Jimmy Wong ‘09.5 – Career Conversation & Industry Discussion

Join us for a career conversation with Jimmy Wong ‘09.5. He will discuss his career journey and various aspects of the media industry. Jimmy Wong is an actor, director, producer, and musician who has been pioneering digital content for over a decade. He has starred in hit shows online (Video Game High School, Game Knights, Feast of Fiction) and has acted in major motion pictures (Mulan, Wish Dragon, John Dies at the End). His work in gaming and entertainment has helped bridge the gap between digital and traditional Hollywood.

Date: Wednesday, April 6

Time: 4:30pm-5:30pm

Click here to register in handshake!

Ukrainian animation

In my previous post, I was talking about the mysterious and crude Ukrainian cinema. This time, I decided to give you a short insight into the history of Ukrainian animation. 

Animation as a separate art appeared in Ukraine in the early 20-s. The first animators draw substantial inspiration from folk culture. No surprise that the first reported cartoon (1927) revolved around the plot of a very well-known Ukrainian folk tale, “The Tale of The Straw Bull.” Unfortunately, the film didn’t survive, but judging by the surviving sketches, this masterpiece by Viacheslav Lewandowski was a vivid and expressive iteration of the traditional narrative. 

Despite the initial advancements of the media, it was abandoned due to WWII and Holodomor, a mass famine in Ukraine. After the tragic events, during the time of relative stability, in 1934, Ukrainian animators produced the first fully graphic animated film. Around the same time, the first attempts to make an animated show with numerous episodes were made. The artists’ efforts culminated in the show titled “Tuk Tuk and Zhuk”. 

Most of these early cartoons were created in studios based in Kyivnauchfilm, a studio specializing in making animations for science films and other educational materials. Even though Ukrainian animation was developing fast, it could not compete with the Moscow school of animators, also known as Soyuzmultfilm. Understanding their technical and financial scrutinies, the Ukrainian animators invested more time and thought in developing cartoons’ aesthetics and concept, rendering them more conceptual and experimental, playing with style and various modes of representation. Meanwhile, Soyuzmultfilm focused on realism and the ‘industry standard’ defined by Disney decades before. Parting with the Disney canon, Ukrainian animators learned from Avant-Garde European animation schools which culminated in the production of numerous animated masterpieces incorporating approaches like combining live-action and animation, transfer technique, as well as conceptually innovative works criticizing religion, and even satirizing the Soviet society.

The true rebirth of the art form happened in 1950 when the renowned Ukrainian animator, Ipolyt Lazarchuk, created his most famous animated show titled “The Cossacks.” A show with a cult following among children, as well as adults, “The Cossacks” depicts the adventures of three cossacks named Grai, Tur, and Oko. They partake in numerous ventures when among many others they enter a football championship, trade salt, and even cook borsht. 

The three Cossack characters: Our, Grai, and Oko

The rapid development of the art alarmed the Soviet authorities. Fearing the progressive originality and collaboration with ‘disgraced’ artists and dissidents (such as Tagan’ka Theater, whose actors voiced characters in Ukrainian cartoons), the Soviet censors began banning Ukrainian projects from being financed. They only chose so-called ‘grey’ works that aligned with the interests of the party. Some particularly revolutionary films doomed their artists to home arrests and even internal displacement. Even the legendary “Cossacks” were targeted by the Communist Party, who wanted to portray them as Red Army soldiers instead of cossacks (name the social para-military quasi-state entity on the territory of Ukraine in XIV-XIX c.

After the collapse of the USSR in the 1990-s, many of the Kyivnauchfilm’s archives were destroyed, and many of the complete films were lost surviving only through scarce frames or sketches. 

Contemporary Ukrainian animation is experiencing a steady development. Even though severely underfunded, contemporary animators produce rare but high-quality work echoing the strive of early Ukrainian animators for experimentation and originality. Experimenting with animation has been a powerful voice of the Ukrainian people expressing its rich culture and creative originality.

