march 3 2015 i've been writing something new, in short fits and bursts, and now i think it's going to work out. i've been sort of swimming on the cusp of ideas these last couple weeks, that itchy area where you feel constantly restless and maybe vaguely crazy, with something turning around in your head that you just can't quite spit out to paper yet. i started putting some pages together last night though and it's starting to get interesting. meanwhile
we're releasing a clip from "world of tomorrow" next week and starting to get publicity moving forward. i almost never agree to doing interviews live or even on the phone anymore, i've learned something strange: even with the best of intentions, just about every live interview i've ever done has come out with at least one sentence in the transcript that's the exact opposite of what was said. if i said, "the cat is black," it would be printed as, "the cat is not black." and that gets really old after so many years, but what i think is more interesting from this, and maybe even a bit alarming and sort of sad, is how often everyone must misunderstand each other all the time in everyday conversation, misheard sentences and opposite interpretations regularly going unnoticed and unchecked. how messy our brains are. meanwhile, i still can't sleep.
ive not been sleeping well at all again and the other night had this dream i've had before where i am having to pull dozens of super long needles from the bottoms of my feet, some of them all thick and rusty. i had raging insomnia at sundance last month too and it keeps recurring, at night my head is just on fire. also the other night i wrote down this note and then went back to sleep: "jealous of a murderous dog."
"world of tomorrow" had a great run at sundance though, it seems to be the most audience-pleasing thing i've done in years. i was, and still am, very concerned about keeping its expectations in check, and approached the premiere as low-key as possible. like most things, it plays best when it takes you by surprise, you don't need to hit people over the head with it or poison the well with a bunch of preconceived notions and stuff.
i only released a single photo of it anywhere, and we had zero posters or fanfare at sundance. the critics were incredibly kind and then it won the grand prize. a few days ago i reluctantly cut a trailer for its upcoming digital release. trailers for short films are kind of absurd in general, i mean come on, it's already a short, but we have to show something so people know what it is, bla bla bla, so i tried to at least make it as vague and simple as possible again so nothing could be spoiled. the trailer views went through the roof and things got very buzzy again and a few critics who'd found it at sundance all wrote, generously, that it was "the best science fiction film in years!" and then another outlet picked up that thread and added, "some are saying WORLD OF TOMORROW will be the best science fiction film of 2015, better than even the next STAR WARS!", and the day after that another outlet shared the trailer with the headline, and i'm not kidding, "is WORLD OF TOMORROW better than STAR WARS?!" and i've been staring at that headline, thinking about how this has somehow all become a perfect satire of somebody trying to keep expectations in check. now the short film is "one of the most anticipated films of the year." and i do really appreciate it, truly, but let's please lower those expectations way down again and maybe just compare it instead to that one "star trek" movie where scotty walks into a wall. it is maybe better than that one.
also at sundance i tried skiing for the first time and did pretty good until i was taken to the top of the mountain where i fell off of it and had to eat snow to survive
january 15, 2015
the sun finally came out today and i am suddenly wallowing in interviews and emails. sundance starts next week and the film plays opening night and i bought a new suitcase, a horrible shade of blue but 50% off. it took a couple of weeks of weird color trial and error, but the DCP for "world of tomorrow" looks and sounds beautiful now, and suddenly i am in a rare canyon of days with very little left work to do but wait. i have a large stack of books and want to start writing again. i'm not sure how long the wait on the new feature film will last. lately i feel like i am not really present.
lately i've been finding these little frogs at the bottom of the swimming pool. they're not more than an inch long and just lay there, belly up and motionless. when i fish them out, sometimes they are dead and sometimes they are suddenly alive. they look a bit stunned, as stunned as a frog could look i guess, and after a moment they slowly amble away into the leaf litter as though they have seen something important. i can only guess that their little arms eventually become exhausted of paddling and they enter some sort of emergency amphibious underwater hibernation period as they sink to the bottom? what does it feel like? what goes through their heads?
update! i've learned that these are probably little leopard frogs and they are trying to hibernate underwater for the winter. they must be so mad that i keep taking them out.
