Monday, February 10, 2014

Walter White Facebook Lookback - The Simultaneous Walt-gasm!

As they say, great minds think alike, but this is the first ever simultaneous "Walt-gasm" I've ever heard of!  So, the idea for a Walter White Facebook Look Back video may have occurred to the folks at Are We There Yet (that's us working with some very funny people) first, but alas we took a few hours longer to post our video.  Now to our astonishment, another Walter White Facebook Look Back video is out there and getting most of the press - by which we mean all of it.  Well deserved though in our opinion mis-directed.  Please enjoy the "Buzz Aldrin" of Walter White Facebook Look Back videos and it's ok to admit it, ours it a little bit better.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Valencia Opera House

Once upon a time, before I stumbled into filmmaking (oh what a stumble), I was going to be an architect. I took a lot of math, calc, physics and art in college; I was going to transfer into an architecture program after two years but followed a girl into a BA in Art instead. But still, I studied architecture for a semester abroad in Copenhagen my senior year, and I planned to go for my M. Arch. after graduation. Why that didn't happen, and how I ended up getting an MFA in film at NYU (where I met Josh) is another boring story and not important here – the point is I've always had a deep interest in architecture, and I still do. And I always felt that my detour into film – and more specifically cinematography – was not necessarily such a sharp turn. Both film and architecture are experienced in four dimension, and each comes into existence at an intersection of both technical and artistic practice.

In 2008 I was hired to film the recording sessions and create promos for a new opera of Wuthering Heights at the Opera House in Valencia, Spain, designed by vanguard architect Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava is one of the two or three most visionary architects working in the field today, and this building has to be seen to be believed. More like an organism or a giant alien starship than manmade structure, it is part of a larger complex called City of Arts and Sciences, all of it designed Calatrava, and equally fantastic in its entirety. When you see it, it's almost hard to believe it exists in our world, and not in some science fiction film. None of this footage made it into the promos, so recently I decided to put something together which I hope reveals the Opera House in some of its outrageous splendor.
                                                                                                          -Peter


Valencia Opera House from Interstate Films on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Why I hate Christmas

Why I love Christmas


by Peter Olsen

I wrote this five years ago to the day, just for myself, and no one has ever laid eyes on it until now.  I guess it was just waiting for the blog to be invented:

December 26, 2008

How could someone who loved Christmas so much as a kid grow up to resent it so completely as a grownup? Actually, being a late bloomer in all things, I didn’t learn to despise it until recently. Before that I didn’t hate it, I just felt let down by it. It was depressing to me just for what it wasn’t, anymore: full of wonder, anticipation, joy, innocence – all the clich├ęs – not to mention snow (even in Minnesota – thank you Climate Change!). But now it seems to be the opposite of all it’s purported to be and nothing better than a dark cloud of doom, anxiety, and unmet expectations that I still cling to, feebly, in the face of evidence to the contrary, and knowing better from experience, after all these years. I just survived my 47th Christmas. And I feel like hell. Mostly because I know how good it could be. Used to be.

This year I managed to miss out on nearly every single one of the few things that make the season what it’s supposed to be: holiday parties. Office parties, open houses, the gatherings where once a year you get together with the people whose paths you cross throughout the year as a matter of course and for once you stop and step out of your everyday hunkered-down identity and seem to say to each other “Here we are again at the end of another year of this game we try to get through successfully (whatever that means) called Life but we won’t worry about that or gift shopping or taxes tonight it’s good to see you let’s have a drink and forget about all the rest and Cheers, I actually like you!

Why did I miss out on every party? Because I was trying to get the other stuff done. I was worrying about the GIFTS. I was pulling veritable all-nighters trying to get it all together. I happen to like giving gifts that have some meaning for both myself and the person to whom I am giving. It literally depresses me to think about giving something ‘gifty’ – the bar of scented soap or candle or ornament or whatever. Even though I know these things can be very much appreciated, it just feels empty to me. It says nothing about our friendship or relationship or the year that just passed or our hopes for the future. Not that it has to do all that but I feel it MUST have something to do with the two of US, giver and receiver, whoever we are.

