Posts filed under ‘Personal’

A (final?) 1UP Memory with the 1UP Crew

There came a moment last night at Steff’s Sports Bar in San Francisco when former 1UP/MyCheats/GameSpy guru Mike Nelson put his drink down and said to me, “I was walking here and looking at all these people passing by, and I was thinking, ‘They don’t even know. People got laid off today and it was an end of an era. And they don’t even know.'”

I still don’t consider myself part of the “videogame industry,” but for a brief moment of my life, I worked in it. I lived and breathed it. And while I was in this bubble, I had kind of lost sight of what it is I was doing, what we all were doing. I was writing strategy guides and making silly videos for a website about videogames. Seriously, who the hell cares about that stuff? Apparently, a lot of people do.

When the news broke yesterday about the closing of 1UP, UGO, and GameSpy and the laying off of staff from those sites and their parent site, IGN, my Twitter feed was immediately flooded with tweets featuring the #1upMemories hashtag. At first it was from people I knew – old co-workers, friends I met while working there, etc. Then it came from random people I didn’t know – the “community.” And it was an amazing thing to behold.

I was waiting at the bar counter for some fruity coconut drink I ordered for Matt Leone (whose features can be read at Polygon) and I kept thinking about how 1UP meant a lot to a lot of people, and their outpouring of support over the past day was really touching. I haven’t worked at 1UP for more than a year, but at that moment I never felt closer to the 1UP community. Later in the evening, when more 1UP alumni and friends showed up to the bar, Mike’s words came back to me. It was an end of an era.

It really was. A lot of things in videogame media that we take for granted, like podcasting, really got its start at 1UP. Name any gaming podcast and I could tell you that it wouldn’t exist without 1UP Yours and EGM Live and Retronauts, and many more paving the way. And who could forget The 1UP Show? Groundbreaking, to say the least. And don’t get me started on this whole notion of “journalistic integrity.” The 1UP Network and its sister magazines was one of the few places that had that. Not that there aren’t sites now that won’t stick up for old-fashioned journalism ethics, but there aren’t that many in this age of ad sales and influential marketing teams.

This gathering at Steff’s wasn’t my first with the 1UP crew, and it probably won’t be the last, but it definitely felt like it. There was something in the air last night that signalled the finality of it all. I’ll admit I was getting a little misty-eyed. When 1UP and Gamepro alum Justin Haywald walked into the bar, late as usual, to the cheers and applause of many, everything suddenly felt very warm. We were all gathered near the counter (and taking up way too much space for this establishment), and I stood on a chair and tried to take a picture of everyone.

I realized that this wasn’t even close to everyone. But all the people at the bar – at that moment – carried with them the same memories as those that couldn’t make it out last night. They shared the same ups and downs, victories and defeats. These people had seen it all. System launches, studio closures, game announcements. E3’s, GDC’s, PAX’s, TGS’s, Gamescom’s. Lay offs, mergers, and site closures. To the world at large, none of this matters. But to a community of enthusiasts and players both pro and casual, those things mean everything. And 1UP was there for all of it over the past ten years. These people, just a sampling of a lucky few, had been through it. Most people don’t care, but many do.

“…it was an end of an era. And they don’t even know.”

There was plenty of reminiscing done last night. Countless exclamations of “remember whens,” usually followed by some embarrassing story. Jose Otero, who started as an intern the same time I started on the cheats section, pointed out the door of the bar to a building across the street. It was one of the old 1UP offices. We were there for only a few months before moving into IGN’s building. “A lot of memories in there for such a short amount of time,” he said. I nodded in reply.

I finally got that group picture. Again, it wasn’t everyone. Jeremy Parish, who is the last editor-in-chief of the site, was on a plane coming from Sony’s PS4 event in New York. Dan Hsu, former Electronic Gaming Monthly editor-in-chief, had gone off to create his own respectable gaming website years ago. Tina Palacios moved to Los Angeles. Alice Liang took a job a whole continent and ocean away in England. Garnett Lee went to GameFly. Jane Pinckard, who helped craft the memorable 1UP Show theme song, now works at a university. The 1UP Show creators set up their own production company, Area 5 Media, a few years ago. Former CGW/GFW editor-in-chief Jeff Green, who made an appearance at the bar earlier in the evening, had moved to game development.

