Monday, September 26, 2016

Process Piece

How Long Does It Take Filmmakers to Make a Basket?
by Brittany Hanson and Josh Bernhard

It was hard to decide on a practical process. Josh originally imagined the process of preparing for class at 8 in the morning, until he realized that the assignment description strictly forbade that theme; Brittany just wanted to blow things up. Obviously neither of those worked.
After brainstorming for a few hours we came up with two videos that roughly demonstrated what we wanted from the project: “Getcha Head in the Game” from the first High School Musical, which takes a basketball practice and extracts the rhythm of dribbling and passing to make up the introduction to the song; and Julian Smith's “Techno Jeep”, which in itself isn't a process but showed how individual sounds can be edited into something creative. Our vision wasn't necessarily a song, but a shortened process of playing a game of “Horse” in a similar editing pattern.
Ultimately our piece illustrates a game; it’s not edited into a true soundtrack such as in High School Musical or “Techno Jeep,” but the rhythmic influences from these two pieces got us thinking about how we could edit the sounds of playing basketball in a purposeful manner. The most intentionally rhythmic moment in our piece happens near the beginning when we spliced in the same repeated sound of a ball bouncing off the backboard to emphasize the comment Josh makes afterwards: “So I don’t play sports.” This moment, created through editing, is representative of the process of missing a shot repeatedly from the free-throw line during our game.

With this assignment, we learned that even a simple process can tell an interesting story with rising action, a climax, and a satisfying resolution. We also learned how rusty our basketball skills are. We both thought that the process of making a single basket would be too short for this assignment. Turns out, we grossly overestimated our free-throw abilities: It took us eight minutes and 24 seconds to actually complete the game, which we then condensed. The benefit of playing “Horse” as opposed to simply shooting free-throws was that it guaranteed a long-enough process with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Our audio clip begins with the sounds of dribbling the ball and shooting until Josh makes the first basket and says the letter “H.” The middle consists of multiple shots, misses, and baskets, each of us racing to be the first person to spell the word “horse.”  We even ended up with some pretty good tension during the rising action: Josh is ahead and Brittany’s frustration is quite audible. Then within the last few moments, she catches up and we hit the climax: The ball hits the rim and you hear Brittany get excited, and then she hollers that she won and forgets to spell the final letter in her excitement. She and Josh high five, and that’s the end.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Exquisite Text

   POEtic Justice

by Brittany Hanson and Hannah Holst 

Exquisite Corpse

The basic idea of the Exquisite Corpse in and of itself was a large factor in the creation of this project. The initial idea was someone else’s, taken from another source of inspiration and shared on the board in class. The simple “I didn’t mean it when I ran over your cat with a lawn mower” triggered the response to write the next part, influenced in large part by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat. The dialogue is continued, “…anyway, I found a new cat, and it looks just like the old one, but he’s got this white patch. And I might be crazy, but it’s kinda shaped like a lawn mower.” Each of these elements directly impacted the resulting text conversation, each in its own unique way, adding to the bigger picture even if they seem unrelated on their own.

The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe tells the dark story of the relationship between a man and a black cat, assumed to have “seduced [him] to murder”. Many of the characteristics of the story were influenced by this narrative, though there are still a lot of differences. The original makes it clear the cat was hanged by its owner, whereas reference to the cat being killed by a lawn mower is only implied in the text conversation. In both, the cats each come back, the only difference in their appearance or temperament being a white splotch which eventually grows to look like the object by which they faced death. 

Using the Medium of Texting

            It was a fun challenge to tell a story purely through dialogue without the use of imagery. We had to make sure all of the details necessary to build the story and frame Edgar were in place without sacrificing the impromptu feel of a texted conversation.

Something interesting that we discovered while working as partners on this assignment was that the dialogue flowed naturally when we just started texting. We’ve had so much practice with this style of communication that after we planned the structure of the story and established our characters, we were better able to come up with the dialogue by simply texting back and forth. Texts are often spur-of-the-moment and rather thoughtless, so after deciding the direction of the story, we let the specifics of the wording mostly just happen as we responded to each other, editing as necessary.

            However, we made sure that both characters referenced the afternoon, connecting the time Edgar borrowed the lawnmower to the disappearance of the cat, thus implying that the events are related.

