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Entries in blogging (13)


What Happened to Samuel? Media Day Puts Horror Films, GDPR and Ice Cream Habits in Focus

Guest Filmmaker Samantha Tan attends Media Day. Photo by Dan Barends.Kicking off a weeklong Anniversary celebration, I hosted a meetup in May with Philly media and guest filmmakers, to preview the 2018 Short Film Slam. Following a chat about the pros, cons and hiccups of blogging platforms including Blogger, Squarespace, WordPress and Ghost, attendees were treated to a mix of trailers and full length shorts from Rounds I through III.

While media makers enjoyed the unique perspectives showcased in all of the films, shorts leaning toward the horror genre sparked the most discussion. In the suspense thriller, Samuel’s Got a Sweet Tooth directed by Angel Rosa, a strict disciplinarian delivers a sinister tale of her son's late-night penchant for ice cream. Media Day attendees disagreed with the momma character's rigid house rules for little Samuel, with whom they collectively empathize while watching this film. "I don't think I've ever eaten ice cream BEFORE 7pm," says Sarah, a local marketing and entrepreneurship maven.

See 'Samuel's Got A Sweet Tooth' directed by Angel Rosa at the 2018 Short Film Slam, Presented by The Madlab Post.Jacob, a local University student, also jokingly suggested that product labels be placed on ice cream containers to warn Samuel of potential side effects such as "this product can cause upset stomach and death."

 The chills continued with My Bedroom, an experimental horror film directed by Temple University student Samantha Tan who was also in attendance during Media Day. An Official Selection of the 2018 Short Film Slam, presented by The Madlab Post, My Bedroom is about a young girl named Emily who wakes up in the middle of the night because of the noises in her bedroom.

Sound design became a central focus after the screening, as Tan discussed her love for playing with sounds; choosing to utilize her strengths in post-production after deciding to shoot the movie without showing the main characters' faces. Tan’s use of voiceovers, sound effects and strategically placed human figures were some of the characteristics I like most about her film because it took a different approach to the horror genre; there is no one identifiable villain, running around stabbing, slicing and dicing people up.

See 'My Bedroom,' an experimental horror film directed by Samantha Tan in the 2018 Short Film Slam, presented by The Madlab Post.A viewer also commended Tan's approach and pointed out how horror films containing a lot of gore lessen the scare factor; whereas My Bedroom resonates with that terrifying feeling toward the unknown.

In addition to being nominated for a WILD CARD Award, Tan's film later prompted a discussion about dreams as Media Day attendees shared their own experiences with the frightening feeling of not being able to escape or wake up from a nightmare.

Speaking of nightmares, our topic of the day turned to the EU’s anxiety-inducing General Data Protection Regulations (otherwise known as GDPR) and its enforcement that went into effect last month. GDPR has become a major headache for bloggers, e-commerce businesses and even filmmakers who are still figuring out how to adhere to its tedious, confusing and time-consuming compliance demands -- so as to prevent having to deal with hefty fines up to 4% of a company’s annual global revenue OR €20 million (whichever is higher).

Discussing films, GDPR, dreams and nightmares at Media Day hosted by The Madlab Post. Photo by Dan Barends.I even considered just blocking the European Union altogether from my mailing lists, blogs and related online activity where data collection and management is involved. That was until Sarah reminded me of my Switzerland ties. 

Olivier van der Hoeven and I need to have a talk because this relationship is not exactly working for me right now. Although the topic of GDPR was an unexpected turn of events, this part of the Media Day discussion was quite enlightening and productive as attendees learned about a lady who developed resources that can get people up to speed on becoming GDPR compliant.

As it turns out, blocking the European Union may seem like a viable solution in theory but not the best in practice. Especially since that’s where a lot of the best films in the world come from such as Short Film Slam Finalist Just Go!, which was a favorite among Media Day attendees including photographer Dan Barends. In this action film, directed by Pavel Gummenikov, a young man who lost both his legs in a childhood accident comes to the rescue of the girl he loves when she is victimized by villains.

Attendees also appreciated the video presentation given by writer-producer G. Robert Daily, who introduced his comedy film Caregiver Wanted. Made in California, Daily's film is about an elderly man who had a stroke and is looking for a caregiver, yet, verbally attacks the candidates he interviews for the job.

See Julien Jennequin's French horror film Le Grand Show (The Big Show) at the 2018 Short Film Slam, presented by The Madlab Post.French filmmaker Julien Jennequin's Le Grand Show (The Big Show), a fantasy horror film about a family's tug of war over their TV, took an unexpected turn for Media Day viewers including one who commented on how the film became really political.

