Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chambers Foundation sponsors dynamite media arts conference

The Chambers Foundation sponsored a fascinating media arts conference at Lane Community College in Eugene last week that brought together animators, screenwriters, producers, musicians and lighting specialists

Each day began with registration, breakfast items and socialization from 8:30 - 9:30 then proceeded with talks and panel discussions that lasted all day through almost 5 o'clock. 

Mark Shapiro, marketing and brand
 manager for Laika Studios discusses 
the challenges "Coraline" presented
 for the Portland animation studio.


On day 1, I attended the opening welcome from 9:30-10:30 then chose "Behind the Scenes: Making Coraline" by Mark Shapiro of Laika Studios in Portland, Oregon.  Although I'm not into the physical tedium of stop-motion animation, it was interesting to see how it is done now (compared to methods used by such early pioneers as Ray Harryhausen) that includes the use of 3D printers to produce removable masks for puppets to facilitate a wide range of facial expression.  He said the main character, Coraline, had over 225,000 facial masks to portray all of her expressions in the film.

Other sessions available were "Formula for Success: The Independent Film World" by producer Jeffrey Cooper of Cut Entertainment Group   and a lighting workshop by Leonard Henderson, Director of Photography for Chambers Communications (the conference sponsor).  The lighting workshop lasted all day each day.
Mark Shapiro demonstrates the use of
the 3D-printed expression masks
Laika Studios produced for the Oscar
nominated film "Coraline"
At 11:30 I attended "Essentials: Storyboard and Story" by Jason Lethcoe, a 2-D animator (has worked for Disney, Dreamworks, etc) and children's storybook author. Jason's pragmatic viewpoint and personal experiences were really interesting.  He submitted his first storyboard to Disney when he was in high school.  Disney Studios actually called him back to tell him not to bother to ever send them another portfolio again as it was terrible!  I know that had to be hard to take for a naive 17-year-old.  But he persevered and kept honing his skills until he finally got a foot in the door.  He cautioned everyone, though, that the days of a secure job with a big studio are over.  Most artists now work project-to-project and it's important to diversify and cultivate your own "tribe" through blogging and social networking referring to "Simon's Cat" as a prime example.


 The other presentation was "End of the World As We Know It: Digital Music Distribution" by Dr. Paul Friedlander, a musician and professor at California State University at Chico.

I had lunch with a retired media arts friend from the U of O, a media arts faculty member from LCC and a couple of people from MOPAN.  After lunch I attended "The Big Picture: Film Producing" presented by Jeffrey Cooper who has worked in development, production, sales and distribution for such production companies as Universal Studios, and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment and produced four feature films. He also teaches film studies at a university in California.  Mark Shapiro, from Laika Studios in Portland (It's owned by Phil Knight of Nike) also held a question and answer session.

Then at 2:30 I attended "Idea to Script: The Writing Process" by Sara and Gregory Bernstein, a husband and wife screenwriting team.  They handed out a very helpful checklist for the writing process that included such nuts and bolts as asking yourself "What is the underlying lesson of the film as revealed by the protagonist's journey?"  and "Is the plot's conflict ill-defined, underplayed or too static?".  I think I will use some of their listed problems as references in future book reviews.

The other presentation was "Artist Experience: Working for the Studios", another talk by former Disney animator Jason Lethcoe.

At 3:30 I attended the panel discussion "Career Paths: Getting Your Work Out!" chaired by screenwriters Sarah and Gregory Bernstein, producer Jeffrey Cooper and Mark Shapiro of Laika Studios.  One of the most interesting things that Jeffrey Cooper mentioned was the tasks of a script reader, the beginning position in the film development process.  He said that many production companies are looking for script readers and they pay about $100 per script.  Apparently there is a checklist of things a script reader uses to evaluate submitted scripts and good script readers that recommend work that becomes successful films can advance to assistant story editors, and on up the ladder.  I thought of my sister who loves film and actually used to write film reviews for a newspaper in the SF Bay Area in exchange for movie tickets.  She is looking for something she can do from home to supplement her other freelance graphic design and writing jobs.  So I called her that evening and gave her the information about the Hollywood Creative Directory, that contains contact information for different production companies, the website Entertainmentcareers.net and showbizjobs.com which Cooper recommended when I spoke with him after the presentation concluded.  I also noted that the Bernsteins recommended the books "The Writer's Journey" by Christopher Vogler and "Story" by Robert McKee for those interested in writing screenplays.

