The Search For Free Eats Turns Up Some Free Art

I’m gearing up for a on-going summer experimental video piece. I think I can keep my head above water for June and July, and perhaps half of August, just on the handful of freelance gigs I have lined up. (I’m getting rather antsy, as there are two gig I’ve finished, yet have not received payment. I’m having to borrow money from family members until these checks come in. That sucks. )

This should allow me to skate by with something like a three to four hour work day, five days a week. Now if I can get back into a sane and healthy groove so as to take advantage of those other hours to get some personal art projects done, I think I might be able to ooch myself back towards a semblance of sanity.

Even though the weather sites are suggesting that the coming days will be fraught with rain and dark skies, I’ll see if I can begin to gather the shots I want.

My Lumix doesn’t shoot video in a time-lapse setting. But I still I want a series of shots of early-morning and later-afternoon light hitting downtown San Antonio buildings so that extreme shadows rake fast and dramatically across iconically old buildings. Preferably with clouds racing across the skies. I plan to begin playing around with single shot photos in a stop-motion manner. It’s not just about shadows, clouds, people, and vehicles being used to establish motion, I also plan to play around with moving, incrementally, the camera (as well as the focal plane). My Bogan tripod has a crank-lift gooseneck which allows for a controlled lifting or lowering of the head 20 inches. Short of having a dolly track, I think I can ape lateral motion with a sheet of plywood. If I drill holes the size to accommodate the feet of my tripod (with the spread of the legs at 2 feet), I should be able to manage to move the tripod, slowly, across six feet of surface. I mean, if the drill-holes are every inch, this gives me 72 set-ups. And if we consider the animation tendency to replicated every frame twice, this mens that we now have 144 frames. And, if we embrace a 24fps editing baseline, that’s a whopping six seconds per skim across a plywood.

But six seconds is a damn long clip. I want to spend the next two months shooting a few short minutes work of cool clips (none longer then three seconds) of stop-motion action (sometimes with the camera in motion, sometimes, static). But, importantly, I want high aesthetics. So, it’s golden hour or nothing at all. And golden hour is that narrow period of time when the sun is coming up, or when the sun is setting.

Here’s some choppy video of still images of clouds shot from my porch.

The interval between shots is 30 seconds. This is too long, and thus creates a stuttering image when knitted together. I think a shot every ten seconds would work for clouds moving languidly. With clouds moving fast, I might try a shot every five seconds. As for shadows moving across buildings during sunset and sunrise, I need to experiment with that as well. I suspect a shot every 30 second in this case would be nice. We’ll see.

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Saturday night Deborah invited me out to see a belly dance event up in the near north side. A friend of Deborah’s was dancing. And ST Shimi, a friend to both of us, was also on the bill. The Karavan & Sirocco Dance studios share a space up on Broadway, not yet to highway 410. The space in is that horrendous cultural squalor where one might encounter the duel shit holes of the Revolution Room and the Rebar Club, where the vapors of cheap beer and vomit intertwine into a melange of crappy pub rock and sad desperation. At least dance has entered into this cultural dead zone to help iron out the bland mojo of cock rock gone stale and flaccid.

I’d thought the ten dollar ticket a bit dear, but after learning that there was free wine and eats, it seemed damned reasonable. The wine ran the gamut of red to white. And the food was the standard Texan version of middle eastern fare–canned dolmas, hummus from a jar, mass constructed sheets of baklava, and those scary faux black olives from a can that are artificially “ripened.” But, again, it was a help-yourself buffet, and you can’t judge too harshly.

The evening was quite nice. And not just because I was with Deborah. The dancing, though unevenly ranging from the tight and professional to the loose work presented by beginning dancers, was well programmed. At two hours, it was maybe an hour too long, but the place was packed with family and friends of the dancers. It was a full house. And when you have over two hundred people in an audience who are stoked and enamored of the performances, it’s a nice thing to witness.

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The other day, as I was viewing the entries to the Josiah Youth Media Festival (a student film festival run by URBAN-15 which I produce), I came across one from the northern part of the state. Texas, that is. I was pleasantly surprised to see Nancy Chartier. I’m glad to see she’s still helping out on student projects. She was one of the excellent actresses in my very first short film. It was shot on 16mm while I was finishing off my undergraduate degree (I took the 20 year and six campus plan). “Mr. Ponygraph” was produced in 2002. I was lucky enough to have a kick-ass student crew; three seasoned professional actresses (Nancy Chartier, Melanie Stroh, and Jennifer Wilkerson); and of course some great music, courtesy of Lee Harris and the great Dallas punk icon Barry Kooda. The film has all sorts of flaws. Mainly involving shots we didn’t have time or resources to get. But what a wonderful cast. There is a great likelihood that some of the folks who were involved in this project would rather not be asked to remember it. But we should all be gentle toward student work…even if this particular student (myself) was well into his thirties.