Attendees also noted how much they liked the acting performances in Cindy’s Birthday Party, a horror film directed by August Aguilar. Made in Philadelphia, Cindy's Birthday Party is about a child named Jonas who is the first to arrive to a birthday party and begins to worry when he notices there are no other children, decorations, and the party is in the basement.

Beyond witnessing how audiences responded to the dozen films on view, highlights of the day were learning more about what went into making My Bedroom directed by Samantha Tan, meeting new people and providing local media makers with networking opportunities, and a good time.

A fireside chat about sound design and voice acting with 'My Bedroom' director Samantha Tan. Photo by Dan Barends.

There are many great short films that people near and far have been missing out on…until now.

Want to watch these (and more) award nominees during the Short Film Slam, presented by The Madlab Post? CLICK HERE to be notified when the next screening is playing near you!


What is one of the scariest dreams YOU’VE ever had?

What concerns do YOU have about GDPR and how it can affect YOUR blogging, filmmaking or business activities?


What Wes Craven Taught Me about Blogging

“There’s always the fond hope that someday I’ll get to do something else, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m very good at making genre pictures, and I can express basically anything in them anyway.” – Wes Craven

Blogging landed me a contributing writer gig at an award-winning Hip-Hop magazine. It also broadened my horizons through French and Italian cuisine. It also helped me make a movie. It also put me in a position to collaborate with famous magicians. Yet, screenwriter and director Wes Craven’s perspective on being pigeonholed into horror films led me to understand that many of these gains pale in comparison to how writing a blog helped me push forward to create a little more life inside myself where there was none.

I learned how to focus on what I’m good at.

As you can tell from the Blockbuster video envelope, this photo is quite old but the machine is pretty much what I had to work with.

Committing to a long-term activity is a challenge for me sometimes.

The 30-day YouTube video series I worked on two years ago turned into a 30-video series as those initial 30 days turned into weeks and soon, two months flew by without one new upload.

I was editing the videos on an old, slow running computer that, after going through multiple repairs for other problems, started crashing while performing simple tasks.

I lost my enthusiasm and patience for the series after only eight videos into the project. It has yet to be completed. In the spring, I started a new YouTube series that was originally planned to be published in conjunction with my Mixed Bag of Tricks theme for the 2015 Blogging from A-Z Challenge. You'd think I'd know better after the "Making of" film series became more of a burden than a fun activity. Writing blog posts was the only thing that remained consistent throughout those (and other) attempts at growing my YouTube channel.

I completed the Blogging from A-Z Challenge five years in a row -- a prime example of being dedicated to finishing what I start when it involves writing. I have a few YouTube subscribers and know some people have watched videos I made but there isn't much activity on either side of the channel -- mine or the viewers. There is rarely ever a question of whether I should work on blog posts or not. It's a non-issue, as it must get done.

I feel like something is missing when it's been days since The Madlab Post was updated. Blogging has its moments of setbacks and annoyances but at the end of the day, I know I can do it. And I like it. It's fun. It gives me a chance to express viewpoints on subjects that matter to me while introducing people to films no one else would have likely told them about.

Made in Baltimore, the short film "Charlotte" directed by Angel Kristi Williams is playing Nov. 8th at the Driftless Film Festival in Wisconsin! Audiences at a film screening event I hosted in Philly were treated to the trailer during the movie previews.Blogging also helps me help filmmakers who put their blood, sweat and tears into making their dreams a reality. It's nice to be a part of that. Especially when people respond to it. People visit, read and comment on the blog posts I write here. Sometimes you agree. Sometimes the topic at hand doesn't float your boat. Either way, it helps to know that people relate to my blog posts, respond to them and spark conversations around them.

Blogging has allowed me to combine my experiences and fascination with the moviemaking process with the knack for creating things, even if the pieces being created are in written form.

I learned how to code somewhat.

Web development is not my forte but blogging expanded my knowledge in website building. I used to leave matters that had to do with the backend of a site up to other people who were well versed in that area. Then came the time when I wanted to change my header image, add sharing buttons and adjust various aspects of The Madlab Post, back when I had it hosted on Blogger. In those early days, I just used whatever options were available.

Since Blogger had templates, it was the answer to my preference for that set-it-and-forget-it type of backend management. I later became interested in third-party widgets, cool looking graphics and making adjustments to the design and layout of my blog. This led me to Blogger Buster, a website run by a woman named Amanda who writes tutorials on how to make all sorts of tweaks to your blog. I also read other tech websites and online forums where website owners in different industries discussed the ways in which they were able to get a certain result regarding the appearance or functionality of their site.

