Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Oscar-Winning short) UPDATED

The best movie I've seen so far this year is only fifteen minutes long.

From the "Things That Are Inspiring Me This Morning" files, this animated short by Moonbot studios of Shreveport, Louisiana has been nominated for the Oscar in a category that is usually dominated by Pixar.   In fact, one of the founders of Moonbot was a conceptual artist on Toy Story, sprung from that fertile breeding ground for artists that is Pixar studios.

Speaking of Pixar, in order to take the trophy home, this little short is up against the Disney-owned juggernaut's "La Luna" and that's a pretty tall order.  Still... I'm predisposed to root for the little guy.

The LA Times turned out some great coverage of the unlikely film from Shreveport, including the formation of Moonbot in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the death of Michael Jackson. But I think that Moonbot says it best in their artist's statement on Vimeo:
"Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story."
Whatever its pedigree, it's one of the most delightful bits of animation I've seen in quite some time. But I'm such a booklover that I'm probably too biased to be objective.  So I'll let you decide for yourselves.

For your consideration...

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, Trailer

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore Trailer from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

UPDATE: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won the academy award for best animated short. Unfortunately, this means that they have taken down the full video. I've replaced it with the trailer, which at least gives you a feel for the thing. I'm sure that if you hunt around, the internet being what it is, someone has if available somewhere. I personally join you in hoping they make the full thing available soon for legal download or purchase.       -Scott

Thursday, January 19, 2012

SOPA on the Ropes

The latest in a long line of efforts to censor the internet is wavering. Congressional supporters are abandoning the SOPA/PIPA legislation like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Online protests from Wikipedia and Google (and many others) had their effect. Congressional switchboards were swamped with calls, Google claims 4.5 million people signed their petition, and Wikipedia reports 162 million pageviews on their protest page.

The people have spoken and they must keep speaking.

Because it isn't over yet.

If you've followed me for any length of time, you'll know that I'm vehemently anti-censorship. Sadly, this is not the first attempt to restrict the conversations we have and the things that we share. People who do not understand how the internet works are trying to dictate how the internet should work.

The whole world has noticed. I was contacted today by the German publication Zauberspiegel Online for a comment.  You can read it here in German: but this is an expansion of my comments to them, but really, it's a song I've been singing for awhile now.

Our lives are a collage of shared experiences, a patchwork of the culture that unites us. Our conversations are peppered with movie quotes, our events are back-dropped by the songs playing on the radio or piped through restaurants and coffee shop speakers.

Yet if we try to reflect that part of our lives online, we are "pirates".

SOPA is unnecessarily broad. It will have no effect on so-called media pirates who will simply go around. Instead, it breaks the relationship between the providers of service and the users of the services. It burdens internet companies, websites, and search providers, strangling startups and internet entrepreneurs with pointless regulations.  It requires everyone online to have a working knowledge of some very esoteric legal principles in order to keep out of jail. And copyright is an area of the law so esoteric that even the man who wrote the SOPA legislation violated them on his own website!

This law puts the onus on the owner of the house for all that happens within. It assumes guilt and sidesteps due-process. (Which seems to be a recurring theme lately in Washington DC.) All in the interest of taming the net, in the interest of forcing it to fit a business model that was created before the computer was invented. Rather than evolve to meet the new model, certain powerful elements of our society are seeking to force the rest of us to back track to meet them.

I am a huge fan of copyright. The creation of copyright laws Fundamentally changed the lives of creative individuals everywhere. They changed the world from a place where Charles Dickens was the most popular author in America, but never saw a dime of revenue from the U.S. printings of his stories, to a world where authors, artists, and inventors could benefit from their own creations and use those revenues to devote their time to creating more.

But those laws were intended to champion innovations and advancements so that built upon a previous work to create something new. SOPA and similar laws that stifle, and many creative ideas and advancements are smothered in their cradle.

They were never intended to stifle them.

Otherwise, copyrights and patents would never expire.

If the world had been a place where riffing on existing music was illegal, we would have not jazz. If variations on a theme were illegal we would not have a great deal of classical or modern music. Likewise, if the world had been a place where cracking open your devices and tinkering with the works was illegal, we'd be driving the Model T silent and auto racing would not exist.

Creators have the right to protect their work. But this is not the way to do it.

As a copyright holder, I understand the frustration felt by other copyright holders and I understand the kneejerk lashing-out that can ensue. Likewise do I like to think that there's room for reasoned response and discourse. There has to be a middle ground where the artforms can prosper, the citizens of the world can incorporate their culture into their lives (and Thereby spread by word of mouth how great your material is) and do it all without throwing open the gates and making it so that artists simply can not support themselves by their efforts.

Censorship is never the answer and therefore, SOPA cannot be.

HR 3261: the so-called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which is currently before the US Senate, and its sister bill the Protect Intellectual Properties Act (PIPA) can be found in their entirety by clicking on their names.  Read them.  Read this breakdown of the laws by the American Library AssociationGo online and find the analyses from the major news organizations, read what your favorite authors and creators have to say about SOPA.

And than, as always, make up your own mind.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Typist & the Time Machine

I sometimes compare my typewriter to the control console of a time machine. I lay my hands upon the keys and I am whisked away to another place and time for adventures untold. I play the keys and the universe dances to the tune of every chatter and ding.

Ever notice that there's a typewriter on the control console of the TARDIS? I rest my case.

I know that I sound like a Luddite every time I bring up typewriters. That's a cross I'll just have to bear. There's magic in a typewriter and I like them a lot.

Which makes people wonder: do I write with one?

Alas, no. I own several, but they're mostly conversation pieces and subjects for photography.

When asked how I use typewriters in my writing, I almost always say "Metaphorically."

You see, I hate the term "Word Processor."  Think about that for a moment. Word processing? As if I could or should jot down a design for a new book on the back of a cocktail napkin and mail it off to a factory in China where an army of workers will assemble it into a novel for a dollar an hour.

No.  Just... no.

Typewriter sounds better to my ear. It has the sound of craft about it. And face it, it takes a real effort to write with a typewriter. From the number of foot pounds of force you have to exert on the key to make a letter to the finicky nature of aligning the paper under the platen. Don't even get me started on the irascible nature of carbon paper. 

Be that as it my, I use a word processing (gag) program just like everyone else.

I learned to type on a typewriter and I have long attributed my tendency to destroy keyboards to this fact. On this keyboard, the "T" is going out on me and often I have to backtrack to insert T's as I type this.  By the time my last laptop finally bricked, it didn't have a working space bar and most of the keys practically required a hammer to get them to register.

There's a learning curve when using any writing tool that's more complicated than a Bic pen. A goodly part of every workday for me is spent walking students through the eccentricities of Microsoft Word.  But when I write about typing, I don't see a computer keyboard in my head. I see the keys of my big black Royal typewriter that I call Matilda. That's her in the picture above. She's a thing of beauty, a real mechanical marvel.

Yes, I name inanimate objects. I also have a yellow truck named Woodstock. Don't judge me.

Matilda doesn't process words, she pounds them into shape like a blacksmith's hammer and anvil, forges stories out of base metal. She's practically a spirit totem for the modern writer, a talisman against the demons and distractions of electronica.

If writing really is 1% talent and 99% being able to ignore the internet, a return to the typewriter seems only natural to me.

Wifi? Twitter? This thing doesn't even have spell check!

See? I'm not looking backward toward the past, I'm looking forward into the future. I told you it was a time machine.

I wonder, though, what the proprietors of my local cafes would say if I hauled a typewriter in and started using it at one of their tables. If nothing else, it would save them from the endless complaints about not having enough outlets to serve the laptop brigade...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lighting the other end of the candle :: The Perils of Helium Hand

There comes a time when you have to make hard choices and for me, that time has arrived.

The candle is already lit at both ends and now I either have to figure out how to light the middle too, or something has got to give.

This is the main reason I haven't been blogging as much lately: I have a bad case of Helium Hand. When it comes time to volunteer for things, my hand just seems to rise of its own accord and before I know it, I'm letting things go that might further my career just trying to keep up with all of the things I volunteered to do.

I am a huge advocate of volunteering in your community. Help out anywhere and in any way that you can.

Education isn't something that should be delegated to teachers and then ignored, hoping they'll wave a magic wand and make our kids ready to take their places as a citizen. Hell, Washington State has a constitutional mandate to fully fund education and even they can't keep up with it. There are a number of reasons for this, among them that there's too little money, too many tests, and not enough hours in the day.

Never one to say "Go and do" without having gone and done, I kept putting my hand up until I needed a hand myself.

Awhile back, I was tapped to help create a new community Writing Center for the Tacoma area. We call it write@253. Out of that grew a wider effort to align all of the mentoring programd operating in Tacoma in a group effort to raise awareness and drive volunteerism in the south Puget Sound region.

They're both excellent causes that I am aching to lend them every kind of support I have at my disposal. The writing center is a specific cause, a cause near and dear to my heart where I get to directly help students find their words and assemble them into stories. Find an hour has a broader impact across the whole of the community. Every hour I spend with them, I'm theoretically helping an untold number of kids.

I am not saying that my presence or absence is the lynch pin for the whole effort. Far from it. Neither will fall apart without me. I cannot imagine walking away from either, but I'm coming to realize that I only have time for one of them.

Setting aside the fact that I see my family and friends less than I would like (because who can't say the same?) at this moment, I have two very personal novels ready to move center stage. Also, there's also a large-scale write-for-hire gig standing in the wings, clearing its throat and ready to push everything else aside with a real deadline. Oh, and I have a day job that I love.

Even when you only sleep four hours a night, you only have so many productive hours in a day.

My first impulse is to pick the very personal project that allows me to help students one-on-one. It came first anyway, the other just sort of happened. But I want to do both.

I believe that every writer carries a debt to the person, the place, and the culture that  put the pen in their hand. It is a debt that is repaid by encouraging more writers and spreading a love of reading and writing, an appreciation of our history and culture.

How do I keep the candle burning when I can't seem to keep my head above water?