Two Worlds by Chris Weigl

When was the last time you saw an original film atop the weekend box office? An original film is a film that is not a sequel or a reboot or part of a franchise. Hollywood has become like bloatware for your PC. No matter how many cleaners you have or anti-whatever-ware they’re putting out now you just can’t escape the sequels, the remakes and the franchises.

We seem content to let the newest Mission Impossible sit atop the box office. We seem content with a Hollywood machine that delivers reboot after reboot so that we can sit in anticipation of sequel after sequel. This is not the world we deserve to live in.

We believe that there are two worlds out there. There’s the world as it is with junk movies, operating systems that spy on you and short lived campaigns for social change. Then there’s the world as it could be; a world where you pay for the content you deserve and get the service that benefits you the consumer not the company that can make as much money off of you as possible.

In short, you can support the junk food providers of the world; your comic book movies, your sequels, and your franchises or you can bet on companies that are working hard to create the kind of content they want to see in the world.

We built our company on the idea that someone should be out there creating the kind of content that we wanted to see. Since no one else seemed interested in doing it the responsibility has fallen onto us and production companies like us to create the kind of change we want to see in Hollywood from the outside.

We can complain about the lack of minority and women hiring practices at major studios or we can create opportunities outside of that realm. Which one do you think will bring about change sooner? Day in and day out we’re seeing great new original projects get funded through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe. That’s why we decided that those were the kinds of sites for us.

They were backing the content and the content makers that we wanted to see in the world, so we decided that the crowdfunding world was a place where we could start to make the changes we wanted to see. That’s why we launched our GoFundMe campaign. We’re making a film about an outstanding community of people who defy the conventional norms and get together to play a sport few people have ever heard of. They are a community that has welcomed us with open arms and they are the kind of people we are proud to stand arm in arm with in working for better things in the world.  You can learn more about our campaign here - http://www.gofundme.com/flyball

We are creating the first full feature-length documentary on the sport of flyball. What is flyball? We get asked that question on a daily basis. That’s why we’re calling our film: This is Flyball. Want to know what flyball is? Easy, watch our film. We take you into the world of flyball and into the world of three teams as they compete to win the Super Bowl of Flyball: the CanAm Classic. We’re riding shotgun in a car guided by humble team captains like Margaret, Flippi, and Carl. You wouldn’t know it by watching them, but one of those people is a New York Times bestselling author. This is the world of flyball. It’s a group of people just like you and me who get together on the weekends to have fun with their friends. The only difference is that for their fun events on the weekends they not only get to bring their dogs along, but their dogs get to be the star of the show.

We live in a commodity world. That’s the main problem right there. Hollywood views you as a commodity that can be bought and sold. The tech industry views you as a commodity and even some crowdsourcing campaigns probably view you as a commodity as well. We don’t run a commodity based company. Our GoFundMe campaign is an opportunity for you to partner with us in creating the first feature-length documentary on flyball. You’re not an investor, you’re a partner. We want to know what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. It’s not that we don’t know what we’re doing it’s that we’d rather have the viewpoints of everyone in the room than assume we know better than you on what you want to see.

Maybe you don’t want to watch a documentary at all. Maybe you don’t like flyball heck, maybe you don’t even like dogs. That’s fine I guess though it must suck to be living without a soul (kidding.) My point is that we are a company not a product.

We have a worldview that is altogether different than the viewpoint of those in Hollywood and the tech world. We have an entire fleet of projects we’re excited to be working on and none of them are sequels or remakes. We’re dedicated to quality original programming and we believe that if we can partner with people who share a similar dedication we will be able to change the kind of content that the majority of people are watching out there. With your help and partnership we know we can build this into more than a company and more than a movement. We want this to be our legacy.

How to Shoot a Flyball Event - A Primer on Specialized Documentary Filmmaking by Chris Weigl

Shooting a documentary is no easy task.  It takes lots of time in the field and lots of planning to execute your camera strategy effectively.  One of the challenges that we've faced is figuring out how to get the best angles, where to set up to get the shots we want to get without interfering with what's going on, and perhaps the most difficult task of all: how to think like the subject in what you're filming.

