Unacceptable Levels

The Power of Documentary Film

Hazardous Chemicals

We here at Word Wizards inc, love documentary film because it makes up so much of the work we do. However, we also love it because it has the power to really change people’s perspectives on important issues. It brings these important issues, that many people would know nothing about otherwise, to larger audiences and makes them tough to ignore. These filmmakers—or documentarians—shine light on topics that are often overlooked or kept under wraps because some people want them hidden from the public. I recently ran across a documentary, Unacceptable Levels, that does just that and shines a light on an important topic. The film’s main focus is examining how the thousands of chemicals that are used in the creation of everyday objects like food, furniture and cookware, are affecting our bodies and our health.

It All Began With Some Bad Water

Aspiring filmmaker Ed Brown was working as a waiter in Pennsylvania when he had a glass of water one day and noticed how it smelled and tasted like a swimming pool. He then did some online digging and saw to his surprise that there some acceptable levels of chlorine and other containments in water. He didn’t think that much about it until pregnancy issues with his wife brought his mind back to the subject. He started thinking about how that same chlorine he had read about might be affecting people like his wife and what affects so many other everyday chemicals are having on us. This in turn inspired him to start working on the documentary as a way to learn more about this issue.

 A Cinematic Journey

In the film Brown has the viewer go on the journey with him to the extant that they learn some startling facts at the same time he does on camera. Brown interviews a lengthy list of respected experts who are well versed in environmental and chemical studies. Some of these people include activist Ralph Nader and President of the Environmental Working Group, Ken Cook. Along the way a few shocking stories are unearthed, with one of the biggest having to do with sewer sludge. In the 1970s thousands of elements that were removed in sewage treatment and deemed too toxic for the ocean or landfills were simply renamed “biosolids” by the Environmental Protection Agency and given away to farmers who spread them on their farmlands all over America.

 What Viewers Get From The Film

Brown hopes that people see the film and get a sense of empowerment from it and start asking some important questions of their own. Personally, he’s gained a lifetime of knowledge from gathering all that documentary footage and feels it’s benefited his family greatly. While the vast amount of information may seem overwhelming, he hopes that other families will begin to make some life changes and be more careful about what they have around them. Unacceptable Levels will actually be playing in the DC area on June 20th at E Street Cinema. Again, movies like this are important because they make you think about major issues and make you question the world around you to hopefully become more informed.

 




3 Big Standouts from NAB 2013

NAB 2013 Digital Media Industry Event

While the National Association of Broadcasters early event in Las Vegas may not have quite the same buzz as the Consumer Electronics Show, its still a big deal in the production industry and a regular trek for many members of the local community. While Word Wizards, Inc  primarily focuses on transcription work, light post-production, web and print design, we still love to learn all about the latest and greatest film tech. We love to see what enterprising filmmakers and production professionals can create with the latest and greatest gear. Although nothing at the NAB event was mind blowing, there were 3 products that seemed to garner a lot of attention.

Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera

Blackmagic impressed many people with the unveiling of its Pocket Cinema Camera that retails for $995 and has plenty to offer. Some of the features on it include SD card storage, CinemaDNG RAW recording, Micro HDMI monitoring and a Super-16 cinema 1080 HD recorder. At under a thousand dollars, that’s a whole lot of powerful tech for the price, especially when considering the model’s built-in LCD that can be used to watch some of that great talking heads footage. While calling it a “pocket camera” might be a bit of stretch, the size is still relativity compact compared to other models in this range. The camera should be available towards the end of July.

The Lynx A 3D point and shoot Camera/Tablet

Another very impressive and unique product was a point-and-shoot camera capable of 3D modeling and motion capture. This is a unique device, which was funded via kickstarter, and  is being developed by a group of students from the University of Texas. The Lynx A 3D point-and-shoot camera employs sensor hardware to obtain depth mapping and imaging info from your surroundings and then turns that same data into a 3D scene and object models or motion capture that it displays on its screen. This means that a savvy filmmaker will be able to record those important interviews in perfect detail and sound for easy transcription later. The price tag on this bad boy should be about $1,799 and should start shipping soon.