Useful links and resources:

  • to watch “The Cossacks” franchise: https://popkult.org/cossacks/
  • a detailed article on the history of Ukrainian animation and why it should be celebrated: https://animationobsessive.substack.com/p/ukrainian-animation-is-worth-celebrating?s=r
  • an IMDb list of popular Ukrainian animations worth watching: https://www.imdb.com/search/title/?genres=animation&countries=UA

Lessons I Learned the Hard Way at FMMC…

It’s my last semester here at Middlebury and looking back on it all, I’ve had a lot of fun. I learned a lot in the FMMC department, but much of it I learned by failing spectacularly. I’m talking corrupted files, lost locations, getting threatened with trespassing for using other locations, actors who didn’t show, etc. Each time one of these tragedies befalls me, I learn my lesson and never repeat myself. Some of these lessons I needed to experience firsthand to internalize and others I really just wish I had been told. So this is me telling you the things I’ve learned after four years of making student films.

Put More Time into Preproduction

I swear, 90% of the truly disastrous mistakes you can make on a set could be prevented if more time and care was out into preproduction. I skimped on preproduction for maybe the first year I made films. After deciding to put more time into it than an hour-long brain storming session, I immediately saw the quality of my films go up. It is time consuming for sure, but do the storyboards, do the table-reads, make the schedules, and practice your camera movements. I promise you, you will see the difference. It’s also really a good idea to familiarize yourself with equipment inside and out. At the bare minimum, make sure you are confident that you can use your equipment to do everything you want to do on set. If you have more time learn how to use it in varying conditions or in more complex ways that you might want to experiment with later on. Also if you think “you’ve got an alright handle on it” go back and use that equipment more anyways. You may be able to do a crazy camera move using a friend as a stand-in in your dorm, but you need to be able to repeat that movement when you are tired, on a deadline, and under pressure from all the other cast and crew on set.

Charge Your Batteries and Make Space on Your SD Cards

This one is short, but it deserves its own bullet point. These two mistakes have ruined so many shoots. Even if you got the equipment straight from the gear room, check the batteries and storage. Bring more than you need of both if possible.

Give Yourself More Time Than You Need

We’re all awful judges of how much time shots take because we don’t like to admit to ourselves that we might have to spend hours getting a handful of shots. If you are planning a shoot, especially if you need to change locations midday, always a lot more time than you think. You will probably use that time and more in the end. Also if you can, get yourself an assistant director to manage the schedule and be a hardo about time. You and most of your crew will want to stay on a shot until it’s perfect, but you need someone to be the voice of reason. It’s not a glamorous job, but the good news is that the skills required aren’t necessarily film related so you can recruit just about any friend. I recommend getting someone you have a good rapport with and who is not afraid to say “you’re wrong” to your face.

Work in Certainties

There may be an actor who says should be able to get there by 4:00pm as long as their class wraps up on time. You may think you can shoot there without permit or permission from the owner. There’s like a 95% chance that I can borrow that piece of equipment from another FMMC major. Stop it, don’t do it. Go the extra mile, confirm everything, and adjust to be safe if you have to.

Call Actors Long Before You Need Them

Since I am still (barely) a college student, I can say without judgement that we are not the most reliable people. Even when you have an actors who loves the script and is dedicated to the project, they’re still often liable to show up 15 minutes late. They’ve got a full course load too and sadly your film might not be their top priority. So always make sure to leave wiggle room in the schedule to allow for this. Your crew will generally be better since they have also been in your position before, but never plan to start at the exact call time. Things come up, people underestimate how long it takes to walk places, and sometimes mistakes are made. Just be aware of it and be ready. Also make sure to set dates for shoots with your cast and crew long in advance so you can plan accordingly if someone bails.

Sound is More Important Than You Think

I often find myself getting obsessed with my film’s visuals and devoting a fraction of my time to sound. I’ve found that this is pretty commonplace among student films, which means that you can stand out by taking that extra step. Always have a dedicated sound-person who is listening to the recorder on set. It’s tempting to just set up a boom on a C-Stand and use what limited crew you have elsewhere, but that has gotten me in trouble more times than I care to mention. Some easy ways to increase your sound quality include asking people to be quiet if you’re shooting in public, unplugging refrigerators or other appliances with a motor, pointing the mic away from a major road, and always getting room tone at the time of the shoot.

Check the Weather if Shooting Outside

Have a rain-date too. That’s it, it’s another short one.

