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David Swindle’s African Odyssey

Travel DAYS: Sunday, July 2 – Tuesday, July 4

The flight from LA to Dubai went across Greenland and produced memorable views like this one:

A view of the permanent sunset at the top of the globe, from my plane ride from LA to Dubai yesterday.

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The flight on Emirates was among the best I’ve ever had. In addition to tons of new movies, TV shows, and albums, they also had some classics, so I thought it appropriate to rewatch Casablanca given that we’ll be there in a few weeks:

I picked up my first Thomas Pynchon novel on Saturday, Inherent Vice, for the plane rides, primarily because I liked the movie and have been studying the genre (LA Detective mystery ala Raymond Chandler):

Summer travel reading: Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. Fantastic so far. #Mystery #detective #fiction #novel

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New Kickstarter Campaign for “Arts and Minds” Promotes Liberty Through Art

A new liberty-oriented project in Portland, OR recently launched a campaign on Kickstarter to raise money for a summer project that will use “creative energy to spotlight Oregon’s criminal justice system and activate change.”

Arts and Minds (a project of the non-profit Spark Freedom) plans to host a block party where members of the community come together for a day to paint a collaborative mural that tells the story of the criminal justice system in Oregon. United by a passion for freedom and criminal justice reform, attendees will engage in a city-wide “experiment in grassroots artistic activism.”

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Cheese Wars

I’m proposing this as a follow-up to filmmaker Anat Baron’s exceptional 2009 feature length documentary Beer Wars. In BW, Baron explores the vibrant-but-fledgling world of small, American craft brewers who are trying to carve out a livelihood, and you know, generally make good things, despite mounds of bureaucratic red-tape and the well-connected corporate “beer” makers (i.e., your MillerCoors, your Anheuser-BuschInBevsSterlingCooperDraperPryces) who would rather they didn’t.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Hey! Why you picking on my Budweiser Black Crowns, you hipster bully?” And you have a point; we all should be free to consume whatever suits our fancy. I’m not a Luddite, or a soda czar. In a weird way, I stand with you and your right to patronize mass-produced crap. I mean, we’ve been doing it since the turn of the Industrial Revolution, so why stop now? After all, the Industrial Revolution meant better living standards and longer lifespans and yay!

But it also conditioned us to become a nation of short-term, self-indulgent spenders willing to throw our shekels at every Model T and tract home that came our way. America is nothing if not a nation of consumers–hell, it’s our answer to nearly everything–and our capitalistic empire relies on people spending billions on bland, vanilla products they don’t need, and in many cases, aren’t good for them. And American industries, and the corporate executives who run them, know this. And they love it.

This is cheese
This is cheese

But with the rise of a new class of successful entrepreneurs who care as equally about their bottom line as they do about the quality of the product they’re making, American corporations are getting a little territorial.

So territorial, they’re coming for our cheese. And they have helpers. According to Forbes,

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an executive decree banning the centuries old practice of aging cheese on wooden boards.  One bureaucrat within the FDA, without surveying all of the scientific literature, and without public commentary, has rattled hundreds of small businesses across the United States.  Consumers who eat any kind of aged cheese should prepare for a potentially catastrophic disruption in the market for artisan, non-processed cheese.

The FDA’s decision will not only harm American cheese makers, but may also bring a halt to the importation of artisan cheeses from abroad

Corporate cheese makers like Leprino and Kraft will be able to weather this regulatory storm — they don’t make cheese, they manufacture cheese.

So the FDA has decided that real cheese is dangerous, and needs to be outlawed. Fine. But they’re going about it in an illegal manner. Per the same article, agency rule books require that any change to best practices and standards be subject to a “notice and comment-rule making” process, which is supposed to work something like this:

  • The FDA says, “Whoa, you fromage-loving hippies. No more wooden boards. They’re killing our children and destroying our homes.”
  • Cheese makers are given the opportunity to provide counter evidence (i.e., they’re afforded due process)
  • The FDA takes their input into consideration, and only after deliberating issues a final verdict

    This is not cheese
    This is not cheese

But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, the FDA is ruling by fiat, and inviting a legal battle that will surely cost independent cheesemongers millions to fight–all to have the right to keep doing what they’ve always been doing. Meanwhile, as Forbes points out, corporate “cheese manufactures” get to sit back, relax, munch on a Lunchable, and rake in their billions.

Man. It’s enough to make you need a stiff drink.

 

Locked Out: A Mississippi Success Story

As a film & video producer, I count myself among an exceptionally small group of people who are lucky enough to get to spend each and every day doing what we love to do.

I say this even as I am in the middle of one of the most stressful two weeks of my life.

020By the end of the run, I’ll have racked up about 4,000 miles traveling through 9 different states. I’ll have completed production work on 2 major events; shot everything and begun the editing process for a biographical video; filmed 3 more interviews for an in-progress documentary; and screened my latest film, “Locked Out” at a Landmark theater in Atlanta and the Tribeca Film Center in New York City.