We've been working on This is Flyball for almost ten months now and it has been so much fun to be around the flyball community.  The one thing that has always stood out to us in flyball above all else is just how warm, friendly and gracious everyone is.  Dave Strauss is no exception.  Dave has been involved in flyball for eight years and has mastered the art of shooting a flyball tournament.  We are very excited to share with you a guest blog post by Dave Strauss, who will explain in detail and with video examples how to best shoot a flyball tournament below.

How to Shoot a Flyball Event

By: Dave Strauss

For any particular race I usually have to decide whether I'm going to take stills or video.  For videos I try to choose a race that's going to provide interesting instances of my "standard shots" (more about that later), which usually means a race that involves one of the faster teams in the tournament.  For certain types of shots I'll want teams or at least dogs that are evenly matched, and of course the faster the better.

There are certain types of shots that work well even with slow teams and/or dogs - for example some fairly slow dogs have really nice box turns that are fun to watch as long as it's edited properly.

I also try to take a few "novelty" or filler shots to be used for transitions in the video - for example the intro or the postscript - but those are fairly ad hoc.  I just need to remember to do them.

This all works because Flyball is very repetitive.  The dogs (and people) are trained to do the same thing over and over again with as much precision and repeatability as possible.  Then, each race consists of at least 3 heats so I can do three different shots during the race and be pretty sure that I didn't miss much of anything.  And finally, a tournament is usually a bunch of round robin competitions, so each team will race all of the other teams in its division several times over the course of a weekend.  If I miss a shot during one race I'll usually have a chance to get it later on in the tournament.

It also works because I'm not trying to tell a story.  I'm not trying to show how close a particular race was, or how well a particular team or dog did in the tournament.  That would be a very different thing and I'd probably have to change the way I did things to make that work.

If you have several cameras and photographers available you'll probably be able to set up several shots during one race and get everything covered all at once. 

BASIC SHOTS

2014 - https://youtu.be/zueAVC7suPM
2013 - https://youtu.be/ADuPCAVZyMc

The basic shots I use most are:

 1. Box turn (single dog)

    Box turn shots make great filler, because they look really
    impressive and because there's that visceral *chunk* when
    the dog hits the box.  Plus you *know* that the shot is
    going to be there.

    I do the single box turn shot as close as possible to the box,
    which is either at the end of the backstop or next to the box
    judge, depending on how the ring is set up.  Sometimes I'll be set
    up in the middle triangle of the backstops but not usually - it's
    too distracting to the dogs.  I might set up a tripod in that area
    instead if I'm filming my team.  If I'm next to the box loader
    I'll be sitting down with the camera fairly low; if I'm at the end
    of the backstop I might steady the camera on the backstop.  In any
    case I try to keep the backstop itself and any ring fencing out of
    the shot.  With the GoPro I've been known to set it up with the
    little tripod just inside the ring next to the backstop - it's
    small enough that the dogs don't seem to notice.

    The most interesting box turn shot is when the dog turns towards
    the camera, so if you're set up in the left lane you'll get dogs
    who turn left and if you're set up in the right lane you'll get
    dogs who turn right.  During a tournament I'll often do one lane
    for one heat and then switch to the other lane for the next heat.

    Examples:
       2014 @ 0:45
       2014 @ 1:31 (in tight)
       2014 @ 2:14 (from behind the box)  Camera is steadied
                           on the top of the backstop
       2014 @ 2:18 box turn approach and turn, tripod mounted camera

 2. Box turn (two dogs)

    To get two dogs in the shot I need to be farther away from the
    box - either on the start line side of the line judge or maybe
    even between the third and fourth jumps.  It depends on the camera.
    For this shot I'm looking for a situation where the two dogs
    hit the box pretty much at the same time.  This happens most often
    with the start dogs but also with evenly-matched teams.

