Happy Valentine's Day!

Today's Valentine's Day! My sweetheart is away, so I will wash my studio floors tonight. 

The part of my brain in charge of words have been asleep lately. I can't think of any clever lines to say to other people's jokes, I am pretty bad explaining tasks to my workers and I cannot write well (that's why rarely write on my blog). Maybe because in the last few months I worked mainly with images?

So, to express my love for you on this special day I used images and made some Valentine's Day cards.

Love is like a straitjacket - when you can't flail your arms around you may learn to accept your destiny of being crazy in love. 

Love is like a straitjacket - when you can't flail your arms around you may learn to accept your destiny of being crazy in love. 

When we climb insurmountable mountains we always bring a flag with us, to claim our victory on behalf of the country we are from. How about a flag that represents all humans able to love and be loved in all countries?

When we climb insurmountable mountains we always bring a flag with us, to claim our victory on behalf of the country we are from. How about a flag that represents all humans able to love and be loved in all countries?

Love doesn't compete. Love wins.

Love doesn't compete. Love wins.

Would you rather jump the Triple Axel and win the gold at Olympics or cuddle with your sweetheart tonight? I know the answer to this one.

Would you rather jump the Triple Axel and win the gold at Olympics or cuddle with your sweetheart tonight? I know the answer to this one.

Happy Valentine's!

 

Studio News from John, Part 8: Fighting Scammers

As production continues on "My Love Affair With Marriage", there's not a whole lot for me to do while Signe is drawing, except to send out the W-2 forms to the actors who performed voice-overs (and who are all legally considered employees, as I mentioned in a previous post) and also 1099 forms to the vendors like the sound studios, the film's editor and consultants.  

So I've been spending my days on other matters - like getting stills and work-in-progress photos sent out to someone who wants to write about the making of "Rocks in My Pockets" in his book, or making sure that Signe's recent trips were properly credited to her frequent-flier mileage accounts.  And it seems a good portion of my day is now spent fighting spammers and scammers.  

Spammers are easy, I can deal with unwanted e-mail by marking mail for my "junk" folder, or by unsubscribing from as many lists as i can.  Then there are the phone calls, and I can't remember the last time someone called the studio and didn't offer to get us a better deal on our internet service, or get us to the front page of some Google list in some way or another.  

Do you remember the last time you were excited to get a phone call?  I think back about 20 or 25 years ago, when everyone started getting cell phones, for a while the attitude was, "Hey, someone's calling me on my cell phone, isn't that great?"  But these days it's more like, "Who the hell is calling me on my cell phone?  They've got some nerve..."  

Then there are the e-mails you get when your web-site has a contact form of any kind.  The spambots travel the interwebs, looking for these contact forms, and when they find one, they send you an e-mail that says something like, "Hi, I saw your web-site and I like it a lot!  But I can help increase your traffic by adding a link to it from my site.  Will you please do the same?" and these are pretty easy to spot because they're so generic, they don't make any specific references to WHAT they saw on the web-site, and the marketing they're offering is incredibly vague as well.  

But Signe got a spam that offered her $500 per month if she would run ads on her web-site, and she asked me to look into it.  She said she had a dream where somebody paid her money every month to do nothing.  I had to tell her that I didn't think it was real, that it was probably a scam just to get her to follow a link, and that spammers prey upon people like independent filmmakers with fantasies of easy money.  God knows what could have happened if she followed that link, the next thing we know, her computer could be infected with malware and her bank information's been passed off to Albanian hackers who will gladly transfer away all of her money to Russia. 

So now we've circled the wagons here, and we're trying to defend ourselves as best as we can, but the struggle continues every day.  Last month we were had an issue with the new scanner, and Signe asked one of our interns to find out if the scanner could output directly to Photoshop, which would speed up the process (and with 145 scenes to scan, any streamlining of the process would be an incredible help.)  The intern Googled "Epson scanner" and called the first phone number that came up, then before we knew what was happening, she had granted someone remote access to Signe's computer, and they were telling her that the computer was full of viruses and we needed to pay $100 for software that would clean it up.  Great, except that wasn't the issue she was asked to research, and I don't think she called the real Epson help line.  Thankfully, we didn't give out Signe's credit card number.  

These days, you can't trust a link that will protect your computer from viruses - when chances are good that following that link will GIVE your computer a virus.  What a scam, right?  First they infect your computer then they charge you $100 to get rid of it.  It might even be funny if it weren't so horrible.  The internet is like the new Wild West, it's a lawless place.  Having unprotected sex with a stranger is probably more virus-free than following a link on your computer. 

Sturgis got an e-mail reminding him to renew the domain registration for KickstartMarriageFilm.com - which is a URL we used during the Kickstarter campaign last year to help promote the fundraising efforts.  Since Sturgis is away in Portland, Maine appearing in a play, he asked me to look into it and renew the domain, since we may need it again in the future.  I'm going to re-print the e-mail here as a public service to illustrate our problem.  Can you spot the indications that this e-mail is NOT legit? 