So admittedly, I put a lot of pressure on myself which I can’t possibly live up to and never do. So why? And why give something to someone who you don’t really know? You can love someone, a second cousin you’ve known all your life, say, but still not really know their taste in music or food or literature. So what’s the point in trying to improve their life somehow with something material? Yes it’s the thought that counts but why waste time and money and resources (wrapping paper, Scotch tape, trees and landfill space, air quality) for a thought? Make a toast to them instead!

The only thing worse than giving a meaningless gift is receiving one. Not because I am disappointed to not get a great new ‘thing’ but because I just feel bad. I feel bad that someone has spent a lot of effort trying to figure out who I am and what I would like and I must be some kind of bastard for not liking what they thought I would like and going to a lot of trouble to find and buy and wrap it for me.


What do I love about Christmas? I love the dead quiet of a heavy snowfall, when everything outside is the same blue-grey color, except the Christmas lights. Everything is diffused in the snow and the sounds are muffled, the scrapes of a neighbor shoveling the sidewalk, the whine of someone’s tires spinning on the ice, the thunder of the plow scraping by. I love when such weather is barely navigable but people come out anyway because they’re Minnesotans and they know how to get around in this stuff and there’s so few other people on the roads anyway. And they want to be warm with their friends. They just have to make it over to our house and not slip on the ice on the front steps (the glacier that salt cannot erode…) and throw their coats on the bed and we’ll slip that mug of glogg into their hands their cheeks will be rosy and the smiles bouncing off one another (“whew your nose is cold on my cheek!”).

White Christmas at the Olsen house 2013
And I love that my cousin Renee told me how much she loves that seemingly useless, generic, could-have-been-for-anyone trinket I gave her last year, and how useful it’s been.

The End

Not quite a Scrooge-caliber transformation, but … Watch this and if it doesn't overwhelm you with Christmas spirit and make you whimper like a little girl as I did, then your name must be Ebenezer. Ebenezer before this happened:


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

PANHANDLER PARTY

First you watch, then we talk...


So last Spring, Gary Mahmoud from the "Urban Dictionary" and newly re-titled, "Max Danger" shoots, is hanging out in my office as he's wont to do (the guy's got some idle time - he's an ACTOR) and he says "I've had this idea for a while about a comedy short on a Subway where there's a normal panhandler, then a stranger one, then it gets progressively more insane - eventually like circus midget and Mariachi band insane."

How could I say no?

What followed was one of the most logistically bizarre and technically difficult shoots I've ever been a part of.  Producer Aida Artieda should as usual, be sainted.

We outlined the idea based on his script - seven panhandler vignettes, eleven cast members, ten people shooting video on iPhones using (in theory) the same professional video app - Filmic Pro, and one location sound guy with wireless mics on seven different people and a giant shopping bag with his gear shoved inside looking way too much like an "if you see something, say something" moment.  It was a stealth shoot of the highest order - nary a permit to be had.  Sorry MTA, you just wouldn't understand, and as one wise man once said "it's always better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission."  

We did neither.

Gary and I rode the train to time out the beats.  We recorded sample audio with wired and wireless mics to test for interference.  But we knew that on this budget, we would NOT be able to rehearse until the day of the shoot.  Meaning we'd get what we got and make the best of it in the edit room.

To his credit, Gary assembled an amazing group of actors and crew.  In this situation, one person with a negative attitude could have completely derailed - pun INTENDED -  the process.  But everyone came to have fun and work hard.  Both vital ingredients on a shoe-string like this.

So about a month later at my office over pizza and beer, we found ourselves stuffed in a room doing a bunch of walkthroughs, placing videographers (iPhoneographers if you want to be a total nerd like me) in rough positions and timing out the beats of the different vignettes.  It was clumsy, and sloppy and quite obvious that it would bear almost no resemblance to the real experience.  One thing that did work was the timing.  Aida and her brother called out action to a stopwatch seven times from opposite sides of the room, as each panhandler began.  I think that might have saved the whole thing.

Did I mention this was late August and hot as balls on the subway?  I almost blocked it out, but DAMN~ that didn't make anything any easier.

We trudged to the Union Square 4 train and kept loose formation.  But while we didn't want to draw too much attention, we needed to all remain in visual contact as well, lest we get on different trains or miss the action call - or any of the millions of things that could have gone wrong.

Miraculously, none of them did.

Train pulls up.  We all hit record on all ten cameras - we're rolling now.  All the crew climb onto the same Subway car and take positions.  One car to the left, half the cast in script order - one car to the right the rest.  Train pulls away with all of us and….Action!

