After Effects and Meh

When I took the Strengths Finder analysis a few years ago, it confirmed a not-so hidden truth: I like to learn things.

I spent some time earlier this year taking an online course for Adobe’s After Effects CS6, a motion graphics and visual effects program used heavily within the post-production world. I didn’t know much about the production of motion graphics and if I’m honest, terms like “keyframes”* and “rotoscoping” make my eye twitch. The course is 9 hours long and comes with a zip file of exercise files, but isn’t exhaustive. It would’ve felt like I was back in school if I hadn’t been interrupted with real-life work projects and you know, lunch breaks.

This is me, complaining:

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*A sample definition from the course: “Keyframes are just recordings of the settings of one specific parameter at a specific point in time.” I appreciate that the narrator used “just” – like: Hey! Keyframes are nbd.

Needless to say, several months later – I’m still at about the same spot and it’s likely that’s due to my not having a specific reason to use After Effects. Also, I know so many people who are amazing at it and the entire Adobe Suite that it’s nice to focus on the stuff you want to focus on — writing, editing — and let the pros help you out.

A Longish Post of Recent Work

The past year has been a whirlwind, or just a normal year, sometimes it’s hard to tell. I had some technical difficulties with the blog, some work difficulties (in that, I had to) and ultimately some time difficulties – in that, I didn’t have time to update anything longer than 140 characters on Twitter. I took a couple of screenwriting courses, wrote two spec scripts and one original, and because of work, had the opportunity to work on some very cool things.

As I ease back into this, I wanted to share a couple of those very cool things that I’m especially excited to have been a part.

This is what it looks like when you’re happy on set being boss.

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Branded Content: CMT Music Awards 2016 + Aveeno 
I work on a lot of branded content and to be honest, it’s some of my favorite work, and not just because there’s usually very cool talent (like country artist Cam). Branded content is an opportunity to engage with viewers by connecting them with brands that fit their lifestyle, plus the idea is that it’s mutually beneficial for all involved. That was exactly the idea I tried to communicate in writing this Aveeno piece, which had very few script revisions. It’s rare to be one and done, but as an Aveeno user and about the same age as Cam, sometimes it just clicks.

The spot was shot by the awesome Dave Ogle, a great DP in Nashville who also shot a spot I wrote and produced last year for CMT’s Next Women of Country + Toyota. We edited in house at CMT and gratefully, were able to use Cam’s single at the time “Mayday”. Honestly, I might be most proud of the line “hanging with my best gal” which is something I say all the time, and always in reference to my own puppy.

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Traveling in Costa Rica, Again

The thing about hustling on passion projects is that all passion burns out after a while. I traveled with a friend back to Costa Rica this year to take a break and refocus — back to the mostly sunny beach town of Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast for two-weeks of what Theroux would probably call a “superior and safe holiday” but what my not-so-adventurous friends might call “exotic world travel.” In reality, it was a bit of both – the photo highlights of which are below.

I packed six pair of shoes (the downside of traveling with a wonderful, albeit packrat friend is that you bring way more than you need), but wore only my slip-on Seavees, which remain coated in a layer of fine sand — and probably could’ve gotten away with two pair of bathing suits, shorts and t-shirts for the entire time. Tamarindo isn’t off-the-grid, there’s Wifi in most places and it’s populated with a decent amount of expats and tourists. We mostly traveled within the northwestern province of Guanacaste – you could go to multiple playas all day and never be unsatisfied. We did make it out to Rincón de la Vieja, a national park and volcano about 2.5 hours northeast – for a hike, waterfall and natural hot springs.

If you’re adventure-seeking, there are loads of locals roaming the beaches offering bus trips to other parts of the country, to Nicaragua, to islands and other beaches for snorkeling, diving, zip-lining, surfing, paddleboarding — whatever. Mostly, I just wanted to enjoy the experience of living in Costa Rica, eating the typical plates (Noguis is my hands-down favorite, followed by Green Papaya, and La Bodega for breakfast), complaining about the roads, stopping on the side of the road for the corridas de toros in time to see a young improvisado get tossed from a bull, hearing howler monkeys groaning in the morning while they swing across the road on ropes stretched for exactly that purpose. And naturally, reading as much as possible, drinking copious amounts of Imperial and taking a break from the routine of digital life and daily creative.

