Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Year of Our Lord

Personal blog time.

I've tried turning this blog into an offshoot of Red Raptor, and I've liked it, but sometimes you just need to say something that isn't about 2 minute videos of dance and manatee humor.

2009 was a long year. I went through a lot and came out of a lot. It started with a very cranky Christmas, but I did get to read "Wild at Heart", which has changed some views I had about myself and Christian men. The second semester of BICS was my last and hardest year there. The work and study was harder to apply to life and I was having a hard time dealing with the balance of work and socializing. I can see now that I was really struggling with pride and the change of responsibility and desire. But, because of God, I got through it (passed Greek) and got my certificate. I spent some time in Nashville, TN working for Cottage Cove Ministries and making them a video, which was very cool.

The summer was hard, in different ways. My biggest struggle was work, because I am a lazy slug. Working at Big Y was something new, and I had to work more hours than I had in a long time. I struggled a lot with how I spent my free time; watching movies and reading instead of doing anything productive. I spent the summer living with the Mclaughlins and Corey talked to me about serving. It was hard hearing for me, because I wanted my time to be my time. But, I know, that my time isn't my own. Hard lesson indeed.

It should be mentioned that I got accepted to Houghton as well and there was no real reason why that should have happened. It was very impulsive and I had failed to talk to God about the matter. But, God had grace upon me and allowed it to happen. There was a lot of praying for financial aid, because in no way could I pay for school on my own, but once again, God took care of me and paid for my school year, as a loving father would.

Houghton has made this year something new entirely. For the first time, I was in classes for a major I decided on, and that does something to your way of thinking about school. I also had to adjust to a new setting alone and this time I felt more confident and prepared then ever. Not because I thought I was hot-stuff, but because over the past two years at BICS, and even this summer, I have been learning how to talk to people and how to find my identity not in myself, but in Christ. Houghton has been a blast. I'm back into swing dancing, I gave blood for the first time (I miss you blood!), I preformed in a play, and I finally read "Ender's Game". The classes have been great, though they've had their moments.

This isn't a brag list. I have nothing to brag about. Everything I just talked about has only been possible because of God and God alone. Anywhere I've been, anything I've done, anyone I've meet; it's all because of God. This year is a year Jesus Christ showed his unbelievable glory to me. It wasn't a year of the health and wealth gospel in my life; it was a year of God showing he can use any situation for His glory and if I'm looking for it, I can find the most joy. There was sorrow this year. Many things didn't work out the way I wanted them and I failed at doing a good amount of tasks I had set. I'm still not the Christian man I should be, and I've spent a good portion of the year unsure of what I want to do with my life. But God still uses that to remind me to rely on Him; all year.

God is faithful and will be faithful, even in 2010.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blog to Book

This essay was written as a response paper for my Personal Media class at Houghton College. In it, we are to read an article (see the link below) and respond to it with what we have been learning about how we communicate in with new digital tools.

Good job?


With personal media tools cheaper and more accessible than ever, anyone has the ability to have their voices heard. With the rise of blogs, more and more people are able to show off their writing skills to the world (I’ll be posting this essay to my blog as well). With more people writing, are more being noticed? Are the ones being noticed worth being noticed?

Christian Lander has been noticed; his blog “Stuff White People Like” gained a book deal for $300,000. I looked around online for a bit to find the average book deal price, and it can range from $1,000 to $1,000,000, but most new writers don’t get past $100,000. Why does Lander get such a deal? Because his blog gets 1.5 million hits? Is that the new standard for book deals? Is it a good one?

Book publishers are hoping so. They want to see those million hits become sales and who could blame them. By signing Lander, they have a new author with a built in fanbase. The issue isn’t the publisher’s intentions, they need to make a profit and don’t want to take risky chances. The issue is whether or not bloggers make for the best writers. Taking Lander as an example, his blog is a topic-a-day format commenting on things that he believes most white people enjoy for comedic effect. While the blog could be called racist, I found it to be slightly funny, all though frivolous in content, like a joke calendar you laugh at, quote a few times, and move on from. As a blog, the concept works great, everyday there’s a new topic to laugh at and forget the next. As a book, you have a set number of commentaries that don’t change. As the article stated, the blog to book process hasn’t turned out to be very profitable on average. Books based on other blogs, such as Gawker.com, have sold disappointingly low, in the low thousands with few gaining large readership offline.

Here we have aspiring writers being noticed, though not always with the greatest results. Though blogger enthusiast might hate to admit it, there may be a difference between amateur blogging and professional writing that isn’t so easy to close the gap to. One of the reasons Lander was published was because his blog was so unblog-like. Other blogs, such as Skull-A-Day, are photoblogs getting book deals. It would seem that in order to get a book deal with a blog, one must learn to not write like a blogger.

I have a blog and I would be lying if I said I never wanted it to be noticed. Many times I have thought about doing something with my blog that would attract attention and gain me more fame then I have now. I also like hearing about people finding new ways to get their writing noticed, because it gives me more hope for myself, but what about the quality of writing? Sure, publishers are bringing a fanbase to them, but are they going to attract new fans? By looking for easy sales, are they lowering their standards? I doubt very much that “Stuff White People Like” would have been given $300,000 had it been sent in to a publishing house the old fashion way. It might have been noticed and published, but for much less, I’m sure.