Sony’s Anycast Touch Studio in a Box

Finally Sony showed off its brand new Anycast Touch studio in a box, which is simply too impressive looking not to mention. The basic premise of the Anycast Touch is the ability to have a mobile production studio in a box that delivers network quality broadcasting anywhere. Some of the bells and whistles include sliding dual touch displays, the ability to split audio and video editing between the panels as well as a video switcher, audio mixer, an encoder and even a special effects generator. Even though pricing hasn’t been discussed yet, the Anycast Touch is apparently going to be shipping in September.

For more in depth coverage

While those are three of the impressive standout from NAB 2013, there were plenty of other noteworthy displays from Sony, Intel and Red Epic. For a much more comprehensive round up, check out engadget’s coverage.

 

 




Social Justice and Web Series at Filmfest DC

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If your looking for a fun little excursion and have a hankering for a different kind of cinema, check out the Filmfest DC. They’re collection, which plays till Sunday the 21st, is pretty impressive with over 80 features, documentaries and shorts from all corners of the earth. Word Wizards, Inc. of course loves docs, since their so jam packed with talking heads footage which means transcription, but encourages visitors to see all the festival has to offer. The festival which takes place at various commercial theaters throughout Washington, D.C. have a program that can be downloaded from the website at http://www.filmfestdc.org/filmlist.cfm  

Social Justice

One of the unique highlights of the festival includes a Justice Matters Focus group of documentaries which uses the powerful medium of film to take a look at important social justice issues. Some of the subjects include affordable aids treatment, life in refugee camps, global change through entrepreneurship and protecting indigenous people. Word Wizards. Inc, loves these documentaries for a few reasons since they not only bring important topics to the masses that might be over looked, but also use lots of interview footage which requires transcription to great effect. For more information, check out their link here: http://www.filmfestdc.org/filmListSel.cfm?selSeries=Justice%20Matters 

Another unique panel looks at the outstanding quality of the different web series’s produced in the DC area entitled Best of the D.C. Web Series. Over the past decade a number of made for the internet shows, called webisodes, have sprung up in the area. They tend be the length of an average television show and are becoming increasingly popular since they’re cheap to make and can be distributed so easily. While they are intended for the internet, they are still make via the conventional production means. This entails shooting it with a camera which is followed  by plenty of transcription, logging and editing. For more info: http://www.filmfestdc.org/highlights.cfm  

Film festival’s like Filmfest DC are important since they give a voice to many films that otherwise would not be able to find an audience. Yes, some things like the internet and video sharing sites have made self distribution easier than before but its still tough to get them in front of people. Film festivals take only the best which means audiences have a certain quality to look forward to and that filmmakers have better chances to be recognized. To find out about all the screenings and films, check out the Filmfest DC website at  http://www.filmfestdc.org/.

 

 

 




Marketing Documentaries to Academia: The Perfect Recipe

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One of the obvious reasons why Word Wizards, Inc. loves Docs in Progress (DIP) http://docsinprogress.org/ is that they coach for projects with tons of interview footage.  We at “The Wiz” thrive on transcribing dozens of hours of talking head interviews per week. Transcription is very important to any documentary film maker, whether they use Word Wizards, some other company or (in most cases for people on a tight budget,) do it themselves.  Therefore Word Wizards is proud to sponsor DIP and we attend many of their meetings. Last weeks meeting on marketing to academia was a special treat.

Judith Dancoff

The guest speaker was film marketing Coach Judith Dancoff of New Film Marketing http://www.newfilmmarketing.com/about.php  She spoke about distribution of educational Docs using a strategy called “Distribute It Yourself” (or DIY).  Her strategy is applied specifically to marketing educational documentaries, but can be used to market and sell any Doc.  DIY takes a little bit of extra work but you get to keep all the money as a payoff.  Dancoff wants you to think of the documentary producer as a business person marketing and selling a valuable product to people who need it.

She says to plan two marketing campaigns a year, one early in the fall semester and another in early winter but never Xmas or Spring breaks. The easiest way to break down her strategy is into an easy to follow 3 step recipe:

Step 1: Buy lists of potential academic buyers such as librarians and school content providers from private list providers like R.J. Dill.  rjdill@gmail.com or to reach out to the American Library Association: Contact Personal and Organizational Members using http://bit.ly/Z01rBy 

Step 2: Put together a simple website to market to these people via email blast followed up by personal phone calls.  Academics hate flash so keep your site simple. You can build a very simple Doc site yourself for free using http://www.wix.com.  Or, Word Wizards can design the shell and you fill in the text. For those that want customization, Word Wizards can design a template using a content management system such as WordPress. Your budget will drive the bells and whistles of your website. Check out our portfolio page at https://www.wordwizardsinc.com/design/our-work/.

