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When a hero dies

Luke Skywalker, young If you were not born in the ’70s, if you do not feel books and movies as deeply as you do real life, if you were not instilled with a sense of magic and hope by the original Star Wars trilogy, then you will not understand when I say, When a hero dies, a part of each of those who believed dies too.

A good story takes an inherent risk in its telling. A story might engage or totally alienate the reader; a work in film might be praised or pass relatively unnoticed, long forgotten in the cold-storage archives. A good story does not need to be modified to grow the audience, rather, the story itself is compelling.

Luke Skywalker, old If a film is engaging, we should be moved to ask How are we affected? What do we take away? How do we see ourselves in the story unfolding, and how is our own view of the world changed? Perhaps the story received is a simple comedy, designed to give us a moment of joy, or one that haunts us for hours, weeks, even years. The depth of connection to the characters can bring us back again and again to the same story and to its sequels. A new universe is given form, and in that time and space, the story becomes our own.

But when a story is driven by a market opportunity, when the dollars grossed on the opening days are the primary motivation and the chief reward, the potential to feel anything for the action on-screen is lost. Written without connection to the characters developed in the original films, without shame for infiltrating the central theme with marketing to a me-too generation, Stars Wars: The Last Jedi abandons those of us who waited forty years to once again feel the pain of loss beneath dual setting suns, the fear of a man who will kill his own son to maintain power, and the joy of victory against impossible odds.

Instead, we feel only remorse for Disney’s agenda to build a franchise, profit before story in film.

By |2017-12-28T16:55:14-04:00December 21st, 2017|Film & Video|Comments Off on When a hero dies

From Pinocchio to the Terminator

A.I. Apocalypse, Arizona Science Center, October 21, 2016
“From Pinocchio to the Terminator, What A.I. Teaches us About Ourselves”

Kai Staats was the opening presenter, joined by Dr. Peter Jansen and Prof. Clayton T. Morrison from the University of Arizona for a panel discussion for this unique event.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:31-04:00October 22nd, 2016|Critical Thinker, Film & Video, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on From Pinocchio to the Terminator

Lost in Time

Interview with a Saan by Kai Staats

I have been in Namibia for the past ten days, working with a small film crew to capture footage for a teaser, which if successful, will raise funds to develop a film about the history of hunting, from the ancient San to modern day game preserves.

We are guests of the Immenhof ranch and game preserve (, four hours north and west of Windhoek.

The owners are four generations here as farmers, hunters, and custodians of the land. Of German heritage, the father and son speak six languages each, including the native languages of the Himba and Herero, with whom they were raised.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon and evening working with a few members of the Saan who participate in an exchange program, of sorts. They live here, away from their home land, for three months at a time, to share their stories and dance, sell handmade goods, and earn money to bring back to their tribe in the north east of Namibia and Botswana (which is unfortunately, spent mostly on alcohol and tobacco).

It was a very strange juxtaposition. The Saan are truly a relic of the past, caught in the crossfire of political struggles and selfish land-grabs. These will likely be the last of their people, tens of thousands of years of tradition lost to a world driven by Google advertising, mineral exploitation, and data mining.

I was a wary time traveler, for those brief hours, confused as to what I was seeing and hearing, and how I should interact. To pay them to assist with re-enactments for our film was a kind of prostitution, yet to sit and engage in deeper conversation was also self-serving. To leave them completely alone is to watch them starve in a place and time no longer able to support their traditional ways.

Werner, grandson of the founder of this ranch, PH, and expert tracker trained by the San, states he can arrange for me to live with them for a few weeks or more. I would be able to capture their stories, both historic and modern.

I stated I would do so only if they saw value in my work with them. He quickly replied, “Then you should not go to them.” According to his experience, the Saan do not see the need for their stories to be captured, but they are too polite to tell the BBC, Nat Geo, or any other camera crew (including our own) they are not interested in what we come to do.

