Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What is a Leica reel?

A Leica reel is a type of storyboard. A storyboard is a series of drawings that directors use as an inexpensive, quick way to visualize the scenes in a potential movie.

Here's an example of a Leica reel:

Monday, December 22, 2008

What is marketing?

Humanity makes sense of the world through stories.

Marketing is the process of creating and telling stories.

The successful marketer must:
1. tell an authentic story
2. identify the people who want to hear the story
3. get permission from these people to tell them the story
4. and finally deliver the story.

As a result of hearing the story, people will tell other people the story, and perhaps do something the marketer wants them to do.

At least that's my (very rough) understanding of Seth Godin's book, All Marketers Are Liars.

Movie Geek Guest List

A link to all 207 guests of MovieGeeks. Including yours truly.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

John Klysinski Photographer

While having coffee in Napa California this morning, I met John Klysinsiki, photographer. John's work was hanging on the walls of the coffee shop. It is powerful work. It's so good that it reminds me of the greats, people like Edward Weston and Imogene Cunningham. His web site shows the photos, but the images I see on my laptop screen lack the powerful impact of the actual prints. This guy is good.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What can you do for the medium?

Seth Godin on the nature of social networks like Twitter.

"Traditional advertising is inherently selfish. It interrupts in order to generate money (part of which pays for more interruptions). That approach doesn't work at a cocktail party, or at a funeral or in a social network.

"This is the meatball sundae. Asking what the medium can do for you instead of what you can do for the medium."

Best chair for bad backs

I sat in a SwingChair at the mall last week. The inventor's wife was demonstrating the chair to holiday shoppers. Probably the best chair I've ever found for a bad back.

It's hard to tell you how good these chairs are. They are great.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday videos

In our house, we have a shoebox in the top shelf of the closet with 8mm film from my wife's childhood. This small reel is the only film remaining from that period of my wife's life. This holiday season, your video and camera may capture the only memories that your family or friends will have of your group 20 or 30 years from now. Although I talk a lot about shooting video in my book Digital Video Secrets, I wanted to add a few specific tips about the holidays.

A few quick thoughts...
- Get images of everyone: young and old. (If someone doesn't want their picture taken, respect their wishes, just smile and move on.)
- Don't worry if you feel you are being 'pressed into service' as the photographer. Just smile and go along with it. Often, if you don't take photos or videos, no one else will.
- Get a few wide angle shots of the location--house, yard, cars, rooms.
- Do a few video interviews. Ask people to tell their stories on camera.
- At some gatherings I hand the camera to another person, someone I trust, perhaps a friend or child, and ask them to shoot pictures for a while. They get different images, often very good ones, because they see people differently than I do.
- Print the best stills immediately and give a set to everyone. (WalMart and Costco do inexpensive prints.)
- Edit a few of the videos quickly, perhaps on your laptop, and post them online someplace like YouTube. Flag them as private and send the movie links to everyone. The YouTube site has simple instructions on how to upload your movies and flag them as private.
- Oh, and don't forget to bring the battery charger.

Last of all, relax and enjoy yourself. Have a great holiday season.

Seth Godin sells ideas

According to Seth Godin, books are basically ideas. Selling a book is selling an idea. Seth Godin talks about how he goes about selling an idea.

Holiday Reading

Notes on the Cinematographer by Robert Bresson.
"Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is the German music" — Jean-Luc Godard, French film director.

It's All Right!

It's All Right. Really. :-)

PS: Thanks, Carol.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Microfilmmaker reviews Digital Video Secrets

Microfilmmaker Magazine reviews Digital Video Secrets:

The review begins:

"Producing with Passion’s co-author, Tony Levelle, brings his filmmaking expertise to his first solo book, Digital Video Secrets. This book takes an introductory look at digital video production that makes it easy for anyone to jump into the technical aspect of filmmaking. Unlike some digital video production books, which are more about filmmaking on a digital medium, this slim volume is specifically aimed at the nuts and bolts of creating a film on digital video. As such, there are no chapters about scriptwriting or fundraising or distribution. Instead, there is an intuitive path through the basics of digital film creation, with a strong emphasis on cinematography and camera familiarity, as well as a decent look at audio."

I'm delighted. The reviewer, Jeremy Hanke, really understands what I was trying to do with the book, and he gives the book a fair review. 8.9 out of 10! Hey, I can live with that, any day. :-)

Buy Books For Christmas Presents!

From Roy Blount, president of the Author's Guild:

"I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards.

"We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that's just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

"There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they're easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves. Stockpile children's books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they'll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: "Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see...we're the Authors Guild."

"Enjoy the holidays."

Roy Blount Jr.
Authors Guild

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Steady Camera tip #1

In a very nice review of Digital Video Secrets, an Amazon reviewer pointed out that I "don't talk about Steadicams" in DVS. Good catch! My bad!

Steadicam is a trademarked name for a marvelous series of devices that professional cameramen often use to support their cameras as they walk or move about. The name is often used among amateurs (like me) as a generic way to refer to any device of this sort.

So, here's the first of a few inexpensive, clever camera-steadying options that I've found on the web.

Jan Van Der Meer puts a little Sanyo HD1000 on a boom and gets some cool 'cranes', 'pans', and tilts with his "JanCam".

Jancam in action with Sanyo Xacti HD1000 from Jan van der Meer on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cell Phone Documentaries

An Italian crew used Nokia N90 cell phones to shoot a 93 minute sex documentary, New Love Meetings, as described in USA Today. Advances in camera technology have driven documentary film making since the beginning of film. Cell phone documentaries are the next logical step. Here's the trailer for the film. Note the hand-held closeups of interviewees which take maximum advantage of the cell-phone's tiny lens and it's built-in microphone.

