Seeing in Three Dimensions


As long as I can remember I’ve had a bad left eye. With both eyes open I can see just fine, but if I close my right eye I can’t read what I’m typing here. I’ve gone to several optometrists over the years, and they all told me if they corrected the left eye then I started seeing double, so I shouldn’t worry about it too much since I can read and edit movies just fine without glasses.

In December I finally went to an optometrist who made a real effort to correct the problem, Dr. Justin Bazan of Park Slope Eye. He came up with a prescription that seemed to work for me, but he wanted to make sure so he sent me to the University Optometric Center at SUNY. I went there yesterday and was subjected to a battery of tests by a large team of optometry students and doctors. Eventually they had me wear a pair of ridiculous mad scientist glasses with the prescription they had chosen.

Sitting down everything seemed normal. It was definitely sharper than normal, but nothing special. Then they had me walk around and I realized I haven’t really been seeing the world in three dimensions. I’ve been ignoring most of the input from one eye, and flattening everything out. I suspect that has something to do with why I was so bad at baseball. And I don’t want to read too much into this, but I wonder if the fact that movies have apparently looked as flat as the rest of the world to me is part of what drew me to movies in the first place. If they don’t look any less real than the real world that could make a real difference in the way I connect to flat images. It’s something to think about anyway. I’m curious to see how things change once I get my glasses (specialty lenses like mine take a little time) and can actually see in three dimensions all day. It’s very exciting.

Performance Films!

Through no fault of my own, I’m quickly getting a lot of experience cutting recordings of live performances. Last September I started small with a bunch of online videos recapping New York Fashion Week. It was all single-camera footage, with a lot of quick-cutting and jump-cutting. I think it was the first time I ever found myself using the quick-flash-to-white transition so popular with the kids today.

In October I started cutting some Jerry Seinfeld stand-up performances, which were shot with three cameras. I synced up the three cameras and used multicam editing in FCP, which turns editing into a totally different animal. Now, rather than assembling a scene shot by shot, you can kind of wade through the stream of images and go with your gut to pick the nicest angle of the ones available, then revise to your heart’s content. I had cut some stand-up before, in my very early film about Tim McIntire, but it was all montage-based, with very little spacial continuity between shots. Learning where to cut in Jerry’s movements was very interesting. He’s not a relentless pacer like Chris Rock, but on particular beats he turns his body to address different parts of the audience, and he does move back and forth a bit. It’s something he’s obviously thought a lot about, and as an editor it’s not something I wanted to get in the way of. I wanted the changes in camera angle to stand in for, and highlight, the changes in focus he’s giving to the various parts of the room. At first I wanted him to almost complete a turn before I cut, but I found that anticipating a move by a few frames could be very effective, so he turns into the new angle rather than already being there. Of course cutting in the middle of the action often works too. It all depends on the context.


Almost immediately after I started the Seinfeld project, I cut the film version of Hal Hartley’s staging of Louis Andriessen’s new opera La Commedia. In the spring I edited a 5-screen movie that was projected during the performances, and two of those performances were filmed with two cameras. So the material we had to work with was the original movie footage, and up to 4 different angles of the performance. Unfortunately, good audio recordings of the shows that were video taped did not exist. Only the premiere had a good audio mix. So I had to get very creative with the editing. I could only hold on a performer singing for a few seconds (if I was lucky) before the shot would start to drift, and I’d have to slip each shot a few frames in order to keep everything in something close to sync. There was always the question of whether to show some of the stage or some of the movie. In the theater you can have 10 different things going on at once, but in the film we just had one at a time. We considered doing split-screen for a while, but it never really seemed like the right thing to do. The whole thing is confusing enough as it is, since there are two related, but slightly different plots going on at the same time between the movie parts and the staged parts. Eventually we worked out a method, and I think it was by far the best work I’ve done on anything.

Cheech and Chong Tour

Next up, and very exciting, is a recording of Cheech & Chong’s Light Up America tour. In March they’re going to shoot two performances with around 5 cameras each, plus some backstage action with the two gentlemen. I’ll be editing the whole thing myself. I can’t say too much more about it, but I think it will be a very cool project. Definitely the highest profile thing I’ve worked on. There will be a lot more angles to work with for the performance, and it’s all being supervised by a great DP. I expect we’ll have good, in-sync sound recordings as well.

My Particular Problems With The Academy Awards


It seems like nobody is happy with this year’s Academy Award nominations. I’m not happy either, but since I started making movies I can’t remember being happy with the Academy Awards. A lot of people are suggesting that not nominating The Dark Knight for Best Picture is a poor decision because it shows how out of touch the Academy is with mainstream America. I think The Dark Knight is a great film, but the idea that somehow an award for excellence should be determined by box office success is silly. Now, that is not to say that box office success doesn’t determine who gets nominated for these awards. Big, fancy, high-grossing films are the rule, rather than the exception, when it comes to best picture winners. But I think what gets me the most is that I’m supposed to care what all these people think.

In general I’m like a casual racist when it comes to the Academy. I know some of them personally, and I like the ones I know, but as a group I think they’re lazy and stupid and kidnap babies. I think it is a very good idea for the motion picture industry to give themselves awards for excellence. By all means, the Academy should get together and vote on their favorite movies every year. But I don’t want to hear about their decisions anymore. Excellence in art cannot be determined by popular vote. There are movies that I like, and there are movies that I don’t like. Sometimes my opinion aligns with the Academy and sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t find their opinions instructive.

I might not care about what the Academy thinks of particular movies, but I do love to read film reviews. I read the New York Times and The AV Club regularly. I find them useful both before and after watching a film. Before I see a film, there’s the obvious benefit of being told whether a movie is worth seeing. I read those reviewers regularly enough to know how my taste aligns with them and sometimes even a negative review can indicate that I’ll enjoy a film if I happen to disagree with the reviewer’s general opinions. After seeing a film, a review can help me focus my thoughts about what did and didn’t work.

I liked Benjamin Button quite a bit more than most movie critics, even ones I respect a lot. The fact that a bunch of actors and filmmakers felt the same way doesn’t make the movie any better. A movie like Frozen River getting a couple Oscar nominations is not going to sway me from my opinion that I wouldn’t want to see a movie like that because I’ve seen enough movies like it already.

The Academy Awards can be a force for good. It can raise the profile of films that might have otherwise fallen through the cracks, but that’s not its usual mode. The usual Best Picture winner is something already sucessful, which doesn’t really need the extra exposure. A Best Documentary or Best Foreign Language award can definitely be a big boost, since those films have usually barely been released theatrically in the U.S. when they win, and it can seriously impact a small film’s success in a slow roll-out through art house theaters.

Luckily, I don’t have to watch the show this year because I’ll be out of the country, on vacation.