            We also intentionally juxtaposed the writing styles of Edgar and his neighbor. While Edgar is oddly formal, the neighbor responds with a lack of correct punctuation and spelling more typical of the medium. So when Edgar makes a typo, initially saying that “your cat must have certainly shred a lot,” instead of “shed,” it’s a true Freudian slip, further suggesting that something terrible went down between the cat and the lawnmower when Edgar borrowed it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Music Mosaic

“The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.” - Annie Dillard
“So I blurred my eyes and gazed toward the brim of my hat and saw a new world. I saw the pale white circles roll up, roll up, like the world’s turning, mute and perfect, and I saw the linear flashes, gleaming silver, like stars being born at random down a rolling scroll of time.
"Something broke and something opened. I filled up like a new wineskin. I breathed an air like light; I saw a light like water. I was the lip of a fountain the creek filled forever; I was ether, the leaf in the zephyr; I was flesh-flake, feather, bone." - Annie Dillard

It is incredible how life can be at once so ordinary and so rich. Today was an ordinary day, and I’m not sure I would have truly noticed the mountains or the cracks in the pavement or just how beautiful the students and grass and buildings are had I not looked. Most of the time, I’m just as good as colorblind because I’m so accustomed to how beautiful my world is that I no longer see it.
“Prelude” by Muse begins with the same tolling piano note. It is small, repetitive. And so I begin with a small crack in the pavement. The photograph is gray; there isn’t much to it. Added strings and piano chords build on that initial tolling note, but they are the same chords and riffs in a pattern – the music is still calm and plodding. With my photographs, I too build just a little, in height and even a bit of color. You can see a shoe near the crack in the pavement, then a couple of people, then a crowd. It is an ordinary day. I have not yet looked deeply. Then the scale ascends and crescendos, and you see a golden staircase that winds upwards from the cool-colored floor into the bright blue and light above, until the music bursts into a high and glorious choral note, and my photographs have found the ceiling, the sky, and color. They are oversaturated, expansive like the music, capturing mountains and tall towers as the bright afternoon becomes a colorful evening then a glowing, surreal night. Blissful strings sing downward scales, intertwining with one another, winding down just as the sun slowly fades in my photographs, until a final tense note reaches upwards and abruptly ends. My final photograph is of the highest thing I could see: The moon, but it is not represented the way a person would see the moon on an ordinary day. Its light was too bright for my camera, and so it nests blurrily and beautifully in the oversaturated night sky. Slowly, my camera has helped me see the mountains and trees and people as bright and beautiful and glorious. It is as if, as Annie Dillard did, “I blurred my eyes and gazed toward the brim of my hat and saw a new world,” (108) that indistinct yet magical and pure way of seeing, the way the child with new sight saw “the tree with the lights in it,” where light pierces the soul (109). Yet it is fitting that the final note of “Prelude” is high and tense, because, as Annie Dillard remarks, we cannot always “try to see this way…[we’ll] go mad” (108).
And so the song ends, my photographs are finished, the day draws to a close. And as I walk back home, the moon is just the moon and the night is ordinary again, but in my heart that little piece of magic, captured for a moment, lives on.

Quotes from Annie Dillard’s essay, “Seeing,” published in “Seeing and Writing 4” complied by Donald and Christine McQuade.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Thinking and Writing

Brittany Hanson
6 Sep. 2016
TMA 112
Thinking and Writing

Into the Sunset: How a Poorly-Rated Heist/Thriller That Was Actually a Western Started an Important Conversation on Narrative Conventions and Conclusions