MovieGeeksUnited Interview Nov. 23

Just finished an entertaining interview with MovieGeeksUnited. We talked about Making Your Own Digital Films using the tips in my new book Digital Video Secrets. The interview is here.

new camera?

It might be time for a new video camera.

Cameras that interest me: Sony FX1000, Canon XHA1S, and the Panasonic HMC-150.

If I had to choose today, I'd probably go with the Canon because of the image, lens quality and proven design.

The Sony EX-1 is too expensive, the HD SLR Nikon D90 seems like a great idea, but it's not designed primarily for video.

Writing For Story

Have been re-reading Jon Franklin's Writing For Story.

How to Find a Story
1. Find a complication. (Joe is injured in a car wreck.)
2. Test the complication. Is it significant to the character involved? Does it have universal significance? (Example: Joe is paralyzed.)
3. Define the resolution of the complication in 3 words noun-verb-noun. (Example: Joe overcomes paralysis)
4. Define the actions the character took to resolve the complication. Define actions in 3 words noun-verb-noun. (Example: Joe learns therapy. Joe does therapy. Joe designs crutches. Joe walks home.)
5. Define the character. Why is this complication important to the character? Is there a moment of full insight that changes the character? Is the character sympathetic.

If the story meets all these tests, proceed. If not, scrap it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Just got a nice review in Film Festival Today

Producing with Passion Making Films That Change the World

By Dorothy Fadiman and Tony Levelle
Michael Wiese Productions
Studio City, California

“A film that reflects your true passion can have an impact for generations. This book gives you the tools to envision, produce, and finish such a film. As a documentary filmmaker, you have the means to open people’s eyes and bring them into another world.” So begins one of the most inspiring and informative books ever written about making films that have an impact on the world. Dorothy Fadiman, an Emmy Award Winner and an Academy Award nominee for “Best Documentary” along with Tony Levelle have divided their book into three parts: (a) Getting clear about your vision (b) Sustaining your intention as you produce the film and (c) Launching your finished movie.

The authors provide helpful advice on trusting your instincts to select a subject whose core idea will carry you through the challenges it takes to make a film. Advice on finding the key theme that helps define your project will allow you to create a more vibrant film. They discuss three of the main challenges to making a documentary film which are getting it right, getting it done and getting it out. Another helpful chapter explains preproduction and how to produce the unscripted documentary.

Fadiman and Levelle explain what it takes to create a well written proposal and they relate most poignantly that in raising money, people give money to people, not projects! Helpful advice on putting together a production team and the nuts and bolts of production are handled with the experience that 30 years of making documentaries will provide.

Interviewing, building the story, editing and feedback screenings are illustrated with helpful suggestions and practical advice. Finally, a chapter on finishing the film and how to move on to the next project are discussed. Several of the ending chapters deal with publicity and distribution. Helpful suggestions for dealing with PBS or the virtual world are included. Throughout this essential read for the serious documentarist the authors neatly tie up each chapter with key points and provide you with both the inspiration and knowledge to make your “heartfelt”, serious film a reality.

Monday, November 3, 2008

3 minute vote movie

Absolutely brilliant. Excellent editing, animation and story. A wonderful example of the potential of YouTube videos.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nikon D90 in Tibet

DSLR's like the Nikon D90 with true HD video capability are becoming widely available at an affordable price.

Here is some documentary HD footage shot in Tibet with the D90. Notice how steady all the shots are. The videographer clearly knew that the D90 must be rock solid while shooting HD. (Note to self: add D90 to next edition of Digital Video Secrets, and add some D90 footage to Digital Video Secrets extras on this website.)

Nikon D90 in Tibet from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

"You can see the finished report on the Guardian website. All footage apart from the interviews and archive stuff was shot on the D90. Interviews were done on a Sony EX-1."

Digital Video Secrets Extras

In the book Digital Video Secrets I promised my readers extra stuff on my website.

Have been sick with the flu last week or so and have not begun taping segments for extras.

Plan to put 30-90 second segments on YouTube of each of the Do's and Don'ts and embed the videos in a special DVS extras page.

Hopefully can start work in a couple days when I'm better.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wayne Wang Film Released on YouTube

Director Wayne Wang just released "The Princess of Nebraska" on YouTube. In the first 48 hours it got 50,000 views.

Contrast his other 2007 film "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" which got theatrical release. Prayers opened in theaters with an opening Wknd of $10.3K (USA) and a gross of $68.7K (USA).

A filmmaker friend comments, "If Prayers grossed 68K it lost money, didn't make any. Prints and PR etc would cost a lot more than 68K."

The "free" YouTube release might actually make *more* money than theatrical release if it results in increased DV sales.

For the next edition of Digital Video Secrets , need to expand the YouTube chapter and seek an interview with Mr. Wang.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Writing For Story

This week I am reading Jon Franklin's book "Writing For Story."

It is one of the most powerful books on writing that I've ever read. It feels like a "life changing" book. Franklin is making me re-think everything I thought I knew about writing nonfiction. Much of what he says I've recognized in "pieces." But he puts everything together, and gives examples of how to construct a narrative nonfiction story.

I've long believed that story telling is the same craft, whether it's nonfiction, fiction, documentary filmmaking, or narrative filmmaking. Franklin proves that, "Yes, it is."

More later. I'm about half way through the book.

I can see why Franklin won 2 Pulitzer prizes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Publisher passes on CJ

I've been talking to a publisher about a new book about online journalism. Today the publisher decided to pass on the project. 

They liked the outline, the concept, the writing--everything about it--but felt that we'd be entering the market too late. Starting in 2007 a huge number of books on this topic entered the market.  

I respect the marketing people tremendously. I know how hard it is to market a book, so if they say this is a problem, it probably is. 

