver a foreshadowing of problems between Ronnie and Jessica?” Colette answered “As my father says, “Do bears shit in the woods?”"
What? That’s tech-speak for a look we created for a series of interviews for HBO’S 2010 DOCUMENTARY FILM SUMMER SERIES. The “Monster Ring-Light” is a huge (appx 12ft) circular light that produces, among other things, interesting circular highlights in the pupils of the subjects placed in front of it (providing they have eyes). The camera shoots through the hole in the middle of the ring. See the piece above (the first of several planned) as an example of its use on humans, specifically human documentary film directors. The “Interetron” refers to an interview technique, often attributed to human documentary film director Erroll Morris, whereby the subject sees an image of the interviewer on a semi-transparent screen and the camera lens is placed directly behind this screen. This produces the illusion of the interview subject speaking directly to the camera as if it were another human being. The effect is quite intimate even though in real life the interviewer is sitting across the room speaking to another monitor. Combined with the haloed eyes, the overall effect does somehow seem to evoke the intensity and sense of heightened reality that so many of these documentaries posses. We were, if you hadn’t figured it out before, shooting promotional material for them - not the documentaries themselves.
Above, Jennifer Arnold, director of the moving doc A SMALL ACT posing in front of the before mentioned Monster Ring-Light. Her film, about an eccentric Norwegian woman who changes the life of a kid in Kenya by sponsoring his education, plunges us deep into the lives of a handful of contemporary Kenyan kids, exploring the connections between education, poverty, opportunity and violence along the way. A small philanthropic movement has sprouted up around the film, and it hasn’t even aired!
Above, Jeffrey Blitz, director of SPELLBOUND, ROCKET SCIENCE and the amazing LUCKY which will also premiere this summer on HBO. Even though we couldn’t use the Monster Ring-Light on him (because of his glasses), and he therefore does not help illustrate the important technology discussed in this posting, we include him here partially because the name of his film invokes the name of this website. LUCKY, which tracks lottery winners and players over long periods of time, is a profound meditation on the links between luck, faith, identity, and America.
The documentary “Burma VJ”, which has done a huge amount to expose and articulate the brutal situation in Burma, was nominated for an Oscar and, on the eve of the ceremony, I had the honor of interviewing two of the film’s subjects, the monks Venerable U Pylnar Zawta and U Gawsita (that’s an interpreter sitting with them), as well as the filmmakers Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller, for HBO.
I was happy to receive this assignment because it an issue that affects me deeply. Coincedentally (or not) I wrote a newspaper article, as well as a post here, about another amazing figure in the Burmese freedom movement, Naw Paw Ray, in January. It is the simultaneous presence, in Burma, of both an incredibly exalted form of spirituality (Theravada Buddhism) and one of the most violent, tragic, and seemingly pointless, regimes on the planet, that fascinates me. How could this go down? And why?
If you’ve seen “Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country”, you might recognize the young monk on the left - U Gawsita - who, during the 2007 protests that are the subject of the film, called for the freedom of Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For Buddhist monks to take a clear political position is very rare, and it was at this moment that the protests, as brilliantly documented in the film, leveled up to a gut-wrenching (and historic) intensity. These popular actions were eventually crushed by Burma/Myamar’s ruthless military rulers; unknown numbers of monks (as well as regular people) were tortured, killed or “disappeared”; Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest; and the atrocities in Burma continue.
Speaking to these monks reminded me of speaking with Paw Ray: their gentle, humble, yet firm conviction; their focus - despite all the horror they have witnessed - on what is positive, good, and true; and, most surprising, their lack of ill-judgement upon those who have done them, directly or indirectly, great harm. The images in the film, of these monks marching in the tens of thousands towards torture trucks, tanks and armed soldiers, are some of the most powerful I’ve ever seen. The monks are barefoot, wrapped only in their red robes, unarmed, expressing their dissent by holding their begging bowls upside-down. As they walk they chant the ancient chants of Lovingkindness (Metta) Buddhism: “May all beings be free, may all beings be happy …”*. Then the shooting begins, the robes are ripped off, end etc. These images were captured by Burmese Video Journalists - the “VJ’s” of the title - shooting in secret because objective media is banned in Burma, and risking their lives as they do so. Their footage, smuggled out, showed the world what was happening at the time and was eventually assembled into “Burma VJ” by the outstanding Danish team already cited (photo below). Although I am far from a Burmese secret VJ, I am gratified to be able to contribute some footage, and some energy, towards a peaceful resolution to the incredible human drama being played out right now in Burma.
A trailer for “Burma VJ” is below. If you go to this YouTube Channel, you can view the whole thing posted in 10 minute chunks. The film, which unfortunately did not win the Oscar (that honor went to “The Cove”), stood out among the other nominees because, among other things, it does not contain any talking heads. It is a rigorous and finely crafted work, one that lets the power of what happened, and is happening, in Burma resound to maximum effect. I should mention that, on the evening in question, I also interviewed people involved in several other powerful and important films including “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Provence”; “Which Way Home”; “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plan”t; “The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner”; and “Music By Prudence” (which won the Oscar for best short-form doc). All these films, including “Burma VJ”, will air on HBO who had an amazing year in documentaries in ‘09. It is that that I was, fortunately, hired to document.
Speaking with Lise Lense-Møller (Producer) and Anders Østergaard (director).
*Classic Metta Chant: May all beings be free from enmity and danger
May all beings be free from mental suffering
May all beings be free from physical suffering
May all beings have ease of heart.
Thanks to Erin Terzieff for the photos.
PS: One of the pieces they cut from what I shot that night which contains a small pod about Burma VJ:
Fast turnaround (24hr) piece for the premiere of Hung 2010. We also did all the BTS for this season. Go here for a more in depth post on this. Also, we produced the Buzz graphics package a few moons ago!!!
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