"world of tomorrow" premieres soon and i am still patching it up while juggling travel plans and sudden film festival needs... a festival overseas asked for a dialogue list to translate and i somehow lost the file that had the script in it but was able to just sit down and type out every line of dialogue for them from memory because i've watched it fifty thousand times by now :\
it's been raining and thundering for days and when i came home yesterday after my first few hours of the film's 5.1 mix, the cat, drenched, ran to the front door and made the most miserable noise i have ever heard, like rahhhrrrwrrrhhhhh
november 16 i dreamt we went to hawaii. when we got there, the bus to the hotel drove underwater through a lake and then there was a very long line to check in.
october 17 this evening smells very specific
it's one of the first cold nights of the year and the neighborhood smells like laundry. as i left the house for a walk just now, suddenly seeing it from the street struck me as deeply sad... that everything i do and worry about inside of it is paralyzingly small, meaningless, empty, wasteful. then i walked to the train tracks with the red lights, looked at the stars, and marveled at how everyone else's lawn looks better than mine.
i am almost done with all of the sound work except for the fine tuning and mix. i can't believe putting it all together only took about a week.
october 8 2014
i started sound and music work on this thing just yesterday and am so far having a blast... i think the picture is locked, the pace feels right. at times the film feels light to me, like a nice dessert or something, and then i think wait a second this isn't really that light at all. anyway, instead of starting the sound edit at the beginning and just trudging through chronologically as usual, i've been working on whatever scenes i feel like first and building it all instead as a patchwork, which feels great and hopefully keeps the scenes from getting smothered. i am also trying to promise myself to keep the soundtrack simple this time, less is more, i tend to get swept away with the sound edits and create walls of complicated stuff, and i will probably eventually do the exact same here but it is fun to pretend that i won't. there is a lot of dialogue in this and really the main thing i need to remember is to keep the focus there, and only lean on music when the scenes are bad, haha.
speaking of overly complicated sound edits, my guest appearance on "the simpsons" aired last week after nine months of keeping it a secret! my ipad was beeping incessantly with alerts for about three days after, until i had to just give up. i was invited to do something for the show in january, coincidentally only one or two weeks after i got this cintiq for another project, and was still learning how to use it. i think i came up with the idea a few days later and was working on it already by the end of that month.
there is something strange about the simpsons that i've always wondered about... it's a 26 year old show that seems to always be set in the current day, yet none of the characters ever age and they usually refer to past episodes as past events in their lives. do the children have memories of events from twenty years ago? but while they don't age, they do evolve... they've changed a lot over the years from the way they were first drawn in season 1. so that was where i wanted to start... what happens when the longest running show on tv just never ends?
the regular simpsons team drew the opening 20 seconds of homer on the couch while i tackled its edit and sound design, and from there the two minute opening, really a short film, was produced entirely here in austin. the short was 99% digital, aside from a couple of 35mm outtakes from "it's such a beautiful day." this was also somehow the first thing i've ever directed in widescreen (!!?). i even played the piano bit at the end of the piece, which i was weirdly proud of. and did all of my own stunts except for the fire jump out of the building. everyone at the simpsons was wonderful... i e-mailed them a somewhat vague pitch, probably three paragraphs, and they just let me run off with it from there, even when i went thirty seconds over. no disagreements or compromises along the way, really the only obstacle was just filling out all the union tv paperwork for doing the voices and music. all tv work is like this, right? .....right?
i think i edited and re-edited that short, fast sequence of homer's head exploding into memories as he looks out the window more than anything else i've done. i don't know if that's true but it feels like it.
september 29 i feel like my soul is trying to exit through the top of my head
september 25 sometime this weekend i'll probably finish work on remaining new scenes and be able to shift focus to fine-tuning, locking picture, and building up the sound mix. running time hovering around 15 minutes. at least three shots have been total do-overs.
