DCPs

10+ years ago, when I was preparing Sita Sings the Blues for film festivals, I had to make heavy, unwieldy, and expensive 35mm film prints. Thankfully I don’t have to do that any more. Instead, today’s cinemas use DCP (for Digital Cinema Package) hard drives. These take advantage of advances in digital technology, as fucked up by a film industry that can’t cope with advances in digital technology. Thanks to the insane and byzantine encoding protocols designed by Hollywood to thwart what computers are inherently best at – copying – making DCPs has long been shrouded in mystery and prohibitive costs.

Since I’m cheap and have practically no income these days, I didn’t want to use a DCP-making service (called a “lab,” as if). Instead, after begging around for favors, and doing much research online, I made them myself.
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I used DCP-o-matic. It’s Free Software, created and maintained by Carl Hetherington, to whom I and many other small filmmakers owe a debt of gratitude. I can’t recommend it enough. Apparently many screening venues now use it themselves. I used it to make 2K and 4K DCP files, and English and French “version files” for subtitles. I also burned in English subtitles over “Paroles, Paroles.”

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Once I made the DCPs, I had to get them onto portable hard drives, which is no small task. You can’t just drag-and-drop copy them like normal files. Fortunately I found DCP Transfer. It’s not Free, but it is affordable – $25 a month (ugh, subscriptions) plus a $25 initial charge. Today my subscription auto-renewed, just in time for me to be gone for a month, so I contacted the company to cancel and they refunded it. That’s good service! The software works great, too. I had no problem formatting and copying DCPs onto most external hard drives. The exception was flash drives, aka thumb drives; these overheated and usually failed. It’s a pity, since flash drives are so small and convenient. But I found some relatively inexpensive 320GB USB3 portable hard drives, and made enough DCPs to satisfy film festivals.

Whatever my complaints about DCP, it sure beats making (and distributing!) film.

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Who is Producer X?

Astute observers of Seder-Masochism will notice one “Producer X” on the poster:

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This is consistent with the film’s opening credits:

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and end credits:

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Why? Who? WTF?

I made Sita Sings the Blues almost entirely alone. That caused an unforeseen problem when it came time to send the film out into the world: I was usually the only person who could represent it at festivals. Other films have producers who aren’t also the director. Other films also have crews, staff, multiple executives, and money. As SSTB’s only executive, I couldn’t be everywhere at once. Often I couldn’t be anywhere at once, due to having a life that includes occasional crises. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I could send an actor like Reena Shah, or musician like Todd Michaelesen, or narrator like Aseem Chaabra, or sound designer Greg Sextro. But most of the time it meant there was no human being representing the film when it screened at film festivals.

I’m even more hermitic now, and made Seder-Masochism in splendid isolation in Central Illinois. This time I worked with no actors, narrators, or musicians. I did try recording some friends discussing Passover, but that experiment didn’t make it into the film. Greg Sextro is again doing the sound design, but we’re working remotely (he’s in New York).

I like working alone. But I don’t like going to film festivals alone. And sometimes, I can’t go at all.

Such as right now: in June, Seder-Masochism is having its world premiere at Annecy, but I have to stay in Illinois and get surgery. I have an orange-sized fibroid in my cervix, and finally get to have my uterus removed. (I’ve suffered a lifetime of debilitating periods, but was consistently instructed to just suck it up, buttercup; no doctor bothered looking for fibroids over the last 30 years in spite of my pain. But now that I’m almost menopausal, out it goes at last!)

Film festivals are “people” events, and having a human there helps bring attention to the film. The reason I want my film in festivals is to increase attention. The more attention, the better for the film, especially as a Free Culture project. So I want a producer with it at festivals.

Fortunately, Producer X has been with Seder-Masochism from the very beginning. After Sita’s festival years, I knew that credit would be built into my next film.

So who is Producer X?

Whoever I say it is.

She’ll see you in Annecy!

New York City! Seder-Masochism Work-In-Progress Benefit April 21 at IFC

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Thursday, Apr 21, 2016 7:30 PM EDT
IFC Center, New York, NY

You must purchase advance tickets for this event.

