Thursday, December 31, 2009

Credit Where Credit's Due, And Other Places Too

New Year's Eve tends to bring out best-of-year (or best-of-decade) lists, resolutions, goals, and self-appraisals. I'm not big on reading any of those, so I won't write them. I do want to note something that occurs to me when I look back at the year, however, and its implications.

One year ago, despite having made a lot of short films that were juried into festivals, I did not appear on at all. In part, this was because I was (and remain) anti-Hollywood. As often as my films appeared in festivals, they also showed in museum or gallery exhibitions (and sometimes in public art works) and to my mind, that was a more prestigious venue. I liked reading pages, but didn't want to be part of it. I felt choosing not to participate made sense.

This year, however, as more of my films made it out to the festival circuit (and one onto DVD and others to other types of distribution) it occurred to me that it was probably the best way to give these films a bit of respect. I honestly couldn't remember when some had been made, or where they'd shown, and realized imdb made sense simply as a public record.

So, now I'm on, and my upcoming films and credits will show there. I'm participating.

Here's the weird part, though: where I previously ignored it, I now notice if someone posts a link to their credits and I read them. I don't judge anyone by that, I just find it interesting.

The upshot: I find myself knowing a bit more about what people do. If they focus on directing, or cinematography, or writing, or editing, or if they work with others or alone. And it's put me into an oddly collaborative mood. Where I've tended to think of filmmaking as all one piece, I now see some virtue in taking a role. I find myself thinking "I should send a screenplay" to this person, or "I'd edit something" for someone else.

I don't know if anything will come of that thought, but it is one noticeable change over the last year. And it will be interesting to look back in a year and see where things are when 2011 approaches.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Photography in the News, Polanski Edition

Are there any stories about photography in the news? Do these stories involve a famous director and underage teenagers? Well, sort of, yes.

Roman Polanski is finally going to trial. Except, not for rape or fleeing jail time. Not for being friends with Bernard-Henri Lévy. (Apparently that's legal, if ill-advised.) Before any of that can make it to court, the French judicial system will be asked to determine if photographers penetrated a special area, or repeatedly inserted their long lenses into a very sensitive zone.

Roman Polanski sues photographers for 'invading privacy' during Swiss house arrest
"In a test case which will have worldwide implications, Polanksi's lawyers will argue that even a self-confessed sex offender on bail has a right to privacy, especially as he is staying with his wife and their two teenage children. The pictures were all taken on public land outside the chalet, which has been used regularly by Polanski since he fled to Europe in 1978 after admitting unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl."
We'll see how this turns out. If they lose the case, should the photographers simply flee the country?

Three Test Patterns

Three Test Patterns from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

When I first started editing, I self-assigned all sorts of experiments. This one was about taking some simple raw material -- color bars -- and applying three different "strategies" to that material.

Twenty Thousand Portraits

20,558 (Twenty Thousand Portraits) from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

Back in 2001, I was involved in a photography project that involved gathering thousands of portraits at the Los Angeles County Fair. Later, the images were databased and became part of several photography installation pieces and public art videos. I'll post the full story sometime in the new year, but for now, here's the video, made in 2002.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Goodbye, Less-Than-Zeros

Well, that was quite a decade.

I hold a lot of unpopular opinions. I don't think any of the Star Wars films are good. I think Hip Hop has been boring since Kool Moe Dee's "Go See The Doctor" fell off the charts. I think "The Hero's Journey" is a pointless structural form. I've never watched "American Idol." I think greed is bad.

That doesn't mean we can't all get along. Perhaps we can agree that this decade didn't go well, overall.

Now, we might disagree on the reasons. I mean, I might blame things on unending and ineffective war, de-emphasis of education as a national value, a refusal to regulate or prosecute corporations and an expansion of business interests into war profiteering, the dismantling of both human rights and personal freedoms, an increased sense of entitlement and infantilism in youth culture and the collapse of reasoned argument.

You might blame other things.