Many, many more 1UP staffers of old had gone off to do other things, some in the games industry, some in entirely different fields. But the people in these snapshots were still connected to them through 1UP. Former 1UP video guy Richard Li once said over Twitter that he was “…deeply touched by the bonds established during our short time at 1UP, a period of unbridled creativity and kick ass friendships.” People came and went, but 1UP was the constant variable. The site was what connected us to each other even if we had never met in person, and is what connects us to our wonderful community of readers, listeners, and viewers.

On the train ride home with Mike Nelson, he said to me, “It’ll probably hit me in like a month. 1UP’s gone. Okay, maybe a week. It’ll be real in a week.”

Thanks, 1UP.

February 23, 2013 at 8:16 am 2 comments

The Road goes ever on and on…

I don’t really post a whole lot of “personal” stuff to this blog; I try to keep it movie-centric so that there’s some consistency with the content (whenever I actually get around to posting content). Today, the second day of the year 2012, has ended a little strangely for me because I realize how different the beginning of this year is compared to 2011. Last year was an exciting year for me: new opportunities, new experiences, etc., etc. This year has the potential for all those things, but none of it is certain.

To start, as I write this I’m unemployed, and have been for about six months. The job market where I live (the San Francisco Bay Area) sucks and new opportunities to do anything beyond serving food or ringing up a purchase are hard to come by. Not that there isn’t work, there’s just not a whole lot and, more importantly, finding full-time work is even more rare. But this isn’t some sob story of how my life sucks or anything. My being unemployed was mostly my choice, having left a really cool job where I basically played videogames all day. I did it to continue pursuing my passion: film. I moved across to country and earned a Master’s Degree so I could explore cinema, and maybe do it for a living. My year working in the videogame industry was amazing, but there were more than a few times where I questioned what I was doing and where I was headed.

A year ago, the company I worked for was moving offices and had also downsized in staff. That meant more responsibility for everyone, and that was OK by me. I was itching to do more than what I originally signed up for, and they let me expand my horizons a little. I had my core responsibilities and I also got to do some video stuff on the side. This was fine for a few months, but that itch to do even more started again in the back of my head. By the summer, I was contemplating a break from my day-to-day. I had talked it over with some friends and we were all considering a trip to New York to shoot a short film. We didn’t really have a plan (or even a script), but it didn’t matter. I had been away from my passion for too long and “winging it” was all the plan I needed.

Then my work life got a little more complicated. Long story short, the option was on the table for me to try for a new position with different responsibilities, or not do it at all. I wasn’t being fired, and this wasn’t some sort of ultimatum, but that’s just how it was. I decided to not pursue this “new position” and take my chances back out in the world. I was nervous (being unemployed in an expensive city like San Francisco will make anyone nervous), but I was also excited. I didn’t want to get stuck in a job, no matter how good it sounded on paper, only to dislike it down the road and realize I’m too old to pursue my dream.

I wanted to direct again. I wanted to be slaving away over pages of scripts with my trusty red and green pens in hand, making notes and crossing things out. I wanted to be on the set, discussing lens choices with a DP, or at rehearsal arguing with actors over choices and stakes and all that pretentious-sounding film stuff. All that stuff I spent the previous three years doing, I wanted it back. That’s why I came out here. That’s why I left my old life behind and started a new one.

As 2012 begins I’m only a little more closer to getting back to all that. My first priority has to be survival – SF is an expensive place and making a living somehow is what I’ve been focusing on. I think about what I’ve done since I moved, what I’ve accomplished. I haven’t won any awards or become famous or anything, but I feel like I’ve done a lot. I’ve met new people, tried new things. 2011 felt like a transition year, a test year. A year that tested me to see if I had in my heart to really do what it is I wanted to do. Fate dangled something nice in front of me, but I struggle to look beyond that, to see what lies ahead. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien,

“All that is gold does not glitter. Not all those who wander are lost…”

I feel like I’ve been wandering the desert these past few months, and at times it seemed as if I lost my way. But I was just finding myself. I’m hoping 2012 is going to be a fantastic year. I’ve already got some things (hopefully) lined up that will not only take care of my need for survival (i.e. paying rent) and my passion. So here’s my raising my proverbial glass to the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

January 2, 2012 at 5:34 pm 1 comment

Androids Need Love HD

Yesterday I put up a video shot using the stop-motion feature on my Nintendo 3DS. Titled, Androids Need Love, it got a little bit of love from popular gaming blog Kotaku. I mentioned that I shot it with my Canon 7D as well, and I finally got around to processing all those RAW images.