Step 3: State right at the beginning, both in the subject line of your email blasts; and at the top of your web site what is different, educational and compelling about your film.  Why is your film especially relevant to the academic types that you are trying to sell to?   Review issues of Public Use Doctrine at http://www.movlic.com/k12/faq.html.  Set your price by seeing what other people charge, www.bullfrogfilms.com/

 

 Tom Dziedzic

The fascinating thing about Docs in Progress is that professional film makers like Tom Dziedzic use DIP for coaching (see his award winning Redemption Stone at http://www.redemptionstone.net/ ) as well as want-to-be Doc makers from every walk of life.  With the upcoming tenth anniversary of DIP coming up next year expect to see a lot more about them in our upcoming blog articles.




Grand Movie Palaces versus Big Bad Multiplex

I recently volunteered at a panel, at the DC Independent Film Festival, about the history of movie theaters and palaces in the city of Washington D.C. During this panel, several images of old movie theaters that have been torn down were shown and their details discussed. I was struck by the individual beauty of these places and how different they were from each other. As someone with a strong interest in history, architecture and movies I’ve always felt bad that these places went out of style. While today’s multiplexes are nice and modern, they also seem a bit on the sterile and cold side. DC, like many other major cities, was once home to a huge population of stunning movie palaces with a few still remaining but most having gone the way of the wrecking ball.

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Today with so many production companies and such a passionate media and video community, it seems like we are trying to keep the spirit of these places alive by telling rich captivating stories that draw people in the way these grand movie palaces of yesteryear did. Here at Word Wizards, Inc. we are focused on documentaries because time coded transcripts are part of our core business.  However, scripted films have been adored by audiences in ornate movie houses for over a hundred years. Come take a trip down memory lane as we look at a few of the more memorable one.

Loews

The Loews Theater was one of the first grand movie theaters in the area, constructed in 1918 at 1306 F Street, NW and built to hold an audience of over 2,000 people. In addition to movies, stage shows were also held here until the mid 30’s. This gem of a theater which featured some of the first air conditioning in DC was renovated in 1964 when theater sales started to decline. Loewe’s put it up for sale in the late 60’s and the building was torn down in the late 70’s. While the outside was nice, the inside was truly dazzling and put the word palace in “movie theater palaces.”

Loews Theater

Fortunately there are those who want to save these important land marks and have succeeded in keeping a few of them in a few different incarnations. The first is the Avalon theater house in Chevy Chase which dates from 1923 and was rescued by a group of concerned citizens in 2002. Today it offers lots of different programming such as first run commercial films, foreign and independent films as well as film festivals. A second theater the Atlas on 1333 H Street was built in the late 30’s, closed in the 70’s and brought back to life as a performing arts center in 2001. Today the Atlas showcases unique performances, offers arts education and serves as a major catalyst for much of the rapid economic revitalization happening on the H Street corridor.

Avalon Atlas

Many wonder why these opulent movie palaces fell out of favor with the general public with the main answer being the rise of multiplexes which had larger operating budgets and were able to attract people on ways that the small single screen theaters simply could not. Much of this has to do with offering more amenities, more of a place to hangout and often more convenient locations as many people started migrating to the suburbs. While the historic preservation movement of the early 60’s alerted the general public to the cause of preservation, today’s historic theater loving activists still face a very uphill battle.

 

The reasons for this I think are two fold with the first being that the younger generation never experienced these lavish theaters so we don’t really know what were missing.  This in turn makes it tougher for historic activists and those passionate about preservation to reach people since their message is often falling on deaf ears. Yes, the multiplexes are a cool place to hang out, offer a bunch of films, there’s so many in malls and most are conveniently located close to major urban areas but they lack personal feel. The second issue is a much larger and pervasive one that has do with the multitude of options people have when it comes to home entertainment. Why should people leave their home when they have things like netflix, on-demand, redbox, the Internet, and so many different ways to be entertained without having to leave their couch? Going to the theater used to be a privilege and a chance to share unique a experience with real people immersed in a story but its an experience that seems to be having a curtain call.