    Examples:
    2014 @ 0:41
    2014 @ 1:29  this is a really nice one
    2014 @ 2:47  double box turn during one of the championship rounds.
                          Note how crowded it is.
    2013 @ 2:32

3.  Passes

    Passes are harder to get because the pass has to be close or it
    won't look very special.  I want to be close to the lane but if
    the pass is more than about 5 feet I'll get just the one dog in
    the shot.  Also passes are **fast** - it's hard to get enough to
    fill an entire shot, so to make sure I get more I usually set up
    away from the start line facing the start line.  I either shoot it
    very low or about chest high.  With the low shots the dog coming
    from behind the shot seems to just explode by the scene.  An
    alternative is to looking right across the start line from behind
    the line judge; these usually need to be done from above in order
    to get the line judge out of the shot.  Lining up the shot can
    be tricky because of the placement of the line judge.

    The simultaneous pass is one of the hardest shots to get but it's
    one of the most exciting to see.

    Examples:
    2013 @ 2:13
    2013 @ 3:15
    2014 @ 1:01
    2014 @ 1:17  This is an example of a wide pass with slow dogs, showing
                        how far from the start line you have to be to get the
                        shot.
    2014 @ 1:43  Almost simultaneous
    2014 @ 2:10
    2014 @ 2:31  low - through the picket fence

4.  Start dogs

    This is actually a variation on the pass, so the setup is similar.
    The difference with the start dogs is that usually they'll arrive
    at the start line at almost the same time, so it's very exciting
    to see.

    Example:
    2014 @ 2:00

5.  Starting

    In this shot I focus on a dog about to be released and hold the
    shot until the dog runs out of the frame.  I usually do these shots
    in the left lane because the other dogs will be lined up to that
    dog's right, leaving an unobstructed view; however these shots can
    sometimes be done in the right lane depending on how the team lines
    up.

    Examples:
    2014 @ 1:47
    2014 @ 1:56  in the right lane
    2014 @ 2:02  this is actually a double start shot and its
                          interesting because the handlers follow the dogs
                          out of the frame.
    2014 @ 2:29  in the right lane - this was possible because on this
                          team the start dog lines up ahead of the other dogs.
    2014 @ 2:50
    2014 @ 3:16  this was shot with the Canon 7D with a 17-55mm lens, while
                         I was sitting under the scoring table.  It shows how hard
                         it is to get one of this shots in the right lane.

6.  Starting with pan

    This is similar to the starting shot but I pan to follow the dog.
    I don't do many of these because it's hard for me to do a smooth
    pan and my camera tends to lose focus during the pan because of
    low light. 

    Examples:
    2014 @ 1:57
    2014 @ 3:12

7.  Tug Swing

    This is where the dogs get their reward - they get to swing!
    It's also a very tough shot to get.  It's in the runback area,
    and the runback area is very busy during a heat.  You can have
    a shot all lined up and then another handler runs between you
    and the handler.  Or the handler and the dog just run out of your
    frame. 

    Examples:
    2013 @ 1:30
    2014 @ 1:20

8.  Everything else

    Looking up the lanes, looking down the lanes, novelty shots
    (milestones, unusual and/or cute dogs, kids and babies,
    unusual behaviors, non-racing shots).

You can see more of Dave's photography at: http://www.waltzking.org/photos/flyball/

You can see more of Dave's video work here: https://www.youtube.com/user/DWS53

Thanks so much Dave for sharing your wisdom!  We hope everyone finds this as rich and resourceful as we did.

The Disconnect by Chris Weigl

I was talking to an old friend of mine the other day.  We hadn’t really talked since he graduated about a year and a half ago and it was great to catch up and connect even though we’re in two different industries now (he runs the social media platform for a start-up out in San Francisco while I still live in the world of Academia.)  What was strange about this conversation was our shared fascination with the idea of Influencers dinners (influencers dinners were started by Jon Levy as a way for people to bond regardless of their jobs or backgrounds.)  Neither of us are very social.  I abhor the conventional party where I’m forced to listen to stories about people’s jobs and how little things have changed in their lives.  Inevitably, when someone asks about me and what I’m doing I go into business mode and start talking about how excited I am about whatever project we’re doing.  That’s the disconnect.  Most people don’t enjoy their jobs, but what I do is more than a job and I believe more than a business; it’s a purpose.