There is good to be found. The fact that people are being noticed by blogging show that new personal media works; perhaps not as well as some had hoped it would, but it shows promise. People can get their work and ideas out and gain success in ways they couldn’t before. Most people who write blogs just want to have their voice heard and don’t focus on their style, so much as find their style. This creates a sense of uniqueness to many blogs and helps show their differences. But, how many imitators will now be trying to replicate Lander? Blogs will start looking like all other forms of media; mostly passable with few exceptions of creativity. Could the blog to book process create an indie-blogging genre; of smart blogs going unnoticed while more accessible blogs make the real money? If this happens, I think blogging will end up missing the point.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Challenge

I started making videos for fun. When I first film "Fernando, Felipe, and Veronica" with my friend Mat, I never thought about ongoing series or production values. I was just thrilled to have a video camera at my hands. As "Monkey and Dog" and "Green Arrow" formed, I began to love making videos as a hobby.
People used to tell me I should go to school for it and I would tell them I didn't want to turn my hobby into a career because I didn't want to hate my new favorite past time. But, as time went on, I kept finding myself overjoyed at each new video. During the first year of BICS, I was very sure I would go on to Lancaster Bible College like everyone else. I made a few videos during the year, but not as much as before and not very good ones at that (I almost destroyed "Monkey and Dog" with the 6th episode). But then, during the summer, I had a revelation. I made a few videos during my break, but it wasn't until "Eric and Brendan's Zombie Blog" that it hit me how much I loved video work. The idea of having a series ongoing and new; it was awesome. I knew I wanted to do that for as long as I could.
But, man dingo, it can be annoying. I'm not doing this stuff professionally, nor I am I doing it full time for school. I'm managing my Youtube site as if I was professional, but it's not so easy posting as if I were. My biggest gripe is that I don't have a constant flow of videos to keep the site always active. I also get slightly discouraged when a new video I think might get me some views under-preforms (see "Eric and Brendan's Zombie Blog" and "Once Upon a Final Fantasy"). But, this is not so much a complaint as a challenge. I'm not content with leaving my videos at low views and I've been networking them to get them noticed more. It should also be noted that I've been making Red Raptor Productions more expanded, with the help of Twitter, Facebook, and this blog.
The challenge to make my videos better is a good one. I'm working on a series right now about brothers that I hope to have done by January and I've got a few ideas for music videos. I want RRP to have Christmas specials, more commentaries, and more for you to enjoy. Next semester, I'll be taking a Digital Video class, and that should give me more ideas and material to work with.
The challenge is for material and we're going to meet it head on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Monkey Business





Our first epic!
One thing I used to pride myself (and not as much anymore with my desire for scripted material) was my ability to pull an idea out of nowhere. My brother was over one day, as was Glenn and our friend Mack, and I wanted to make a video. Being myself, I wanted to do something that I couldn't really do well, which was a film-noir mystery. This video has the benefit of coming after "Phantom of the Office", so I had a few things to work off. I knew I could use Dog as a detective, having introduced that idea in the former video and that the comedy would come from Dog as a character. But, wanting my friends in it, I made Glenn a detective as well.
This would be the first time I ever filmed anybody else outside of one video. For the most part, I hadn't used other people in any other videos. It was also going to be the first time I used Dog in a video with others. I felt rather silly at first, holding the camera, while puppeteering Dog and doing his voice. Luckily, Glenn just went with it. He never looked at me, or the camera (he's able to act as if it weren't there) and he acted with Dog like a pro.
The thing with this video is that it was all improve. We had a basic outline for the order of scenes; interrogation, fight, bar, ect. But, we didn't have any dialog. So, as the scenes were filmed, Glenn had to keep up improving with a stuffed Dog. He did great! The fact that he and Dog have any charisma is all due to him. It was so much fun to film this and see Glenn talk to Dog as if he were a real actor, and to see Glenn react to Dog's improve. Glenn's actions were also improves at times. When Dog said "pound it", Glenn did. The scene near the end, with Dog and Glenn hiding from the gunfire, Glenn outdid himself reacting to Dog's passion, and explained that magic created the gun. Brilliant.
I didn't really want the mystery to be a big deal, since I couldn't do a real one any justice, so I made the interrogation scenes rather obvious. My brother would play the villain, Mr. Naughty, and that was it. Give him a cinnamon stick as a cigar and a fez as a hat and Jordan was the antagonist. Jordan has some trouble with lines. During the scene in which he tells our heroes he's going to get rid of them and all the evidence, the poor kid could only say "elephants". We took more than enough takes of him getting rid of pachyderms. Jordan was still young then, and had trouble not looking at the camera, but he has gotten much better.
For the fight scene, I knew we would need more than one person attacking Glenn and Dog, but we only had us four (and Monkey was dead). So, I made the decision that Mack would play quintuplets. I did my best to try and get that idea across, but I'm not sure it worked. It made staging the fight scene tricky, and that part worked, but I think it might look like Mack is just really fast. Either way, the fight was the first time I was Dog and not holing the camera, and it's strange to see myself doing Dog's voice on screen.
I should also mention that the scene with Dog explaining he had to get his magic stick took many takes, only so we could get one with out Glenn cracking up. This happened again when Dog and Glenn were at the bar. Let's forget for a second that Mack plays a one-armed bartender and wipes down a stereo with only his hand. Lets forget that Glenn is wearing a sombrero, signifying he's drinking. Let's forget that we never explain Mr. Naughty as Glenn, Dog, and Monkey's mystery killer. When Dog said he lost his uncle to a 2X4 launcher, Glenn lost it. We had about 3 minutes of laughter filmed, because when he lost it, we all lost it. It was a lot of fun, I can tell you.
Yes, Dog and Glenn get the dialog wrong when figuring out that Mr. Naughty is the killer, but they do figure it out and this takes us to our climax. With no guns to use, we took some marshmallow shooters and called it a day. I never figured Dog would die, but when we came to the end, it just made sense to me. When I was young and played Jurassic Park with my action figures, I always killed the survivors. Why? I don't know. But, I did. So, somehow, that has carried on and now Dog dies at the end of the movie. At first, if I recall, we were going to play "Baker Street" for his death, but "Space Lion" from Cowboy Bebop won me over. It had a much more sorrowful sound to it, and the connotation from it's episode of the show worked for me too. The slow-motion pull back was a bit too long, but I loved the song during the credits.
Yes, this video has its faults. It should be shorter, have better dialog, and less interrogation scenes, but it had some really fun stuff. The dialog made me happy at times, with Dog telling Mr. Naughty that, "I know you'd kill your mom for a nickle and a lollipop." For a video thought up and filmed in a few hours, and with no budget or script, we made up for it with acting and passion. Let no one ever say we don't have the passion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Dark Knight: When Worldviews Collide