As I look back at the film, I’m heartened to see the playful and heartfelt performances; the solid photography by Adrian; solid audio; decent editing; art design and lighting and on and on. Very fun and tight set. I have found memories of my time making movies at the University of Texas at Arlington, even though, as an old man, I had more in common with the instructors than my fellow students.

Here’s the short film in question:

If I could go back, I’d make about four important changes. But we all have to start somewhere. Before I’d directed Ponygraph, I’d worked on maybe four other student projects. Most of them on film–16mm and 35mm. I was usually assigned the role as unit production manager, because, as an older student, I was thought to be more stable and with a high attention to detail. Not true, but I muddled through. I was also lucky enough to have one of my short scripts used for a large class project shot on 16mm. I need to see if I can track down a copy.

By the time I directed my second film, I had bought my beloved Canon GL2. It’s a helluva forgiving camcorder if you know how to use it. And I do. I still have it, but after about six years it started to have some problems and I bought my Panasonic DVX.

For my second student project, I did a very solid promotional film for a video advertising class. It was a recruitment video for the UTA Graduate School. I directed, shot, and edited the piece. It turned out quite well–I impressed myself.

And this all set me off on my current faux-career. I’ve produced (usually shooting, directing, writing, editing) over twenty short films: narratives, documentaries, and experimental pieces. I only wish I had a strong feeling that I was getting better at this work. But I’m really not sure I am.

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I’m hoping the weather reports promising clear skies and warm days this weekend will be a welcomed break from this crazy-ass humidity. My glasses are constantly fogged when I get out of my air-conditioned truck.

Monday I got a call from Drew over at the SA Film Commission. It seems that the CVB (that’s the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau–of which the Film Commission is part) had sponsored a table at a fundraising event put on by the WDC (the Westside Development Corporation). The event was to honor four Westside business and political luminaries. I’m not sure why Drew called me up. True, he said, in full candor, that I wasn’t the first person he called (but nor was I too far down–third. or so he said). Maybe he’s been keeping current on reading my blog and wanted to toss a free dinner my way. Or maybe he thought that because the WDC is well connected to the arts community of the Westside, and that I am also fairly well connected to half a dozen arts and cultural organizations with Westside roots, I would have a good time associating with folks I know. Or maybe no one else he called was picking up their phones.

The event was held in Elmendorf Park, across the Elmendorf Lake (well, pond) from Our Lady of the Lake University. It was tightly-run–whoever produced this event needs a bonus. When I learned that I needed to print up a parking pass, I was a bit put off. But then I realized it’d allow me to park in the University parking lot. And furthermore, I would be able to take a shuttle bus the half mile from the parking lot to the reception area. It all worked out very smoothly.

I did indeed have an excellent free dinner (great savings here for an impoverished artsy guy). Also, I was happy to see many friends from the art world: Deborah, Ramon, Jacinto, Dan, Santiago, Gabe, and so on and so forth.

Our charismatic and appealingly articular Mayor, Julian Castro, was present to receive an award as well as to do what he does best–give a rousing, personal, and seemingly off-the cuff speech, which seemed to connect with most of the people present. I can only assume that as a teen he was on the debating team and well-connected with the toastmasters. There’s nothing pompous about the man. He answers every question thrown his way in a thoughtful and reasonable manner. He is a a damn impressive public speaker.

The video introductions to each of the other four folks who received awards were nicely produced by Ray Santesteban, clearly the most accomplished overall filmmaker in the city–Ray can do it all. I only wish the AV company which did an otherwise excellent job at the event had spent the 20 minutes or so to calibrate the two large plasma screens set above the stage. The color temperature was significantly off on the left (stage right) monitor–it was really bugging me, because I could not look at one without seeing the other.

I didn’t know many of the people at the SA-CVB table. When the award part of the evening wasn’t underway, the musical “entertainment” was too loud to carry on a conversation beyond with the person beside you. The only people at the table I knew were Drew and Dan Gonzalez (and I’m never sure if Dan knows who I am).

Seated to my left was a guy who I’m pretty sure works for the CVB. And beyond him, a friend of his. It just so happened that the very talented and ubiquitous artist Jacinto Guevara was seated at the table behind me–where Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez and Deborah Keller-Rihn (my fellow Locos) were sitting. (As a side note, there was a silent art auction, and both Jacinto and Ramon had pieces displayed.) At some point during the night, Jacinto walked up behind me and the two men sitting to my left. Jacinto, who seems to know everyone, was familiar all three of us. It seems he’d been sitting back there with his sketch pad–he looked up and saw three men with thinning hair, all wearing glasses. And he drew three quick ink portraits of these “Tres Lentes” (three glasses): we were each given an original work of art.

Here’s mine:

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It was a nice evening. Hot. Sure. But that god damn humidity was killing me!

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