But the results are less than spectacular.

The video is jerky as a result of the camera being shifted incorrectly between shots. My focus was on my 3DS, so I had my 7D positioned next to it at an angle. Because of the way the shutter button is positioned, and the amount of force needed to press down on it, this caused my camera to shift slightly at an angle on quite a few of the frames. Also, because the 7D was kind of at an OTS (over the shoulder) angle, and not in a wide shot like the 3DS was, panning with the camera was a little more difficult.

I’d like to try again sometime, maybe using the 7D exclusively. And maybe shooting JPEG instead of RAW because I’m not really concerned about editing the images in post and it will take considerably less time processing hundreds of JPEGs than it wold RAW images.

Anyway, you can see the video below.

The framing is kind of tight because I was on a 50mm f1.8 lens. Because the 3DS version (when viewed on a 3DS) is in 3D, I needed to do something with the 7D to help make the figures pop a little more. This particular lens has a very shallow depth-of-field; it’s not the same as 3D, but I wanted more separation between foreground and background.

If I ever shoot another one of these, I’ll make sure to choose a better angle, or at least plan out exactly how the camera is going to move. With the 3DS, it wasn’t too much of a concern because the system was parallel to the “actors.” And the lo-fi quality of the 3DS kind of lets it get away with some mistakes.

December 9, 2011 at 8:17 am Leave a comment

Androids Need Love

Yesterday I shot a stop-motion short using some toys and figures I had lying around. This was actually something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I decided to wait until Nintendo released the update to their 3DS that allowed for 3D video recording. Although the 3DS could do 3D image capture out-of-the-box, one of the many features in the update was a ‘stop-motion’ mode, which allowed for easier stop-motion photography.

The dual-lens 3D camera on the system actually sucks, with quality being equivalent to a cell phone from six years ago, but whatever. It actually looks good in 3D, though no one will be able to see it that way unless you viewed it on a 3DS screen.

I also shot this simultaneously with my Canon 7D, so I’ll cut together an HD version at some point. There were over 200 RAW files taken with my 7D, so going through all those is going to be a pain.

Continue Reading December 8, 2011 at 10:09 am 1 comment

The (racist?) things you’d find in Japantown

Came across these interesting items the other day while wandering around San Francisco’s Japantown. Most notably a strange little figurine on a keychain.

August 13, 2009 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 3

On Story and Screenwriting:

It is said that there’s only a handful of stories that can be told, and all stories told are variants of these.  While I don’t know if that’s 100% true, it is very difficult to find variety these days in movies, books, games, etc.  What keeps us going back to the theatre is how the stories are told.  If it’s a romantic comedy, it’s usually something along the lines of Boy Meets Girl, Boy Embarrasses Himself Trying To Get Girl, or something like that.  However, each person telling this story has their own unique way of telling it.  Annie Hall is different from, say, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, but on paper they might seem like similar movies.  Don’t focus on creating a unique story, focus on telling your story well. Remember, whatever idea you have, most likely its already been done.

Screenwriting is different from other types of writing in that the style and format are always in flux, and there’s not really room for detail.  Before you sit down at your computer to write a screenplay, you must learn the format. A screenwriting book that teaches format is a good place to start, and there are tons of websites that have screenplays available to read.  Be warned, however, that many ‘published’ screenplays on the Net could be shooting scripts, which have their own format and are not to be used as ‘spec’ scripts, which is what you write when you want to sell your story.  Another good step is to invest in screenwriting software, or plugins for Word (or your word processor of choice) that will format for you.  Keep in mind that not every program is perfect and you must pay attention to make sure the formatting is correct. Screenplay format is so important, many agents, executives, producers, etc. will not even bother reading the rest of the story (no matter how good it is) if the format is bad.

