Wannabe Written by John Shea   
Wednesday, 19 October 2011 21:28

Hey kids. In case you haven't noticed, this page hasn't updated in a long time. There's a reason for that. I set up a new blog.

This old site was built for the days when it would get hundreds of thousands of hits a month and we had multiple writers. That's not the case anymore. I've given up being a critic and certainly don't want to be any sort of film journalist. I want to make my own movies. So there is only one writer here and I don't need this many options. I just needed a simple blog.

This site was started in 1998 and contains literally thousands of pages. It's too much work to condense it all somehow, so I'm leaving it here, as is. Untouched. It's a record of what I and the many other great writers did here. Going forward, you'll find me at my blog. It's at the same site, just a different, simpler set up. I'm too busy writing scripts, learning how to film and how to create special effects to have the time to write in great detail here. It's just small sporadic updates, so you can know I'm still alive and kicking and getting something done. I still have the itch to write on the site all the time, I've just had to ignore it.

And man do I hate the word blog. But, it's what people call them, so I'm stuck with it.

So that's it here. Look for me here instead. And I'll be shutting down the comments on this part of the site. I just don't have the time or energy to smack around the spammers on this part of the site.

 
 
Photo Blog Written by John Shea   
Sunday, 13 February 2011 02:45

Sunset Snow stormThere is a good reason I carry my camera with me just about every where I go.  It is this picture.  It seems half my life I've been having the thought that I could have taken a great photo if I had a camera with me.  The 365 day photo project has forced me to take a camera with me all the time.  It was a slow lesson to learn.  Months went by before it fully clicked into my somewhat slow to react brain that having the camera with me meant not missing opportunities.  Today may be the greatest result.

I looked out the window and noticed that it was snowing.  This was followed by a grunt of disgust and the usual internal rant about the weather this year and how sick I am of snow.  But in the middle of the rant I noticed something odd.  The snow wasn't white.  It was orange.  And that's when it hit me that the snow was being lit from the side by the setting sun peeking through a break in the clouds.  I don't know about you but I can't really recall many times when I've seen the sun and falling snow together.  So I grabbed the camera and raced outside to start taking photos.  The effect lasted less than five minutes.

Lesson learned.

 
 
Photo Blog Written by John Shea   
Saturday, 05 February 2011 15:33

Monkey pleads for his life from carnivorous childThis isn't an installment of my 365 day photo project.  This is just because I'm being amused by the monkey.

In this installment, we see the monkey pleading for his life before the carnivorous child starts feeding on his succulent monkey brains.  They're a delicacy you know.

 
 
Photo Blog Written by John Shea   
Friday, 04 February 2011 00:25

Day 284: Snow monkey languishes in prisonThe one thing that stands out to me about doing a 365 day photo project is the ups and downs.  There are weeks where I can do no wrong.  My camera sees gold everywhere.  And then there are weeks where it all comes out grey and bland.  I'm asked frequently if I'll do this again.  My answer depends on what phase I'm in.

Lately it's felt like a down cycle.  Part of it is the feeling that I've exhausted my supply of available shots.  In other words, I need to start trying to manufacture some pictures.  My lack of pleasure in shooting lately tells me I need to push myself more.  Instead of waiting for something cool to photograph, I need to create something.  The down side of that is that it takes more time to work that way and time is my most precious commodity.  We'll see what happens next.

Today's shot is a combination of luck and creativity.  This monkey belongs to my youngest son.  I've always found its sad eyes to be a bit disturbing.  So that thought has been in my head for quite some time now.  Today he dropped it between the car and the house and I went back outside to retrieve it.  When I picked it out of the snow I had a sudden flash of inspiration.  I placed it behind a fence and put those creepy sad eyes to good use.  Maybe not a genius shot but it's pretty good.

On a technical note, this shot convinced me I need to invest in some ND filters.  I wanted a shallow depth of field for this shot but the glare off the snow was so severe that it was impossible to do without blowing out the background completely.  I had to close the aperture quite a bit to keep that from happening.  But doing that makes for a much more focused background.  Using neutral density filters I could have shot it the way I wanted.  One more item for the shopping wish list.

 
 
Photo Blog Written by John Shea   
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 03:25

Red-bellied woodpeckerSometimes I can be incredibly dense.  For instance, this picture.  I spotted the woodpecker having lunch on the suet cage on my front porch so naturally I grabbed the camera.  That's why I put out food for birds, so I can take their picture.  Then I started the mental check list for taking a photo.  Focus, composition, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, etc.  In all of this I completely failed to notice that I was framing this bird against the big bold background of the flag.  I'd like to take credit for trying to turn Woody Woodpecker into Patton or Captain America, but that would be a lie.  The flag was just there.  I wasn't paying it any attention at all.