Memo to self: spend more time on competitive analysis before writing book proposal, and NEVER send in a proposal without a well written sample chapter. A sample chapter that leaves the reader asking for more. A sample chapter that shows why this book is different than all the others. 

I think there's a huge story here, and one that needs to be told. Unfortunately I did not communicate this story clearly. 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Support bloggers rights

EFF asks everyone to support the rights of online journalists. I think these rights are becoming increasingly important, especially to people who use video cameras. Add a note in future Digital Video Secrets book revisions?

Bloggers' Rights at EFF

Bloggers' Rights at EFF

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Crash of 2008

Like everyone else, we are anxiously reading the news about the crash of 2008.

A friend said, "People are going to look back fifty, a hundred years from now at 2008-2010 and say, that is when the world changed. Things were never the same."

Meanwhile, life goes on, and any day spent above the ground is a good day.

Tom Wolfe on keenly observed details

In "The New Journalism" Tom Wolfe describes four devices that give realistic novels their immediacy and power. In the 60's journalists began to use these four devices to give their nonfiction the same immediacy and power.

1. Scene by scene construction.
2. Record the dialog in full.
3. Write from a third person point of view.
4. Record the symbolic details of people's status life.

From "The New Journalism", pages 31-32:

...By trial and error, by "instinct" rather than theory, journalists began to discover the devices that gave the realistic novel its unique power, variously known as its "immediacy," its "concrete reality," its "emotional involvement," its "gripping" or "absorbing" quality.

This extraordinary power was derived mainly from just four devices, they discovered. The basic one was scene-by-scene construction, telling the story by moving from scene to scene and resorting as little as possible to sheer historical narrative. Hence the sometimes extraordinary feats of reporting that the new journalists undertook: so that they could actually witness the scenes in other people's lives as they took place--and record the dialog in full, which was device No. 2. Magazine writers learned, like the early novelists, learned by trial and error something that has been demonstrated in academic studies: namely, that realistic dialog involves the reader more completely than any other single device. It also establishes and defines character more quickly and effectively than any other single device. (Dickens has a way of fixing a character in your mind so that you have the feeling he has described every inch of his appearance--only to go back and discover that he actually took care of the physical description in two or three sentences; the rest he has accomplished with dialog.) ...

...the third device was the so-called "third-person point of view" the technique of presenting every scene to the reader through the eyes of a particular character, giving the reader the feeling of being inside the character's mind and experiencing the emotional reality of the scene as he experiences it...

...The fourth device has always been the least understood. This is the recording of everyday gestures, habits, manners, customs, style of furniture, clothing decoration, styles of traveling, eating, keeping house, modes of behaving toward children, servants, superiors, inferiors, peers, plus the various looks, glances, poses, styles of walking and other symbolic details that might exist within a scene. Symbolic of what? Symbolic, generally, of people's status life...

The writer as trained observer

Pulitzer Prize winning writer and author Jon Franklin on the writer as a 'trained observer':

"...I consider learning to observe, that is to _see_, to be a vision issue. It requires the devotion and focus found, for example, in good priests, and it is the single most precious thing we offer our readers..."

The more I think about this, the more I think Franklin has identified something very important about writing. I don't think I've ever heard anyone else identify this so clearly. The heart of good writing, both nonfiction and fiction, is keenly observed details.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Writing clearly on a deadline

Superb advice.

Exerpted from an article by Steve Buttry, Writing Coach, Omaha World-Herald. Originally published in February 2001. Wish I'd known this before I started Digital Video Secrets.

1. If possible, write as you report.

2. Start putting the information from your last interview into story form. Even if you don't know where it will go in the story yet, start writing paragraphs that will fit somewhere.

3. Write a lede based on what you know so far.

4. Writing in chunks can lead to choppy writing. You need to fix this at some point.

5. Decide early what your minimum story is, the story that answers the basic who, what, when, where questions. This is the story that allows you to keep drawing a paycheck next week.

6. Decide early what your maximum story might be, the story that readers will be talking about at work and in coffee shops the next day, and marks you as a star.

7. Identify immediately the potential sources who could provide the information for the minimum story and get the information from them as quickly as possible. Then you zero right in on the sources who might provide the maximum story.

8. Before and after each interview, assess quickly what you still need to nail down the minimum or maximum story. Go quickly to those elements in your questioning.

9. If you don't have time to interview all the desired sources, avoid those who will waste your time with redundant information.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

CJ Links

Things I like:
Reinventing the News: The Journalism of the Web by Dan Kennedy.
"Journalism 2.0: How to Survive and Thrive," by Mark Briggs.
PressThink by Jay Rosen.
MediaShift by Marc Glaser.
Online Journalism Review
Mountain Home Magazine Vibrant community newspaper.
Gangrey Narrative journalism at it's best, inspiring.
Detours by Ben Montgomery. Superb writing.
State of the Blogosphere Technorati report. Good.
Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber Dissidents from Reporters Without Borders

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hypertext writing

A good example of a hypertext document. It was written with Storyspace software.

I find it odd that Eastgate (the manufacturer of Storyspace) doesn't have a hypertext manual. Instead, the user's manual is a comprehensive PDF document.

Eastgate has decided that well written examples are the best way to introduce the program, as opposed to a hypertext HOW TO tutorial.

Storyspace appears to be an elegant and powerful program.

Notes about notes

Excellent site on note taking: Notes about Notes

Found it when i was exploring the uses of the Mac note taking application, Tinderbox.

The site is exactly what i have been looking for regarding note taking... Philosophy, practice, and tools.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New blogs?

I am considering different blogs for each project I'm involved in. I got the idea of separate blogs for separate projects from reading Kevin Kelly.