 

Avalon Theater – http://www.theavalon.org/

Atlas Arts Center – http://atlasarts.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 




Annapolis Film Festival Wrap Up

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This past weekend the Annapolis Film Festival kicked off to some pretty critical acclaim. The festival, which ran from the 21 – 24, seeks to establish the city of Annapolis as a prime breeding ground for different filmmakers to come and show different perspectives through their work to hungry audiences. A previous incarnation actually existed from 2003 to 2006 and was produced by Ken Arnold, Maria Triandos and Demetrea Triantafillides. The founders of the present version hope that in the long term it will bring both cultural and economic growth to Annapolis and the surrounding area. The festival showcased all types of films from gripping fictional tales to thought provoking documentaries. Word Wizards especially loves documentaries because transcription, captioning and logging are among our core business capabilities.  During the weekend, more than 90 films which covered various topics were shown in addition to educational panels and various film showcases.

After the festival, the winners as voted by audience members were:

Best Feature Narrative: Exquisite Corpse Project

The Exquisite Corpse Project, directed by Ben Popik and directed by Joanna Popik, is the result of a challenge given to five members of a former comedy troupe, all good friends. Their task is to each write fifteen pages of a movie script having only read the previous writer’s last five pages. This one-of-a-kind narrative-doc crossover is hilarious and touching.

Best Feature Documentary: Charles Bradley: Soul of America

Charles Bradley: Soul of America, directed by Poull Brien, chronicles the story of 62 year old aspiring soul singer and James Brown impersonator who becomes a star. After a life of abandonment, homelessness and tragedy, his debut album rockets on to Rolling Stone’s top 50 albums of 2011. Mr. Bradley will giving a concert at Ram’s Head OnStage, West Street, Annapolis on April 12th.

Best Narrative Short: The Silk

The Silk, directed by Nathalie Boltt and Clare Burgess, is from New Zealand. Fifty years before, Herb had brought home from the war a length of beautiful silk. As he approaches death, his wife, Amy, takes out the scissors and undertakes a project which transforms their sorrow.

Best Documentary Short: Good Karma $1

Good Karma $1, directed by Jason Berger and Amy Laslett, tells how Ad guru, Alex Bogusky collects signs from homeless people asking for money, wondering if he can help them get their message across better. It turns into a lesson in generosity and humility.

Some of the highlights of the festival included an environmental showcase where a panel of leaders and filmmakers discussed various environmental issues. The festival also celebrated the young filmmakers of tomorrow with their Student Showcase which shows short films from young filmmakers from all around the world. It’s these young people that will be the face of the video production and media industry and bring us films, documentaries, powerful stories and put the spotlight on important issues. Other noteworthy topics at the festival included a panel on the African-American Experience and Segregation in the American School System as well as a shorts program thematically looking at women’s issues.

With the festival having attracted over 2,000 people, that’s great news for independent cinema as a whole. It shows that there’s a desire for it in Annapolis and a generally strong one in the region itself. More importantly it’s yet another exampe of how our production community comes together to celebrate our hard work and support each other. With such a rich pool of talent in the DC/MD/VA area and the sheer number of productions and documentaries that we produce, it’s vital that festivals such as Annapolis thrive. They are not just a showcase for great work but are serve as an important venue for those not from te area to see the type of outstanding video work our professional  community does.

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For more info on the festival, check out the link here: http://www.annapolisfilmfestival.net/

 




Silver Spring on Screen

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The local DC production and video community is responsible for some truly terrific programs that come out of this area. The big question that comes across many people’s minds is how will the next generation of professionals learn vital film making skills? Luckily there are quite a few organizations such as Docs in Progress that are trying to educate y0uth about the production and film business. Docs in Progress, a non-profit organization based in Silver Spring, seeks to cultivate this talent by offering a variety of classes, screenings, workshops and discussion groups to help celebrate talent in the realm of documentary film. The organization, directed by Erica Ginsberg, aims to provide resources for all filmmakers in all areas whether that be in conception, pre-production, filming, and vital post production topics such as editing, logging and transcribing.