On day 2,  I opened the day with "Inside the Studio: How Movies Get Made" by Mark Shapiro.  This time Mark discussed the importance of using film festivals to bring attention to a film, especially independent films not backed by the marketing supplied by major studios.  The other presentations were "It's only Rock and Roll: Rock's Creative Explosions by Paul Friedlander, "Meet the Writers" with Sara and Gregory Berstein and the ongoing all day lighting workshop by Leonard Henderson.

At 10:30 I attended "Meet the Artist" with animator/author Jason Lethcoe.  Jason continued to share his personal experiences in working collaboratively with other artists and the development of professional relationships to advance your career.  Former LCC Media Arts students discussed "Paths to Success".

At 11:30 I attended "Pitching Your Story with Studio Executives" presented by Sara and Greg Bernstein.  Towards the end of a very good nuts and bolts discussion, a couple of people from the audience practiced pitching a story and we all joined in with Sara and Greg with our own observations and opinions.  I would love to have a more extended "real world" session like that.  Elsewhere, a student alumni panel discussed 'School to Industry: What to do now to success later".

After lunch I attended another talk by animator/author Jason Lethcoe, "Industry Directions: The Emerging Independent Scene".  Dr. Friedlander discussed "Going Global: A Case Study in the International Music Industry - Belize Music Project."

Then I attended "Meet the producer" with Jeffrey Cooper.  Jeffrey gave us real world examples of how producers craft trailers to appeal to a certain demographic or to deliver the widest possible audience to a new film.  Most illuminating was the example he gave for the movie "Se7en".  Even though it starred such A-list actors as Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, he pointed out that the trailer was designed to draw in horror enthusiasts and did not mention the famous stars.  He said that horror films draw from a much younger demographic and it was decided that since Pitt and Freeman did not normally appear in horror films, drawing attention to the stars may bring in older moviegoers who might not be as supportive of the film as younger horror fans would be.  I pointed out that, although this ploy worked well for "Se7en" it backfired for "The Village", an M. Night Shyamalan film about what appears to be a 17th century village surrounded by a forest populated with ferocious creatures.  "The Village" was heavily promoted as a horror film but was really about societal violence and the futility of attempts to escape it.  Therefore, the film, heavily attended by horror fans, was widely dissed because of its lack of horror.  I personally found the film much more interesting as it was presented but I must admit I am not usually a horror enthusiast.



Other conference options were "The Writer's Life" by Sara and Greg Bernstein and another "Paths to Success" panel discussion.

At 3:30 I attended another "Getting Your Work Out" session with Jason Lethcoe, Paul Friedlander, Jeffrey Cooper and Leonard Henderson.  I was pleased to note that most of the presenters have embraced the internet as an emerging platform to showcase their work and develop professional relationships.

In addition to meeting these fascinating presenters I also met some local people very interested in learning how to blog and use social networking tools effectively.  A psychiatrist for the VA was especially interested when I mentioned I had prepared the Wikipedia article for the Vietnam Combat Artists program.  Maybe next year I could participate in the conference as a specialist in social media.

Portland Center for Perfoming ArtsPortland Center for the Performing Arts. Image via WikipediaI also met an aspiring author who has written a novel about ancient Illyria.  I told her I would be interested in reviewing it but my current stack is quite overwhelming so it could take me a while.

All in all, I thought it was a very productive two days and well worth my time.  Apparently I missed the Creative Conference that is held each year up at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.  My friend attended it last weekend.  I told him that I wish they would have advertised it in the Register Guard like they used to.  He said the special effects artist who worked on "Titanic" was the keynote speaker this year.  I saw him back in 1998 right after "Titanic" was released and his presentation was really interesting.  I'll have to keep an eye out for an announcement about the conference next fall.


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