Possible blogs:

Digital Video Secrets (stuff related to the book and digital video in general). Good place to put Digital Video Secrets extras.
Producing With Passion (stuff related to the book)
Yoga (all things yoga, including photographs, notes on postures, notes on teaching techniques)
Digital photography (Nikon D40 stuff, maybe Nikon D90 stuff)
Writing (notes about writing nonfiction including research, note taking, structure, contracts, legal stuff, marketing, ethics. Also general writing stuff about interviewing techniques, work schedule, repetitive stress injuries, speech recognition tools, online transcription services)

Talk with Brad Friedman

Last night I talked to Brad Friedman of Brad Blog.

We sat outside a Starbucks in Burbank, California and talked until about midnight. I think Brad is a true patriot. He does what he does because he truly loves his country. As we talked about election fraud and the theft of democracy, it occurred to me that 250 years ago men like Tom Paine must have spoken with the same passion about their new country.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Journalism and democracy

Bill Moyers on a free and independent press, in a speech to the National Conference on Media Reform.

In that speech he said:
"...without a truly free and independent press, this 250-year-old experiment in self-government will not make it. I am no romantic about journalism. Some of my best friends are journalists. We are all fallen creatures, like everyone else. But I believe more fervently than ever that as journalism goes, so goes democracy."

We need more Bill Moyers: Five, six, a thousand more.

RED seminar

There's a RED seminar next month at San Francisco Film Society.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

RED digital camera footage

120 FPS (frames per second) footage from the RED digital camera. Online from Vimeo. (*Somehow* I have to get my hands on one of these cameras! Gorgeous!)

skate - shot on red - 120 fps from opus magnum prod. on Vimeo.

Too bad I couldn't get hands on one for Digital Video Secrets book. No one has one, but they would be fun to talk about.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Online video links

1. Video Clip page at Wikipedia.
2. Video sharing websites at Wikipedia.
3. Comparison of video services at Wikipedia.
4. YouTube. Daily views: 100,000,000.
5. Toudu. Daily views, 55,000,000.
6. DailyMotion. Daily views, 26,000,000.
7. MetaCafe. Daily views, 17,000,000.

Online videos

While writing the YouTube chapter to Digital Video Secrets, I realized that the distribution model for video has changed--permanently. It used to be both expensive and difficult to distribute video and films to the world. Now it's cheap and easy.

What does this mean? Socially? Economically? Culturally? No one knows. Corporate reporters tend to write about the issues of ad revenue and impact on broadcasters. I think free online video has larger social implications, but I'm not sure what they are.

The YouTube chapter of Digital Video Secrets tells how to post a video online and how to increase your chances of making a great YouTube video. Simple and quick. (Amazon has a great deal on Digital Video Secrets. You can pre-order now.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting Things Done At Work

1. 9 Simple Strategies To Getting Things Done At Work on Lyved
2. 7 Zen Habits

Kindle, Ebooks and TOC (Tools of Change for Publishing)

A friend just got a Kindle.
He is downloading books daily at 49 cents. The Kindle will hold hundreds of books. What does this mean for book authors? No one knows. Looks like it's either a tremendous opportunity, or the end of the profession.

Useful links:
-> Amazon's Kindle Store.
-> A good review of the Kindle.
-> Kindle bestsellers
-> Is The Net Good For Writers? by RU Sirius.
-> OReilly TOC (Tools of Change) -- For Publishing. OReilly appears to be in the lead when it comes to sussing out the new publishing paradigm.
-> Steven Poole writes about giving away a book online. Comments outline the major issues.
-> Cory Doctorow advocates posting online simultaneously with publishing paper book.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Writing A Book That Makes a Difference -- keep a journal

An exercise inspired by reading the book Writing a Book That Makes A Difference:

Write one page each day about an experience in your life. At the top of the page, give the entry a one-word description.

After a while sort the pages so all similar themes are in separate piles (or files?).

Combine particularly interesting experiences and use them as source material for an essay, article or book.

How can I use this on Digital Video Secrets book?

Writing A Book That Makes A Difference

How do you write a book that makes a difference?

Philip Gerard has written eloquently about this very subject in Writing A Book That Makes a Difference.

I found the book in a used book store in Santa Rosa a couple days ago, and I'm slowly working my way through it. Well written, competent, useful, insightful... it's a very good book.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Choosing the right idea--an article

My article Choosing the right idea for a book or film just appeared in the Writers Store Ezine.

After a book is published the real work begins... selling the book. Articles such as this are a way to let people know about my new books, Producing With Passion and Digital Video Secrets.

While writing the article, I continually asked myself--will this help a filmmaker or writer?

The article is essentially a summary of the material in one chapter of the book.

My message? Go! Now! Buy the books!


Movie Geeks interview

I'm scheduled for an interview at 7 pm tomorrow on the Movie Geeks Internet radio show. I'll be talking about Producing With Passion.

I'll be listening to Movie Geek shows today to prepare for the interview.

We're on our annual vacation, and as usual I'm working.

I usually work in a coffee shop, but today is Canada day and the coffee shop near the place where we are staying is jam-packed with cheerful Canadians and pretend Canadians.

It's a beautiful day. The sun is shining and the skies are blue. The temperature is in the 80 F range.

The weather in the Discovery Islands has been strange this year. They've had several long strings of overcast gray days. One man told me he is even thinking about selling his house and moving to a sunnier place.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fred Herzog - photographer

Just read an article about photographer Fred Herzog in the Vancouver Sun, "Success Comes Late In Life for City Photographer."

Herzog took Kodachrome slides of Vancouver and other cities for 50 years. He spent his life savings of $120,000 (CD) to have them printed. He's now 86.