All singing! All dancing! All 40+ minutes of my feature-film-in-progress, Seder-Masochism! This is not the finished movie, but the core musical scenes animated in Flash. While I take a production break to learn new software to make the rest of the film, let’s watch all these crazy scenes together in a theater. Featuring:
Goats!
Egypt!
Plagues!
Death!
Idols!
Commandments!
Unsubtle phallic imagery!
…and MORE!

FREE MATZOH!

Big thanks to my friends at GKIDS for making this happen.

Seder-Masochism is Nina Paley’s second feature film, currently in production. Like its predecessor  Sita Sings the Blues, it’s an animated musical – but this time it’s based on the Passover story, the Book of Exodus. In spite of being an irreverent atheist, Nina is also a card-carrying Jew, entitling her to make scenes such as the now-famous This Land Is Mine:

Here are a few stills and animated gifs from the project:

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Thirsty Hebrews charged on by increasingly frustrated Moses

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snake dancer jewish4 gif

Moses Aaron2

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The Blue Carpet

Through this cinéma vérité documentary, you too can experience what it’s like to be a nobody on the red (actually blue) carpet, navigate ridiculous security theater, shake the hands of countless strangers, smile nervously, and above all, lose.

Featuring Nina Paley, Alistair Milne, Steven Beer, and dozens of celebrities and/or nobodies whose names I forget and whose permission I don’t have, so sue me. Camera: Nina Paley, with Steven Beer. Edited by Nina Paley in 2011.

Attention Economics


Today I viewed a small art quilt show. Many of the quilts were quite beautiful. Still, it took my friend and I less than half an hour to view everything, on two floors. We spent no more than a few minutes contemplating each one, lingering longest on the ones we liked most, less on the ones we liked least. We weren’t in a hurry; a few minutes of attention was all we needed to spend to be satiated (I would have spent a bit more if touching the quilts was appropriate, but that seemed like a no-no).

These quilts took countless hours to make. I’d estimate about 20 hours for each piece, though that may be conservative (they were all smallish wall hangings – no bed-size quilts here, which take much longer). All those hours, so someone could look at it for a minute or two. How many people would have to attend to a quilt to “break even” the attention the artist put into it?

That I even frame a question like this means I’m thinking about attention economics. I ruminated on this concept a lot (before I knew there was a name for it) while working on Sita Sings the Blues. Usually the only investment in films people recognize is money. SSTB was ultra-low budget money-wise, but I gave it 3 years of near-constant attention. Every day I asked myself if “enough” people would view the finished product. My reckoning went something like this:

60 hrs/week (approx) x 156 weeks (3 years) = 9,360 attention hours

Finished film is 82 minutes long; add a few extra attention minutes to learn about before/discuss after  rounds up to 90 minutes = 1.5 hours

9,360 attention-hours / 1.5 hrs attending time  = 6,240 pairs of eyeballs

Therefore the film would need 6,240 viewers for me to “break even” on my attention investment. Today millions of people have seen SSTB, but at the time, 6,240 was a reasonable goal. Because of all the views of the film, I’ve turned a very large attention profit.

My daily comic strip, Mimi & Eunice, currently has about 1,200 subscribers (yay!). It takes me about 1/2 hour to produce a Mimi & Eunice strip; there’s also organizing them on my hard drive, uploading and scheduling them, and thinking about them for whatever reason. So I’ll err on the high side: 1 hour of my attention per strip. Let’s say the average viewer spends .5 minutes (30 seconds) attending to that day’s comic. 1,200 x .5 = 600 minutes = 10 hours. I’m getting a whopping 10-to-one attention profit on Mimi & Eunice! I’m rich!

Even if subscribers only attend for 15 seconds, I’m still getting back 5 times the attention I put into it. That’s a lot of profit!

Back to the quilts. An art quilt that takes 20 hours to make needs 1,200 people to view it for 1 minute each to break even. Of course, some individuals may spend much longer attending to a finished quilt – 10 minutes, say – while others will breeze past, barely glancing at it. I wonder what the attention profit margin is of the art quilts I saw today?

My own large art quilts are taking about 60 to 80 hours each to design and make. They’re currently running an attention deficit. But I have a plan….