Get a Camera Operator Who Isn’t Yourself and a Monitor

I wouldn’t recommend this for newer filmmakers, but if you are doing Filmmaking II, senior work, or any other advanced production course, then this is for you. You may be tempted to work behind the camera and grab your production by the horns, but you probably are trying to do too much. You need to work with actors, double check everyone else’s work, help implement a vision, and give loads of directions. Adding camera operation on top of that is tough. Having someone who is solely focusing on the shot composition and movement is a great way to enhance your film. It is uncomfortable surrendering that direct control, but if you trust your DP/camera operator’s abilities, then it’s the best course of action. Also get yourself an external monitor so you can watch the shot in real time and in detail. I have often missed mistakes while shooting and looking at the tiny FS5 screen. It’s tough: you’re focusing on keeping people in frame, where to put your feet if there’s movement, maintaining good composition, etc. Let the camera operator do the physical work so you can impartially observe.

Make Everyone on Camera Sign a Release Form

Your work is probably going on the internet and if it happens to gain some traction, you want to make sure the original cut stays in tact. If you don’t get someone to sign a release, then you legally have to obey their wishes about where the film appears. People’s attitudes can change so it is always good to get a signature at the time of the shoot. This is especially important if you are making a documentary. People might get cold feet because they don’t like the way you decide to portray them or they are afraid of saying something publicly. When someone agrees to be in your film, get their signature right then and there.

Now sadly, there is a downside to all of these tips. All of them require more effort, forethought, and time. You can make a film without obeying any of these rules, but I promise you, your films will be worse if you don’t. I also won’t lie and tell you that I haven’t strategically broken these rules when under a time crunch. Life here at Middlebury is busy. You might not be able to all these things for your film, but it is important to know how you can do better and keep trying to do more.

Ukrainian cinema 🇺🇦

Ukrainian cinema, mysterious, ominous, and experimental, is a box of jewels that many film enthusiasts have never even heard of. If you haven’t seen any Ukrainian films, I assure you that you are missing out out on so much. From early experimental socialist cinema to contemporary fantasy and drama, Ukrainian cinema has it all. And here is my personal Top-5.

  1. Тіні Забутих Предків (eng. Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors) / Parajanov / 1965

Filled with mystical and even, at times, uncanny scenes inspired by Ukrainian Carpathian Folklore, Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors is a visually fascinating story of two young people, often referred to as the Carpathian Romeo and Juliette. Here powers of nature, magic, and rituals are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Created in the 60-s, this experimental film is a true masterpiece that beautifully narrates an ordinary tale through innovative approaches to camera work, composition, and sound design.

  1. A Man with a Movie Camera / Dziga Vetrov / 1929 

One of the first Ukrainian films, A Man with a Movie Camera is an early creative experiment playing with montage, editing, and non-narrative modes of representation in cinema. Laying foundations to many of the approaches collectively accepted as tropes and staples today, this film pioneers creative filmmaking. It takes the viewer through urban cityscapes composed of collages, animations, slow-mo, and other cinematographic experiments. Film- scrapbook, A Man with a Movie Camera is a textbook for any aspiring filmmaker.

  1. Stranger / Tomashpolskiy / 2019 

An acclaimed prize-winner Stranger is a visually mesmerizing sci-fi drama. A utopian diegetic reality astonishes with its attention to detail and overall aesthetics. If you are a fan of Shape of Water, or The Grand Budapest Hotel, I am certain, you will be indulging in the visual richness of this film. Not to mention an intriguing plot combining mystery, detective, and fantasy. A kaleidoscope of color and shapes, Stranger will make you sink into the world of colors and textures.

  1. Viy / Yershov & Kropachyov / 1967

If you are a fan of horror, this story, I promise, will keep you glued to the screen of your TV or laptop. A dead bride flying around in a corpse, monsters crawling out in a church, and Viy himself, a mysterious deity from the nether world – this film paints a vivid image of traditional Ukrainian beliefs and superstitions. Based on a literary work by Mykola Hohol’, the film opens a portal into the writer’s dark imagination, nightmares, and fever dreams. No wonder that even after his death, Hohol’s ominous figure generates a plethora of blood-chilling rumors, like, for instance, that he had been buried alive. 

5. Земля (eng. Land) / Dovzhenko / 1930

This film is an acclaimed masterpiece often making lists like the 10 most influential films of All Times. Dovzhenko’s work depicts collectivization in the Ukrainian village, a process of expropriating land from wealthy peasants and joining it into self-sustaining agricultural clusters as prescribed by socialist economic system. Tackling the intergenerational conflict, Dovzhenko manages to portray how ideologies divided not only countries but villages and even families. A beautiful but tragic piece, Zemlya will captivate you with its drama and beautiful silent cinematography.  