This essay was written for my Ethics and Worldviews class at the Berkshire Institute of Christian Studies. For the essay, we had to take a piece of pop culture and find the following: the worldviews presented in the movie, the fingerprints of God, and a means of using it apolitically and as a witnessing tool.

The Dark Knight: When Worldviews Collide

Eric Mikols

The character of Batman, created in 1939, has seen many changes throughout his career. Starting as a dark detective, created by Bob Kane, Batman became a campy crime-fighter, played by Adam West, in the “Batman” television show (which became his status in the comics as well). When the show ended, the writer Danny O’Neil and others decided to bring Batman back to his detective roots and tried to bring back the darker nature of the character. Batman saw another change in the 1980’s when comic book writer Frank Miller took over. Creating “Batman: Year One” and “The Dark Knight Returns”, Miller took Batman into a dark corner that most comics hadn’t gone. This influenced the tone of the first “Batman” movie, directed by Tim Burton, in 1989. Sixteen years later “Batman Begins” came out in 2005 and changed the character once more, bringing him back to his dark roots and origin. Director Christopher Nolen brought a realistic and psychologically dark take to Batman and in the 2008 sequel, “The Dark Knight”, he went even deeper into the character Batman and the world he inhabits.

What is interesting about “The Dark Knight” is that it doesn’t hold just one worldview but many and they interact in ways that are very similar to the real world. For this paper, we are going to focus on the three main characters; Batman/Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and the Joker.

Starting with Harvey Dent, we find a naturalist. Harvey Dent makes no claims to believe in a God and neither does he makes make claims about other religions. When given choices, he flips his coin and claims to criticizers that he makes his own luck (with a two-sided coin). In the movie, Dent is captured and the left side of his face is horribly burned. Finding that he has nothing to fall back on, he retreats to his coin (now charred on one side) and claims that luck is the only true justice, that it is unbiased and completely free.

The character of the Joker is next and we find the child of naturalism: nihilism. The Joker believes in and claims to be an agent of chaos. Why? Because, as he explains; the only sane way to live in this world is to live without rules. He stands as a man who sees that the world has no point to it, that human life is worthless, and death is the only end. The whole point of the Joker’s actions is to prove his point, to show that life is nothing and then you die. We can even see the effects that nihilism would have on a person in the Joker. Like a real nihilist, the Joker cannot successfully live in the world; he has no fingerprints, no D.N.A. matches, and he has no other alias. He has completely removed himself from reality in order to cope with reality. In the end, the only place for the Joker to go is to Arkham asylum.

Finally, we come to the Batman, who represents existentialism. When trying to create the identity of Batman, Bruce Wayne states that he needs to become more than a man, something that can be seen as a symbol. He wants people to see Batman as indestructible, as an idea. We can see the existentialism in the way he is giving meaning to everything. Batman doesn’t have a cave; he has a Batcave. Not just a car; a Batmobile. He is a man who instills meaning into everything he does. As he says in “Batman Begins”, “It’s not who I am on the inside, but my actions that define me.”

The most interesting part of these views is that these characters interact in a way their worldviews interact. Throughout the movie, the Joker is trying to corrupt Harvey Dent. Nihilism is the outcome of naturalism and tries, in a way, to remove it. Near the end of the movie, Harvey Dent is almost taken by the view the Joker offers, but tries to hold onto his trust in luck. As for Batman, it’s interesting that he is existentialism, fighting the nihilistic character, the Joker. Considering existentialism was created in order to fight nihilism, this adds something to the struggle in the movie.