Amanda's Blogger Buster has gone through changes but this is what it looked like when I used to visit her website.From adding navigation menus and hyperlinks in blog comment signatures to resizing images and formatting posts without using a web-editor, blogging had me doing more coding than I ever thought I would. It's a benefit that has enabled me to utilize the HTML and CSS skills I’ve gained even when I’m not blogging, which helped me customize the website for my short film Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever and tweak other websites of mine.

I learned about leverage.

There was a time when I wanted to schedule an interview with a director whose feature film I heard about through the grapevine. His debut drama, about Marines getting ready for their first deployment, was gaining some buzz and I wanted to help spread the word. Except he was in California. I’ve never been to California and didn’t have the resources to just fly out there for the sole purpose of speaking with a man I never met, about a movie I had yet to watch.

Then, he said he’d be in New York soon for the screening of his film. That was a better bet. So, I went to New York, where I got to hang out with film and television executives, watch a handful of movies that I never knew existed, and chat with several promising directors about Tyler Perry, war in the Middle East and stereotypes of minorities portrayed in the media. While there, I also met his producer and ate calamari for the first time in my life. It wasn’t as gross as I imagined it would be. Later, I came home with new headshots, new friends and a better understanding of how the entertainment industry operates.

I learned how to enjoy the climb and not worry about results.

When developing film productions, I tend to focus on the end result. Will anything come of this? What will I gain from doing this? It’s a means to an end. There was a season years ago when I treated blogging that way too (see the lesson on sensationalism below) and I think the content suffered because of my choice to use it as a tool to get something else. Thankfully, I grew out of that phase and realized that the process of blogging is enough on its own. The opportunities, traffic, goods – monetary or otherwise, that result from blogging are icing on the cake. I already have the prize that is running a space where I get to express myself in this medium, inspire and enlighten people and hone my own voice.

The victory comes when I hit the publish button on each blog post I write. I’m not aiming to pimp out this blog for money, cars, clothes (shout out to Drake and Trey Songz!), accolades, being on the cover of magazines or landing a guest spot on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. If any of these things can be had from blogging, perhaps I’d be crazy not to welcome them but I won’t hold my breath waiting for such breakthroughs to arrive. That’s not the motivation behind why I blog. I create the kind content that I want to put out into the universe and for one reason or another, men and women in different parts of the world feel compelled to visit and read these writings. THAT is what I would call a win.

I learned about relationships.

(l-r): Le Anne from Tinsel & Tine and I at the 2014 Couch Fest Film ScreeningAround 2008, I started blogging about a scrappy shorts festival called Couch Fest, founded in Seattle by a cool man named Craig Downing. A few years later, I became one of the festival’s hundreds of hosts around the world who showed award-winning films to strangers on a single day. Another screening followed in 2014 and being involved with Couch Fest got me an interview with Tinsel & Tine, a website dedicated to food and film reviews.

The woman who runs Tinsel & Tine also attended my screening of the short films and later helped get the word out about an event I did this year for shnit CINEMAS Worldwide, an international film festival based in Switzerland with jury presidents including screenwriters Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious) and Paul Haggis (Casino Royale, Million Dollar Baby).

As a member of The Large Association of Movie Blogs (aka The LAMB), I’ve appeared as a guest on the LAMBcast, an iTunes podcast featuring select groups of men and women from all over the world who share a love of film. Before that, The LAMB published a guest post I wrote about the nominees for “Best Original Song” for The Lamb Devours the Oscars, a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards. Later that year, I was one of the presenters during The Lammys, an annual online awards event where members nominate and vote on the best movie blogs in various categories.

Once a year, a few dozen members gather for a meetup -- the most recent one took place in London. I wish I could’ve attended that one, or the previous gathering in Chicago or the one that happened in Las Vegas a few years ago during Academy Awards season. I hope to one day be able to attend and hang out with my fellow LAMBs in the flesh.

I learned about sensationalism.

Law & Order: SVU actress Mariska Hargitay had a baby and and Grey's Anatomy actress Ellen Pompeo got married. Good for them. But I don’t know how my blogging about it makes the world a better place. It doesn’t. Nobody cares and those that do need to get a life. There was a time when I thought writing about celebrities in the entertainment industry would help boost my blog traffic numbers (regardless of how relevant the topic was as it relates to my filmmaking goals). Then I would start earning tons of revenue from Adsense.