Still, we can agree things haven't been exactly perfect, right? That the false assurances given loudly over those with sensible reservations, maybe, haven't proven true and that failure has had serious consequences and costs?

I mean, there weren't any Weapons of Mass Destruction found. The market didn't self-correct. Cutting the top layer of taxes never trickled down. Letting big pharma advertise and teaching to the test left an overmedicated generation that can't pay attention, can't think clearly, doesn't know when the Civil War happened, and thinks "loose" means to not win. People are telling me Reagan was great, I should steal music and movies, sell harder, cut corners wherever possible. They are telling me various places should be turned into glass parking lots and that we're number one. That health insurance is communism, that religion adds up to more than a fantasy, that an argument for denying people equal rights is right here, in this book.

I disagree.

I mean, even Karl Rove's wife has figured it out. Lies aren't likely to turn into anything good. There's a limit.

At the same time, other people seemingly on another side of the spectrum are telling me that wishing will make it so. There's this law of attraction, and the universe is a hologram, and there are no coincidences, and we make our own reality, OMMMMMM, and fixing ourselves spiritually will make things ... right.

I disagree.

Fantasy is as sad on the left as on the right, demonization and irrationality are even sadder when worn by that "team." Stop with the Chopra quotes -- the man doesn't even believe in evolution, don't look to him for advice. Stop with the pretend-corporatization. The Huffington Post is not a newspaper, has no editorial standards, and just wants you to click on the ads. They are quite happy to post an article about an actress who lifts her leg over her head -- content is just a tool to page views. Stop with the pretend-political "movements" -- Move-On soaked up your donations and energy, tried an ineffective strategy, and hasn't shortened our time at war by a single day.

People are telling me Clinton was great, that this is now the "right" war, that you can't have health care or rights for everyone because there's only ... a 60-40 supermajority vote split ... and we'll have to wait until ... a date to be named later.

I disagree.

I'm rooting for the best newspapers over the blogs. I'm rooting for things not to be "free" by default -- if maybe sometimes free by choice. I'm hoping people get past their sense that down-to-earth is better than smart or effective. Elite is a good thing, not a bad thing, and Bush never could finish that line about getting fooled again with a straight face. I'm rooting against pretend-tough and for real strength. Against cartoons and for books.

That's a hard sell, I know.

I went to lunch with a group of fellow students right after the Berlin Wall fell. The sense of excitement was palpable. I slowly noticed, though, as I listened to people tell me what they expected would happen, that they were generally uninformed. I was for the enthusiasm, but ... you can tell when someone is talking about something they don't really understand in any real sense. My opinion -- that the world would quickly become more complicated and that the concept of "An End To History" was foolish -- was very unpopular.

My sense is that we're at a similar moment as we approach 2010. There's a sense of a bad time passing; everyone seems to agree. I'm hoping to see a sense of willingness to work toward something. I don't see it yet, but maybe I'll be surprised.

(With apologies to Bret Easton Ellis.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Long View

Looking ahead to 2010, I'm considering participating in both the International Documentary Challenge in March and the 48 Hour Film Project -- which I think will hit New York in June.

I've been in the Doc Challenge three times, making it to the finals twice. I think I can give it another try, though I'm aware it makes for a tough five days.

I'm thinking I might enjoy playing a role with a narrative film project for the 48HFP, also, maybe as editor. I'll need to form a team, though. Know anyone?

Above: an iPhone snap of a poster in the subway. Taken with the camera not exactly parallel to the poster.

Who and Where, but Why is Still Pending

I sometimes forget that my various online outlets aren't always connected, and that it isn't always obvious that I post in more than one place. So a quick bit of linkage:

My other blog is Actualities and I usually make documentary-related posts there.

My main site is, and that includes my filmography and c.v. and a way to contact me. I'll be adding some new material and a new section in 2010.

My IMDB page includes links to my films and other projects I've worked on.

Some of my films are on also.

You can find me on Twitter as well.

No, I'm not on Facebook, or LinkedIn, and no, I'm not this guy, even though thinks so.