Even in its worst moments, I know I have a pretty amazing job. It’s a job that I simply love to do. There’s almost no such thing as being overworked.

I really believe that if everyone felt the same way about what they do for a living, the world would be filled with passionate, happy people.

Most people just aren’t that lucky.

Not everyone knows what they want. Not everyone can or wants to develop a skill that is also commercially useful. Not everyone will always be successful. And most of us (myself very much included) will have to go through a long string of less-than-satisfying jobs before finding the ones that work for us.

Those are just immutable facts of life.

But those aren’t the only reasons a lot of people don’t get the jobs they want. Far more often than most people realize, bad laws and government restrictions flat out prevent people from finding well-paid work that they’re actually passionate about.

Every day I work with people for whom this is the case.

One of those people, Melony Armstrong, is the subject of the film I’m screening in New York in two days. Melony is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. Almost 20 years ago, she found her career passion—hair braiding—but when she tried to open the first professional hair braiding salon in Mississippi and use her skills to earn a living and support her family, she hit a wall called the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology.

The MSBC blocked Melony’s attempts to work professionally as a hair braider by demanding that she first obtain a full cosmetology license at the cost of nearly $10,000 and years of training, none of which taught a thing about hair braiding. Most people facing those kinds of obstacles would give up. In fact, every person in Mississippi who hit that same barrier before Melony did give up.

But Melony fought back.

When I learned about her story, I knew I wanted to tell it. That’s why I made “Locked Out”. Watch the trailer:

Melony’s battle with the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology ultimately cost her 7 years, but in the end, her victory not only opened up opportunities for hundreds of young women who shared her passion for natural hair, it set a precedent to reduce licensing restrictions across the country. When she started her fight, 37 states required cosmetology licenses to braid hair. Now, 28 states do, and each year that number drops.

And sure, you might think that hair braiding isn’t that important… But chances are pretty good that you know someone who wants to work in a field right now and isn’t allowed to without a costly, and probably unnecessary permit.

A few decades ago, 1 in 20 occupations required a special license to operate. Today, it’s 1 in 3.

Want to be an interior designer? In Nevada, you need to spend 6 years in training and take a state-approved exam. Think you might have what it takes to trim trees? In California, you’ll need to get 4 years of training, pass 2 state-approved exams, and cough up $851. Maybe you just want to be an athletic trainer. In Illinois, that’s going to be 4 years in training, an exam, and $500.

Pre-school teachers, barbers, make-up artists, skin care specialists, door repairmen… Even florists in some states are required to obtain costly government permission just to earn a living.

Right now, the list is endless. But it needs to end.

For a lot of people, entrepreneurship—and even simply access to a variety of employment options—is the way to wealth and empowerment. Yet restrictions like the ones Melony faced push people into poverty, trap them in cycles of dependency, and prevent people from earning a good living doing something they actually want to do.

“Locked Out” is available to watch for free at www.honestenterprise.tv. I hope you’ll watch it and share it with your friends. Maybe it will inspire others to stand up to ridiculous laws like Melony did, and help more people achieve their dreams and get the jobs they really want.

Shared creative spaces

NYC’s DuArt, a post-production lab established shortly after the birth of Mickey Rooney (RIP), recently announced a new partnership with the New York Television Festival, wherein DuArt will provide NYTVF winning alums with free co-working space, and deeply discounted services (color correction, sound mixing, etc.).

Duart-logo

DuArt’s initiative is–to the best of my knowledge–one of, if not, the first co-working space endeavor of its kind for television and online content creators. NYTVF partners have been giving out development deals to writers / producers / directors for the better part of a decade now, so the added level of investment in up-and-coming talent is incredibly encouraging, especially considering that newer “channels” like Netflix and Amazon –often heralded as proof of Hollywood’s interest in unknown and emerging talent–are, in many ways, just as inaccessible as any other long-standing network. (Now would probably be the best time to point out that I am not being paid to hawk either NYTVF of DuArt.) nytvf

The idea of sharing work space is certainly not a new one, and Silicon Valley (both the show and the locale) has single-handedly made working co-ops like “incubators” a household name. DuArt’s offer is significantly different, in many ways, from an incubator, but it essentially accomplishes the same thing: it places talented, proven creatives together in the same space, and in so doing, takes a (small, but important) risk that the powers-that-be rarely do. It’s also incredibly savvy. Any successful creative that takes advantage of DuArt’s offer, will surely repay the company ten-fold down the line.

As television and film studios continue to be dismantled, expect more moves like this from non-studio entities (think: Coca Cola having an in-house film production company), as relatively unknown artists continue to do more with less–with a healthy serving of collaboration along the way.