Aside from being in heavy rotation on my iTunes & Pandora playlists, this unapologetic "Nobody's Business" singer is also the leading actress in the animated movie "Home."Then a big media entity such as AOL would buy me out for six figures. Ok, now I’m kidding with that last part but wait, at what point did I go from wanting to be an Oscar winning movie director to being delusional enough to think that the celebrity “news” (à la Perez Hilton) type of path is the right one for me to follow? What the hell was I thinking?! Those blog posts didn’t gain much traction, and for good reason.

Although many other blog posts that I would consider to be more meaningful and contain more substance brought similar results, I am more proud of those pieces.

Even if there’s a chance that nobody will care anyway, I might as well write something worthwhile to share in the chance that someone stumbles upon it while perusing the interweb during their lunch hour.

I learned about what makes life worth living.

One day, I read something an author named James Altucher wrote about “push” being more important than “focus” in terms of life and success. He explained that the “the push is the ability to get up, open the curtains and push through all of the things that make you want to go back to sleep.” Altucher further simplified this by describing it as just pushing forward to create a little more life inside yourself.” There isn’t a time that I recall when I dreaded working on a blog post. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about my feelings toward filmmaking.

Blogging makes me want to get up and open those curtains, to meet what comes of whatever journey I find myself on from day to day. In that respect, I think I went from being an aspiring movie director who also blogs to becoming a blogger who works on films in various capacities. Conventional wisdom (or was it Mark Cuban?) states that if you want to know what someone cares about, pay attention to how they spend their time. If there is truth to this, then I suppose I must care more about blogging on the subject of movies and how they’re made, and writing screenplays, than I do about making films of my own.

Wes Craven on the set of slasher film "Scream."Wes Craven never set out to be known as the king of a genre that thrives on gore and terror. Using these movies, however, he played the cards Hollywood dealt him in a way that still managed to explore aspects of humanity that were are often ignored; subject matter he believed people were unwilling to confront.

Just as Craven found an upside to the limitations he encountered in his career, I’d like to use blogging as a vehicle to connect people with the kind of stories, artists, movers and shakers in film that fall under the radar, yet, have the power to impact lives in a positive manner if given the chance to do so.

When I studied filmmaking in school, most of the feedback I received from peers was that the stories in my projects were solid but there is room for improvement on the technical side. Outside of working on other people’s films over the years, I’ve written, shot, directed, produced and occasionally edited a few projects including one documentary, a one-minute comedy and a short buddy drama. During this time, I noticed a common, yet familiar, thread out in the real world -- people were drawn to the story structure more than the visuals. Add to that the numerous film festival rejections that came my way, financial burdens of making movies and no prospects on the horizon; I started to wonder if I was climbing up the wrong ladder.

During long breaks between film productions, I’ve also taken on opportunities to publish content for several websites and media companies. The difference between these two paths is going after a film career put me in debt whereas choosing to write articles put food on the table. Although that ship sailed some time ago and I have yet to pick up new freelance gigs, I’ve learned that my filmmaking approach just isn’t working. I’m just not the best at making films. I’ve also started to come to terms with the fact that I may be good enough to be better at writing screenplays, and blogging, than many others trying to build something helpful in the jungle of niche topics. I’m ok with that.

Wes Craven died of brain cancer just weeks after his 76th birthday in August 2015. RIPToday, I think there is no better way to acknowledge Día de los Muertos aka Day of the Dead – a Latin American holiday of mourning and remembrance; people celebrate the circle of life by honoring the deceased -- than by paying tribute to Wes Craven, a man with an English literature and psychology background who upgraded the horror film genre by way of social commentary throughout his body of work.

*This post was inspired by the evolution of James Altucher through games of chess

How do YOU celebrate the life of deceased loved ones?

What is YOUR favorite Wes Craven film?


Sunday Synopsis: Why Straight Outta Compton is the Movie that Saved My Summer

I rarely ever go see a mainstream movie in theaters on opening weekend. Yet Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about the rise and fall of rap group N.W.A (comprised of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, DJ Yella and MC Ren) somehow managed to get me out to the cinema.

Of all the reasons to see this film, I was mainly hoping that it would afford me a two-hour vacation from a challenging summer. In a few different ways, the summer of 2015 has been harsh on several members of my family, as well as that of one of my childhood friends. Then in late July I had a bit of an accident that put me out of commission at an inconvenient time. Suddenly, there were injuries to tend to and I was not able to work as often and as well as I planned. Since then I’ve done what I could where able but updating this blog was among the things that fell by the wayside during these last few weeks despite my attempts to finish writing drafts of a blog post for the Popcorn & Paninis series, here and there.