Above: an iPhone snap taken at Hunter College last week, looking uptown in Manhattan.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bend & Bow Via Netflix

For those of you running out of entertainment ideas while you're taking a little time off, here's an easy documentary-related notion. The International Documentary Challenge DVD is now available on Netflix. It's got 17 great short films, including our short documentary Bend & Bow.

You can buy the DVD on Amazon also:

If those two ideas don't help... I don't know, maybe watch some cartoons, I've done what I can.

Photography in the News

It's been a while since I've done a "Photography in the News" update. That's because 2009 really got into a rut with three repeating stories:

  1. celebrity beats paparazzi for taking photos
  2. police arrest photographer for taking photos
  3. photographer dies

A bit depressing, really. So, what might cheer us up? Are there any stories on Photography in the recent news, maybe something involving exotic animals? Why yes, yes there are:

Orangutan becomes hit snapper
"Nonja's handiwork has been viewed by tens of thousands of fans after keepers at Vienna's Schoenbrunn zoo in Austria gave her a digital camera and set up a Facebook page for her. Snaps from the digital camera, which issues fruit treats whenever a picture is taken, are uploaded instantly over a WiFi link."
Spanish artist in hot water over fake photo claims
"Jose Luis Rodriguez's stunning image of a wolf leaping a gate, entitled Storybook Wolf, won first prize in the prestigious Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer Of The Year competition but has supposedly broken competition rules as the wolf in question lived in captivity."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction

I wanted to mention Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction by Patricia Aufderheide again as it has now gone on sale at Amazon. Great intro / refresher text for documentary basics, focusing on issues that are essential -- but not production techniques.

It has a good overview of the standard approaches to documentary filmmaking as well as a helpful critique for these approaches. Its main virtue is that it is very, very clear in handling complicated issues, and not afraid to point out what a problematic field documentary can be. I highly recommend it to any one starting out in the field or re-thinking how they'd like to work.

A good time of year to reconsider the ethics of the practice, no?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Scan (2003)

Scan from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

"Scan" (2003) screened at Rooftop Films in the "Home Movies" program.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

So Far In The Past

I've posted a few times about the Roman Polanski case. More specifically, about the directors and actors and producers who signed the "release Polanski" petition being held accountable for signing.
Facts Matter
Polanski Update
“The director of the documentary told me..."
Less Hypothetically
My position is that the arguments being used to support Polanski are stupid and dangerous and need to be debunked, more for the sake of our culture's morals than specifically for Polanski's fate. The most idiotic points:

1. Minimization of the crime
A number of people bought Polanski's spin that the crime involved a slightly-underaged woman involved in consensual sex. If you read the court testimony it's clear that's not what is at issue, but the purposeful rape of a 13-year-old girl.

2. That the victim doesn't want Polanski prosecuted
It's important to understand that crimes of this nature are prosecuted as "the People of the State of California versus" rather than as an individual versus the accused. It's not that uncommon for a victim to decide prosecution shouldn't be pursued -- but it isn't relevant, since the reason for the prosecution is to punish or prevent crime in the state. To be fair, anyone using this position should also have to precede it with "after receiving a huge financial settlement that hasn't been fully disclosed but is likely to be the most significant income in the victim's entire life, the victim doesn't think the case should be prosecuted."

3. That there's some "clear" problem with the case, the judge or the state
The appropriate action against any of these is to go to court. I understand that impression of mishandling of the case -- it's heavily fueled by the documentary, but now seems to be debunked at least to a degree -- and if it is true it can be settled in a court of law. Not by remaining a fugitive. When you are on the run from the law, you don't really get to nitpick the details of how your case was handled.

Since the first wave of interest in the Polanski apprehension, much has happened. He's now under house arrest at a luxury chalet. At least one petition-signer has realized she's on the wrong side of the case and changed her position. And there's been some movement in the courts which will likely resume after the holidays.