I work seven days a week.  I used to think that I didn’t need any off time, but then I got realistic.  I take a few hours off during the day to play with my dogs and maybe watch an hour or so of Netflix, but then my mind wanders back to the list of tasks that I’ve created for the week.  I am my own boss, so I set my own goals and arrange my own tasks, which is good because when I work for someone else I’m a terrible employee.  Having an open schedule where I can arrange my day how I see fit allows me to work on all the little things I want to improve without having someone breathing down my neck about everything.  It also forces me to do the things that I don’t want to do, but I get to do them on my terms, which I’ve found makes the process a little easier.  Sometimes I spend an entire day editing a video, other days I get some writing done and when I’m really lucky I can go through my tasks and knock them out in the order of influence they’ll have in my life.  That’s a great feeling right there.

One of the reasons that I reached out to this old friend was because I had a problem that I couldn’t solve.  It wasn’t a little problem.  I had a revelation of sorts, but I didn’t quite know what to do with it.  I laid out my problem.  I don’t like TVs.  I think they’re big, bulky and don’t serve the kind of purpose that something else could if it were introduced into the TV market.  My company is devoted to creating commercial-free TV and finding a path towards new, original and sustainable programming for the future.  I know it sounds a lot like Netflix or Hulu, but this is where I realized we could make our mark; Netflix and Hulu have crappy deals with networks and production companies that allow the producer not the viewer to choose what programming they have access to.  Netflix has close to 150 million subscribers and they haven’t figured out a way to leverage deals so that the consumer can decide what they want to watch.  That’s just absurd and what makes it absurd is the TV.

A quick course in TV history: the TV was developed by Filo T. Farnsworth in the 1930’s and sold by RCA in the 1940’s.  Farnsworth’s system for producing images relied on a scanning system.  He looked out at a cornfield and noticed how everything lined up in rows and thought that doing the same thing on a screen could turn radio into a visual medium and sure enough he was right.  Our problem today is that we operate largely on that same system.  We still get our stations from signals sent out by networks like the National Broadcasting Company (which was started by RCA to supply content to their newly minted TV.)  Granted, some of us still have cable and that’s unfortunate, but the rest of us rely on streaming services.  This made me ask the question: why are we using streaming services on TVs?  Why hasn’t someone come up with a better way?  TVs are big, bulky and don’t serve any other purpose than to deliver subpar content laden with ridiculous commercials to an audience that’s growing older and dying off.  Someone needs to find a mechanism other than a computer or phone that allows people to utilize streaming media, but also serves other functional purposes.

Around 2000, Gateway computers (remember them?) bet big on a new idea that seemed like it could revolutionize the marketplace.  They wanted to take the computer and use it to replace the television.  Gateway invested heavily in new technology for monitors, much of the same technology that led to the development of widescreen HDTVs.  The problem was that people didn’t buy into the concept of a computer replacing their TVs.  There were a number of reasons for this, but the big one was that there was no Netflix or comparable service that could deliver a catalog of programming to this device.  My question for my friend was: how could we create something that allowed you to watch streaming content pretty much on demand while remaining plugged into social media?  Tablets could be the answer if someone comes up with a foldable one that can expand out to around 42.”  The problem that I face as a consumer and ultimately this is the quagmire that I’m trying to make my way through right now is how can I watch my streaming content, my sports, check my Facebook and Twitter feeds and potentially do gaming too eventually.  That’s a big, loaded question that has a lot of obstacles laden in its premise.  Of course, I’m assuming here that such a device could be made, manufactured and sold at a reasonable price.  I’m also operating under the assumption that everyone would be willing to ditch their TVs which is anything but a foregone conclusion.  What I want people to think about though was his response to my question.  He said that we need to change the way we watch and process visual and textual images.

“Remember the opening of the Brady Bunch?”  He asked.  “There are nine boxes and eight of them are filled with the heads of members of the family.  That’s the kind of thing you’ll need to do if you want to do this and you’ll have to maintain everyone’s attention on one thing at the same time essentially making it all one interface.”

“What a fascinating answer,” I wrote back.

“No,” he said.  “What’s going to be interesting is how this thing is developed by companies and sold to consumers because that’s where people always wind up getting screwed.”