As you can imagine, not being able to operate at 100% in even the most basic of activities is no fun. If you take one thing away from today’s post, remember to always take good care of your body, never take it for granted, protect it in every way you can and pay attention to the things you’re doing, everyday, when you are doing them. The human body is such a magical machine; its amazing the kind of things it can do and I’m grateful that it has all sorts of superpowers to repair itself like other things in nature such as crops in a garden, forests, land, etc. Still its also worth keeping in mind that just because something can be reborn anew doesn’t always mean it will return in the same way.

Often I’ve gone to bed these last few months thinking this year sucks. The thing about life, however, is that if you keep moving, you will also have experiences that remind you it’s not so bad after all. I can think of maybe 7-9 days I’ve had this summer so far where things seem to be looking up and one of them is when I went to see Straight Outta Compton over the weekend. Ever since watching the movie trailer months ago, I’ve anticipated its release because I’ve been an Eazy-E fan for a long time. Funny enough, I was not introduced to his music by N.W.A but rather from the work he did with my favorite rap group of all time….Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

My familiarity with N.W.A came from vinyl record covers my mom had in the house, urban radio stations, MTV -- back when they were actually a music television channel -- and rap magazines sold at pharmacies like CVS, but I didn’t pay much attention to their songs.

Growing up, I knew more about the music of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from their solo careers than any of the content chronicled in the movie about their early, and rocky, journey to putting the West Coast on the map, as far as the music industry is concerned. The fast paced Straight Outta Compton plays like a visual timeline of events that shaped music history while bringing our country’s political and social matters to center stage....

One day, a group of friends are uniting to make music and earn money through legitimate means during a time when the LAPD’s war on gangs made the future very uncertain for minorities regardless of their innocence. The next day, these same friends incite a nation of activists fighting to exercise (and maintain) their freedoms against censorship, violation of civil liberties, racial profiling and police brutality.

The biggest takeaway I gleaned from this movie is how important it is for disadvantaged youth around the world to have access to quality education and opportunities. There is a scene in Straight Outta Compton where Eazy-E (played by Jason Mitchell) bails Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) out of jail after Dre, who was working as a local nightclub DJ, was arrested without cause. In this scene, Dre convinces Eazy-E to leave his days of selling drugs behind to build a record label. Both of these young men are motivated by money and believe in their dreams enough to recognize an opportunity in the combined skills of their friends -- namely the writing abilities of Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and record spinning talent of DJ Yella (played by Neil Brown, Jr.).

All five members of N.W.A may not have looked like your average college graduate but they were still smart where it counted....channeling their own individual knowledge and talent into a more promising future for themselves; one that stretches beyond the most dangerous streets of Los Angeles. Straight Outta Compton depicts the lives of young men who speak up for the voiceless, marginalized members of society; people like them who are struggling to rise against a culture – be that in law enforcement, government, media and/or communities outside of their own -- that is intent on stereotyping everyone as criminals and people undeserving of respect, based on zip codes or appearances.

Chris, an L.A. native who also came to see Straight Outta Compton told me this is the “best hip hop movie” he’s ever seen. Chris just happened to be in town visiting and is probably on his way back to California right now as I write this, so having never been anywhere on the West Coast myself, it was nice to be surrounded by that L.A. life both onscreen and off-screen even for a short moment.

Although I have not watched many hip-hop movies in total, this film is definitely the best summer movie I’ve seen lately thanks to F. Gary Gray’s strategic assembly of a story that is bigger than hip-hop. That is where Straight Outta Compton shines for me.

For example, I vaguely remember watching news reports about the Rodney King beating and subsequent court verdict on television. I was just a kid then and didn’t think much of it except for the remarks I overheard from conversations between my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other elders. Straight Outta Compton helped put some things in perspective in terms of the significance of that incident and what it meant for the state of affairs between citizens, government and law enforcement.

Historical factors aside, this was a very entertaining film that made me laugh, cheer inside with excitement and jam out to classic tunes more times than it made me angry, nervous or want to cry. All despite the woman and her accompanying group of theater goers whose rude and ignorant outbursts were unwelcome by the rest of us who came to actually watch (and hear) the movie. It was a joy to learn more about how some of the biggest names in music known today got their start. So although this summer brought me some unexpected setbacks and painful times, the day I saw Straight Outta Compton was indeed...a good day.

R.I.P. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright.

Straight Outta Compton is now playing.

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