60 Herzog photos and Herzog on his philosophy of photography.

I find his Vancouver photographs deeply unsettling. I'd love to see some of his Paris photographs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Just watched The Diving Bell and the Butterfly on DVD.

Henry James once said, "Plot is characters under stress." Journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, the central character of the film, is under excruciating stress. The movie begins as he awakes from a coma to find himself paralyzed from head to toe.

From Wikipedia: "The film is initially told entirely from the restricted point of view of Bauby, as he wakes from his three-week coma in a hospital in Berck, France. A neurologist explains that he has locked-in syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which the patient is almost completely physically paralyzed, but remains mentally normal. The viewer hears the thoughts of Bauby, which are unattainable to the other characters, and sees through his one functioning eye.

"A speech therapist and physical therapist try to help Bauby become as functional as possible. Bauby cannot speak, but he develops a system of communication with his speech therapist by blinking his left eye as she reads a list of letters to spell out his messages, letter by letter."

Blinking his left eye, a letter at a time, Bauby wrote the book the movie is based upon over the next--and last--year of his life. I hope to read it soon.

A stunning movie. Recommended highly.

Back in the land of the living

(Written upon my return from Mexico.)


Last post--2 months ago--was about traveler's diarrhea. Looks like my friend was right. The best solution was to drink *lots* of clean water and wait for the body to acclimate.

After 10 days of misery, my body built the necessary immunities and the diarrhea abruptly ceased. I was almost ready to go the oral antibiotics route, but was dissuaded by the possibility of wiping out all the beneficial bacteria in the gut, along with the single offending bacteria.

I also maintained a daily regimen yogurt (a pro-biotic food), avoided anything that could have been washed in local water and took supplemental fiber each AM.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

travelers diarrhea

(Written several months ago, while traveling in Mexico.)

I have traveler's diarrhea.

It's been about three days now, and I feel like shit. (No pun intended.)

If things do not improve by Monday, I will seek medical attention. I brought antibiotics for just this eventuality, but I want to talk to a local doctor "just in case" I have a parasite or virus instead of the "normal" bacterial infection.

From now on while traveling in Central America I eat NOTHING that has not been boiled, peeled or cooked. Packaged lunch meats, bananas, packaged cheeses, cooked vegetables, well cooked meats, well cooked eggs. I don't care WHERE it's served. I trust nothing.

From now on I wash my own hands carefully and often, just in case I touched something in the environment that could carry diarrhea-causing bacteria.

After three days of diarrhea, upset stomach and nausea, my sense of humor and equanimity is pretty slim. A friend who has traveled widely claims the best thing to do is just get sick, let your body build immunity, and go on about your business. I hope to hell so.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Courage #1

Today I talked to a woman who came to the U.S. alone, to study. She left family, job, friends, home, everything to come here and study with a teacher she admires. What admirable courage and determination.

Note taking -- Philip's advice

I asked my writer/publisher friend Philip for advice on note taking. (Good note taking is essential when gathering material for a book.) His reply, which follows, is brilliant:

OK, Different kinds of notes work for different people. My take is that you record the audio portions if you can, then take notes later. If that isn't acceptable, jot down he salient quotes sparsely and write your impressions and observations aggressively. Was it hot in the room? What were the odors? Humid? Comfortable? Crowd mood? Overall reactions to/reception of the speaker/trainer(s). Was the food good? What were the dominant spices/flavors? What did you FEEL like before/during/after the course/sessions/practice? Was it 'worth it' to you? Would you tell someone else to go go for it or warn then away? Who was the archetypal participant? Did cliques form? If so, what was the inter-group dynamic?

Take your reporter's notebook to a coffee shop and practice. Who's in the place? What's their story? Are they well dressed/clean/rich/poor? What are they driving? The idea is to suss out the cultural and motivational clues that suggest people's lives.

Is the coffee any good?... fresh? Did the barista treat you well? Is the place busy?...on a main drag?...well lit?..have free WiFi? Would you go back? Would you send a friend there? Do they know your name if you are a regular customer? If so, would you rather have remained anonymous?

All that being said, the final product shouldn't hit your reader in the face with all of the factoids, rather it needs to be apparent that you have a high degree of comprehension about your subject.

Notes can take up a whole notebook, but then I think the trick is to find one or two vignette(s) that characterize the events or places.

Also, for more, and more divergent, ideas about notes re-read 'Telling True Stories'

I hope this helps..

Author's Guild accepts

The Author's Guild accepted my membership application.

How cool!

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Writer's Paris

A friend is going to Paris this Christmas. She invited us to meet her there.

The invitation prompted me to re-read Eric Maisel's delightful book, "A Writer's Paris." I opened the book at random to page 97:

"Paris is a doable dream, and your writing is a doable dream. Both require the same nurturing, the same courage, and the same perseverance. Both come with a cost: Going to Paris requires some months of your time, and some thousands of dollars; writing requires some years of your time, ugly drafts, nasty rejection letters, and bitter disappointments. Are these costs too high? Not for Paris and not for the writing life."

Absolutely beautiful, and absolutely right.

Writers Store article accepted

Writers Store liked the article on "ideas."

We agreed on a new article for the Dec. issue.

These articles are fun to write, and I enjoy working with the Writers Store.

It's a great way to make use of all the extra material that I collected while doing research for Producing With Passion and Digital Video Secrets.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Over trained, caught cold

Too much yoga. Over trained and caught a cold.

Mind like mush. Difficult to concentrate on anything. Slept 20 hours yesterday.

Lesson: pay attention to body, stop when exhausted.

Author's Guild

Have applied for membership in the Author's Guild.

"The Authors Guild has been the nation's leading advocate for writers' interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and free expression since it was founded as the Authors League of America in 1912. It provides legal assistance and a broad range of web services to its members."