Not that I'm complaining.  I like this photo a lot.  I just don't want to take credit for being smart when I was actually being pretty dense.  Truth be told, I hate taking credit or praise for much of anything.  My mother used to yell at me all the time for that.  "Why can't you just take the damn compliment and say thank you?"  Damned if I know.  It's not like I don't have a fragile ego in need of feeding.  I certainly want the praise and attention.  You don't run a website for more than a decade without being something of an attention whore.  But as soon as I get it, I try to deflect it.  And right now I'm trying to deflect it before anyone has a chance to offer it.

That says something about me.  And probably not something flattering.

Anyway, enjoy the photo.  I'm taking my increasingly neurotic ass to bed.

 
 
Photo Blog Written by John Shea   
Tuesday, 25 January 2011 23:16

Day 275: The KingI hope saying this doesn't make me sound like some sort of egocentric pretentious art goon, but I really love this photo I took today.  Mostly because it was the result of simply experimenting.  My son was doing his homework and I was there just to make sure he stayed focused and didn't wander off to investigate the sound of Phineas and Ferb in the other room where his younger brother was enjoying himself.

I started picking up random toys and tinkering with them, looking for some interesting shot.  Most of it was rubbish.  And then I hit on the idea of this car blurring as it moved through the shot.  I played with longer and longer exposures, perfecting the blur and then the angle.

The final innovation was shooting it backwards.  I had been pushing the car toward the lens on the mistaken theory that a car moves forward.  I eventually realized that if I started with the car close to the lens and then pushed it away, I could guarantee the eyes being sharp and focused.  Going toward the lens, this was just about impossible.  The added bonus was that the car became something of a ghost.

And even better yet, I didn't go outside for this shot.  For almost two weeks straight I've been shooting snow and ice.  Sure, those are fascinating targets but I'm getting sick of them.  That may have more to do with the relentless diet of snow and freezing cold weather of late than anything photographic though.

 
 
Photo Blog Written by John Shea   
Sunday, 23 January 2011 13:10

Day 272: Birch SeedsIt's been awhile since I've been posting my photos here.  Laziness really.  They go up every day on my Flickr page and get tweeted, so I'm still posting them.  But the laziness wells up and drags me under, making sure that the blog always suffers.  That's what blogs are for I believe.  You either post the hell out of them and get popular, post the hell out of them and get ignored until you shoot someone, or just ignore them outright, apart from the occasional pity post in which you apologize to a non-existent audience for not posting.

Ahem.

So here's my latest photo.  One in a long string of photos featuring snow and ice.  That's all we have here right now folks.  It's the harshest winter we've had in some time now.  An endless stream of big dumpings of snow, interrupted by the occasional blast of sub-zero temperatures.

I'm off to work.  That will keep me from the pleasure of playoff football.

Sigh.

 
 
Psychotic Reactions Written by John Shea   
Tuesday, 18 January 2011 14:11

It's been awhile since I've had the urge to act like a film critic. A few years ago I hung up the notebook. My heart was no longer in it. The idea had finally sunk into my thick head that I wanted to make movies rather than criticize them. This is not meant to defame critics. They serve an important purpose and the good ones are invaluable. The others... well, let's not get into that. Since making my decision I've been working hard at writing and the process has changed my perception of movies.

 

This top ten list is not the product of a critic but someone with an eye toward creating films. It's not about film criticism but instead what grabs me as a film maker. That's really what I wanted to write about, the power of film and what I'm trying to learn and (hopefully) apply from it.

 

To get on this list, the movie has to be one that I am drawn back to powerfully. Something about it, be it the cinematography, acting, writing or directing is so powerful that I want to experience it over and over again. In my days as a critic, at times my top ten lists could include movies that impressed me with their virtuosity but I never went back to revisit. That won't be the case here. Every movie on this list is one I've either seen more than once or can't wait to see again. This is about being deeply in love with a film. Something about them touched me in a way that makes me unreasonably happy.

 

10. Shutter Island

I'm a sucker for unreliable narrators. I doubt any of us are ever completely honest when describing our self or our lives. So when a movie effectively takes the viewpoint of a character and then slowly lets us know that person is either lying to us or themselves, I'm hooked. Martin Scorsese layers on the hints and clues through out the movie, making sure we know something is wrong. We just can't tell what. And he doesn't go for the sudden moment of yanking the rug out from under us. It's a slow build and he lets gives his actors the space to add to the mystery in their own ways. This is a movie that plays even better the second time around as you watch the movie with new eyes.

 

9. Micmacs

You almost certainly didn't see this movie. It came and went from theaters without causing a ripple. I would have missed it myself if I hadn't been tipped off by my friend, the astute William Bibbiani. See? Good critics do serve a purpose. This French movie is a delightfully whimsical tale of revenge. Yes, you read that right. It is about people living in a junkyard, building inspired contraptions and using their odd talents to seek revenge on a pair of weapons manufacturers. The creativity and cleverness on display here is such that I stared at the screen with a big goofy grin on my face almost the whole way through. There is a theme running through the movie about human ingenuity, particularly when struggling with obstacles, that I found irresistible.