What’s more is that during the climax of the film, the Joker has corrupted Harvey Dent. Commissioner Gordon and Batman both agree that if the citizens of Gotham see Dent’s fate then they will lose hope in the restoration of the city. In order to keep Dent’s reputation untarnished, Batman agrees to take the place of Dent’s crimes. Batman is willing to become what the city needs him to be. He is the ever changing symbol that society makes him.

There is a paradox found in the Joker. During the movie, he seems to lose a sense of his nihilism. What he finds is meaning in Batman. When Batman asks the Joker why he is trying to kill him, the Joker laughs and tells Batman that he isn’t trying to kill him. In fact, the Joker questions what he would do without Batman. Batman has given the Joker a challenge and in that way, given the Joker meaning. If the Joker was to kill Batman, he would have to return to nihilism.

It seems like the director is hinting at a world of elements. There is no God, but there is nature, chaos, and chance. During one scene in “Batman Begins”, Batman has a corrupt cop strung up to the top of a building. Batman questions the cop, who swears to God he doesn’t know anything. To this, Batman demands that that the cop swears to him. Batman is trying to instill the fear of God into his enemies by replacing God in their mindset.

Yet, even with the denial of God, there still are signs of his existence. Bruce Wayne knows he needs to become Batman to protect the good people. But where does this notion of good come from? How do we know the right from the wrong? Where does his sense of justice come from? During the beginning of “Batman Begins”, Bruce Wayne tells how he lived with criminals to understand them, but then his view of those who steal changes and he realizes not all wrongdoers are as evil as he thought. There is a sense that humans can know right and live that way, but are too fallen to do it on their own.

There are a other things Christians can find to embrace in this film. The idea of Batman taking the place of Dent’s crimes could be used as an example of Christ’s work for us. Batman will now be held responsible for everything that Dent did, just as Christ was. We can also see how fallen and hopeless the world is without Christ in the picture. When these characters lose what they have, they realize there is nothing left. No amount of endurance, hope, or dedication can help them deal with the real world.

If I were to witness to someone with “The Dark Knight” I would use the Joker as an example of absolute truth. I would point out that it is fully agreed that what the Joker is doing is wrong. I would than ask why it isn’t ok for the Joker to act the way he does. If truth is relative and reality belongs to the individual, how can we truly judge the Joker’s actions as wrong? We would have to question who the villain is in the movie; is it the Joker who sees killing as a joke and death as the punch line, or is it Batman, who is persecuting the Joker for his beliefs.

Throughout the movie, we’re meant to see the Joker as the villain; yet post-modernism would say there are no villains, just people with different views. But the Bible presents a very clear description of right and wrong and God is always true. Where, as Harvey Dent and Batman take part in questionable decisions for the “good” of the city, God doesn’t have to cross any lines.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Loose Ends



Oh, how this one raked me through the coals.
It started out fine. My mom introduced me to the song and the more I listened to it, the more I wanted to do an AMV to it. My first instinct was "Cowboy Bebop", but having done a few with it, I wanted another anime. I had just finished "Trigun" and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to use it the video. But, my love for Bebop was still there, so I chose to do a combination video (my first).
The decision to go from black and white to color came from a few things. The first was that I was still in love with how Bebop looked in black and white. The other came from me wanting to do something tricky, even though I didn't have a handle on Adobe's effects. So, I chose something simple that I though would add style to the video.
I wanted to present the parallels that Vash and Spike have, because I thought they were obvious, almost embarrassingly so that I thought I should almost avoid it. The fact that Spike and Vash are both men who surround themselves with people but still suffer from being loners was interesting. So was the fact that their brother figures were their antagonist. I wanted to show how both characters are running from their pasts, and how they're going to have to deal with what happened soon, and painfully.
I started editing in May 2005. I was done with the first part with Spike when I started my first relationship. Leave it to a chick, but editing was at a standstill. Other problems arose. I couldn't edit the two animes together without the system crashing, and exporting was not happening. So, I had to make separate projects, edit the video in three parts, and then combine them in post-production. The song was also two long, mainly for the second chorus, and it through off the symmetry I was trying to achieve. So, I cut the song down and spliced it together at a part I won't reveal, in order to keep you from noticing it. I'm actually proud of how well the cut worked out.
When you watch the video, you can tell the video quality suffers. It's from all the post-production work I had to do in order to get the pieces together. I wish it had come out better, because I really like this one. I though that as an action AMV it worked well, and with not to many effects it came out well. The swipe effect was used because I kept wanting to be like VicBond007 but I still have not achieved that man's skill.
A video I'm happy with, though wish it's quality was better. It took 8 months to finish the video but I felt great when it was done. What do you think?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Monkey and Dog Show #3



