Life, by John.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

This blog has been relocated.

From now on, Life, by John will be found at

Blogger is discontinuing FTP support, so I have to relocate.  All the original posts will be maintained here, but in the future, check the new location for updates.

Thanks for following Life, By John.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Brilliant Commercial

I see a lot of PSA's out there, trying to get drivers to wear their seatbelts, stop texting while driving, or the classic, 'don't drink and drive' commercial. They typically feature emotional trauma, blood, bruises, horrific accidents, and guilt ridden drivers who caused deaths with their carelessness.

But I recently saw a commercial with a much more appealing and memorable approach to the topic. Check out the commercial below.

Narrative commercials make a great case study for filmmakers. They are a miniature film production in themselves, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Characters have goals, and mini-arcs. A well done commercial really gets the audience in on the game, but a poor commercial, just like a poorly told feature film, irritates the audience with it's 'buy buy buy' message.

Whether advertising a car or promoting a doctrine, filmmakers can succeed by winning their audience with compelling characters, or fail by irritating their audience with a mechanical, dogmatic plot.

This was a remarkable change of pace from the typical PSA. It was beautifully shot, well directed, and had a good bit of forethought in the story being told.

Things that appeal to me about it are the environment. In the home, a father evidently teaching his daughter something about vehicle safety. It's cozy, it's warm, it's a place we all want to be.

The love between the members of the family is clearly portrayed as the commercial begins, and the daughter's panic stricken face betrays so much affection for her father that you can't help but resonate with the character. This is excellent casting, and excellent direction. If one were to look back at preproduction of this ad, one would no doubt find detailed storyboards and animatics prepared well in advance.

But the brilliance is also in the simplicity of the shots. One of the reasons the elements are so bold and so plain for the viewer, so memorable in the midst of a variety of other commercials, is the economy of shots. Thomas Jefferson said, "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." The same applies to shots within a film as well.

The breakdown of the commercial:
  1. 00:00 Key Turning.
  2. 00:04 Foot on the gas.
  3. 00:06 Family watches, entertained - trucking right.
  4. 00:10 Driving happily - push in.
  5. 00:14 Family laughter, mid shot - push in.
  6. 00:17 A happy father, - truck right.
  7. 00:20 Daughter laughing, - push in.
  8. 00:22 Fearful driver, mid-shot - push in.
  9. 00:28 Panicked daughter, close up - push in
  10. 00:31 Yanking the wheel, close up - push in
  11. 00:35 Family leaps into action - push in
  12. 00:36 Daughter at his side
  13. 00:43 Her Fingers interlock
  14. 00:46 Wife grabs him
  15. 00:48 Her Fingers interlock
  16. 00:50 Impact Close-up
  17. 00:50 Impact Wide
  18. 00:58 Glitter Falls
  19. 01:02 A Family Embrace

You might say, "That's 19 shots in an 88 second commercial. That's averaging a cut every 4.5 seconds... How is that economical?" Well, in this instance, we're going to examine the setups and angles, or shots and not the number of times a shot is edited in, or cuts. There is a lot we were able to learn in this very short period of time, and a lot of action taking place. Yet the reason we were able to remember it all so very clearly, is that we didn't cut to a new angle every time.

The setups are actually very simple throughout the short. Shots 1 and 2 are throwaway angles. That's why the content in the shot is very limited. A key turns, a foot presses the gas pedal. But even though they pass by in six seconds, we know he's starting a car. There is very little to see in the shot, other than the hand with the invisible key, and the foot on the invisible gas pedal. This way, all our attention is devoted to the actions, not the environment.

This is true with every shot in the film; the environments are simple and unassuming, familiar to the viewer, so that the characters become the focal point.

Shot 3 we move the camera past the driver, to see the family on the couch. Now we have clearly established the locations of the characters, and the mood of the family. If we were to cut to the father first, his dopey driving grin would look ridiculous. Instead, because we see the family giggling and watching with awe, when we cut to the father driving, we realize he is intentionally entertaining them. His actions no longer seem silly, but noble, in a way.

Shot 4, with the father driving, is a setup (angle, lighting, dolly track, etc) that will be reused several times, with only slight variation. The same is true of shot 5. In all, there were probably only about ten setups in the whole film, allowing a lot of time for the audience to really study out each of the environments, characters, actions, and arcs within the short.

Even in the longest shot in the short, the end embrace, the environment is very simple. There are no props, no background furniture. The wallpaper is patterned but the pattern is so out of focus, we can only really study the family. They are even lit more brightly than anything in the background. It's a perfect close.

An amateur director would probably have had an entirely new shot every 3-5 seconds, to keep it 'interesting'. Rather than focusing on characters and clearly defining their goals, he would have distracted the audience with 20 unique setups, brightly lit and filled with distracting background props. This would not only hurt the audience's understanding of the short, but it would have also been twice as time consuming to shoot.

On a shoot like this, every setup would take 45 minutes to an hour. When storyboarding even your short films, consider the cost of every shot on a professional feature film. Choose your shots very carefully, and focus on clarity of the action for the audience. Remember, we're here to serve the audience with a story; not confuse them with unnecessary information.

Keep it simple, make it bold.

~ In Christ, John.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quotes from January

Facebook has been a scourge of the blogging world. It's far more convenient to post a link on a wall, or a quote in the status bar, than it is to write an entire article.

That said, here is a summary of the activity and interest from January of 2009 on the wall, focusing on quotable quotes. I think you'll find them useful.

(the above picture will make sense with the final quote)

The first quote came out of the blue, referenced by Joshua Phillips. I found it noteworthy and insightful, from Victor Hugo, about inventiveness, reformation, and seizing the opportunities of the day.