 

8. How To Train Your Dragon

This movie caught me off guard. I try to take my kids to just about anything aimed at them, because I love movies and want them to love them too. Most of the time, the kiddie flicks are rather lacking but you have to start somewhere. So my expectations weren't terribly high. Dreamworks hadn't exactly been knocking it out of the park with their animated movies of late. Boy did that change in a hurry. The core of this movie is the developing relationship between the viking Hiccup and a dragon he names Toothless. The connection between them and how it grows over the movie is just masterful storytelling. And it builds up to a scene of the two flying that took my breath away. That might be my single favorite scene of the entire year. It's gorgeous and exhilarating and comes as the payoff to a slow build up of friendship that gives it a powerful emotional punch that floored me.

 

7. Toy Story 3

What are the odds that a third movie in a series is going to even be good, never mind excellent? How many third movies can you think of that are genuinely great? All I can come up with are Return of the Jedi and Return of the King. Add Toy Story 3 to that list. I have a love for Pixar that borders on creepy obsession. And yet every time a new Pixar movie comes out, I think this is the one that finally lets us down. Nobody puts out a streak of great movies like this. No one. And yet their streak remains intact. This movie has probably the most powerful emotional punch of this entire list. The third act is so deeply moving that I spent almost all of it literally biting my tongue to avoid letting out large embarrassing sobs. Kudos to screenwriter Michael Arndt who is quickly becoming one of my favorites (he previously wrote Little Miss Sunshine).

 

6. The King's Speech

This is the movie on the list that gets where it is by being so thoroughly good on all levels that it seems almost unreal. I caught this as the final film at the FilmColumbia festival. I knew absolutely nothing about it at the time, apart from having caught constant whispers from various folks at the festival saying it was the best of the bunch. That wasn't quite true but it was damn close. The performances by Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth are great in that they don't feel like performances. They feel like real people and thus their relationship builds in a satisfying manner. It's quite similar to How To Train Your Dragon, minus the scales and flying. But it too culminates in a moment that carries a great emotional moment. It's also a gorgeously shot film. The scene where Bertie and Lionel argue in the fog is one of the prettiest of the year.

 

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

It was a box office flop sadly. But probably a predictable one. The comic book geek set was sure to attend and most everyone else saw the trailer and asked, “What the hell was that?” It's a fair enough question. It's a movie bursting with so much creativity and style that you'll probably need to watch it a bunch of times just to catch every little thing. I always had a problem with musicals because everything would stop for a musical number because someone was having an emotional moment. This movie takes the same approach, except it substitutes wild superhero level fight scenes for dancing. Writer/director Edgar Wright was already a favorite of mine thanks to Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. But working without longtime partner Simon Pegg for the first time in a movie, he proved his brand of genius is genuine.

 

4. The Social Network

Two minutes into this movie I was marveling at the breakneck pace of the dialogue. A couple minutes later I had forgotten about that and become thoroughly fascinated with this cinematic version of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. Is he true to the real life figure? I don't know and I don't care. As a movie character he is impossible to take your eyes off of. Writer Aaron Sorkin has outdone himself with this script. And in the gifted hands of director David Fincher, this movie is deeply engrossing. The best compliment I can give it is that when it ended, I really wanted it to keep going. I didn't even care where it would go, just that it would.

 

3. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Early in this movie the street artist known as Banksy sits down for an interview and says that this is about a guy who tried to make a movie about Banksy but turned out to be a lot more interesting instead. That alone could make for a great documentary but add in the birth and growth of a new art scene and a truly deft approach to the immortal question of what qualifies as art and you have something special. It is funny, surprising and deep. Talk to someone about this movie and you'll find that it's just about impossible not to get into a lengthy debate about the issues dealt with in it. And don't let the subject matter turn you off. I knew next to nothing about Banksy or street art in general and dearly loved this movie. So much so that I went back and watched it the very next day and have been trying to talk people into seeing it ever since.

 

2. Inception

This movie may inspire even more debates than Exit Through the Gift Shop does. It seems like just about everyone comes away from this movie with a slightly different take on it. Love it or hate it though, they all want to argue about it with anyone else who has seen it. I'll sidestep all that because I'm not interested in debating the details right now. I just want to talk about how much I love it's (literally) multiple levels, fascinating ideas and amazing visuals. The anti-gravity hallway fight left my jaw on the floor. And I'm also thrilled that an intelligent movie based on no previous movie/book/TV show/video game/board game/comic book/fortune cookie could be a monstrous hit at the box office. It's a message that Hollywood desperately needed to hear this year.