I'll be the first to admit it. This is not the best Monkey and Dog have to offer. The concept is funny enough. Play off the idea brought up in "Monkey Business" and "Phantom of the Apartment" that Dog is a detective on the side. Add the idea I came up with a co-worker, that Monkey is a spy, and I thought there would be comic gold.
Kind of.
One problem is that between episode two and this one stands a year of not doing Monkey and Dog in their normal sitcom routine. I even had a hard time getting the voices right again.
When you get to the episode itself, there are pacing problems. Dog's time at the computer, while funny at first, drags on too much. This is another problem of me not scripting at the time, and just seeing what dialog comes out. Sometimes it work and other times I got something like this.
One problem that Monkey has in this episode, that you could say he has in all episodes really, is that his dialog is very drawn out. I never really got a handle on delivering Monkey's dialog without taking forever to do so. Part of the issue, I think, is that Monkey is funniest when he's not talking a lot. His five word comments are always funnier when played off of Dog's whinny nature and the more lines Monkey has, the less funny he is. It also takes away from the moment of rage, the moment where Monkey explodes.
Dog suffered a bit as well, though not as bad as Monkey. I had been using Dog in other videos, so his character was still fresh in my mind. A problem that occurs in this video is that Dog really isn't a victim. While that routine would get old, I'm not sure it had yet. But, when Monkey is subdued and Dog is more out there, the balance is off.
The twist at the end, that Monkey is indeed a spy, came across well. The reveal, the fake accent and the eye patch all made me happy. There were plans for this reveal; Monkey would drop Russian vocabulary, we would meet his parents, and there may have been an evil/good Monkey storyline. But, alas, it was not to be.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Hero is Only as Good as His Villain?

“The Dark Knight” was a great movie. I saw it 4 times in theaters, the last being in IMAX. I think the movie is by far the greatest Batman movie ever made and wanted others to see it. But, I feel the world fell in love with it for the wrong reasons.

Ask people what they like about “The Dark Knight” and you will most likely hear the Joker brought up. Some like the character because of the performance by Heath Ledger, and they should; Ledger portrayed the Joker better than anyone else has. Others say they like the character because of how bad he is, and they should; the Joker really got to cut loose in the movie. But, I have yet to hear someone say they like it because of Batman.

Is that sad? You might not think so. But, to me, I see this as a problem. We have elevated the villain character above the hero. Why? Batman was performed by Christian Bale, who is the best Batman to date, and who is a great actor. Batman got to be more like Batman than any other film. So, why do we love the film for the villain?

I can understand why we do enjoy a good villain. They get to be evil, which we don’t get to be. They tend to be more charismatic, have better lines, and break more things. I also believe without a good villain, it’s hard to have a good hero. “The Dark Knight” has a great villain, so why don’t we say it has a great hero?

I worry sometimes that we are becoming a society who looks for evil as entertainment. I don’t mean this as in we seek out evil media like movies and tv, but the content in these films. Why do we have six “Saw” films and more to come? Why do we hope the Joker kills more people than before? Why do we not want the heroes to succeed anymore? Have we become so jaded on true heroes that we can even pretend with fake ones? Do we love the Joker because he fits the world as we know it better than Batman? Have we really reached the point where villains are easier to relate to than heroes?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cowboy City



When I first started editing videos, I was using Windows Movie Maker. This was a sad time indeed. You will never see these videos (I made 15 of them) because I am ashamed of them. However, it did not turn me off from editing. In fact, it made me more hungry for editing, wanting a better program. When I finally got my hands on Adobe Premier, I was a very happy boy.
The first thing I ever made with Adobe was a remake of one of my videos "Living in the Fridge" (this video will be up later). I wanted to get used to the controls and see how everything worked. I enjoyed Premier very much and found it to be a great program, but I didn't have a good idea of what I wanted to edit.
Then I saw the "Sin City" trailer for the first time.
I thought this trailer was amazing, I want to see the movie that second and couldn't stop watching the trailer. Maybe it was the actors involved, maybe it was the music (probably), but whatever it was, it worked. And then I had this idea.
I tried explaining to my uncle, that the crew of Cowboy Bebop was made for this trailer, but he couldn't really see it. But, it's all I could see. This was back when I spent all my time watching videos from Anime Music Videos and I loved watching the trailer videos. I was a little worried about how it would look, but I did it anyways.
I think this video came out great, wish it had more views, and had a blast watching it for the first time. However, there are somethings I wish I had fixed.
I wish I had used the color replacement tool, but back then I was happy just to be able to use black and white. I also wish I had made the end bumper better, but these are the things I used to deal with. Story-wise, I wish I had chosen some better scenes for Jet, just because I don't think he's as well represented. I am extremely happy with my character choices overall, though. I think they all fit perfect, and I've toyed with the idea of making a sequel with the longer trailer, just to see these guys do their thing again. But, it most likely will never happen.
I was very happy with this video. I used a program I was unfamiliar with, made a type of video I had never made before, felt good about my first dialog/lipsyncing process, enjoyed doing the music montage to no end, and felt like I had a first rate video to show for one.
Now, go watch Cowboy Bebop.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why Girls Don't and Won't Read Comics

This essay was written as a response paper for my Intro to Mass Media class at Houghton College. In it, we are to read an article (see the link below) and respond to it with what we have been learning about how we communicate in mass forms.

I feel bad reading this article.