Another great response on his part which begs the question for our readers: how do we avoid getting screwed?

The Precision Writer by Chris Weigl

In a recent piece I did for Quora I emphasized the importance of editing in the writing process.  I have been thinking about the point I was making in that piece that becoming a better editor can make you a stronger writer I think that idea should be expanded upon.  Before co-founding this company my primary vocation was as a writer.  I was so focused on turning out material that fit “my style” that I didn’t consider the fact that other people’s methods of doing things might be just as good as my own.  As I’ve worked on expanding my business and writing for different mediums and to different ends I’ve realized that there is a great deal of value in being a more versatile writer at times.  True there are times when you want to hire a specialist, but if you can get someone who has experience in many areas to the point that it helps inform everything they do then that person is going to be all the wiser because of it.

What I’ve learned as I’ve been forced to write things that are outside my comfort zone is that sometimes what you don’t know can help you.  When I started this business I knew nothing about running a business.  I was resistant to learning about how to run a conventional business because as an entrepreneur I had no interest in running a conventional business.  To me, being an entrepreneur is about being an innovator.  It’s about being different and standing out not in blending in and not making any noise.  I stand by that assessment that running a different kind of business is the best way forward for this company.  I believe in a why not? mentality that dominates everything that we do.  I believe that even the most ordinary lives have extraordinary moments and I believe that above all else we can turn our greatest adversities into our greatest opportunities.

Mindset has a lot to do with how I’ve come to approach business.  Through most of my twenties I suffered a great deal from depression and had a very negative mindset.  I believed that there were external forces holding me back from achieving my goals.  Today, I understand that the only thing holding me back is my own willingness to step out of my comfort zone and embrace new opportunities.  I don’t believe that living a life dominated by excuses is healthy.  To be clear: the difference between a reason and an excuse is that a reason is something you give when you are successful while an excuse is something you give when you are not.  When you live an excuses-oriented life you find yourself looking for things to blame for not taking the necessary step towards excellence.  We’re all guilty of doing this at some point in our lives.  I’ve done it and I’m sure many of our readers have done it as well.  When you start looking for reasons to do things however your worldview changes and your opportunities multiply like you never thought they could.

Mindset also plays a big role in writing.  Writing with a positive mindset is something that is still new to me and as some have remarked it has made some of my writing a little less exciting.  I would wager however that whatever excitement is lost in my writing is easily made up for in attitude and outlook.  Where mindset really starts to improve your writing is in editing.  When you start to look at the reasoning behind your writing decisions you start to make the necessary decisions about what you’re trying to say and what you’re actually saying.  That’s crucial for the brevity of your story and the one thing that has been most impacted by my shift in mindset has been the brevity of my writing.  A year ago a post like this would have been at least one thousand words, but today this piece will clock in at under eight hundred.  It’s not that what I was saying a year ago is not as good as what I’m saying now it’s just that it was different.  Where I’ve improved is in my ability to understand where the story is and how best to communicate it.  Once you understand those things you can cut out the ambient noise and start producing content at a much higher level.  Think about living as a precision writer.  The only place word counts matter is in news print – most of which are either defunct or bankrupt today – so it’s advantageous to be efficient and precision oriented when writing your material. 

The Passing of James Horner by Chris Weigl

When I was growing up I loved listening to film music.  Keep in mind that I was in high school during the height of the boy band era, so just about anything seemed better than the latest N’Sync, Backstreet Boys or 98 Degrees offering.  There was something about film music that drew me in.  It wasn’t just the orchestral work.  The classic orchestral styles had been utilized by composers from the Baroque era to the modern classical era of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  What made film music especially alluring wasn’t just the timing of it’s emergence, but the unique styles of the mainstream composers at the time.  The 1990’s were about the growth and expansion of Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, and James Horner.  In the late 1990’s we saw the emergence of one of my favorite composers John Powell who came out of the Zimmer school.  Other composers like Brian Tyler would fuse the Zimmer school and Horner school as would Howard in his own unique way through indie films in the 2000’s.