also i can't believe i've made another short film. i will be completing it from start to finish in record time, but it still really all takes too long. didn't i say i was done with these?
the other night i had to take a sleeping pill and maybe twenty minutes later i was still laying there, conscious, but my jaw was moving entirely on its own, gently sliding teeth over teeth and occasionally tapping them together in specific weird patterns. i couldn't control or stop it and could even stick a finger into my mouth to feel it happening.
fantastic fest is going on here in austin and the movies are good but the people are disappointing to me... everyone seems overly stressed with projecting an image that they are seeing the most films, having the best time, going to the best parties, a twittering mob of people-brands, people who don't have conversations with you, standing in line with noses in phones, desperately broadcasting how much fun they are having.
september 23 is the world sadder than it was twenty years ago?
september 15 finished animating the final shot of this thing but now need to go back and redo the beginning and middle
the "that is," story synopsis. found in every film festival program ever:
"_____ is a _____ _____. That is, until ____ _____ _____ _____."
i have a hazy childhood memory of floating in the air about twenty feet above my parents' backyard, some sunny afternoon. i don't know why
august 30 i am remarkably depressed tonight, wow
august 29 i think i am going to need to undo the last 2-3 days of work. it looks ok but i don't think i was trusting the material enough and made something needlessly complicated. either that or because i am animating the final scenes of this whole thing i am starting to get a little jumpy. i think it is well over 13 minutes now. the last few weeks have been a blur of work and boring routine. i don't really need to be working this fast on this, but i'm not really doing anything else right now so i guess why not. it is just strange to see the time go
august 26 i am listening to mihcel jiskcon (sp?)
august 25 "care about other people's approval and you will only be their prisoner."
august 16 creatures are running across the roof. right over my bed
august 11 i was driving home from the sound mix, stuck in traffic on a rare rainy summer day here, gray and strange, when the radio djs announced the news about robin williams' suicide. they were incredulous about it at first so i didn't believe it either, but they began to play a series of sad songs, and in between the songs they would return with more news and it started to sink in that it wasn't a hoax and they continued playing sad songs and i sat there stuck in the car looking at the gray rain.
i have a 5.1 mixdown session scheduled for tomorrow and meanwhile just crossed eleven minutes into animating this other thing. i dream of travel almost every night.
"can you believe the new girl was listening birds? i asked her what the hell are this birds? and she said listening birds raise productivity"
july 29 during my skype meeting today the cat walked around the house and threw up everywhere he could as i sat there watching helplessly
big announcement! i am once again not going to be anywhere near the san diego comic con. ok that is all
i spent the week in mexico, where the skies on the beaches of tulum are filled with more stars than i've ever seen, so dark and clear you can see the ribbons of the milky way spilling across them. we stumbled in the dark and drank on the shore each night watching them like tv, the division between the ocean and the sky invisible and black except for a tiny, perpetual lightning storm hundreds of miles out to sea, shimmering every night to the north east
most of the movies you'll see in your life you'll only see once. you will just spend 90 minutes in the dark with it, yet probably still be able to have a conversation about it with a stranger ten years later. the time you spend with your favorite films, even ones you might watch every year or so, is also incredibly fleeting compared to the time in between visits, when the films live only in your head, turning around and around, assimilating and evolving. when we rewatch a film, we're usually surprised to find scenes that are staged dramatically different from how we remember them... even scenes we don't remember at all. we might be surprised to find the film is generally better now than we remember, or maybe worse. and yet that "wrong" memory of the movie,
the clumsy, flickering impression of it that we've been replaying in our heads for years after our 90 minutes, the basic subjective essence of it, is the version we'll spend the most time with. this is a very different thing from your favorite beatles song or a painting on your wall.... art that is intended for more regular, direct repeat consumption, art that does not exist primarily in memory.