On one hand, I want to cheer for comics trying to obtain more female readers; I have two sisters and would love them to read the things I have read. On the other hand, this article was written more than two years ago and the results of the comic industries efforts are laughable. I wish I didn’t have to laugh.
The issue with girls not reading comics have been going on for years. Some girls like them, most girls don’t. Outside of the article, I’ll be using my own knowledge of the comic industry and the girls I have known related to this subject.

With girls and comics, there is the issue of content being offered and content being sold. Comic companies were talking about selling these girl-friendly comics; at least, they were going to create the content. But, walk into a comic store (as I have for years) and you will find these products are not there, not in an amount that would matter. With comics, it’s easy for issues to get lost in the shuffle. The comic industry is a limping industry with declining sales, and retailers have only so much space on their shelves for profit. So, they don’t buy as much girl-friendly material because they have more guy customers. It’s a sad system. Comics are written, drawn, sold, read, and bought by guys. Bring in a female writer and have her write for girls, but retailers won’t order them for sale, because they have no female customers. Well, let’s sell them at bookstores, since more girls go to bookstores than comic shops. But girls don’t go to the comics section because all they sell are superhero comics; they wouldn’t have anything girls would be interested in. A girl won’t go to the guy section of the bookstore more than she would in a clothing store. So, the girls make their way over to the manga section, where there interest is assured.

It’s about presumptions, for sure. Girls think there is nothing for them in comics, so they stay away. When they do investigate, they find little to reward them. The comic industry is a strange one in that, unlike other mediums, it seems to only be able to do one thing successfully, superheroes. There are exceptions; Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” for one, which has a large female following, but the comics on the shelves of comic shops are superheroes. Why would girls want to read a power fantasy for guys, drawn with a sexually fantastic view of women?

That’s the real issue. Comics are written for guys, manga are written for both guys and girls. Comics create female superheroes, but most girls think Wonder Woman is dumb, with too little clothing. I have yet to meet a girl who respect for her. Wonder Woman has rarely been a success story for comic books. She was created by a psychologist of the name Dr. William Moulton Marston, who used it as an expression of sexual fetishes. In the 1960’s, few women were relating to Wonder Woman, so writer Danny O’Neil removed her powers to show how much like a real woman the character was. Unfortunately, O’Neil received many letters after informing him that he had just removed the best female role model in comics; from female readers. Wonder Woman is a lose/lose character, who’s biggest fanbase is men, due to her fiery attitude and great (and unrealistic) looks.

Another is issue with comics attracting new readership (let alone female readership) is that comics rarely end. The X-Men comics have been going on for more than 40 years with the same history. The only time I got my sister to read X-Men was when they started a new series that redid the whole history because there was no back-continuity for her to read. This much history is hard to get into and understand; and without the knowledge newer stories are hard to follow. Comics are also filled with continuity errors after years of editing. After I asked a girl why she enjoys the “Harry Potter” books, one of answers was that the whole series was consistent with itself. Manga, on the other hand, ends. Most have a plan, a definitive end, and keep their own continuity straight. Readers can easily follow the beginning to the end. I try to tell my sisters about the past continuity of Batman and they can only roll their eyes. Give them a manga that last for 12 books and it’s a different story.

There is another issue; different cultures are represented. With comics, they are an American cultural product. They deal with a lot of American issues, but are also written by Americans with American views. Manga is a different culture with different ways of doing things; which attracts female readers interested in the differences.

The comic industry doesn’t seem to get that girls communicate differently than boys, but they also miss another key factor. Comics are a guy-centric culture. Where with manga, girls can talk to girls easily, comics don’t have that advantage. A girl who is interested in the adventures of the Green Lantern Corps will be talking to guys about it, and that will wear thin. Guys have made comics for themselves, they have turn the comic culture into a guy culture, thus keeping girls from having a way in. But manga isn’t a guy culture; girls can get in and not fear being an outsider. Males have created this comic culture as an escapist entertainment, to keep other things out, and unfortunately, it worked.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Star Hawk Down



Here we have the second most viewed video of Red Raptor Productions (if I had it my way, this would be the number 1 video, but more on that in a later post). This is one I'm proud of and I'm happy to see the positive reception.
This idea came from the fact that I absolutely loved "Black Hawk Down" and I though the trailer was amazing. It was one of those trailers that had a great combination of information, visual cues, and awesome music (thanks to Moby's "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad"). I hadn't yet watched "The Clone Wars" series yet, but I knew of its existence. I can't remember how it hit me, I just remember that the idea of the mixing the two came and I loved the idea.
It took awhile because I had to wait for the DVDs to come out, and wait for Uncle John to buy them. Once he did, I started to work towards an idea I had thought of a year before.
Watching the series for the first time, I knew these two would go together better than I had before. When I saw the second episode, the one where the ship gets hit by a droid missile, I almost felt like I was cheating. The episode was such a Black Hawk-styled episode, it was perfect.
Picking the characters to the voices wasn't so hard, I knew Josh Hartnett was going to be Anakin, just because of the age. Picking Obi-Wan as Eric Bana was easy as well, because Bana had to be played by someone with experience and military respect. Once I knew that Dooku was the George Harris, Yoda had to become Sam Sheperd.
The editing was mixed bag of enjoyment and frustration. On one hand, the missile strike and the montage that follows was more fun than should be allowed, and coming up with the ending was a joy. But, the lip syncing was rather annoying. Some was easier than others; the scene where Anakin tells Obi-Wan they "can watch a country destroy itself on CNN" was easy as pie. I should also add the syncing dialogue to storm troopers is the greatest thing in the world!
But the scene where Anikin is asking a storm trooper if he's ever shot at anyone? It was not as fun.
The problem was that the only way to sync Anikan up right was to reverse the footage. But there are storm troopers in the background. If you look at this scene, you can notice them walking backwards. That was frustrating. Yoda's first lines were a nightmare as well, because he doesn't move at all. I had to repeat many clips to get that one done.
I also cut some trailer audio, the scene being where Ewan McGregor is asking Orlando Bloom his age. I could not for the life of me find footage to go with this scene, so I cut the track and moved along. I think it works well.
If I could redo this video, the only real thing I would change is the inclusion of Mace Windu. Not because I don't like him, but because he wasn't in the rest of the video. He shows up for two seconds and that's it! Not very good constancy on my part.
I would have also liked to use more footage from the second volume, but for some reason I couldn't get my program to recognize the clips. This wasn't so bad, because the first volume works well. I'm not sure I could have found a place for General Grievous anyway.
But the small complaints I have with this video are completely overshadowed by the positives, the build up, the action, the ending. I am glad this has as many views as it does and I owe to the original trailer for being so well done.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Monkey and Dog Show #2