It is, perhaps, our perception of history, some kind of duty to record what we have destroyed, that brings us into their world with anthropologists, cameras, and audio recorders.

My life would be changed if I could have that time with them, yet what would I be giving back to the San?

Outside of the obvious value to airtime and DVD sales, how does Nat Geo embrace these kinds of opportunities? Is there an altruistic motivation, even if those being interviewed do not perceive the same?

Today I worked behind the scenes to support Ron, Betsy, and Rhett (the DP) with their work on a ‘sizzler’ for a film about the history of hunting. Professional hunter, guide, and 3rd generation at the Immenhoff Ranch, Werner took us to a local “exchange” village of Saan, where we conducted brief interviews and shot a segment of the film.

I have deeply mixed feelings about what I experienced today, for it was a crossroads of tens of thousands of years of human history juxtaposed with modern world in a most stark composition.

There is no going back, no return to that time. These people continue to live as they have, to some degree, but with the daily reminder that their world was taken from them. Gone are the game, the unfenced, open land. Yet as Ron stated to clearly, “These people don’t know about ISIS nor do they concern themselves with the crumble of the Greek economy.”

It is far too easy for a well-to-do to romanticize the simple life, so I will stop here. But even those few hours with them reminded me why I sold everything I own three years ago–to keep things simple, to slow down, to pursue stories, nor ownership of more things.

By |2018-11-24T02:07:04-04:00July 4th, 2015|2015, Film & Video, Out of Africa|Comments Off on Lost in Time

Ex Machina

If you have not watched Ex Machina — it is a must see. Sci-fi fan or not, it is a perfectly produced film. Simple plot. Excellent camera work. Incredible acting.

It gives you a sense of the very real issues we must tackle … if … when we finally give rise to the machines (which remains on a distant horizon).

By |2017-11-24T23:54:26-04:00June 6th, 2015|Film & Video|Comments Off on Ex Machina

LIGO Generations

Funded by the National Science Foundation through the University of Mississippi, LIGO Generations shares the passion and the motivation of individuals who have worked for nearly three decades on a single science experiment. We engage in the stories of those who motivated a new branch of physics in order to prove the last piece of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and to hear the universe in a new way.

Read more …

By |2017-04-10T11:17:35-04:00January 30th, 2015|Film & Video|Comments Off on LIGO Generations

LIGO, A Passion for Understanding

Inspired by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, funded by the California Institute of Technology LIGO, A Passion for Understanding celebrates the dedication of who have worked for nearly three decades on a single science experiment. In this film, we witness the installation of instruments designed to prove the last piece of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and come to understand what scientific discovery means for us all.

Read more …

By |2017-04-10T11:17:36-04:00April 15th, 2014|Film & Video|Comments Off on LIGO, A Passion for Understanding



Simulated off-world, isolated habitats (analogs) have been used by universities and government sponsored space programs for decades as a means of conducting astronaut training, psychological and food studies, and to test equipment and new technologies which will be used in real space programs.Since 2001 the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) has hosted researchers, scientists, and engineers who work to test hypothesis, conduct simulated field work, and gain experience living and working in the physical and social confines of an analog.

Every minute of every day is spent in simulation—scientific experiments, exploration of the environment, food preparation, even delayed communication with the outside world is an analog of living on the planet Mars.

On January 18, 2014 a crew of six highly qualified scientists and engineers and one documentary film maker entered the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the high, winter desert near Hanksville, Utah, for the duration of two weeks.

Watch the films which document their experience …

By |2017-04-10T11:17:36-04:00February 1st, 2014|Film & Video|Comments Off on MarsCrew134

Digital Film – Storage

In the world of digital media, where storage read and write rates directly affect the time required to locate and open a source file, and then later render to drive, we want the fastest drive available to us, and the best interconnect from the computer to that storage medium.

There is quite a bit of marketing fluff in the industry around data storage devices. The most common misconception is the difference between the designed capacity of the channel and that of the attached device, given overhead, latency, and distance traveled which results in data loss and subsequent slower rates.