Blurbs for Digital Video Secrets

Tomorrow I send off a dozen Digital Video Secrets galleys to people in the industry. Filmmakers, teachers, DP's, writers...

I'm asking them to give me a blurb ("Great book, loved it, everyone should have one...") only if they love the book and would recommend it to a friend.

Hopefully, several will love the book... I never know how people will react to a book. By the time it reaches the final manuscript stage, I have lost much of my objectivity. I'm too close to the project to see it clearly.

As I re-read the manuscript, 4 weeks after sending it to the publisher, I find several passages that I want to change.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Writer store article gone

Sent off Writer Store article. 1749 words.

Attached everything to the email that is needed to publish the article.
- head shots for Dorothy and I
- illustration
- Word doc (text).

Final changes, added the address of the web site for Stealing America documentary, and the ISBN number of the book.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Article for Writer Store is finished

The article for the Writer's Store EZine is finished. Tomorrow I package it and send it off.

I think it is a useful piece of writing. It may actually help people choose a good idea for their next creative project (book or film).

Article is scheduled to appear in June or July issue, to coincide with arrival of PWP in book stores.

Memorizing a script

This is the best thing I've found on how to memorize a script.

Note: The following material is excerpted from an interview
with actor and director Tony Noice.

1. Read [the script] and read it again, and read it again, and
read it again, because the most important thing to lay
the basis for memory is to really understand the
meaning, the deep meaning.

2. Find the intentions or objectives.
Go back to the beginning and now that you have a
knowledge of the essential core meaning -- what we
call the spine of the entire piece -- you then start
looking at your lines and break them down into what we
call intentions or objectives.

Determine why you are saying everything that you are

And by determining that, that already has a lot to do
with memory because the lines are not coming out of
the blue. It's not material to be memorized. As I
often say, actors don't memorize material, they make
material memorable."

Analyze the script, saying, 'What am I really trying
to get from the other person or do to the other
person? What behavior can I see in the other person
that will make me know I've achieved my goal at this

3. Mean what you say.
The act of experiencing, of really meaning what you
are saying and meaning it in terms of the other actors
-- really looking them in the eyes and trying to
affect the change in their eyes by influencing them
with whatever you are trying to do at that moment --
improves memory for the specific lines.

Don’t pretend to do it, just do it. Do it for real.

Picture yourself giving this information to a person,
a good friend who vitally needs it. And you really try
to get through to this person in your imagination.

You'll have trouble with this because acting is an act
of bravery. It really is hard to go out there and
really try to affect another person.

Use your imagination to not just remember the
information but really live the material, try to make
it as active as you possibly can by, in your own mind,
communicating whatever you're trying to remember to
another person.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What do I want to be talking about in 5 years?

Michael Wiese said that one of the things he tells his potential authors is "Ask yourself what you want to be talking about in 5 years."

Good question. What do I want to be talking about in 5 years? A few random thoughts:

- Cameras. I am fascinated by cameras of all kinds, including digital video and digital still cameras. This fits in with the Digital Video Secrets book.
- Portraits. The idea of doing a series of portraits is compelling. I've started doing portraits of local people, and have a few that I like. I want to do more.
- Yoga. I'm fascinated by yoga for people at the "edges," kids, old people, people who are ill.
- Travel. A real grab bag here: Living for a couple months in Paris, Montreal, and Vancouver. An eco tour of Costa Rica, a walking tour of France, and a walking tour of the Erie Canal. Living for a month in Amsterdam, and spending a couple months taking a house-boat or barge through the canals of Europe.
- Film making. I'd like to learn more about the films of Kurasawa. I'd like to write a really good script one day, something to do with personal redemption.
- How-to books and articles. I must have been a teacher in a past life, because the idea of empowering people to do things, helping them make their worlds brighter, obsesses me and has done so for decades.
- Creativity. Another grab bag. How to turn creative ideas into reality. How to survive and thrive--mentally, physically, and spiritually--as a creative person. The role of creative people in an information society. This one is very ambiguous. Just a potpourri of ideas with the sense that there's "something there."

More on this later...

Publicizing Digtital Video Secrets #1

Digital Video Secrets is at the publisher and in the editing/design stage.

While I wait for the galleys, I am starting the process of getting blurbs. I'm having a dozen manuscripts printed and bound. Several writers, filmmakers and producers have agreed to look at the book. If they like it, they will give me blurbs.

These are busy people, so I'm grateful and appreciative of their time. I hope that I can help them in the future.

More on this later...

Publicizing PWP #1

Finished a couple things for PWP publicity:

1. Finished a draft of an article on "Finding the Right Idea" for a book or movie. The article contains the essence of Chapter 1 of Producing With Passion.

Sent it out to some of the smartest people I know for review. Got back several suggestions for minor changes. One said it was a pretty good article.

I tried to make the article as useful as possible. I figure if I can help people find the right idea for their next creative project, that's a good thing. If they also decide to buy the book, that's even better!

2. Wrote a brief proposal for PWP workshops and sent it out for review. I think a series of workshops coordinated with the book release and book signings would be a Good Thing. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

After the writing comes the selling

Just back from a publishing seminar in Los Angeles.

A few short notes. No time to blog...