And finally, as a little sneak peek I suggest you watch my little fan video with some infographics and exerts from Ukrainian films (you will need to download it because the web distorts clips with square aspect ratio):

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1UKvCJJEE-cdrk8Lr_d5Ps169d7lwl83p/view?usp=sharing

Watch Ukrainian!

Intro: TouchDesigner

What is TouchDesigner?

TouchDesigner is at its core a programming language. However, it probably looks and works quite different from the programming languages that you might have encountered before. First of all, Touch Designer is a visual programming language which means that instead of the code expressed in text, TouchDesigner utilizes visual and graphic elements that are already optimized, structured, and basically ready to work (think, you get chunks of code at once instead of a single function). Each of such clusters of code expressed via a graphic element is called a node. You can connect various nodes into a string establishing a relationship between them and creating a sort of a network between the elements of your code. This might sound a little confusing (and it is at first), however, don’t worry, you will get used to dragging little boxes around pretty fast.

What do you need to know to use TouchDesigner?

TouchDesigner is used by designers, artists, and musicians for a vast array of purposes. This piece of software allows its users to create sculptures, animations, live performances, and immersive VR spaces. TouchDesigner’s toolset extends to editing still images, videos, 3D models, as well as working with sound through converting sound frequencies of a compatible music device (MIDI or a simple keyboard) into numerical values and, thus, allowing for music visualization. The program possesses a wide range of tools that facilitates visual manipulation from color editing to data visualization with an emphasis on geometry nodes as a way to create complex generative artworks. Unlike other image editors and 3D modeling software, TouchDesigner also offers an impressive arsenal of pre-made widgets, movement sensors and trackers, and other interactive components. Hence, ether you want to create a cool GIF for you website or design the real time responsive visuals for you DJ set, you can do it all in TOuchDesigner.

Why learn TouchDesigner?

Digital design is becoming more and more diverse encapsulating hundreds of programs for editing or modeling. TouchDesigner combines features of a simple graphic editor with some experimental and immersive approaches allowing for innovative UI/UX design, creative coding, and music visualization. Without spending countless hours on learning multiple pieces of software, by learning TouchDesigner you can try yourself out in various domains of design without familiarizing yourself with confusing and intimidating interfaces of multiple programs. By learning TouchDesigner, you are not only exercising your creativity but also getting useful skills of coding which is virtually ubiquitous in the world of design today. Moreover, TouchDesigner is an upcoming platform soon to be considered Industry standard, and it is always good to be ahead of the game.

How can you learn TouchDesigner?

The main resource I have been using in my journey with TouchDesigner has been a YouTube course that covers the basics of the program. The author goes over all the beginner things such as layout, main tools, and techniques (basically how the program operates). The format and language are very accessible even to non-tech/design people. Most of the videos are 20 minutes maximum which allows you to maintain a high level of concentration and learn a lot fast. Besides this course as well as a plethora of tutorials on YouTube, TouchDesigner also possesses an extensive textual database that covers almost everything in the program. Whereas it is not as accessible as the video course due to the abundance of complicated coding and techy vocabulary, the manual allows you to really go in-depth into the piece of software and grasp the primary algorithms that Touch Designer is built upon.

Where to download TouchDesigner?

Here: https://derivative.ca/download. TouchDesigner is free, however, you could also subscribe to get more features available (for instance, the basic version only allows for maximum 1080 x 1920 resolution).

Useful links: 

https://docs.derivative.ca/Learning_TouchDesigner

Tips for working on set!

Film production had always been the most intimidating part of the film studies for me until I realized that you don’t have to do it alone. Collaboration and teamwork are at the heart of filmmaking and you should absolutely take advantage of Middlebury’s close-knitted network to assemble your crew of creative collaborators. Here’re some tips that I wish I could go back in time and tell myself.