The second episode of Monkey and Dog. Now stuff gets good!
In one day, I made the first episode of both M&D and Green Arrow with no intent to ever do them again. But, boredom set in again. The second episode is such a jump from the first it amazes me. For instance, editing! We also have camera angles and movement! Wow!
Monkey comes across pretty harsh in this one, but we also get to see more of his patience. He does try his best not to explode, but Dog always gets the better of him. There's a very ugly zoom at the moment of breakdown and I wish I did it better.
This is still the very humble, yet persistent Dog. His voice is very subdued and lacks the confidence that comes in later episode. However, this is where we get to see Dog trail off in thought, something he does in almost every other appearance.
I love the dialog in this one. Dog's request and wanting to understand where Monkey is coming from is really funny to me. The truth is, though, I never knew where these videos were going. I just started with the idea that Dog wanted to watch t.v. and Monkey wanted to be left alone. But I didn't know how they would end. The dialog is all improve and it has to be a very fast back in forth, because I need to get to both characters. There's a real problem with that, but one fun thing about it is I never knew what was going to happen. When Dog fell, it was just something I had him do. You can hear me laughing as he struggles on the floor. This is also one of the many appearances of my foot moving something.
You may also notice a stack of comics on the coffee table. I was playing "X-Men Legends II" and I was reading the Age of Apocalypse comics along side it. So that's that.
I would be a year until I made another episode of M&D and I wish I had kept going because I think there would have been more. The year also changes the characters a bit, as will be seen in later episodes. But, this is still one of my favorites!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Monkey and Dog Show #1



Here it is. The first video ever put up on Youtube by Red Raptor Productions. Of course, back then, it was just myself and it shows. I was borrowing my friends camera for a project for our youth group, and my girlfriend was in Florida, leaving me to my boredom. Only now, I had a camera. So, taking the two stuffed animals I had at the time; a monkey given to me by my grandmother and a Build-a-Bear dog my girlfriend made, I set up a sitcom. There was no real idea to make this into a series, I just wanted to do a one shot to stay entertained.
"The Monkey and Dog Show" may be the most important thing I ever filmed. It was the second thing I ever filmed; the first being "Fernando, Phillipe, and Veronica" which we hide from the world. It was my first time making characters that people found endearing and set up for more stories.
However, let me not pretend this is a golden piece of work. No cutting, no script, and I'm cracking myself up at 1:23. I'm even moving the camera along the table for the zoom. I can understand Lucas sometimes.

Some fun facts!
-I'm moving Dog with my foot.
-I never finished the book Monkey's reading.
-You can see the title of the show behind Dog because I never think about my sets.
-That's the first time I ever tried Dog's voice and it surprised even me. Monkey is just my normal voice, only slightly exaggerated.
-Dog falls over into his plate because he really fell over with my foot kicking him too hard. I love the shot it made though.
-Monkey's threat to Dog involving his spine is referenced in episode five!

This was the first of many videos to involve Monkey and Dog. They show up in later videos in different roles or cameos. This is also the first video to be done with stuffed animals/action figures. It's not that I don't like people, I just didn't have anyone back then. But, as a jumping point for the rest of my directing career, I could have done worse.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The New Red Raptor Productions

Red Raptor Productions is going extreme!
Extreme is such a lame term. Anything that has extreme in front of it is usually crap. But I can't say we're going awesome! Or can I...?
Red Raptor Productions is going awesome!
I can deal with that.

What do we do at Red Raptor? We make videos! Comedy! Dance! We do other things that don't get a lot of views! We also put up music videos of our favorite films and we love fake trailers!

Let me tell you about the crew.