What pulled me in to Zimmer, Howard, and Horner was the breadth of their material and the lofty sound of their arrangements.  It was always a battle for me between Zimmer and Horner.  Horner, in my mind, was the best of the classically trained composers working at the time.  One of his signature scores which came for A Beautiful Mind in 2001 was a mixture of ideas previously thought up years earlier in Bicentennial Man yet A Beautiful Mind also borrowed an idea from Harry Gregson-Williams’ superb score to Spy Game; that of the soprano vocalist over chord scales.  It’s easy to spot it in retrospect, but few would have imagined at the time that A Beautiful Mind would be the last gem in the career of James Horner.  Although 2009’s The Amazing Spider Man built on components that were fleshed out in A Beautiful Mind the score was the most un-Horner sounding score I’ve ever heard.  I could trace elements back to Horner’s Land Before Time score, but everything else was a hybrid of something else he had worked on.  That was the rub with Horner.  He often borrowed ideas and at times even full themes from his earlier works.

I was never a big fan of Horner’s 1980’s works.  The Land Before Time was a spectacular score, but beyond that I just didn’t find much of value there.  Field of Dreams was interesting because the score meanders helplessly until the final four minutes of the End Credits where the strings break out into awesome techniques that – had they been present earlier – would have made for a superb score.  Some of Horner’s later ideas that would be explored in his best works like Braveheart and Legends of the Fall were first conceived for Patriot Games in 1992.  Patriot Games was an oddly Irish-inspired score with a Main titles sequence that didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  When you listen to the album version of the score it seems almost out of place.  This was fairly common during the 1990’s where he would have epic failures like The Devil’s Own and Payback where no matter how good the music was it simply couldn’t save the film.  There were echoes of this in the 2000’s as well with films like the Four Feathers, a film that I still don’t know what it was about.

What made Horner a titan was his ability to stand between Zimmer and the fading glory of John Williams and present his ideas as a viable alternative.  1998’s Apollo 13 is still one of the most haunting scores I’ve ever listened to.  1998 of course also being the year that Williams would begin work on the Harry Potter series.  What made Horner an interesting composer to me was how he adapted to his projects.  I’ll never forget listening to 1996’s The Spitfire Grill, which has to be heard to be believed because the instrumentation is very similar to that of 1993’s Thunderheart, which was heavily reliant on woodwinds and Native American instruments.  What The Spitfire Grill proved was that Horner didn’t need to be working on big projects like Braveheart and Legends of the Fall to churn out amazing material.  It also showed that though his best scores often came when he was working with a polished group of professionals in the London Symphony Orchestra he was just as able to produce great material with a small ensemble.

Horner wrote some of the most complex and satisfying music of the 1990’s.  Although I personally got into the Zimmer offshoots like Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell, I frequently returned to Horner for a more traditional approach.  Even works like Iris where Horner employed the services of the wonderful violin virtuoso Joshua Bell is full of technical mastery.  What proves the worth of a man like Horner is his ability to remain timeless.  You can go back to the Apollo 13 soundtrack and still be entirely moved by the Launch, Splashdown, and End Credits cues.  You can listen to Braveheart and still be moved by the For the Love of a Princess cue.  You can listen to Legends of the Fall and be wowed by the whole thing.  I still think that Horner’s cues for the haunted John Nash in A Beautiful Mind are among the most tragic and heartbreaking cues ever written.  He had that unique knack for nailing an emotion, which is precisely what the electronic geniuses like Zimmer, Williams, and Powell can’t do although Powell’s Forbidden Friendship from HIMYD is probably my favorite cue written in the last ten years.

James Horner defined an era in my life where I was passionate about unorthodox music and for that I’ll be forever thankful.  Those of us who are never satisfied with the status quo in music need an outlet like film music to listen to and there are even more people who need the calming effects of that genre of music to help in a variety of ways.  I actually stopped everything I was doing on Tuesday when I saw that James Horner had passed away.  It felt like an era of my own life had come to an end yet at the same time I was filled with wonderful memories of unique and special moments from my life that I would have likely never fleshed out had he not passed away.  Events like this remind me of how life can be both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing for me because it allows me to show my appreciation for someone who’s artistry was truly magnificent, but tragic because it took the taking of a magnificent life in order to make that happen.