Thursday, March 13, 2008

140. Blue Horizons Continued: An Opportunity to Meet "Famous" People Through Dr. Constance Penley's Course: Richard Hutton and Judith Helfand

To be honest, I am in a challenging situation. I am "home alone," and that kind of brings me back to the days of Blue Horizons... alone in my apartment... chronically. Not healthy, but a couple days will do. Julie's at school. Kyle and Lisa are off to Hollywood to watch a band and then an Arundo donax conference in Anaheim.... They will be back Friday, and that's good. Karl's off to "Veil" I believe. Somewhere in Colorado off skiing. So, it will be an interesting challenge to focus. When someone is around the house, I tend to focus on that person. Localized focus. But if people are gone, my radar tend to disperse farther out in my my surroundings, and it doesn't help with focusing. It's okay. Julie will be home soon.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, Dr. Constance Penley is very networked. Over the summer, we had the privilege of meeting Richard Hutton, one of the main producers from Vulcan (who is now helping with developing media projects and programming at UC Santa Barbara under a "Digital Oceans" grant). In addition, our class had the opportunity to speak with Judith Helfand, one of the co-producers of the documentaries "Blue Vinyl" and "Everything's Cool." Through these guest speakers, I, as well as the class, were truly inspired. Besides, it's nice to give a face to all these big TV names that you otherwise know as a collage of pixels on a screen!

Who is Richard Hutton? (Vulcan)

The hourglass and belljar model to reasoning is something I drew directly after the guest lecture with Richard Hutton. I think it's mostly pertaining to science and religion (intelligent design).

Richard Hutton is a strange character, in my opinion. He's tall, fairly eloquent and to the point (though he did read off his lecture from a paper), but the strange thing is that he's a bit of a sullen and depressing character. He has a dim and grim outlook on media and society... much like my dad, who assumes "Basically, humans are stupid." Since he was heavily involved in films I am familiar with--"Strange Days on Planet Earth," "Rx for Survival," and the rough-cut film we watched in class: "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial"--I thought I was going to meet an energetic, lively, spastic, jumpy kind of person. Actually, I didn't know what to expect at all at first. I even approached him, and later we had a little post-lecture conference meeting, and we young-and-eager-wanna be environmental multi-media communicators were seeking advice about careers in science/environmental journalism... Mr. Hutton had very little advice to offer. I later found out that he has a daughter and before his role at Vulcan and his production of more biology-oriented PBS films, he was actually a Disney Imagineer. Whoa. What a stark contrast. To go from Delusion (with capital "D" to some portrayal of serious issues in Reality...). I reflect upon the Intelligent Design film, and it was kind of dark and serious... though I do remember my dad eagerly wanting to hang up on me one night simply because he was thoroughly enjoying the final product of "Judgment Day." My dad was so excited; he just reached the point of watching this intelligent design professor getting reamed in court!

So, I ask sincerely, how can a man be so successful in film and yet be so sullen about his profession? I suppose there's a lot I do not know. I would like to call Richard Hutton "Dr. Hutton" since he has accomplished so much, but I just found out that he has a BA in history from UC Berkeley. I will call him Dr. Hutton because he does know so much. He doesn't need some official institutionalized stamp of Ph.D. on his forehead. Honestly. He's accomplished a lot more than several professors.... I guess Dr. Hutton is one of those big players who set the "style" for films on PBS.

Here is a blurb on the "Creative Vision" of Vulcan that I retrieved from their website: "Vulcan Productions seeks to initiate, develop and finance independent film projects of substance and enduring significance. Our projects support the passionate vision of the artist, while challenging and celebrating the world of ideas and human values. Through our collaborative partnerships with established and emerging filmmakers, Vulcan Productions explores creative opportunities
that result in engaging and inspirational storytelling."

Despite all this strangely contrasting character of Richard Hutton, I did learn a few key kernels of wisdom from him. The theme of balance between emotion and rationale (classic theme of "Crime and Punishment) came to play as Dr. Hutton mentioned (paraphrased): "The goal in media is to not communicate information, but to convey emotion." As Miriam Polne-Fuller would say, in order to soak in information, you first need to "hook the heart," or open the gateways of emotional stimulation (the famous Anatole France quote). In a more specific example, Dr. Hutton stated that no one really cares about the evolution-versus-intelligent-design case, but when you add the SOCIAL DIMENSION of a court case and a guy getting reamed in court, suddenly a science-religion debate is framed in an additional layer-context of human interplay, and then... with all the drama, people start to care. The audience gets a turmoil and pleasure watching an intelligent-design supporter getting reamed in court (e.g. my dad, as I already said). So here, comes another point. IN ORDER TO INPUT EMOTION INTO SCIENCE, YOU MUST ADD THE SOCIAL CONTEXT / SOCIAL LAYER TO FRAME THE SCIENCE. THEN INTERESTING STORIES COME OUT OF SCIENTIFIC TOPICS. THE COUPLED INTERNAL-EXTERNAL EFFECT: EMOTION<=>SOCIAL CONTEXT.

The concept of emotional stimulation though can go to an extreme; this is called SENSATIONALIZATION. This technique is used chronically by the news and by Hollywood. It is at a point in which emotions are used so much, they tremendously distort, skew, detract from the accuracy of information. I have seen this perhaps a bazillion times in wildland fire reporting within the southern California region. One extreme example is that during the October 2007 fires, CNN went to the extreme of calling their news series "Planet in Peril." EXCUSE ME? JUST BECAUSE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CHAPARRAL AND PINE FOREST ARE BURNING DOWN DOESN'T MEAN THE WHOLE PLANET IS. Typically scientific extrapolation in ecology now spreading like a disease to the news media. Geez. OH. EXCUSE ME. I SEE. LOS ANGELES IS THE UNIVERSE. Oh. I'm sorry. This is sickening, putrifying. So, in these cases, emotions overpower the portrayal of accurate information.