But the thing about being a celebrity is no one ever tells you you're wrong. So a director I otherwise respect is tut-tutting everyone for being so darn strict about rape, law, fleeing jail and other stuff that's just, you know, from a long time ago.

Terry Gilliam's Three-Reel Circus
MJ: Speaking of blowback, why'd you sign the petition supporting Roman Polanski?

TG: I think the whole thing is so far in the past. Roman isn't a difficult fugitive. He could have been picked up any time. When he won the [2003] Oscar for The Pianist, I don't remember the public demanding his extradition—because it didn't happen! The way people are behaving now, I don't even think they know the difference between extradition and execution. Here is a 76-year-old guy. The girl involved, everyone involved, has said, Forgive, forget, it's over and done with—until suddenly the long arm of the law decides now is the time to strike. His behavior was not right, but I think what is going on is even more suspect.

MJ: Hmm. Okay.
One reason the public didn't strongly call for Polanski's extradition in 2003 was that very few understood the facts -- instead believing the case to be similar to that of a rock star who is "shocked" to discover a groupie was only 17 1/2. In part, that's because Polanski's memoirs imply that, and because his lawyers and others have tried to popularize that view in opposition to the facts.

There's nothing suspect in being anti-rape or opposing someone who is able to flee and avoid punishment because they are wealthy. There is something suspect in those who use weasel-words like "his behavior was not right" in place of "raped a 13-year-old girl."

Facts matter, words matter.

Notebook on Santas and Elves (2007)

Notebook on Santas and Elves from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

Here's an 18-minute documentary I made in 2007. Please give it a rating at IMDB. The title is inspired by Wim Wenders film "Notebook on Cities and Clothes."

12th and 3rd in Brooklyn (2006)

12th and 3rd in Brooklyn from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

Here's a short doc, made with Iris Lee and Maya Mumma. Please give it a rating at IMDB.

Scan (2003)

Scan from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

"Scan" screened at Rooftop Films in the 2003 "Home Movies" program. It uses documentary materials.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009


Scan from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

"Scan" was made in 2003, and showed at Rooftop Films that year in the "Home Movies" program. In a way, it's a documentary.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Winding Down, Frantically

I'm trying to finish ... everything. Edit: done. Then another edit. Then my last editing class. Then my last online classes, grades turned in. Very little sleep.

Tonight I taught my last photo class for the year. For the decade, if you think that 2009 is the last year of the decade. (Which I don't, but that post will have to wait....)

Monday, December 14, 2009

12th and 3rd in Brooklyn

12th and 3rd in Brooklyn from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

I made this short documentary with Iris Lee and Maya Mumma in 2006. Please rate it at IMDB.

Free To Good Home

Here are some things I think you should watch, online and free. But, you know, it's a free country. Did I mention free?

Zeno (2001)
Larry in Relation to the Ground (2002)
12th and 3rd in Brooklyn (2006)
Notebook on Santas and Elves (2007)

Or, you know, just bookmark them for later. Or embed the Vimeo player somewhere. Or give them a vote, at IMDB or at Vimeo. Or something. Whatever. Free.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Zeno from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

A short film I made in 2001, shot at the elementary school I attended.

Discarded Santa Suit, Upper East Side

Did SantaCon roll up York Avenue, or did someone have a Christmas disaster? I don't know.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bryant Park

Actual DSLR photos soon, but for now, here's an iPhone snap from tonight's photo class visit to Bryant Park. It's like a mini photo-lab -- you can experiment with shutter speed, depth of field, panning, exposure.... Next week: students bring their final portfolios.

Interviewed by Chris Corradino

I think you may have heard plenty about me by this point.

That won't stop me from posting: an interview Chris Corradino just blogged.

Saturday, December 05, 2009


You never know how a schedule might change, but I'm hoping I'll be teaching a television production class again next term. I've been thinking about some ways to refine the projects I've given in past classes, and I have a few ideas that might be fun. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Check Back In Two Weeks

Sometimes subway images are an ongoing process. On the left, November 18th. On the right, today.