            A couple of weeks ago I was on the brink of my first official semester as a media arts major at BYU, it was movie night, and I wasn’t exactly enthused. (A film student who doesn’t want to watch a film?! Say it isn’t so!) You have to understand. It was movie night with my Grandpa. When it comes to cinema, Grandpa goes through phases in which he picks one genre and one genre only, and that’s the type of film you will be watching with him until further notice. He really commits. It’s also impossible to say no to a sweet old man who is genuinely excited to share his current obsession with the rest of the family. His last phase consisted solely of Hallmark Channel chick flicks. If I see another film where Leading Chick’s hair is perfect until it’s suddenly not in order to illustrate just how unflinchingly adoring her man candy is (he still cares about her even with a few curls out of place; oh, how sweet!), I might actually rip my hair out, but I digress. Thankfully, the Hallmark flick phase died out a while ago. Its replacement: generic heist/thrillers. So this is how I ended up watching Firewall – starring Harrison Ford, made in 2006, now on Netflix – late at night when I should have been organizing my half-unpacked disaster of an apartment. Now, I love America’s favorite space cowboy as much as anyone, so things could have been worse.
            Firewall follows Jack Stanfield, head of network security at a bank whose family is held hostage, forcing Jack to subvert his own software in order to rob the bank. In the end, Stanfield winds up in the middle of nowhere face-to-face with the robber-gang’s leader Bill Cox, whom he defeats through brute force before heading off toward the horizon with his family. My Mom wasn’t pleased with the ending. She thought it was cheesy. Perusing multiple reviews by other audience members, the most frequent phrases I noticed were “cliché” or “you’ve seen it before.” One fellow Netflix consumer also had some beef with the ending. In their own words, “So Ford kills the bad guy and… all is well in the banking world? The movie focused on the heist and never closed the loop[.] Not even a ‘Thanks Harrison for your service, all your questionable acts are now forgiven.’” But all I could think of after the final fade-to-black was, “Ha! I just watched a Western! Of course it ended like that!”
            But how can one consider a film set in modern-day Seattle involving computer technology a Western? Since I don’t claim to be a genre-expert, I consulted Edward Buscombe’s analysis of the Western in the Oxford History of World Cinema. According to Buscombe, common elements of a Western include a “free-spirited” cowboy, robbery at gunpoint, “a chase on horseback, and a final shootout.” Most importantly, the frontier setting serves as a “dividing line” between “law and order…[and] the values of a settled society” and lawlessness. Ford’s character may not look the part of the cowboy, but he is quickly established as a bit of a loner, an independent, when a disagreement arises between himself and other important members of the banking community during a meeting. As the story progresses, his relationships with co-workers grow rockier, forcing Stanfield to face his enemy alone. Robbery at gunpoint? Check, with the twist being that the hero himself is forced to do the robbing. The horses in the final pursuit of the bad guy are replaced by their modern equivalent, the car. And like clockwork, all members of Cox’s gang are eliminated until it comes down to Stanfield versus his newfound nemesis. Finally, the physical location of the wild west is exchanged for a new frontier: the firewall. It is this uneasily conquered technological barrier that literally divides an access to money, the catalyst of a modern capitalist civilization, from lawless thieves such as Cox. To top it all off, we even get a “ride-off-into-the-sunset” ending when Stanfield rejoins his family (nervously waiting from a safe distance for him to finish Cox off) and walks with them toward the horizon glimmering in the distance as the cops pull up. Fade out.
            It was this “cheesy” ending that really gave my brain something to chew. The fact that it was so clearly a “Western” finale made me wonder whether all such endings are cheesy, even in the classic Westerns themselves. It also got me reflecting on the difference between audience expectations in the present day and say, the 1950’s, when the Western was in its prime (Buscombe). Clearly, considering the reactions of both my Mom and many others, “ride-off-into-the-sunset” conclusions are often unsatisfying to the modern audience– we like our endings tied up neatly. I’ll admit, even High Noon’s similarly abrupt conclusion jolted me a little, and that Western is a critically acclaimed classic. We’re also terrible at saying goodbye: just think of all the epilogues and sequels and prequels rampant in today’s literature and film! Since I mentioned chick flicks earlier, let’s take a look at one of that genre’s most popular staples: Mean Girls, which incidentally came out only two years prior to Firewall. The “happy-ending” music starts more than five whole minutes before the credits roll, and Cady’s redemption is nearly complete at that point. But she still gets to give a speech, make up with her arch-nemesis, find forgiveness from her friends, kiss her “man candy” and dance the night away. Then we witness what eventually happens to the mean girls, and we even get a freeze-frame on the final shot in case you still aren’t ready to bid farewell to Lindsay Lohan’s face. Contrast that with Firewall, where Jack Stanfield is hacking Cox with a pick-axe and less than 120 seconds later the screen is black. Wait, what?
            It’s no wonder people felt like they’d seen Firewall before; it mimicked the “Western” narrative from start to finish. And it’s no wonder that a typical Western ending may feel a little abrupt to today’s audience given our often-gratified desire to know in scrupulous amounts of detail precisely what happens post-climax and even post-conclusion. The Western consequently provides an interesting lens through which one might analyze the conventions of narrative and the elusive secret to a satisfying ending. Thus, the study of such a historic genre, its influence on and differences from present-day cinema are worth considering, especially when a film like Firewall brings them all so close together.

Works Cited:

Buscombe, Edward. “The Western” The Oxford History of World Cinema. Ed. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 286-294. Print.

Netflix review of Firewall, found under the “Details” section.