I just discovered Paul Theroux for the first time (sorry, avid travel-readers) and devoured Dark Star Safari and The Old Patagonian Express on this tripand found as well the literary travel sites Roads & Kingdoms and Nowhere, which are both fantastic and gave me plenty to indulge in now that I’m back in humid Tennessee waiting out the rain to get home, — so naturally, now I feel like I can write about traveling all day, the only caveat being — who has time and money for that? And if I did, would I enjoy it as much? Would I find the empanada shop tucked in the corner shopping center where I consider bingeing because they’re only 2000 colones each? Those existential questions typed out, here are a few moments from the break:

Tamarindo

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Rincón de la Vieja

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Playa Dantita

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Playa Conchal

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There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Annie Dillard

Things My Mom Posts to My Facebook Wall, an abbreviated list

(in no particular order)

  • a reminder about it being Olivia deHavilland’s birthday
  • a list of dog rules (I don’t have a dog)
  • elementary school age photos
  • many, many posts with this line: “Have I told you lately that I love you?” (not accompanied by Rod Stewart video, so clearly she does not)
  • comments like “I miss you” ; “scary” ; and “Are you okay?”
  • ads for Reba’s DeluxStick cosmetics line
  • teases for things she may have purchased for birthday/Christmas
  • motivational quotes
  • a texting while driving YouTube video
  • more motivational quotes
  • updates on whatever Stevie Nicks is doing in the world
  • articles about sisters
  • mini thank you notes for when I visit
  • posts like this “Reminiscing about the day you were born. It was awesome”

Conversations with actors

One of my new favorite places online is the SAG Foundation‘s YouTube channel. Founded in 1985, the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, is meant to “enhance the lives of performers by investing in programs which help them in their professional endeavors and the communities in which they live.” Fortunately for us, not only do these events happen often — sometimes multiple events in a day — but the bulk of them are published here. No SAG card needed.

The pieces range from a series called “Conversations” — wherein an artist, or the cast of a production (from Portlandia to Broadway’s Something Rotten!) — take part in a moderated solo or panel discussion — “The Business” which focuses, not surprisingly, on the business aspects of production, as well as many pieces on casting, independent film production and distribution, marketing, auditioning, etc. It’s really a great resource, and the best part (for me) is that it’s not another run-of-the-mill panel that talks surface layer plot devices. Because it’s geared at actors and industry-heads, it gets down to the minutiae of production, casting, storytelling and loads of other behind-the-scenes moments you don’t typically find anywhere else.

Here are some favorites:




Gathering STEAM: Why Arts Really Matter

I’ve been really interested lately in the ongoing debate between the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education plan, and it’s seeming alternative, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics). The general consensus behind both is that kids need a deeper education in these areas if they are going to compete in globalized world. (Or, you know, so they can be Not Sure in a Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho world*) On that incredibly superficial point, everyone seems to agree. Realistically, educators and education planners argue their respective sides on somewhat of an endless cycle, but kids are already in the system. As much as I wish I had that deeper education in those STEM areas, I also wish I had a more expansive one in the Arts.

Actor Tim Daly is most known for his work on television on the series’ Wings, Private Practice, and most recently, Madam Secretary, but he also advocates for arts education via the Creative Coalition, a 501(c)(3) public charity (née lobbying group) that regularly holds events and speaks to influencers about the pressing issues in the art and entertainment industry like arts education, but also First Amendment issues and public funding for the arts, among others.

Earlier this year, Daly gave a talk on “STEAM” at the Sandbox Summit, an ideas forum held annually at MIT. The video was released recently and provides an interesting look into his background as an arts advocate, the importance of STEAM education and how he became “radicalized” in support of this cause (and also why it might need to be STEM after all).

Here are a few points that connected with me: 

“Creativity and imagination can be trained — or unleashed, rather — because we’re all born with it”

“The arts are the emissaries and custodians of our culture. The arts are the common language of our humanity.”

“Imagination is a muscle [and] arts is the gymnasium for the creative mind”

“Entertainment is the 2nd largest export in the United States of America, so at least it should be dealt with and talked about with the same amount of respect and gravitas as the automobile industry or the pharmaceutical industry, etc.”

“For every dollar the government spends on the National Endowment for the Arts, they are returned seven tax dollars.”

“The arts are a vaccine for the this social ill [of rate of high school drop-outs]”

“The arts are not something extra. They are not a luxury item. They are not dessert, they belong on the plate with the main course”

“We [artists] put what you [scientists] do into an emotional context. We make people feel something about what you do. And if we don’t feel, we miss out on the miraculous opportunity of our humanity”

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” – Carl Sagan

“I think that the arts are more important to teach than science and math. I think that the arts are the conveyance of all these other things.”

“There’s no wrong in the arts. There’s only discovery and creativity and imagination.”

I really liked this talk. I think we need more people advocating for arts since it’s seemingly first to go when cuts are needed, but is clearly a subject we care (whether we admit it or not) deeply about. Not to diminish the others, or even a broader education re-haul (although I can’t imagine any of the various groups agreeing on a way to achieve this), but as Daly said in the talk, maybe “arts do not belong on the plate with the main course, the arts are the plate. They are the thing that takes the meal around, right? And shares it with everyone else.” I dig the metaphor, and I think it’s an interesting way to think about arts education and the role it plays in creating facilitators of communication. If we have all this knowledge, and no way to communicate it, what is it good for?

* This is totally a reference to the 2006 movie Idiocracy, which is one of my favorites ever. It was a parody in 2006, but now…