another month has come and gone and i am now over eight minutes into animating project #2. in my 20s i used to not mind devoting all these identical, forgettable days working on stuff... in late 30s it is starting to feel wasteful and more urgent. i am not very good at anything else. but i am afraid i will one day emerge from work to find i am suddenly old, forgotten and useless
in other news i'm closing the online shop at the end of the month. i don't know, probably permanently. our first shop opened in 2001, this version in 2005, and everyone's support has directly funded every film in between. but it's become a lot less necessary these days - which is very good news obviously - and i've been too short on time to keep stuff in there new or interesting. so, new direction... tear down, migrate, rebuild.
when you are dead in 100 years, nobody will look at your biography and think, what kind of car did he drive? how much stuff did she own?
"love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back, guilty of dust and sin."
may 29 today will be better than yesterday
may 28 godzilla was barely in the movie and when it wasn't about those monkey turtle bats he was all fat and sleepy.
may 21 it feels like it might storm tonight and a deep throated creature is making noises miles away
may 22 "the feel of the experience is the important thing, not the ability to verbalize or analyze it." - stanley kubrick
m,ay 20 when i was little i had a nightmare of a moose coming through my window. just the head and long neck, sort of looking around, all demanding.
may 20 "teetering bulbs of dread and dream"
i finished the heavy lifting on the shorter project about a month ago and moved back into work on this other one. right now i am in a sea of endless lip sync animation, mouths mouths mouths, when i watch people talk in real life now they all seem two frames out of sync. i think things are getting done but i can truly no longer tell the days apart. the weather is beautiful and boring. i need a shave and a haircut and i look like a monster. i eat, i play piano, i draw. i lose patience watching films, i have been shutting things off after 20 minutes, my head fried and empty. i bought a hammock and sometimes wrap myself in it like a hanging burrito.
i made this haiku out of my friend's day:
i am suffering
at dawn i fed a peacock
may 13 i've just reached that early stage in production where i get really depressed and think, oh god what have i done? there is so much work to do
may 12 it was hot today and the cat seemed miserable so i plugged in a little fan next to him and he gave me a really annoyed look and got up and left
may 1 few people know that skeletor's first name is paul
april 24 there are smashed strawberries in the parking lot and a dog is barking over and over
april 22"there are no new ideas" is the shield of people who have no ideas.
april 21 "my mother had a special ability to throw saliva with her mouth shut and i didn't know that."
late night in the supermarket, a chubby nerdy guy stocks the cereal shelves with a sullen punky teenaged girl as that 867-5309 song plays. and he turns to her and says, i wonder what would happen, ha, if somebody actually CALLED that number, ha ha. and she says, i don't know, venomously.
"at night...there is nothing to moderate the blow which the infinitely great, the stellar universe, strikes down upon the infinitely little"
"they were oppressed with the presence of a vastness they could not cope with even as an idea, and which hung about them like a nightmare"
the night is full of junebugs, they bonk into your head and buzz at all angles like drunk little rocks. we couldn't figure out why there were so many of them all over the yard this year so i looked it up and it says they are attracted to weeds and i said, oh.
i'm about 70 seconds into a rough first pass on this little project i can't tell you about, but this one is an interesting creature because it's somehow the first time, bizarrely, that i find myself tasked with delivering something under a given running time. everything i've ever done has always been sort of the length it was, just because it was whatever the length it was. so i've been measuring seconds closer than usual and trying to keep every moment disciplined, finding a way to cram all of this information in under the wire, which is a good exercise anyway, and have been really kind of amazed at just how much information can be stuffed into one minute. i am now deep into the stage of not leaving the house or seeing other human beings for days again, having long conversations with the cat, feeding myself becoming as routine as feeding him, the computer room trash mostly filled with granola bar wrappers. which is fine but for that old feeling of days endlessly on repeat and time somehow vanishing away in great lost waves. i saw someone at sxsw whom i hadn't seen in exactly a year and he said, "don! you're WASTING AWAY." which i will take as a compliment. i should be able to clear this little thing out of the way for the others in another month or two, maybe, but it keeps growing.