1. Writing is half the job. Selling is the other half.
2. The first three months, publishers market books aggressively. After that, less so, if at all.
3. Royalty income is a myth for 99% of the books published. I talked to a best-selling (in my niche market) writer, and she said that she earns most of her money from seminars and selling books on the table at the back of the room.
4. Everything changes when you publish a book. People treat you differently. I signed my first autograph this weekend. I was returning from lunch when someone said, "You're Tony Levelle!" and asked me to sign their copy of Producing With Passion.
5. When looking for a book idea, ask yourself, "What do I want to be talking about in 5 years?"
6. Book income these days comes from book signings, workshops, seminars, etc.
7. Best formula for long-term writing success is this: provide an honest, high quality product that makes people's lives easier and saves them money.
8. When leaving home for book signing gigs, pack books not clothes. That way if the bookstore has no books when you arrive, (maybe sold out while waiting for you to appear) you pull books out of your suitcase and stack them on the table.
9. When the distributor's sales person pitches the book to a bookstore buyer (Barnes and Noble, etc.) he or she will likely have 2-3 seconds to tell the buyer what makes your book different, and why the buyer should stock it. 2-3 seconds! That's all the time a typical buyer will take to decide whether to pass on your book. When I asked the distributor's rep what she needed from me, as a writer, she said, "Don't tell me about the content. I don't need to know that. What I need to know is 'what makes it (your book) different than all the other books out there. Why should the book buyer take it. Tell me why it's different."
10. When writing books, aim for a steady stream of 'doubles and singles' as opposed to the 'home run.' Home runs are always possible, but a steady string of doubles and singles will build income and a sustainable career.
11. Create a "myth" for your book. Every book has a story behind it. Tell that story.
12. Learn to use Amazon. Post short videos of yourself (giving useful information), add comments, use list features... Amazon is continually tinkering with the site and developing features that authors can use to increase book sales. Read the Amazon "increasing your book sales" tutorials.
13. Foreign sales and translations are a Big Deal. When you are speaking or holding a workshop in a foreign country, it really helps to have a translation on the table. Even though everyone reads English, a translation will increase sales.
14. Revise a book when you have 20-30% new material.
15. When you revise, try to keep the page numbering the same. This lowers the cost to the publisher. They don't have to 're flow' (do a new page layout) on the book or create a new index.
16. Use Power DVD to do screen captures.
17. A copyright consultant told me that single frames of movies, with acknowledgment of copyright holder, are "clearly legal" under Fair Use law. (This is NOT LEGAL ADVICE. This is 'gossip over the water cooler.' If you want to use someone's copyrighted material, talk to a copyright lawyer.)

Much more to write about. Collected about 10 pages of notes.

With two books out (Producing With Passion, June 08. Digital Video Secrets, Spring 09) I'm told that my plate is full. I have a full time job creating buzz for the books, writing magazine articles about the books and planning workshops and seminars.

Meanwhile, I continue daily writing discipline and collect material for next book.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


I have to memorize a 44 page script in the next 5 weeks.

Memorization is not respected in our culture, nor are the techniques taught. At one point in history, learning how to use memory was an essential part of every educated person's repertoire of skills.

It's clear to me that some sort of memory techniques are essential, i.e. the ones described in Lorayne and Lucas's The Memory Book.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck with learning the script the hard way. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

I go a page at a time. I read 2 lines and repeat them until I remember them. When I remember them I add another 2, until I have the entire page memorized. When the entire page is memorized, I close the book and deliver my lines--without inflection--into a recorder. When I have the page down, I repeat again, adding inflection and "spirit."

When this crunch is over, and I have time, I plan to learn memory techniques.

Nice letter from Ken Burns

Got a nice letter from Ken Burns today.

He thanked us for our good words about his work, and wished us well with Producing With Passion.

He declined to blurb the book. He gets so many requests that if he started endorsing things, he'd soon end up spending all his time doing endorsements.

We mention him in Producing With Passion as a role model for first time filmmakers, and I'm glad we did. Very classy guy.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Producing With Passion -- Reviews

Pre-release book reviews for Producing With Passion:

March 2008
Microfilmmaker magazine

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sanyo HD1000

Have been playing with the Sanyo XACTI HD1000 camera. It's a full 16x9, 1080i camera that fits in your pocket. It's rugged and simple, with excellent battery life and easy to use controls.

Later this week I will send the picture to a 50 inch flat screen--via the HD1000 docking station's HDMI output. It will be interesting to see how the picture compares to HDV.

The only downside i can see so far is the camera's smallness. HD is very sensitive to jiggle-cam. Although the HD1000 has excellent optical image stabilization (OIS), it's still a tiny cam and difficult to hold steady.

Overall the cam looks pretty impressive. It's H.264 compressed video records to an inexpensive standard SD chip. Plug the chip into a Windows machine, and you can edit the video easily.

Journalists and interviewers have been using the cam for research interviews.

This weekend I bought a cheap Sony lavaliere (lav) mike and a mini to micro-mini plug adapter so I can use the lav mike on the HD1000.

After playing with the cam for a while, I recommended it to a doc filmmaker as a second cam to use on the floor of the Democratic National Convention. The HD1000 may be a good way to get candid 'on the spot' interviews in HD.


Blurbs, those little quotes you see on DVDs and book covers, "Wonderful book, great insight..." are the fuel for a good deal of book marketing.

Three months ago I didn't know a blurb from a blog. Now I'm seeking blurbs for my first book.

The past week I've been contacting prominent people to ask them to "blurb" book #1. (Blurb is a noun as well as a verb.) I've contacted people whose work I respect greatly, and have read for years.

When I rent DVDs I am influenced by blurbs. "Two thumbs up" by Ebert and partner, means that I rent the movie. A blurb by Joel Siegel means Do Not Rent This Movie.

When I buy books, I am influenced by reviews rather than blurbs. In fact, I can't remember ever buying a book based on a blurb.

My publisher says book blurbs are very important. I respect his knowledge of this business and until I learn differently, must assume he is right.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

D40 camera

Bought a Nikon D40 camera with an 18-55 mm lens (as recommended by photographer Ken Rockwell on his excellent photography website).

Shot all the illustrations for the camera book with it. Astonishing camera. It has rekindled my love for still photography.