My New Hobby

is sewing/quilting/embroidery/textile arts.

Here’s my first quilt ( a small one, 29″ x 17.5″) which I finished last night. It’s for my Momz, who requested “a nude with all the bells and whistles.”

Everything I learned from teh interwebs, which is full of quilting information and many good videos. I especially like the web site & videos of Leah Day, who makes free motion quilting look much easier than it is. Leah shares her videos and knowledge freely, which works – I’m a fan now, and spent over $250 at her online quilting store. It’s a business model I’m familiar with.

Speaking of business models, there’s an argument made by copyright advocates that no one would do anything creative without monetary (or monopoly) incentives:
Incentive to Create

My past few weeks exploring quilting confirms this is absolutely not true. In less than a month of getting myself set up with a sewing machine, fabric, threads, and other supplies, I’ve probably shelled out $1,000. It started with an inexpensive sewing machine ($250), but then I needed special feet for it, and cutters, and an iron, and pins, and threads, and batting, and fabric, and a sewing table, and IKEA drawers to hold all this stuff, and on and on. And that was being budget-conscious; I could easily spend a lot more. In fact I really, really want a longer machine with more space under the arm; unfortunately those cost about $3,000.

I’m not alone: tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans pay for the privilege to create, not the other way around. Most quilters are not paid; most actually give their work away, to family, friends and charities. That’s folk art, people: it’s not done for money. And yes, it is art.

It’s very much like filmmaking, which is now a folk art.

“The film business has never been a business. It’s always been a hobby.” –someone whose name I don’t remember at a film conference I attended last year

Even setting aside independent film productions, which are hobbies in business clothing, most people spend more on video cameras and computers than they’ll ever get back selling their work. With the spread of cheap animation software, animation is now a folk art too. With the rise of print-on-demand self-publishing, novel-writing is also becoming folk art (Pirates of Savannah by Tarrin Lupo is what I’d call a folk art novel). All the super-elite arts of the 20th Century are becoming folk art.

Would I still like to make money with this? Yes, I would. But I’ve already spent plenty of money with no promise of monetary return. It’s been worth it so far, because learning has been exhilarating. Hopefully traditional folk arts, like quilting, will continue to gain respect as “real” art, even as “real” arts are adopted by the masses. I confess I would like to sell original pieces, if I keep making them. It’s really up to my Muse.

After the jump are some pictures of the making of “Eve,” which took 3 days (4 if you include the day I designed it):

Continue reading My New Hobby

The Betty Boop Festival

Boy have I been remiss in posting news. First item: I spent last weekend in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, attending the Betty Boop Festival.

There I learned about the fascinating subculture of Betty Boop collectors. Betty was big in Japan in the 1930’s – I had no idea. I wish there were pictures of Japanese Betty collectibles online I could share with you, but there aren’t; maybe Betty collectors are all cagey due to the intense licensing restrictions that surround the character.

I also learned more about animation legend Grim Natwick, who grew up in Wisconsin Rapids before moving to LA and changing cultural history.

I met a lot of people including Madison filmmaker Robert Lughai, who blogged this Boop Festival report with photos. I also met the venerable Maggie Thompson of the venerable Comic Buyer’s Guide, who shares her Boop Festival report.

Sita in L.A.!

Sita in LA

Angelinos! SITA SINGS THE BLUES comes to LA for a 1-week engagement on 4/23 at:

The Laemmle Music Hall 3
9036 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, Ca 90211
tel: 310-478-3836


Sita #1 rated film on Rotten Tomatoes

Sita Sings the Blues is Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed film of the year. Today, anyway. To preserve this precious moment, I took a screen shot.

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The Vegetarian at the Butchers’ Seminar

Yesterday I attended a film conference. I found myself at a talk in which filmmakers were advised how to negotiate deals.

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I felt sick listening, and wondered why. Monopolies were an unquestioned, underlying assumption. When the time came for audience comments and questions, I said that rights were monopolies, that monopolies prevent the market from functioning, that distributors can be great if they’re not granted monopolies, and that it’s up to us artists to not grant those monopolies in the first place.

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Naturally, the speaker wasn’t too thrilled with my comment.