SATA I (rev 1.0) – 1.5 Gbit/s – 150 MB/s or 1,200 Mb/s real-world function
SATA II (rev 2.0) – 3 Gbit/s – 300 MB/s or 2,400 Mb/s real-world function
SATA III (rev 3.0) – 6 Gbit/s – 600 MB/s or 5,000 Mb/s real-world function

USB 1.1 – 12 Mbit/s
USB 2.0 – 480 Mbit/s
USB 3.0 – 5 Gbit/s
Thunderbolt – 10 Gbit/s

On a 2013 MacBook Pro, using OSX, I moved approximately 5GB data by both copy (drag-n-drop) and rsync (executed from the terminal), from an internal SATA III Hybrid drive to an external USB 3.0 drive with the following results:

  1. rsync reported 50MB/s transfer or 480Mbit/s which is exactly USB 2.0 speeds.
  2. copy (desktop drag-n-drop) – 1GB every 15-18 seconds (using a lap counter) where …

    1GB * 8 = 8Gbit / 15 = 533,333,333 or about 500Mbit/s; and
    1GB * 8 = 8Gbit / 18 = 444,444,444 or about 444Mbit/s

What I have read about rsync versus cp (copy) is true — they are identical when making fresh copies. If, however, you are using rsync to conduct a comparative update, where data between the source and target is compared for modification dates, copied and / or deleted, then this process will of course require more time.

As for the total data throughput, however, the ABOUT THIS MAC profile states my USB 3.0 devices are enabled to transfer up to 5GB/s, but clearly, they are running at EXACTLY USB 2.0 speeds which means USB 2.0 is the limiting factor, not the drives. I have read reports (as of July 2012) that while Apple claims to support USB 3.0, they have not enabled the driver to force people to upgrade to Thunderbolt adapters.

More testing is needed with my current laptop, between the internal SATA III SSD and an external SSD.

Stay tuned …

By |2014-05-25T23:33:28-04:00November 13th, 2013|Film & Video|0 Comments

Digital Film – Product Comparison

Having spent more than two months researching, reading about, watching reviews, and testing various digital cameras, this is a compilation of the data I gathered which I felt was relevant to my work as a film maker.

It does not include hi-end cameras such as the RED or Arri. It is a comparison of DSLRs, mirrorless, and full-featured digital film cameras, all within the price range of $1000-5500 USD (with the Canon C300 added to the bottom to show that the C100 + Ninja II is equivalent in performance to the C300 with the added bonus of the Apple ProRes compression codec).

Canon 60D: $700

Sensor Size: 22.3 x 14.9mm (APS-C)
Effective Pixels: 5200 x 3462 pixels (18.0 megapixels)
Crop factor: 1.6
ND Filter: no
Autofocus: yes (not continuous)
ISO: 100 – 12800
Codec: MPEG-4 (AVC?) / H.264
Colour space: 4:2:0 (4:2:2 raw w/Magic Lantern)
Maximum Bit rate: __ Mbps

Canon 70D: $1100

Sensor Size: 22.5mm x 15.0mm (APS-C)
Effective Pixels: 5472 x 3648 (20.2 Megapixels)
Crop factor: 1.6 (or slightly less?)
ND Filter: no
Autofocus: yes + continuous
ISO: 100 – 12800
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC / H.264
Colour space: 4:2:0 (4:2:2 raw w/Magic Lantern)
Maximum Bit rate: 91.3 Mbps (ALL-I) or 31 Mbps (IPB)

Panasonic GH3K: $1300

Sensor Size: 17.3 x 13.0mm (4/3)
Effective Pixels: 4608 x 3456 (16 Megapixels)
Crop factor: 1.6
ND Filter: no
Autofocus: yes
ISO: 200 – 12,800
Codec: AVCHD Ver2.0, MPEG4-AVC H.264
Colour space: 4:2:0 compressed / 4:2:2 uncompressed
Maximum Bit rate: 72 Mbps (ALL-I) or 50 Mbps (IPB)