I'm going to pause a moment to mention one thing.  I always believed and still do that Gary as the officer who breaks up the party and then finales the whole thing would have been better as a uniform cop.  Gary's concern was with a last name like Mahmoud and a background in politics (you don't even want to know…) he'd be arrested for impersonating a police officer, legally/figuratively sodomized in court and then incarcerated and literally/brutally/repeatedly sodomized in a prison shower.  I never saw this as a legitimate risk as long as he wore a costume and no actual firearm or badge.  Of course it wasn't me taking the risk.  I will say that during one of the four takes we shot, some real uniform cops took note of us and though we all rushed off the train in a mass "abort mission" call, we thought we were goners for the rest of the night.  His Fred Dryer as Hunter impersonation gets the point across just fine.

Back to the shoot.  We filmed ten angles of four different "takes" of Panhandler Party over the course of two insane hours.  The timing worked better on some than others. The subway riders were almost always raucously into it.  I could hear myself saying, "As long as the cameras didn't all simultaneously fail, we got something here."  Only one camera failed on one of the takes and it was me holding my iPhone upside down by accident.

Back at the office over more beer, and a serenade by our Mariachi band we pulled all the footage off all the phones, copied it and copied it again for safe-keeping.  Something about having forty takes, separate audio that needed to be sunk together and 200 minutes of footage for a three-minute short should have raised instant concern.  That's a lotta stuff and a lotta work.  More than we'd even know.

But that was still way ahead of us.  With bottles raised, the dulcet nylon twang and four-part harmony of the band took us all in its sway - and for the moment the world was ours.

PANHANDLER PARTY
Bag Lady - Jane Aquilina
Jabari - Rob King
Tracy - Jen Kwok
Tracy - Nick Cobb
Businessman - Andrew Ginsburg
Ringmaster - Sean Allison
Mariachi Band - Mariachi Aguila y Plata
(Aguileo Ramos, Rigoberto Ramos, Leopoldo Juarez)
Cop - Gary Lee Mahmoud

Produced by Gary Lee Mahmoud, Josh Apter, and Aida Artieda
Written by Gary Lee Mahmoud
Edited by Josh Apter
Assistant Editor: Rishi Gandhi
Sound Recordist: Alan Kudan
Audio Post Mixer: P. Dennis Mitchell
Color Correction: Alex Grybauskas
Camera Work:
Elyse Brandau
Rishi Gandhi
Justin Hoch
Josh Hyman
Dan Jamieson Rodgers-Cromartie
Dan Katz
Jaime Ordonez
Lauren Potter
Jessica Solce

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking for Mr. Coffee




This little (and I mean little) film just got into it's first festival the other day and I thought it would be cool to post it here.  Not only to sing the praises of it's editor, the very bearded and quite dangerous Tim Moyle and the vocal talents of Gary Mahmoud and his lady-friend Bonna Tek, but because this film is a great example of a story that I thought was zigging, when it was actually zagging.

I set out to shoot this as no more than a lens test with a set of loaner Zeiss primes - the same I used to shoot the Urban Dictionary series.

First, a confession.  I LOVE percolator coffee.  More than French Press, more than Clover coffee (thanks for fucking that up Starbucks) more than just about any other method.  But I don't love waiting for it to brew in the morning in a semi-catatonic state.  So before I go to bed, I set a timer to automatically turn on the percolator at 6AM and voila, my coffee is brewed by the time I stumble into the kitchen with any one of three screaming children.  Someone once said they were so tired in the morning they needed coffee just to be able to make coffee (I stole that one immediately, BTW) and so in presetting my percolator, I've become the cleverest man I know.  I'm the Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Cleverest.

Now, My friend Leslie has an incredibly sexy bakelite percolator, and I have a standard Farberware plug-n-perk.  I thought a funny idea might be to see what happens in the morning when the percolator is alone, brewing quietly - what are it's thoughts, it's dreams?  I decided for the sake of this test that it's fantasy was more or less the coffee equivalent of late-night Cinemax.