The 18-55 mm Nikon lens that comes with the D40 is amazing.

book endorsements

Urgent request from the international distributor for additional book endorsements for Book #1.

Tomorrow I send emails, make phone calls, and otherwise attempt to contact prominent filmmakers to ask for endorsements.

When I was first asked to contact celebrities, I was overcome with fear. Now, perhaps because of the urgency, I just don't give a damn. It's another job that has to be done.

What's the worst that can happen? They ignore me? They're doing that already.

Huge lesson here for future books. Get. Endorsements. Early.

Yoga injury

I've become a cliche. The office worker with a yoga injury.

Somehow, during yoga practice i managed to sprain my foot. (I didn't even know a foot could be sprained.)

The next morning, my right ankle and foot were so painful I couldn't walk, or put any weight on it whatsoever. My wife had to bring me crutches so I could make it to the bathroom. The doctor said that nothing is broken. He suspects that I stretched and injured a tendon or muscle.

I emailed my yoga teacher and she said ice it, ice it, ice it. (Doctor said, that's exactly right.) After a day of ice, compression and elevation most of the swelling and pain is gone. Two days after the injury, I tried to go back to yoga.

No luck. No strength in the foot, and no balance. Looks like I will be out of commission for another two or three days at the least.

I did not know I'd injured the foot during practice. As best I can figure, it happened during fixed firm pose. My right foot was cramping (common problem) and I think I put pressure on the foot instead of working the cramp out, or sitting out the posture.

My yoga teacher once practiced with a broken ankle. I have no idea how she did it. The ankle is essential to all of the standing postures, and about half of the floor postures we are doing.

Camera book to publisher

Two books finished!

The second book (the camera book) went to the publisher last week.

The afternoon of the 15th, with 1 hour to go, my HP 1300 printer died. Fortunately, was able to find someone to print the manuscript. Got the package--CD's, image placement sheets, manuscript--to the post office 21 minutes before the last mail truck.

When I look at the manuscript, i'm stuck by the fact that the book is as much about creativity as anything else. There isn't anything quite like it out there.

I suspect that this book will either sell truckloads or else nothing at all. No middle ground.

Now it's time to clean house, organize files, prepare for next project.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Next book

Already thinking of next book.

Subjects in my idea file are all over the map.
- yoga
- MacArthur Foundation
- aging and fitness
- hot air ballooning
- architecture of low cost housing
- sustainable communities
- filmmaking
- Canada

The only thing I know is that next book will probably be nonfiction, because I've spent the last 4 years learning the craft, and would like to solidify the skills.

I have much to learn. I read things like and I'm awed by the level of nonfiction writing out there, the competition.

Daily yoga

About a year ago I realized that the only way to survive a sedentary job like writing was to make exercise a part of the work day.

I now begin each day with a strenuous 90 minute session of Bikram yoga.

The results have been pretty good: lost 50 pounds, sleep better, get more work done, anxiety and worry largely a thing of the past, more cheerful.

I'm better able to withstand mental and physical stress of writing. (After a day of writing I'm exhausted and dripping with sweat.)

Wish I'd fully understood the necessity for daily vigorous exercise as a prophylactic for sedentary work 30 or 40 years ago. Maybe I could have avoided some of the health issues I've had to wrestle with over the past few years.

Camera book--last two weeks

I'm in the last two weeks of preparing the camera book for the publisher.

- Solved office situation by clearing out a room at home, and putting a sign on the door "Office. Work Hours 9 AM-5 PM." Sounds dumb, but I'm so visually oriented that it seems to work. (Rental deal for small studio downtown fell through.)

- Am revising the text, again. Each time it comes a little more into focus.

- Have photo shoot tentatively scheduled for next week. Found 3 attractive models locally, and have ordered props from B&H. (The props are actually tools that I have been meaning to buy anyway--like a Rycote Softie windscreen, and a DSC Labs Warm'nWhite test card.)

- Got final cover layout this morning. Cover looks great.

- Sent 20 pages to publisher for initial page layout.


Nikon D40

Just bought a Nikon D40 with an 18-55mm lens.

One word. Amazing.

The images are sharp and brilliant. Focusing is effortless. The weight and "feel" of the camera is perfect. Exposure is exactly right, every time.

The 6 mega pixel sensor is small by current camera standards, but I can make an 8x10 300 dpi photograph from one of these files.

Since the largest print I need for my current book is about 5x7 inches, the resolution of the D40 is perfect.

The difference between the D40 and my first film SLR, a Minolta SR1 is probably greater than the difference between the SR1 and the view camera that Matthew Brady used in the Civil War.

I have to learn still photography all over again.

HDTV -- 1080p or 720p?

From David Pogue's column in the New York Times.
In this interview, he is questioning an HDTV salesman:

D.P. Question: OK, how about this one: 720p or 1080p?

A: These are measurements of how many fine lines make up the picture.

You’d think that 1080p is obviously better than 720p. Trouble is, you won’t get a 1080p image unless you feed it a 1080p signal — and that’s hard to come by. There’s no such thing as a 1080p TV broadcast (cable, satellite, anything), and won’t be for years. Even most games, like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, generally send out 720p (or less).

So the *only* way to get a 1080p picture on a 1080p set is to buy a high-def DVD player (Blu-ray or HD DVD). That’s the only way.

[D.P. adds: Even then, you won’t see any difference between 720p and 1080p unless you sit closer than 10 feet from the TV and it’s bigger than 55 inches or so.

And even then, you’re not getting any additional sharpness or detail. Instead, as CNET notes, you’re just gaining the ability to move closer without seeing individual pixels: “In other words, you can sit closer to a 1080p television and not notice any pixel structure, such as stair-stepping along diagonal lines, or the screen door effect (where you can actually see the space between the pixels).”]