  1. Schedules, schedules, schedules:
    Identify as early as possible (at least a month in advance!) how many people you need on your set and their roles. You don’t want to be be directing and doing sound at the same time in case there isn’t enough people on the crew. On the other hand, you also don’t want to experience the Diminishing Marginal Returns where too many people on set lead to less efficiency and create stressful environment. 4 people was great number for me personally (one DP, one director, one Gaffer, one PA/sound person. Your project does not need to be in a completed pre-production stage to reach out to these people (plus actors). I repeat, your script does not need to be finished when you reach out to these people. It is crucial you start this process of scheduling as early as possible to account for rejections, last-minute changes and simple recruitment of the best people before they commit to another project.
  2. Be respectful of everybody’s time
    Once you have people committing to helping you, it is crucial to carefully plan the shooting hours and stick to them. Your crew and actors are volunteering their time and to ensure they will want to work with you again, you don’t want to ask them to stay overtime the last minute. Sometimes you won’t have the luxury to do so anyway if you are shooting on a paid location with a strict time limit. Feel free to advice with our professors or other peers about how long a specific scene might take.
  3. Be kind and establish the type of set you would want to be a part of. The shooting process can be very stressful but it doesn’t always have to. I have been on plenty of sets where the director and crew were efficient and welcoming. Definitely be polite to every person on set and remember that the best creative solutions come in moments of play not rush.
  4. “Get everything in the bag” or “Get my cut”. Decide which type of director you want to be. “Get everything in the bag” is the director who gets as many shots of the scene as possible and strictly sticks to the pre-production plan. “Get my cut” director prioritizes creative solutions based on the circumstances and maybe tends to more creative choices. Ideally you are on a spectrum between both, be careful of leaning to much into one or the other direction. Also, a personal tip: I like to always do at least one elaborate shot (long take or a taxi switch) that requires everyone on the crew being involved to pull it off. Edgar Wright in his interview mentions this type of shot is his favourite thing to film because it truly brings together the team.
  5. You do not need to do this alone! There are a lot of things to figure out but please do not undertake to do it all alone. Ideally, find a co-director or and a creative partner to devise these tasks and keep each other accountable. Unlike many other classes at Midd that underline individualism, film production is all about not carrying the wight alone. This sounds very straightforward but sometimes proves the hardest for Middkids.

Introduction!

Hi everyone! My name is Masha and I am a super senior Feb and media assistant on duty every Sunday in Axinn basement (from 4-7 pm and then from 7 pm -12am).

If you don’t know me, please come say hi before I graduate!

The first thing you need to know about me is that I love to steal like a true artist. I think it’s the greatest compliment one creator can give to another, and so today I want to give that compliment to Misha, my fellow colleague in the film department, who so creatively combined his favourite characters in one collage for his introduction post which you can find on this page.

I am still on my journey to learn photoshop but I propose to you today “Movies That Influenced Masha” collage. These are characters that for better or worse shaped my early love for visual art. From Soviet comedies and British costume dramas to Hollywood blockbusters and French action flicks – my favourite films like me combine most unexpected cultural heritage. Please, come talk to me about the ones you recognized so we can fangirl over them together (staff and students!)

Hoping for all your judgements,

Masha


Production Hub is here for you!

When I first took a production class at Middlebury and started watching PremierePro tutorials on Lynda (now LinkedIn Learning) I could not imagine where it would take me how much it would change my relationship with film.

This is a small piece for all our theory-gravitating people! Don’t be shy, that essay can wait, come over to the dark side of the production courses…

Call for Submissions: Bowdoin Journal of Cinema

We are happy to announce the opportunity to publish your scholarly work in the Bowdoin Journal of Cinema, one of the only strictly-undergraduate publications to feature work in cinema studies. At the Journal, we are looking for work that offers deep insights, unique perspectives, and fresh takes on any topic in film/cinema studies. In other words, if you have written a high-quality essay of which you are proud, this is a great opportunity to see it published.

Each essay will undergo a rigorous peer-review process by a panel of Bowdoin College students. Authors of accepted essays will be notified before publication and will be able to revise their work prior to submission. They will be published online, building an online resource of undergraduate work in cinema studies.

To submit, please email a .pdf or .docx file to bowdoincinemajournal@gmail.com, including your first and last name, college or university, and class year. Please include an abstract of 100-150 words, a complete bibliography, and any relevant photographic stills with your submission. There is no ideal word count; every essay, regardless of length, will be considered equally. 

The deadline for May publication is February 10, 2022.

We look forward to reading your submissions!

Best,

Ben Allen, Finn McGannon, Emily Staten, and Julia Perillo

Executive Editors of the Bowdoin Journal of Cinema