And so the footage was shot, the lenses performed beautifully and the project was shelved while life rolled in like an avalanche.  Then one day Tim - a former student - who had cut a different project in class with equal skill, asked if there was anything he could dig into.  The rest is milk and sugar - except this:

He made a movie out of the footage that not only did I not intend, but that I never even saw i the footage!  To my further discredit, everyone who's seen it also sees it the way Tim did!  So it only goes to show that you can plan something, shoot something and think you have a simple story about two percolators getting interrupted while having hot-brewed quickie-sex, when what you really have is some nit-wit drinking coffee ejaculate while the satisfied percolator sits and laughs, waiting for his next victim.

Tasted like coffee to me, though now that you mention it, a little heavy on the cream...

Looking for Mr. Coffee or The Dirty Dream of Your Coffee Machine or What your Percolator's Really Brewing
Director - Josh Apter
Editor - Tim Moyle
Farberware - Gary Mahmoud
Coffematic - Bonna Tek

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On F-words and Perfect Circles

One sunny Spring day when I was in fourth grade, our class was in the home stretch of a  project involving Amarican Indians (which apparently could be said with much less of a PC red flag going up as when I write this now).  Some of us made miniature clay pueblos from the sticks and mud by the creek, others fashioned arrows or spears - more out of an interest in pointy, hurty things than a concern for historical accuracy - and others wrote stories about life in the time of the Native Americans.

That's about all I remember on the class assignment front.  Memories that old come in a hazy collage of bell bottoms, bad haircuts and spontaneous erections.  In fact --

Oh, FUCK!!

That's how abruptly and clearly this moment lives on -

Sam Tyler striding into class with his beautifully painted Pueblo figurines, proud grin eager to share -- and then his foot catches the rug, whose duct-taped corner finally breaks free after years of neglect, to fulfill its destiny which is clearly to trip Sam Tyler, and send his figurines crashing to the floor.  They explode into dust, Sam's face a twisted knot of horror and shock.

"Oh, FUCK!!"  He screams.  Then he realizes, looks up, and scans the room.  He covers his mouth, as if more filth and random expletives will keep shooting out if he doesn't.

But it's too late, it's out there - and our collective nine year-old ears bleed.  

Not like I hadn't heard the word.  But to hear it spoken with such immediacy and authority was completely new.  This wasn't the four-letter, dirty word, "guess what this means" kind of use.  Not at all.  Sam Tyler, poor figurine-less bastard, gave context and life to this linguistic bomb, this king of all swears  (you saw A Christmas Story, so you know how bad it is).  He used it not to giggle about birds and/or bees, or to stick his toe in the risky waters of "going blue,"  No, Sam Tyler saw months of hard work and the thrill of presenting something beautiful to his classmates, slip out of his hands.  What else could he say?

CUT TO:

One snowy Winter, few years later, my family went on a vacation and this word again reared it's ugly head.  My cousins, my sister and I were all set to bunk in the basement of a rented cabin.  The adults - as I understand so clearly now - wanted an entire floor between their lives and ours.  Closing a door and saying, "good night" was like flipping a switch in a stretch limo, like seeing the thick glass partition rise, shut tight and divide generations for a few sacred hours.

But there was a catch - a mouse was loose in the basement.  We heard it, we SAW it and in a mass thumping exodus to the living room, we called on our parents to protect us.  

Somewhere in the house was a mousetrap.  Again memory selects the facts but not the context.  I just know I watched my father sitting on one of the fold-out cots in the basement.  He carefully strains to set the spring-loaded --- SNAP!!! 

Right on his thumb!! 

"AHH, FUCK!!!"

And that word again.  Perfect.  Sharp. No other word to describe the surprise and pain on the man's beet-red face.  He looks at us kids.  Our hands over our mouths like Sam Tyler before.  Suddenly, the doors of discipline are blown off.  How could this man expect us NOT to use a word that he just used (so perfectly) himself?  "Never say that word, ok?" he said as he shook his hand out climbing the stairs.  He used to say things like, "Do as I say, not as I do," but suddenly that once meaningful dad-ism lay dead, snapped in a trap that can never be reset. 

CUT TO:

One Summer night - a few weeks ago.  My wife and I, now with a brood of our own, come home late carrying our two youngest like snoring potato sacks and our 8 year-old a teetering zombie in the kitchen.  Like he's waiting for permission to collapse right there on the floor.

I put our two year-old in his crib.  He's a light sleeper but I think he's still down.  Should he wake up, I'm looking as another hour of feeding and singing and rocking and not doing all the grown up things I need to too before work in the morning. 