And for those of you who know of other efforts like DuArt’s please sound off in the comments!

Mystery Science Theater Returns to Television

That’s right!  Stop jumping up and down for a second so you can get the details.

The National Geographic channel has invited MST3000 alumni Michael J. NelsonKevin Murphy (as Tom Servo), and Bill Corbett (as Crow T. Robot) for an April Fools Day special.

Tom Servo, Mike, and Crow
Tom Servo, Mike, and Crow

The gang, known for poking fun at poorly made B movies, will reunite to “riff” on some of National Geographic’s own classic segments.  The special, entitled Total Riff Off, will fittingly air on April 1st.

For those of us who are already members of the MST3K cult, it will be a great time to light some candles around our television sets and re-live the glory days.  And for those of you who missed the Mystery Science Theater heyday, you’ll have an opportunity to finally understand why watching other people watch movies can be so brilliant.

In my book, this has to be considered the most anticipated TV event of the year.  I’ve been watching and re-watching every episode I can get ahold of (there are dozens on both Hulu and Netflix), but to see the riffers, who have been busy riffing  via their new project, RiffTrax, back on television will be like witnessing the second coming.

It’s a Smash Cut Culture

Do we need a new blog on culture?  Well, did we need a new pope?  I think both questions answer themselves.

Webster’s defines “smash cut” as… well, Webster’s doesn’t have “smash cut” in it.  The first suggestion it lists in lieu of “smash cut” is “Siamese cat,” but that’s just silly.

Naturally, Google has a definition:  “A smash cut is a technique in film and other moving visual media where one scene abruptly cuts to another without transition, usually meant to startle the audience.”

Which isn’t so silly.  Because Hollywood is going through an abrupt change that, rather than startling the audience, seems to be scaring the bejebus out of the movie studios and TV networks.

This probably isn’t news to you, but digital technology, which now runs the gamut from production to distribution, has revolutionized the film and TV industry (just as it upended the music business earlier).

Used to be that you needed a battery of refrigerator-sized movie cameras, miles of celluloid film, hanger-sized sound stages, and battalions of crew members to shoot a movie, along with editing suites with bulky equipment that would literally cut and splice together reels of film.

And then, you needed to make thousands of physical copies of these big reels of film and ship them all over the country simultaneously for opening weekend.  And you had to spend tens of millions in TV advertising to get the word out and butts in the seats.

Now?  You can shoot an entire movie with a handheld HD videocamera and a few hard drives that could all fit inside one suitcase.  You can edit the whole thing with nothing but a laptop.  You can distribute your finished product to hundreds of millions of potential customers with literally the touch of a trackpad button and a WiFi connection.  And you can market the whole thing for free with a Twitter account and Facebook page.

Of course, there’s no guarantee you will have the same level of viewership or gross income that the studio movie will garner.  But the playing field is more level than it has ever been before.

Of all of these changes — the lowering of barriers on production, post-production, marketing, and distribution — the most radical is distribution.  The studios were the ultimate gatekeepers on what movies were shown in theaters and sold in video-stores (remember those?), what songs played on the radio, what shows got on TV.  But while they continued to zealously patrol those gates, the walls around those gates have been crumbling.

Gil Scot-Heron was right, in a way — the (digital) revolution will not be televised.  Rather, it will be blogged, podcasted, YouTubed, Tweeted, Vimeo’ed, Pandora’ed, Amazon Primed, and Netflix streamed.  Studios can only stand by (like record-company executives before them) as their business models go the way of the dinosaur.

While the studio system certainly had its advantages and its triumphs, both artistic and financial, it was often hostile to those who didn’t share their paternalistic, coastal-elite point of view.  Having connections –familial, political, or school ties — were crucial to breaking in.  This fostered a group-think mentality, while those with other perspectives were largely locked out.

As Hollywood’s monopoly on the means of distribution fades, other points of view will break through as people outside the system begin to create.

Smash Cut is a group blog that seeks to liberate our culture from Hollywood’s stale, hidebound world view, encouraging more diverse voices and views.

But likely more often than not, we will simply write silly posts and capsule movie reviews, pointing you to the things we like (or warning you off things that we don’t like).  We want to hear from you, so we welcome comments.

We want this to be a conversation.  We will often disagree with each other — which is good, because as I said, we want to see/hear a diversity of ideas and views.  You will not find a lot of groupthink here.  In fact, we are all in firm agreement to avoid groupthink.

Like a Paranormal Activity movie, change is scary but simultaneously thrilling.  The changes underway in the Hollywood system provide tremendous opportunity to those who felt cut out of the old-boys-network because they weren’t willing to surrender their independence of thought.

Fresh new voices are emerging, and there’s no rule that says they must parrot the same tired Hollywood point of view.  We for one can’t wait to hear what they have to say.  And this blog gives us a chance to throw in our own two bitcoins from time to time.