Black Magic Pocket Camera: $1000

Sensor Size: 12.48 x 7.02mm (Super 16)
Effective Pixels: (?)
Crop factor: 2.88 (?)
ND Filter: no
Autofocus: yes
ISO (dynamic range): 13 stops
Codec: Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) and CinemaDNG RAW @ 1920 x 1080
Colour space: 4:2:2
Maximum Bit rate: (?) Mbps

Black Magic Cinema Camera: $2000

Sensor Size: 15.81 x 8.88mm
Effective Pixels: 2400 x 1350 (3.2 Megapixels)
Crop factor: 1.7 (?)
ND Filter: no
Autofocus: yes
ISO (dynamic range): 13 stops
Codec: ProRes & DNxHD @ 1920 x 1080; 2.5K RAW @ 2432 x 1366
Colour space: 4:2:2
Maximum Bit rate: (?) Mbps

Canon 5D-Mark III: $3000

Sensor Size: 36 x 24mm (full frame)
Effective Pixels: 5784 x 3861 (22.3 Megapixels)
Crop factor: 1.0
ND Filter: no
Autofocus: yes
ISO: 100 – 12,800
Codec: H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC
Colour space: 4:2:0 + 4:2:2 over HDMI
Maximum Bit rate: 91 Mbps (ALL-I) or 31 Mbps (IPB); full HDMI

Canon C100*: $5,500

Sensor Size: 24.6 x 13.8 (Super 35)
Effective Pixels : 3840 x 2160 pixels (8.29 Megapixels)
Crop factor: 1.5
ND Filter: Mechanical with option of clear, 2, 4, and 6 stops
Autofocus: yes
ISO: 320 to 20,000 in 1/3 stop increments
Codec: H.254 / MPEG-4 AVCHD in MTS format; full raw over HDMI to external recorder
Colour space: 4:2:0; 4:2:2 over HDMI **
Maximum Bit rate: 24Mbps internal; up to 220Mbps via external recorder

Canon C300: $14,000

Sensor Size: 24.6 x 13.8 (Super 35)
Effective Pixels: 3840 x 2160 pixels (8.29 Megapixels)
Crop factor: 1.5
ND Filter: Mechanical with option of clear, 1/64. 1/16, and 1/4
Autofocus: no
ISO: 320 to 20,000 in 1/3 stop increments
Codec: 8 Bit MPEG-2 Long GOP; full raw over HDMI
Colour space: 4:2:2; 4:2:2 over HDMI **
Maximum Bit rate: 50Mbps (CBR) or 35Mbps (VBR); up to 220Mbps via external recorder

* Canon C100 review
‘Super 35mm’ sensor has just eight million effective pixels, and these are grouped into RGGB (Red, green, green, blue) groupings called superpixels. Using this method, the C100 gets rid of the Bayer filter found on most cameras (which provides colour information for the sensor), and instead produces a far more accurate colour image. The smaller pixel count also means hugely reduced noise, yet you still have the two million pixel output required for HD footage. Canon reckons the quality is equivalent to that of a typical 3-chip broadcast TV camera.

If you need something higher-quality, though, there is the option to plug a third-party recorder into the HDMI output, which will deliver a clean, uncompressed 4:2:2 video stream, which is broadcast quality and will satisfy the BBC’s HD standards.

** How to setup the Atomos Ninja II with the Canon C100
The Atomos Ninja 2 is a perfect fit for the C100. In fact Canon worked with Atomos to get it to work as well as it does. I wish the monitor was a little better but for the price it works very well. One of the best features is the C100 will trigger the recorder on the Ninja 2 which is a real plus. It also deals with 24P 3:2 pulldown.

Sensor Size | Crop Factor | Bit Rates | Broadcast Defined | Product Comparison


By |2017-04-10T11:17:36-04:00November 13th, 2013|Film & Video|0 Comments