Dr. Hutton did NOT discuss the issue of sensationalization. Perhaps he doesn't have to deal with that in his own projects. He's a sullen, stoic person and it shows in his projects. I think he's more in the need of inputting MORE emotion into a film of information, and probably never had to deal with the issue of sensationalizing any of his work.

The resulting message from all this is that THERE NEEDS TO BE A COMPROMISE BETWEEN EMOTIONS AND RATIONALE. Like what I said earlier. I envision my "Dartboard Model" of human behavior I shared with Nancy Kawalek a few months ago. Can't wait to play the game again. And film it.

[Today I was also kind of depressed because I was supposed to do An Inconvenient Truth talk at UC Riverside. It would have been very fun, but this website stuff is interfering too much. Aaron and Erika, both Mary Droser's students, did great talks on Snowbacll Earth and all the biologists gave talks on global warming religious reasoning. I met Aaron before and he's a total energy spazz. My dad likes him a lot. Even likes him more because he was a semi-pro baseball player!]

Who is Judith Helfand?

We just watched the film "Blue Vinyl," which was an adventurist, comical, social-building-problem-solving film tracking the life cycle of vinyl and PVC (polyvinylchlorosomethingsomething, dude, I'm chemically illiterate, okay?), which makes up a great number of our products in the market. The problem is that PVC is "safe" in its "presentable form" at stores like Home Depot, but they are extreme hazards in the process of creation and disposal. I don't even think you CAN throw away PVC. Judith basically uses a knowledge classification schematic I invented in 2005 called "Ecological Structure and Process Knowledge" (ESPK), which I have mentioned before. The class really enjoyed the film and Judith Helfand, and before we know it, here she is, IN PERSON, at a free screening for her next film "Everything's Cool," a comical documentary on global warming. I unfortunately showed up late to the screening because I had just returned to UCSB from a "doctors' appointment," with crayons skewed all over my face... to be explained at a later time. Maria and I were both spazzed out to meet Judith in person. She's a very personable character. Very energetic, caring, sociable and a million times more inspiring. A stark contrast from Richard Hutton. Judith makes all possibilities within reach. Judith is well known for transforming dark, negative issues into positive, humorous adventures--transforming negativity into exploration and problem-solving. Using a negative, desperate experience as the driver for positive change. That would be my category of film-making. I still vividly remember her statement in "Blue Vinyl" how her condition of DES-related ovarian cancer in her early 20s (which was related to the behaviors of her mother) had led her to "Question Everything." Close enough to "Question Reality" for me!

I wonder whether these views of environmental issues are unique to Judith Helfand and Richard Hutton, or whether these viewpoints also span to more general perspectives of females and males and the environment. It seems like males thrive off of competition and warfare and women shake their heads at men's stupidity. And females are chronically into maintenance and problem-solving: the backbone to keeping families and homes together (a very "Grapes of Wrath" theme). So, it would seem that environmental problem-solving would be "second-nature" to the female mind. No wonder why there's this whole "eco-feminism" cult or fad... or whatever.

I heard "Everything's Cool" is a great film, but it also received negative reviews simply because the film focuses on notable people who are trying to do something about global warming, but are getting no where in the process. I suppose some people want resolution. I bet the film was fine, and that others just tend to be jealous and cynical.

Judith had a high affinity toward Maria de Oca: her energy, enthusiasm, combined with her unique Spanish accent would make interesting films. I would agree so. I heard that Lauren Wilson was the person who hooked Constance up with Judith coming all the way out to UCSB.

So, the question is, what did I learn from Judith Helfand? As I already mentioned. Use negative, desperate experiences as drivers for positive creativity and problem-solving. That is definitely my train of thought. A second thing I learned is that it's a very effective technique to have "common props" across varying-different landscapes as a form of establishing some level of constancy and similarity across the entire film. The common props has a "connect-the-dots" type of feel. Judith used a piece of vinyl from her parents house. For my rock crab film, I will use two things (I need some experimental back-up here): (1) plastic crab (2) real rock crab. The third thing I feel I have in common with Judith is something very subliminal. Can't have and won't have kids? Alternative solution: replicate yourself and your ideas through film and multi-media in general. This is my perspective right now. I think getting married and having kids is SOOO CLICHE: everyone does it and it's a great part of the environmental problem. As I have created a comical "I just can't settle like the other larval tunicates" song (did I already put that on this blog?) I even told someone that I would be ASHAMED to bring a child to life especially under this modern state of reality. I prefer memes over genes at this moment!

Judith offered some time at a bar, but Constance was tired. I hope I didn't come off as hyper and pushy that night. I bet I was. *Sigh.*

There is another notable person I met through Michael Hanrahan's course and his name is Bruce Rieberman, or Lieberman? Gosh, I don't know. He was there to rip up our one-minute pitches of our films. Michael overprepared the class, and we were all in fear of public humiliation. In the end Bruce was very nice to us. At first he seemed a little apathetic and uninterested, but he started to get really involved with our ideas. We had an opportunity to pitch our stories twice. By the end of the critiquing, Bruce was copying what I said: how everything we see and experience is surface value, and we need to dig up the story behind the surface, hence the Matrix effect. I said that! I SAID THAT FIRST! Geez. Well, it's nice someone listened. Dude, like giving away my ideas for free. Nothing better than getting ideas stolen. Just kidding. I have come to realize that ideas can only get stolen if the idea has truly embedded meaning in another person. Which is kind of difficult to do.

I'm going to be a little bit selfish here, but I fear the next class of Blue Horizons. I need to establish a vicious track record spring quarter in order to survive and compete in the local market of film-making. But first I need to release mental energy from the past.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel