Zero Dark Thirty: A Tale of Bias and Burqas

What can we, as storytellers, do to avoid biased and inaccurate (perhaps offensive) portrayals of others in our films? As much as I may intellectually value other voices, it is exceedingly difficult for me to recognize the impact of my own inner biases when I am creating stories.

As a filmmaker passionate to cross-cultural stories and also dedicated to crafting authentic stories that present accurate depictions of culture, this article is a great caution for me. While I think of myself as one who values other voices and hates simple stereotypes, I’m sure I am guilty of falling into the same traps. I am, after all, tremendously influenced by my own culture, religion, and upbringing. As much as I may intellectually value other voices, it is exceedingly difficult for me to recognize the impact of my own inner biases when I am creating stories. I may really be committed to presenting authentic points of view, but I have to acknowledge that I often can’t see the impact of my biases.

Here’s what this author says about the portrayal of Muslim women in two Oscar celebrated American films.

Zero Dark Thirty and Argo have twelve Oscar nods between them. There has been much heated discussion on their portrayal of Muslims and how much of it ought to be excused do to artistic message. In the end, though, their many accolades serve as one more example of anti-Muslim women dialogues in Western society being fervently rewarded.

Read the whole article here, from Patheos: Zero Dark Thirty: A Tale of Bias and Burqas.

What can we, as storytellers, do to avoid biased and inaccurate (perhaps offensive) portrayals of others in our films?

Creating Your Unique Story World – Dialogue

I was reminded last night of the Coen Brothers’ passion and ability to create rich story worlds in their films through their use of dialogue (among other things.) I see films and read scripts that nail character arcs and important beats with precision, but don’t rise to their full potential because their characters are too flat. They may be extreme, active, loud, quirky, and all that. But they are usually stuck in a stereotype and are ultimately predictable by the time we get past the introductions.

True-Grit-image-10392I was reminded last night of the Coen Brothers’ passion and ability to create rich story worlds in their films through their use of dialogue (among other things.) I watched their recent version of “True Grit” again and I thought to myself, I’d watch this film again just to enjoy individual scenes because of the unique voices given to each character. Mattie Ross is a force of nature in a 14yr/old girl. Rooster Cogburn is a force in his own right, but they are polar opposites in their social manners. The story brings them crashing together and it’s a joy to watch. I can watch the scene where Mattie negotiates for her father’s horses over and over as an example of great dialogue and fun scene dynamics.

But this isn’t a review of True Grit or any other particular Coen Bros. film. (You can say the same things about The Big Lebowski, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, etc.)

It is about creating rich story worlds by using all of the tools in a filmmaker’s bag. Visuals and production design are on everyone’s mind, but if your characters aren’t created with the same care, the film will not succeed at the same level.

I see films and read scripts that nail character arcs and important beats with precision, but don’t rise to their full potential because their characters are too flat. They may be extreme, active, loud, quirky, and all that. But they are usually stuck in a stereotype and are ultimately predictable by the time we get past the introductions.

I’m trying to work on this in my own work. I need to back up continually to listen to my characters, to hear them as individuals rather than ‘types’ I know. I ask myself how I am creating individuals who live in a unique (even if it’s familiar) story world. There are no “normal” people or worlds.

Do you wrestle with this too? Do you settle to describe your Hero as ‘a typical suburban housewife’ or ‘slacker dude’ and settle for that? If you are depending on quick dialogue and witty comebacks or just keeping the audience on a ride with your action scenes, you are depriving yourself and your audience of a richer story experience.

I’ve mentioned the Coen Bros. (love them or hate them) as filmmakers who have a passion to create rich cultural worlds. I can think of others who are less quirky, but no less rich.

If you’ve never seen the Coen Brother’s version of True Grit, here’s a sample scene (the trailers don’t capture the dialogue well): “Not Going”

iPad Teleprompter – partial DIY

Rig up an inexpensive teleprompter using your iPad and a few items around the house.

I work alone sometimes and, sometimes, I have a need to shoot an on-camera piece with myself that can’t be just an impromptu web-cam piece. I want to address the camera directly and I want it to be scripted, therefore, a teleprompter would be nice. (Saves my aging brain from the stress of memorizing a 3 min. presentation and keeps my eyes from wandering to cue cards.) Well, this week I have just such a need. But I don’t own a teleprompter.

Here’s what I did, using a few pieces of ‘real’ gear and some things I scrounged from around my house. It’s a basic, but very functional teleprompter that takes advantage of my iPad and the ProPrompter app.

Rear View
Side View

I built a minimal rail set-up using a few pieces of my GiniRigs rails, with the addition of an extension bar that I use to hold up the picture frame.

I found an old picture frame, diploma-size, and pulled out the picture, leaving just the glass in the frame. Be careful, it won’t be safety glass and it’s very fragile!

I placed my iPad on the rails and, with a little piece of gaffer’s tape, made a hinge for the frame on the camera-side edge. Then I just moved my arm piece to give the proper 45 degree angle on the picture frame.

The ProPrompter software lets you flip and reverse the image as needed to get the proper orientation in the reflection.

When using a minimal rig like this, you will likely run into problems with reflections and glare. I would likely build a little tent or place something dark behind the camera and above the prompter to kill the glare. There is plenty of brightness on the screen, but you will want to make the iPad brightness up full.

Front Angle

I happen to be shooting with my iPhone 4S for this piece (’cause it’s about mobile production) and so I have my phone mounted in a Phocus mount. The odd little cube on the top is a bubble level.

These are rough photos as I was testing it. If I have a chance I will post some better ones. But it works!

Update: I forgot to mention that, when you’re working alone and shooting with an iPhone, monitoring can be a problem. You can hardwire to a monitor if you have an i-device-to-VGA or HDMI cable and a portable monitor. Today I’m using my laptop as a monitor via AirServer software. The phone broadcasts (mirrors) to the laptop so I can set my framing and such. There is lag but it helps a lot if you’re flying solo.

Article: Getting Started With iPad Editing Apps

Total Mobile Filmmaking! If you’ve ever dreamed of traveling the world (or your neighborhood) while making movies with just a phone or tablet, you may just be in luck.

Total Mobile Filmmaking! If you’ve ever dreamed of traveling the world (or your neighborhood) while making movies with just a phone or tablet, you may just be in luck.

Here’s my brief review of several video editing apps for iPad/iPhone.

I’m not obsessing over 5K Raw – iPhone filmmaking rig

Most video content is consumed on small screens. My team is working on tools to help visual storytellers in developing countries tell better stories. Big stories. Small screens.

Most video content is consumed on small screens. My team is working on tools to help visual storytellers in developing countries tell better stories. Here’s my first self-portrait with my new DIY iphone rig. We’ll be putting together a how-to video for building this rig out of PVC, (not including the Phocus Accent iPhone lens system or the shotgun mic.)

I am also writing a comprehensive review of iOS cameras and editing apps.

Big stories. Small screens.

The Proper Posture for Mentoring

I try to shift my own thinking and self-perception when I’m in a situation where I’ve been brought in as the ‘expert’, especially if I’m foreigner.

It’s nice to come into a situation where you’re the expert–often treated with honor. It feels good. But I try to shift my own thinking and self-perception when I’m in a situation where I’ve been brought in as the ‘expert’, especially if I’m foreigner.

It may be true that I have special experience and gifting that separates me from the group in a significant way. However, my goal is that, by the end of our time together, we will have bonded together in such a way and I will have shared what I bring in such a way as to have broken down many of the invisible walls.

In the words of John Perkins, pioneer of Christian community development…

Go to the people.

Live among them.

Learn from them.

Love them.

Start with what they know.

Build on what they have.

But of the best leaders,

when their task is accomplished,

when their work is done . . .

the people will remark:

“We have done it ourselves.”