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One of the more interesting community engagement projects they have going on is called Silver Spring Stories. The suburb known as Silver Spring, HQ of Docs In Progress, has undergone impressive redevelopment in the past few decades and has become home to a unique assortment of institutions, organizations, artists, merchants and residents. Docs in progress is trying to capture these stories by having emerging documentary filmmakers of all ages capture them in short 3 – 5 minute videos. Some of the subjects taped include the Maryland Youth Ballet, Tastee Diner, the Gandhi Brigade and the brand new civic center.

Gandhi Brigade

 

Filmmakers are given a choice of different places and people to profile and are then given free reign to document them utilizing the skills they have learned from various workshops and training. They embark in this film making journey and go through all the main stages from writing the pitches, interviewing subjects to cutting it in post production. This work provides incredibly valuable hands on training and Docs in Progress thinks it’s important because of its two fold nature. Not only is it a great way to educate new film makers but also allows them to document a storied and historic community like Silver Spring.

For more info and if interested, check out their site at: http://docsinprogress.org/silver-spring-stories/

Also check out some samples of thier work here: http://www.youtube.com/docsinprogress

 

 

 

 




Guggenheim Productions, Giants in Docs City

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While some big hollywood films and productions have come to Washginton, D.C. to shoot big blockbuster fare, the real work has to do with all the docs that come out of here. The capital city should really be called doc’s city because of the sheer number of documentaries that our amazing film community produces. Lots of hard work goes into each of these often films, from pre-production and shooting to editing, transcription and post production.  One of the biggest companies in the field, Guggenhiem Productions has been in the biz for more than 50 years and produced over 500 titles.

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Their founder Charles Guggenhiem wanted to be known as a storyteller and sought to create a video production company that had the goal of telling powerful stories with a profound effect on the viewer.  He’s received are several academy awards for his films including Nine from Little Rock, about integration in Arkansas. He’s also notable for being one of the first to employ documentary style video production on American Political Campaigns. Starting with Robert Kennedy and George McGovern, he revealed the character of the candidates in an affirmative way and let the issues speak for themselves.

Guggenhiem passed away after a battle with cancer 2002 but not before spending the last 6 months of his life finishing the film Berga: Soldiers of Another War.

The film tells the story of his fellow American infantryman who were captured and sent to a Nazi slave labor camp during World War 2. Even when his health was fading, he completed the film overseeing all final aspects including  logging, editing, transcription and completed post production. Today his daughter Grace serves as an executive producer for many of  the historical documentaries to come out of the company.

One of the amazing things the Guggenheim Productions prides itself on is it’s dedication to history and using the narrative form of documentary to keep it alive for future generations. To that end, they work with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences/Academy Film Archive to preserve critical titles from the holdings. They have also partnered with National Archives to create the Charles Guggenhiem Center for Documentary Film at the National Archives. Not only does the center celebrate the work of Guggenhiem but also honors other documentarians who have made important differences with their work.

Please check out Guggenheim Productions at http://www.gpifilms.com/index.html

 




Yes We Did: The People’s Inauguration – Free Documentary Screening

Yes We Did: The People’s Inauguration is the story of the pandemonium surrounding the inauguration of the first African American President of The United States of America. Next Wednesday, January 16th, our friends at Docs In Progress have teamed up with We Are Takoma to provide a free screening of this insightful documentary film.

Areal shot of DC during the 2009 Inauguration
Yes We Did: The people’s Inauguration

The filmmakers will be there next week to answer questions, talk about the making of the film, and explain why they felt compelled to document this historic event. Over five days of shooting, two filmed the events leading up to and surrounding President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The film covers the entire experience; parade prep, overbooked hotels, empowered communities, and long distance journeys.

School of Hard Docs

Docs In Progress provides education, training, and assistance for people who want to learn about documentary film production. Yes We Did participated in a Docs In Progress work-in-progress screening in January 2010. The film has since been completed and polished, and Docs is proud to help put on this screening to show off the work of some very passionate and motivated students.

Word Wizards CEO with the DOcs In Progress Team
Word Wizards C.E.O. Scott Gordon (left) with the founding members of Docs In Progress. Erika Ginsburg – Executive Director (Middle), Sam Hampton – Director of Operations

The Silver Screen

The film will be publicly screened next Wednesday at 7:30 PM in the Takoma Park Community Center Auditorium. If you are interested in going, good news, its free and no tickets will be required. For more information you can visit the Docs In Progress Yes We Did Event Page for all the details.