This book by David Trottier is a great place to learn format

This book by David Trottier is a great place to learn format

As I mentioned before, you don’t have room for lyrical, Nobel Prize-winning prose in a screenplay. Be concise, get to the point.  If there’s a fight scene in your story, don’t explain exactly how one character fights, and the movement they make.  That’s boring.  Honestly, I have this problem when reading books.  For example, I was reading The Bourne Identity and Robert Ludlum has a habit of describing, in specific detail, how the characters fight.  This leg moved this way, so-and-so’s arm swung that way, blah blah blah.  That style of writing bored me so much that I couldn’t finish the book (I do mean to, one day).  In screenwriting, a simple “They fight” is all you might need.  Let the director and choreographer worry about the details.  In other places, such as descriptions of settings, details also need to be to-the-point.  If your scene takes place in a jungle, don’t go into detail about the sweat dripping down the characters’ faces, or how the midday sun beat down upon them and baked their skin.  Just set it up as, “They trek across a hot, sweaty jungle” or something to that effect.

If you’re a director, or a producer, consider going to someone else to write your screenplay.  You could have an amazing idea, but you may write poorly; in that case, having a professional (or as close to ‘professional’ as you can get) writing it will probably be your best bet.  Just like with editing, doing everything yourself may cause you to lose sight of what’s important in the story. You may get attached to certain scenes or lines, and may be wary of removing them in rewrites, even if it may seem necessary.

The Final Draft series of screenwriting software is among the best.

The Final Draft series of screenwriting software is among the best.

As for story structure, most people go with the Three Act Structure.  It’s concise, simple, and most successful movies follow this, like Star Wars and Jurassic Park.  There are some that don’t go this route, which is fine (Raiders of the Lost Ark is said to have more than four acts), but I would advise against it for first-timers.  Remember, you must learn the rules first before you can break them. Another thing to remember is that all stories must have conflict.  I’d even go so far as to say that it is impossible to tell a worthwhile story and not have conflict.  Whether it’s Good Guy vs Bad Guy, or Good Guy vs Himself, or whatever, the main character must want something and there are forces at work against him.

Recently, Christian Bale was asked how the filmmakers got him to be a part of the new Terminator Salvation movie.  He said that the script had to be so good that it could be performed without fancy visuals and still tell a compelling story.  Apparently, the script he read was good enough to meet this criteria, and he’s now the new John Connor of the franchise.  This should be true for all movies.  In the rehearsal process, a table read is usually done so that everyone involved (cast, director, producer, writer, etc) can hear the lines spoken out loud and to fix any problems before formal rehearsals get underway.  During the table read, there is not fancy CG imagery or editing, it’s just the actors and their lines.  The story must make sense when told from this point of view.  If the actors alone can’t tell the story, there’s something wrong with the script.

When you’re writing a student film or a low-budget indie flick, consider your budget beforehand. Don’t write a Hollywood action movie if your budget is $50 and you can’t get access to fancy equipment.  Locations are also something to thing about; a 15-minute short doesn’t need 30 different locations.  If possible, keep your locations to a bare minimum needed to tell the story.  Usually, that’s enough.  Also, don’t cram in a dozen different characters.  The less speaking roles, the better, since this will make casting and shooting go by much smoother, and more unnecessary speaking parts may confuse the audience.

Although, in Hollywood, screenwriters are treated as second-class-citizens, that doesn’t mean your story must be treated this way.  As a director, this is your version of someone else’s story.  Even if you wrote the story yourself, consider what looks best on screen.  Remember, filmmaking is, above all, a visual medium for telling tales.  If it looks good on paper, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t work on screen, it must be changed or it must be removed.  There’s an old saying in Hollywood, “You can make a bad movie from a good script, but you can’t make a good movie from a bad script.” This is 100% true.  Even the most ridiculous premise for a story may have just the visual punch needed to make a good movie.

(images from

Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 2 – On Crew

May 24, 2009 at 9:13 am 3 comments

Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 2

On Crew:

Assemble your crew early, and do it carefully.  As a director, you should understand that you can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything by yourself.  Your primary resonsibility on the set is to the actors.  Everyone else on the crew has another boss, the actors have you. So, in order to make sure your vision comes across clearly in the movie, you have to make sure your crew knows what they’re doing since you won’t be able to micromanage every aspect of the process.  Just like with actors, passion comes first; a less-skilled cameraman that is enthusiastic about the project might be more beneficial than an experienced cameraman who may not give a damn about your vision.