1. Black Swan

If you told me last year that my favorite movie of this year would be about ballet, I would have hurt myself laughing. This is one of the things that I love about movies. Done well, any subject can make a great movie. And it only took the opening sequence to suck me in. It's an astonishing moment where the camera follows the ballet from just a couple feet behind. We're so used to static wide angle shots of ballet that completely fail to capture the power and elegance of it. And from that moment on we're plunged into a world of a woman desperate in her quest for perfection. Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her life. I mentioned earlier that I love an unreliable narrator. Here we have a deeply unhinged one. Director Darren Aronofsky isn't going for subtle here. He sets an unrelenting tone of ambition and paranoia that is incredibly effective. His earlier film Requiem for a Dream was similarly unrelenting in pounding on the viewer but with Black Swan, Aronofsky finds a much deeper emotional ground. So instead of feeling beat up, the audience can be frightened, disturbed and exhilarated.


Really quickly, let me say that my list is imperfect as I didn't see every movie. Notable misses include 127 Hours, Never Let Me Go, The Fighter and Blue Valentine. I'm sure I'll catch up to them eventually but for what I actually saw in 2010, this is an accurate list.

 

Just as quickly, let me toss out a few honorable mentions. Mike Leigh's Another Year is a sweet comedy that is warmly endearing. The indie comedy Tiny Furniture is uncomfortably funny and a bit of a breakthrough for digital film making. It was shot entirely on Canon 7D DSLRs, which use the exact same sensor as the camera I use. If you know cameras, you're impressed right now. Winter's Bone is a great indie drama that perfectly captures an area. I've also found the reaction of people to it can tell you a lot about that person. True Grit is the best western we've had in many a year. Red Hill is a kick ass Australian revenge thriller pseudo-western. Finally, I loved White Irish Drinkers, but it's actually coming to theaters in 2011, so call it an early contender for the next top ten list.

 
 
Wannabe Written by John Shea   
Tuesday, 28 December 2010 15:55

Hey kids.  Remember me?  Of course you don't.  I'm the guy who sporadically runs this place.

Yeah, I haven't bothered to post in over a month now.  The guilt eventually got to me.  This site is my browser's homepage so I get a daily reminder that I'm not posting here.  But time has been an issue, which means something has to give and as usual, it's the blog.  So let's get back to speed, shall we?

I finished NaNoWriMo successfully.  With one day to spare I hit 50,095 words on my novel Straw Nation.  And then I stopped for a couple days, picked it back up, stopped, picked it back up and then stopped.  The story isn't close to being finished but I am putting it aside for now.  This was a great experience and I learned a lot from it.  And I do intend to finish the novel.  Just not now.  Novel writing was an experiment.  I wanted to know if I could do it.  I can, so now I can move on.

And for anyone keeping score, Sam Brady beat me to the finish line.  I thought I had him but over Thanksgiving I stopped for a few days and he shot right past me.

So at this point, it sounds like laziness to put the novel down.  Why not finish after putting in all this work?  Because other things are burning in my brain.  I tend to have several ideas churning in my head at one time.  They pick up little bits and pieces here and there, gaining mass and interest over months or years.  And then suddenly they hit a tipping point and I have to start writing immediately.  That's what happened here.  One script idea came to me about six years ago and I started writing it but because it hadn't gone through that churning process, it lost steam and died quickly.  When my mom died earlier this year, that idea started churning again.  I'm not exactly sure why.  The idea is for a horror movie, which involves death, so maybe that's what it was.  I don't know.

Over the course of the year it has been simmering, picking up stray ideas here and there.  In the course of writing the novel, this script idea crossed the tipping point.  One last idea hit me, a direct result of writing the novel, and it was the perfect last piece of the puzzle.  Suddenly that story idea bloomed, coming fiercely alive.  I kept putting it off, because I was already writing something else but it keeps pestering me, demanding my time and attention.  At last it seemed for the sake of sanity, I needed to start working on it.

That's where I am now.  For a change of pace, I'm going to outline this one completely.  I've never successfully managed that before.  Being a card carrying member of the just wing it school of writing, outlines are generally anathema to me.  But I want to give that process a chance, if for no other reason than so many writers use it.  I'm going to couple that with another new method.  The reason that I free write most everything is because that's how I find my characters.  I let them talk to each other in my head, writing all of it down as they go.  That's how I figure out who they are, by listening to them talk.  I have to go back and chop out most of it later but it's a useful method.  Outlining makes that process difficult.  So I will write dialog with no intention of using it in the script.  It will be off to the side, completely unrelated, just so I can hear the characters talk before letting them walk around in the story.

The plan is to spend another week on this process before starting the actual script.  Then I want to write as fast as my fingers (and time) will allow.  I tend to enjoy my work more when it comes out at top speed.  At least for the first draft.

For now at least, I'm calling this script Unholy.  I'll try to keep you posted.

 
 

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