"Thought emancipates itself in all directions at the same time as the arts. The arch-heretics of the Middle Ages had already made large incisions into Catholicism. The sixteenth century breaks religious unity. Before the invention of printing, reform would have been merely a schism; printing converted it into a revolution. Take away the press; heresy is enervated. Whether it be Providence or Fate, Gutenburg is the precursor of Luther." - Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

A few days later, in my morning reading, I found a great bit from Sydney Harris. His work 'Winners and Losers' is a book full of brief comical illustrations, and some snapshots of concise brilliance.

"A winner takes a huge problem and breaks it down into smaller parts, so that it can be more easily handled. A loser on the other hand, rolls a lot of little problems together, until they are simply unsolvable. - Sydney J. Harris, Winners and Losers"

This is the science of getting things done. Take an unsolvable problem that others are unwilling to face (there are countless numbers of such obstacles) and do the mental work of deconstructing the problem into it's smallest working parts, and then develop the necessary team to tackle them.

I really, really love that quote. The day that I read it, I wrote the following in my digi-journal.

Every great leader in history has ultimately become admired for his ability to enable and initiate others in their course of tackling seemingly insurmountable odds. Washington was known for such greatness. Help someone accomplish more than that thought possible, and they will be forever loyal, immediately at your aid in desperate times.

I think that thought quite naturally leads to this statement from master architect Daniel Burnham. Giving specific instructions to ambitious young people in his field, he said this:

"Make no little plans! They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work. Remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die." ~ Daniel Burnham, Architect.

This wasn't meant to be some flowery motivational saying. It was practical advice on drawing up plans for projects, but it applies across many fields, including film and writing. My digi-journal statement regarding Burnham's insight reads:

He couldn't be more right. Draw up a vision with gusto, and others will be excited about it. Granted, 'drawing up plans' actually means thinking through how to accomplish those plans. To consider yourself a visionary because you can pitch big ideas without actually planning, is the same as considering yourself a master painter by virtue of having eyesight. Seeing a vision, and capturing that vision for others, are entirely different.

The Institutes of Biblical Law is quite arguably the most important work of the 20th century, and mandatory reading for men in this age. A work my Dad first encouraged me to read when I was eleven years old, I've recently been reviewing this material. Opening up chapter four, he writes about the fourth commandment, and states the following:

"The sabbath is not an infringement of man's liberty, but rather the liberation of man." R.J. Rushdoony.

Picked up an old favorite last week, C.J. Mahaney's 'Humility'. The book is simple, short, and easy to read. It is, however, hard to swallow, sometimes.

"Sin- especially the sin of pride- is active, not passive. Sin doesn't wake up tired, because it hasn't been sleeping."

"Mere knowledge of scripture is not the pinnacle; it's merely the prelude to active obedience, and that's all that ultimately counts."

"I've found that there is truth to be gleaned even from an enemies critique. Humility doesn't demand mathematical precision from another's input; humility postures itself to receive God's grace from any avenue possible."

Of course, the title of the book, 'Humility' has led to some fantastic ideas for recommending the book to others. 'Hey, I've got something you could use; 'Humility'.' Or perhaps, 'Hey, I was sitting here with stacks of Humility, and I thought of you. I know you don't have it, and it turns out, I have more than I need.' My brothers endlessly list the puns possible with a book title like this.

And the latest quotable quote is from Robert E. Lee. I had heard it once before, and wrongly attributed it to Stonewall Jackson. Recently, I saw it referenced by David Botkin, and realized my error. A quote that many have heard and searched for in the past, it is without question a saying for our times.

“The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope." Robert E. Lee.

I hope that these have brightened your day just a little more.

Do you have any favorite quotes that you'd like to share? Please post them in a comment. They may make their way to Facebook.

~ In Christ, John.

Friday, January 08, 2010

George Washington on Friendship

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.

A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends.

Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dockers Ad: Call to Manhood

(click image to enlarge)

It's been posted before on many other blogs, and likely you've seen it around, but I felt it would be worthy of a re-post. I think this ad is a unique bit of cultural manifestation, and I'd be curious what the reaction abroad tends to be.

Have any of you heard this ad come up in discussion before?

When you saw it, what were your thoughts?

~ In Christ, John.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Start 2010 With Mentorship.

Fathers and young men, I would encourage you to participate in a new weekly mentoring class, being held live over the 'net by Geoffrey Botkin, the founder of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences. Mr. Botkin is discipling 7 wonderful children, who have already proven themselves as composers, authors, and teachers of history, art, and home life.

This program will last nine weeks, January through February. Here are some of the focus topics Geoffrey will address over this nine-week period:

  • How to defend the faith: Love your wife
  • What every man needs to know before he dies
  • How family worship changes the world
  • How to think like a man in an adolescent culture
  • How to fight like a man in a defeated culture
  • How you and your sons can be involved in local church leadership
  • How to take command in your home
  • Understanding the Quadrivocational mission
  • Why long term planning is essential to a fruitful legacy
These are topics about growing up. Maturing in our walk, and taking dominion. My Dad and I are grateful for resources like this to be made available, and I hope that many of you will be participating with us.

Sessions will take place between 9 and 10 a.m., Central Time, from January 2 through February 27, 2010. The cost for these nine sessions is $49 per man (sons may listen in with their fathers), and participants in this charter online class will receive a discount off the next. The sessions will be recorded and MP3s made freely available to participants shortly after each session, so that any who cannot join all nine sessions live may still hear what was discussed.

If you're participating in the classes, please let me know.

God Bless!

~ In Christ, John.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, From the Moore Family!

Have a Very Merry Christmas!

~ In Christ, John