On the set, the director is like the American president.  Just like with any commander-in-chief, they have a cabinet of officials to help them out.  The first person you should look to hire is an assistant director.  The AD is like your Chief of Staff, they’ll help you set your agenda for the day, manage your resources, boss around the production assistants, and keep you on schedule.  You worry about telling the story, they worry about the time it takes to tell it.  I’ve worked with one AD who took my watch from me so I wouldn’t constantly be looking at it.  To my surprise, it was very helpful, as I was more focused on talking to the actors and the other crew, while he would let me know what our time looked like.  The title “assistant director” is a bit misleading, as generally the AD doesn’t do any directing; it should be more like “director’s assistant”.

On the set of the Academy of Art short "Chop Chop Silly Billy"

On the set of the Academy of Art short "Chop Chop Silly Billy"

In order to make your movie look good visually, you’ll need a strong cinematographer.  The Director of Photography is responsible for the look of the movie, and everything visual within the frame, minus the acting, should be approved of by the DP.  To continue with the Presidential Cabinet analogy, your DP is like your Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The Chairman works closely with the other Joint Chiefs from different branches of the military; on the set, the DP is in charge of the grips, gaffers, electricians, cameramen etc., plus they work closely with the set designers, costumers, make-up artists, etc.  If the AD is spending his or her time yelling at PA’s and chasing after runners, the DP will generally be by the director’s side during filming, making sure everything the lens sees is exactly what the DP and the director wants.  Because of the responsibility given to the DP, the director must trust them completely; in a perfect world, the director should never touch a camera (save for looking through the viewfinder or something), let the cameraman handle the the movement, and the DP is their boss.

The producer is, in the current Hollywood studio system, the head honcho of the production.  They have a hand in assembling the creative team (which includes the director), managing the budget, overseeing the marketing campaign, and finally the home video release.  It is said that the producer is the main driving force behind a project, which is true in many cases, as the producer is the one that finds the project and gathers the talent needed to make it.  In Hollywood, projects are started when producers buy scripts, then finds the director needed to make it happen.  In indie and student-level film-making, the producer is like the blocker to the director’s running back.  If there’s an issue, the producer’s job is to intercept it before it becomes a problem for the director. On the set, directors have enough food on their plate, and any more would potentially have a negative impact on the director’s performance, akin to a stomach problem.  Producers must also be good in talking to people, as they are the ones who will have to deal with getting locations, permits, free stuff (like food), etc.

Shooting the Academy of Art short "It Isn't Working", Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Diane Baker co-instructing

Shooting the Academy of Art short "It Isn't Working", Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Diane Baker co-instructing

In post-production, you’re going to spend lots of time with your editor.  In general, I’d say it’s unwise to edit your own movie, as you may be too attached to certain shots or scenes that aren’t needed (a lot of student filmmakers make the mistake of writing, directing, and editing their movie.  Not that it’s always a problem, but very few are actually good at doing all three, especially writing).  As with your DP, you must make sure you let the editor know what you want, but don’t be hovering over their shoulder all the time.  You do not want to be that guy.  The art of editing motion pictures has its own set of rules, and while it benefits the project overall if the director knew those rules, it’s the job of the editor to enact them.  Let them do a cut the way they see it, then work from there.  Make sure you give them plenty of time before a final cut is due, in order to experiment and to see what works best for the story.

Of course, there’s bound to be problems.  I’ve seen more shoots deteriorate due to conflicts with other crew members than because of anything else.  You must listen to your crew, because they have a different perspective on the project than you do.  If there’s a specific shot you want, and your DP or AD is telling you it may not be wise to get it (due to time constraints, or the necessity of the shot as it relates to story), take it into consideration.  It’s similar to working with actors: try it how they want it, then try it how you want it.  If time isn’t a luxury (which it often isn’t), it’s time to make some touch decisions.  Ultimately, it’s your vision, as director, that is guiding the movie, so you have to make sure each and every crew member, no matter their position on the totem pole, understands it.  As Sun Tzu once said, “If the orders are not clear, it is the fault of the general.”

Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 1 – On Actors

Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 3 – On Story and Screenwriting

May 20, 2009 at 10:25 am 3 comments

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