Eric Mikols (duskvstweak)- This is the guy writing the blog. I started making music video's with Windows Movie Maker and got into filming when I "borrowed" my Uncle's video camera. I'm the guy in charge of the Youtube site and now the keeper of the blog. I'm also the one with the twitter. I direct most, if not all, the videos and I'm the editor as well. I'm still trying to refine my style; slowing down the filming process, taking more footage, trying to script more. Right now, I'm at Houghton College majoring in communications, so I hope to someday turn this hobby into a profession!
But I'm not doing this alone!

Glenn Benitez- Glenn was there almost at beginning. He's been the star of many videos, holding his own to Dog in "Monkey Business" and surviving against the devil's vacuum in "Hoover Damned". Though he is often away these days, Glenn is still a constant presence in the videos of Red Raptor. I have often described Glenn as my muse and I find some of my funniest videos to have him in them. He is also the only person besides myself to have puppeteer Monkey.

Jordan Cusenza- My brother, who everyday becomes cooler than I am. We often put Jordan in dancing roles because he can out-dance the lot of us. The first time he ever busted-a-move was in "Dancing in the Apartment" and we don't want him to stop! But he's not just a silent lady killer. Jordan also acts! He stole the show in "The Nature of Madness"! The reason you don't see him so much on Youtube is because is video's tend to have copyrighted music in them, leaving him on my PC. But not to fear! Red Raptor's new policy is to use little to no copyrighted music in our original films (while hoping no one notices the music videos), so Jordan will be a present force!

Brendan Bates-Brendan came into the game late, and I'm not sure he knows he's even in yet. But, co-staring in 28 zombie blogs makes him one of the most present faces of Red Raptor Productions. Don't forget his roles in "Party Like a Rockstar" and "The Ghosts of Christmas". Brendan enjoys the Red Hot Chili Peppers and can often be found on a set of skis.

That's us! Many others have been part of the group for periods of time; Travis Philips, Luke Peters, Sam Cobb and Julia Cusenza have played big parts in our work. Not to mention the number of stuffed animals and action figures. We'll be adding more to the fold soon and we don't plan on stopping anytime soon. I'm in the process of writing a script for a new web series and you can never say "no" to a fun dance video.
We're doing more now as well! This blog will soon be filled with commentaries for all the videos we have and will put up, I just got a Twitter account, and we hope to be a force of networking power. We won't just be putting up blogs of the videos, but other things as well. It will almost be a text-based version of our Youtube.
So stay around and invite you're friends, it's gonna be fun!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Where Has All the Character Gone?

This summer hurt.
Maybe it's because last summer was amazing for movies, or. the movies I enjoyed. "Iron Man", "The Incredible Hulk", "Hellboy II", "The Dark Knight", I even enjoyed "Death Race". Other ones were good as well, most notably "Wall-E". 2008 had good movies. Until the summer ended.
"The Day the Earth Stood Still", "Quantum of Solace", "The Spirit"; disappointing was the word I used to describe them. I was hoping that the change of the year would refresh the theaters. But "Next" and "Watchmen" came and lead to decent but forgettable movies. And the summer was worst of all.
"Wolverine" and "Terminator Salvation" were bland and unneeded. "Star Trek" was fun but to fast for it's own good. "Transformers II" doesn't need more than a mention. The only movie I walked away enjoying was "District 9".
Why has this been such a drought in quality films? The problem (for me, you might have enjoyed these movies) is that these films are getting to fast to enjoy and the characters are suffering because of it. Endings are becoming darker, while being safer and safer.
Let's take "Terminator Salvation" as my example. Out of all these movies, I was looking forward to this film the most. The preview made it look like it was going to turn the "Terminator" films on their heads and create something new and amazing. But then the movie started and didn't stop for a breathe once. We are to care for characters we never get to know, and (spoiler warning) we lose the only character who is worth anything. The movie even teases us with an ending that would have been bold and unexpected, but returns the safe status as soon as it can.
But I digress. The real problem I am seeing in movies lately is true care for character, thus creating less investment and, in turn, less dilemma. Why should we care that our character is trying to get home when we don't care about the character here and now. Why should we care if the hero is about to die, when he's been dead throughout the whole film.
I enjoyed "District 9" because I never knew what was going to happen, and I actually cared for the heroes. To think that Christopher would not make it safe to his ship was a scary thought, because I wanted him to succeed. But, had I not liked the character, it wouldn't have mattered how many twist and turns the plot took.
I have been complaining about the speed of films as well. "Lord of the Rings" is a slow movie series, especially once we bought the extended editions. But why do we sit through a three hour and more film that moves slower than the one starring Vin Diesel? Because we care about the character. We will forfeit time if the characters are likable. We will sit and watch long bits of dialogue if the ones speaking are ones we want to hear. Christian Bale as John Conner is not someone we want to hear. Samuel Jackson as the Octopus is not someone we want to hear.
"Wolverine" suffered because it had characters we liked, or wanted to like, but didn't spend time with them. Who cares if Wade Wilson is made into a monster if we didn't get to know him early on? We know we should like Gambit, but the movie never shows us why.
Now the summer is over and the movies I had hoped would be amazing have failed. We move to the fall and I see little hope in the future. Next summer has the return of Tony Stark in "Iron Man II" but what else is coming along. If we keep sacrificing character for action and here-now-gone plot, we are going to have very sad stories coming our way.