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Reading Movies, Watching Books

A roleplaying tutorial

First, let me clear up all the proverbial “parent questions.” Role Playing Games do not use a board. They do not use spinners, little houses, or electrified tweezers. They can last anywhere from 3 hours to 10 years. You can play them with any number of players. There is no way to “win.” No one actually crawls through a sewer, “hit points” have nothing to do with acupuncture, you can’t cast spells out of the Players Handbook, and they have nothing to do with Satan! OK, maybe a little to do with Satan. But just for luck.

Basically, role-playing is about assuming the persona of a “character,” frequently of a different gender, race, or even species from you, and describing the behavior of that character in an imaginary setting. Other players in the game play their own distinct characters, which all interact with each other and the rest of the imaginary world under the direction of a referee or moderator. Try to imagine a game of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” played by a transvestite high school debate club on peyote, and you’ll have a rough idea what it’s like. But with graph paper and more Mountain Dew.

Matt Yglesius on Bush’s lousy appointments:

I had the chance to see former Attorney General John Ashcroft speak last week, and he argued, sensibly, that during his tenure at Justice his top priorities were counterterrorism and fixing the notoriously screwed-up INS (since relocated to DHS). Naturally enough, Ashcroft had experience in neither of those fields. He was, arguably, instead chosen for his strong appeal to the anti-abortion lobby (and, perhaps, the neo-confederate lobby, but that’s another story). His successor, Alberto Gonzalez, likewise has no experience with key Justice areas. He, too, is the president’s buddy. Colin Powell was a widely-respected figure when he was appointed Secretary of State, but he had never been a diplomat and — most astoundingly — didn’t like to travel. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow isn’t an economist, has never worked with financial markets, has no experience with his department’s international role, but he did used to run a heavily-regulated firm in the freight rail industry, the cornerstone of our 19th-century economy. His predecessor ran an aluminum monopoly. The Secretary of Defense? The less said about Donald Rumsfeld the better.

Michael Goldman on how HD video production is transforming entertainment:

We got the mandate from the network to make this change three years ago, Rauch says. Every step of the way, HD is cheaper than 35mm for us, and distribution costs are also far less. In addition to the obvious cost savings in stock and lab processing costs, there are the less-discussed advantages of archiving to HD. Aside from the lack of quality degradation, the amount of space on HD tape permits us to store the master, stems, M&E, and picture all on one pieceif you make copies, they are just clones! You never have to go back to a negative, which can be so time-consuming and costly.

And we can absolutely achieve the same look (as film) with HD. Now that Panavision and Sony have introduced cameras that use film lenses, for a television audience, the difference will be virtually indistinguishable.

Also, programming we could not do before we can now look at because of HD. For example, our episodic shows (in the past) could never have incorporated anything that was heavy with visual effects, because it was cost-prohibitive. Now, we can look at shows and specials in the scientific realm, and in space, thanks to this digital technology.

Scott Kirsner on the movie, Edge Codes, a film about filmmaking and editing. For $15 you can download it. On another note, did I mention how much I flipped over the last 10 pages Walter Murch’s In the Blink of an Eye? That book is really a killer.

Robin Rowe keeps a listing of linux video tools.

Interactive fiction version of Hamlet

Crazy wedding videography.

Charles White on Vegas6.

Stephen Hunter on whether you need to need to read the books that movies are based upon:

On the other hand: “The VC-208 flight was somewhat lacking in amenities — the food consisted of sandwiches and an undistinguished wine — but the seats were comfortable and the ride smooth enough that everyone slept until the wheels and flaps came down at RAF Northholt, a military airfield just west of London.” No, folks, you don’t have to read the rest of Mr. Clancy’s very fine “Rainbow Six” to conclude that for that distinguished gentleman, language is a medium by which facts are transported from his imagination to yours. Words are merely vehicles; they haven’t meaning, weight, rhythm, sound, feel of their own or anything that resembles life. Thus you know that any movie drawn from them — though the Tom Clancy films seem to have been back-burnered, as gung-ho service movies always are when actual and very unpleasant wars are being fought — will be that same progression of known, catalogued entities, one after the other, and the book may be safely passed over in your hunger to get to a film experience full of stoical professionals, complex machinery and lots of stuff blowing up.

Another quote:

For others (me, and at least seven or nine more) the movie is ephemeral, the book is real. Literature — even simple craftsmanship — is a higher art than filmmaking. The movie exists only when it’s in the act of being projected; the book has the capacity to be savored. You cannot savor a movie. Ever stop a DVD at a particular moment that you love because you want to sustain the pleasure, at which point you realize that the single frame is nothing and has no magic? It’s just a meaningless blur. It’s not the movie. The book, however, may be reread and re-experienced almost infinitely; sentences, phrases, images can haunt you. I remember in John le Carre’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” spymaster George Smiley realizing something at “a speed which has no place in time.” What a great evocation of the workings of the subconscious — simple, elegant, precise. That phrase has never left me and I help myself to it at least three times a year, and get a little jolt of pleasure from my larceny. That’s the sort of abiding pleasure books can give that movies can’t, won’t and never will.

My film friend Mike B. rushes to the defense of movies:

Let’s turn to your last paragraph. You actually found yourself writing “You cannot savor a movie. Ever stop a DVD at a particular moment that you love because you want to sustain the pleasure, at which point you realize that the single frame is nothing and has no magic? It’s just a meaningless blur.” Well, it’s a razor-sharp image if you’ve got progressive scan, and I’ve stopped to savor many such a stunning moment for the glory of its composition and the mythic power of its image, just as we often savor still photographs or paintings. Any random moment from “Citizen Kane” or “Leave Her to Heaven” will do, to those with a soul.

Gee, were you ever enjoying what you read so much that you just had to stop and linger on a certain word? Like “the”? How about a single letter, say the ever-popular “s”? Does it have that same impact for you? Hmm?…Now let’s move on to the Le Carre line you love. Notice I used the word “line,” meaning a sequence of words. They use lines in movies, too, I believe. Only movie lines are exclusively in dialogue; that’s the difference. But they’re still strings of words, and are you telling me you never indulge in any larcenies from this source? To borrow one of my favorite larcenies from “Hudsucker Proxy,” I’ll bet my Pulitzer on it.

My 4 yr old desktop is slowing to a halt, and firefox is sucking up all its cpu. At the same time, the antivirus on my laptop has taken 4 hours to do a system scan, and it seems nowhere closer to finishing. Need to hit submit.

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