why can we never remember the first few moments of falling asleep? why do we get insomnia if we think about sleeping? what is sleep trying to hide?
march 13 there are now too many amazing tv shows, films, books, and games to ever catch up on. things need to start sucking again so i can ignore them
march 12 you will never again be as young as you are today
i've been having no trouble continuing to animate for hours on end lately, but early sound editing is making me flounder around the house looking for snacks every 15 minutes
sleep has been a problem lately. i think when you stay up working past a certain hour, the adrenaline kicks in and then you're really stuck. and for whatever reason, trying to fall asleep is when my most depressing, hopeless, horrible thoughts all come out on parade. by day my head is in blinders and i've already charged through almost five minutes of animation, which is amazing to think about, but the days are going by in fast forward. the backyard has died because it's winter and i always let the backyard go dry in winter but this year it seems more neglected and shameful than usual.
i wrote this really late at night a weeks ago intending to put it in here and then i forgot. now it seems like someone else wrote it:
"are humans fundamentally evil? thousands of years of torture, slavery, genocide, racism, religious persecution, wars, pollution, careless mass extinctions of countless of other species... what good have humans done to each other or the world to counterbalance all of this history? is it even possible? ....why do we need laws? is it because without them it is human nature to lie, cheat, steal, etc?"
i guess those are meant to be final exam questions? last month i flew to baltimore to visit my grandpa for his 100th birthday. the first time i saw the retirement community place it seemed really active and cheerful, but returning over the years you begin to notice how absolutely nothing has changed there: the wallpaper, the carpets, the indifferent hotelroom art in the hallways that nobody looks at, even the plastic plants perched on communal tables are exactly the same as they were a decade ago, every detail surrounding the people who live there firmly rooted in time since the 1960s. and i couldn't tell if this was all by intention or laziness by the people who run the place, but it seemed crushingly sad to imagine looking at all the same faded pink decor and sagging rec room furniture every day, knowing that it will outlive you, and the next person who lives in your room, and the next. also, it was a big mistake to arrange for the 100 old woman to jump out of the birthday cake.
last night i dreamt, as an aside, that i had large and muscular calves and a couple of times people would remark on them and ask what my workout was that would make my calves get so big but the rest of my legs stay the same and i'd get sad and say i don't know. i'm still animating at a very high speed every day, it is mostly a lot of fun though time is now moving very fast and i'm lately feeling very little in life.
when i used to animate on paper, i'd have to clumsily penciltest at the wrong framerate on videotape, go shoot it, get the film back, telecine it, get the files to have a look, and if the sequence looked good enough i'd just move on. it would usually take too much time and effort to fix the animation and reshoot unless something was really, really wrong in there. the bigger picture was more important. now with this new technique i suddenly have the amazing ability to obsess over and pick at every little nuance of movement like a superhuman asshole.
january 14 2014 for the last week ive been experimenting heavily with digital animation and after 19 years of paper and film, i've found learning all of this to be a lot like trying to read a children's book in a foreign language. also after maybe being hit in the head twice with a shovel. the first few days were weirdly both extremely easy and extremely aggravating... i tried out two popular programs and hated both of them before settling on a third. the things that used to be hard are now very simple - i'm able to draw and finish scenes now at a blazing speed - while things that used to be simple, like just coloring something in with a textured crayon, are suddenly upside-down and horrible. but i've been getting into a groove and enjoying discovering that i can animate for much longer sittings at a time without getting arm pain or a stiff neck and suddenly i am firing away every night past 5am and not seeing many other humans and have already completed over thirty seconds of this thing that sort of came out of nowhere. meanwhile, a third secret project that i cannot possibly turn down has just made itself known, all while the very large other film also starts pre-production. i've not worked on three things at once like this before but i sort of feel like a kid in a candy store. it's going to be a busy year and i look forward to disappointing you in three entirely new ways