I lay him down - still asleep.  I tiptoe out of the room - almost there.

And because my ankles are these ridiculous old hollow chicken bones, on the last step out of the room one of them cracks - POP!  And I close the door behind me knowing what's coming.  I sigh resigned at the inevitable and walk into the kitchen as I hear it - the plaintive bleat of my little boy - killer of all gown-up time.

"AW, FUCK!!"

And my groggy son is still standing there.  Though not so groggy anymore.  The circle now complete, and I am Sam tripping into class and my dad nailing his thumb.  It's too late.  It's out there.  I haven't the heart to explain or excuse the word, but I wonder what he makes of it.  Now he's sure it's as bad as he thought, and as I walk him past his brother's room (who ironically fell right back to sleep) I lean in to him and whisper, "You probably shouldn't have heard that." 

We both laugh a guilty, giddy little laugh and a threshold is broken. 

I tuck him in and think of Harry Chapin, who could've written a great song about f-words and perfect circles.

This one comes close enough:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Holy franchise finale, Batman!

Some thoughts about The Dark Knight Rises, having just seen it this afternoon on a long-overdue, Summer-time work-hookey treat. If you haven't seen it yet, you must have as many or more children than I have, but maybe you want to read something else...

Just to get it out there first, TDKR (I can't pull that off) is everything a huge blockbuster ought to be - and in many ways much more. I expected to not like it and most of what I heard going in was tepid at best, but in the end I couldn't imagine leaving the theater wanting any additional explosions or gunshots or bizarre plot twists or exposi-montage (that's not a word) flashbacks, or seat-thumping bass-heavy sound design. It's escapist entertainment at its broad-strokiest and I thank it for taking me out of the white noise of real life so thoroughly for a decent two and a half hours (more if you count the previews! Side note after "The Hobbit" preview my friend sitting next to me says straight to the screen, "Just take all my money now…")

 So just a few things I remember thinking while watching the movie:

  • Bane comes off as a dime-store Lord Humungus and makes me miss Heath Ledger. 
  • The flashback shot of an unmasked Tom Hardy for two seconds was more effective than that fleece-wearing blow-pop in the other two hours. 
  • Liam Neeson says the word "Taken" during one scene and I can't help A) thinking of the "Taken 2" preview that played before the movie and B) feeling like it was intentional. (Side note #2, same friend turns to me after said "Taken 2" preview and says "Taken 2: Return to Taken Island.") 
  • The soldier on the 59th Street bridge being named "Parker" was not an accident. Spidey!! 
  • New York, can't phone in a cameo as Gotham - it's just too New York dammit! And is not the best place to stage lots of buildings and bridges exploding - not sure there will ever be enough time to make that ok even digitally. 
  • Someone should tell Anne Hathaway that her safe-cracking glasses look a LOT like cat ears when they're flipped up. 
  • Mentioning the Bat's auto-pilot feature that many times does two things. It makes you aware that it's not working and Batman is screwed, and it makes you realize that it's actually going to work and that he's not screwed. 
  • Alfred mentioning his European vacation cafe fantasy does two things. It lets you know that at the end of the movie, the vision will come true (hello Syd Field!) and and it makes you think "Inception" might break out in the middle of a Batman movie.
  • Even fleece lollipop Bane deserved a better death then a point-blank hit from the Batpod - which until I just looked it up I thought was called the Batcycle - which is actually one of the lamest rides in the entire history of Batman.
  • In retrospect, Matthew Modine should have stayed home. If Gordon told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you? 
  • I thought because of the lack of blood, maybe Matthew Modine just passed out and peed hisself. 
  • Bane must be on a liquid diet? Protein shakes? Wheat grass smoothies? Cannot figure out how the dude eats… 

In spite of the above, or maybe because of it, the movie really stuck to my ribs. I welcomed Christian Bale's raspy Batman voice (which he uses when he's talking to himself as batman!) with great enthusiasms, and the expertly engineered, character-development-free script by the Nolans kept me glued to my seat long after the urge to pee reached almost incontinence levels (fine, I peed myself right after Matthew Modine).

I could not imagine a better way to spend a rainy Friday afternoon and I could not imagine a better way to end this post than with the possible theme to the U2 scored Batman musical, "Batman - Turn off the Dark Knight."

Good tune, but you may want to close your eyes- it ain't pretty...