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If filmmakers realized monopolies don’t serve them, he’d be out of a job (he’s one of the many professionals who “help” artists by “protecting” them). Later, I came up with a  metaphor (or meat-aphor) that helped explain my feelings: being a Free Culture advocate at a film conference is like being a vegetarian at a butchers’ seminar.

As a vegetarian I’ve learned better than to discuss dietary habits with the many carnivores who are my friends and loved ones. So I’m questioning what I’m doing at these conferences. I wouldn’t walk into a butchers’ conference and advocate vegetarianism. But what would I do if I were invited, because some of the butchers wanted to learn about vegetarianism, if only to marvel at its freakishness?

Quality, Freedom, Money: Choose Two

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People seem to want to believe that just freeing works is some magic recipe for success. It isn’t. But since people crave simple business models, I came up with one this morning:

Quality
Freedom
Money
______
Any Two = success

A very good (Quality) film can succeed if it is Free (Freedom) OR has a big promotional budget (Money). A Free film can succeed if it is very good (Quality) or, if it’s not so good, it has lots of paid promotion (Money, because if it’s not good people won’t promote it on their own initiative). A film with lots of Money will succeed if it’s good (Quality) or if it’s Free. Imagine how much further a crap film could go if it’s not only heavily advertised, but Free to share too.

With only one of these properties, a film is unlikely to succeed. If a film is very good but neither Free nor Moneyed, no one will hear about it and it won’t have a chance to become popular. A Free film that sucks won’t go far. A Moneyed film will garner attention only as long as it’s being promoted; once ad spending stops, audience attention goes away.

With all three of these elements, you’ll have a success the likes of which the world has never seen. Moneyed productions have yet to be Free, but maybe someday, for some reason, someone will pour tons of cash into promoting a Free, Quality production. Of course if it fails, that will be due to insufficient Quality, which can’t really be measured and for which no one wants to take responsibility. If someone wants to try this experiment with Sita Sings the Blues, which is already considered “good” and is forever “free,” be my guest!

Given the financial dire straits of the independent film industry, filmmakers should really be looking at Free, because they’re unlikely to have Money. And everyone, always, should be focused on Quality, no matter what business model they prefer. Except Quality is a mystery, and worrying about it does not lead to better Art. But if you happen to luck into some Quality, you know what to do now.

Happy Evilest Holiday Ever Devised!

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To celebrate, there are not one but TWO count ’em TWO screenings of The Greatest Break Up Story Ever Told this Sunday, February 14th at Symphony Space:

Sun, Feb 14 at 1 pm and 5:30 pm

It’s a perfect non-date movie! And I’ll be there in person for post-screening Q & A’s.

Love to my single peeps!

Sita in San Francisco Feb 9-11

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I miss San Francisco, my former home! But not so much I’m willing to go through airport security. Those of you who are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area may enjoy Sita Sings the Blues on the big screen at the Red Vic:

Tues Feb. 9 – 7:15, 9:15
Wed Feb. 10 – 2:00, 7:15, 9:15
Thurs Feb. 11 – 7:15, 9:15

The Red Vic Movie House:

The Red Vic Movie House is located on 1727 Haight Street (map),between Cole and Shrader, just a block and a half east from Golden Gate Park. The Red Vic is also served directly by MUNI routes: 7,33,37,43, & 71.MUNI route 6 & N-Judah come within a few blocks.

Sita Sundays @ Symphony Space

Sita Sings the Blues plays the next 3 Sundays at Symphony Space in New York:

Sun, Jan 31 at 5:30 pm
Sun, Feb 7 at 5:30 pm
Sun, Feb 14 at 1 pm and 5:30 pm

I will be doing Q and A’s after all shows. Notice there are two screenings on Valentine’s Day, because what better to show on the evilest holiday ever devised than the Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told? It’s the perfect non-date movie!



“The Revolution Will Be Animated”

An excellent new 16-minute documentary by Marine Lormant Sebag about Free Culture, Sita Sings the Blues, and me. Please watch it – it’s good and it explains a lot!

The Revolution Will Be Animated from Marine Lormant Sebag on Vimeo.