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The first tip-off that something wasn't right was that link at the bottom - I clicked on it and it led me nowhere, to an invalid page.  I know, I shouldn't have even clicked on a strange link, I was really living dangerously there!  But what the heck is "Sochi2018"?  The winter olympics were held in Sochi, but in 2014!  And Sochi's in Russia, does this mean that Russian hackers are really trying to trick us?  

The second clue that something wasn't right was the return e-mail address, which has an "AU" at the end, short for Australia, and looks like it comes from some kind of travel club.  What does that have to do with domain renewal?  

The third clue is the "call to action" with the tight deadline and the veiled threat - if we don't respond to this notice by January 20 (and it was sent on January 19) we could LOSE THE OFFER, and by implication we could then lose the domain if we don't act RIGHT AWAY.  

Finally, after staring at this e-mail for about 10 minutes, I realized there was nothing legitimate about it at all.  Nothing added up, it made no sense and I had to conclude that it wasn't real, just spam.  Somebody looked up the domain registration via WHOIS and found a web-site that was up for renewal in a few weeks, and decided to send an e-mail to the owner on file, Sturgis, and try to get him to follow a link, or maybe renew the web-site with THEM instead of the company he initially registered it with.  

I went to the file cabinet and found the receipt from the initial domain registration, which was made through GoDaddy.com - and not some travel club site in Australia, as it turns out.  Sturgis gave me his GoDaddy account information, and I signed on to find out that the domain was due to expire on February 5 (NOT January 20) and was already scheduled for automatic renewal, so there was no need to panic, or follow strange links from spam e-mails.  

Right now we're not really using that domain, and going there just re-directs the user to Signe's main web-site.  But we could use the domain again in the future if we run another fund-raising campaign.  So we don't want to lose it - we could transfer it to Signe's SquareSpace account, but that takes about 12 or 13 steps, you have to unlock the domain, request an authorization code, review the DNS and privacy settings, etc.  It's easier just to let automatic renewal happen and then we can re-visit the hosting issue this time next year. 

On a related note, after the Kickstarter campaign was over last February, Signe and Sturgis wanted to move forward with making a new web-site for the film "My Love Affair With Marriage" and they decided that the simplest URL to register would be www.myloveaffairwithmarriage.com - makes sense, right?  Only they found out that this URL was already taken.  How was this possible, was there another movie being made with the same exact title?  

This is where I stepped in to do a bit of internet sleuthing - because we can use the WHOIS domain look-up in reverse too.  I found the name and contact information for the person who registered that domain, and they just happened to do that right in the middle of the Kickstarter campaign.  I also found out this person had registered several other domains, all of which had names similar to projects that were hot on Kickstarter last January.  She saw the KS campaign for the Yobo Hammock Stand, and she registered yobohammockstand.com - she saw the KS campaign for HANA Luxury Playing cards, and she registered hanaluxuryplayingcards.com - she saw the KS campaign for Tempus Spin Coin and she registered tempusspincoin.com.

Ah, so it seemed we were dealing with a Domain Squatter, someone who buys up a bunch of domains cheaply in hopes of selling them back to companies for a profit.  It turned out she had registered 57 domains, none of which were active.  She may have registered the URL discodogvest.com but the makers of that product decided to sell their merchandise with the URL "http://discodog.nyc" instead.  Good for them. 

Signe called the Domain Squatter (I won't print her name here), who said she needed that domain to help promote her line of pet food.  Right, because you see a lot of dog food these days with names like "My Love Affair With Marriage"... Does that sound like it comes in beef flavor, or maybe chicken?  Anyway, Signe offered her $100 for the domain name, but it seems like there was a difference in opinion over the URL's value, the Squatter figured it was worth $8,000 instead.  Again, it's the Wild West out there, with no laws against this sort of thing. 

Signe declined the Squatter's offer, she figured we could always use a slightly different URL, like www.myloveaffairwithmarriagemovie.com, or another similar variant.  But the good news is it's almost one year later now, and that domain will be coming up for renewal, so perhaps she won't renew it.  Since we last spoke to her, the Squatter appeared on ABC's "Shark Tank"  to pitch her line of dog food.  I haven't seen the episode yet, but maybe the Sharks offered her a deal, and she can now get out of the business of shaking down filmmakers and hammock makers by buying up the web-sites they might want and selling them back at 80,000% mark-up.  We should find out in a couple weeks.  

No lie, as I typed this up, there was a knock on the studio door.  Someone's knocking on every door in the building, handing out his business card for his printing services.  Compared to the people who are sending us phony e-mails and robocalls EVERY DAY, there was something about this guy that was refreshingly honest.  Unless, of course, he was casing the building for places with no security systems that he could come back and rob later.  Am I being too paranoid? 

Come to think of it, he did look a little bit Albanian...

From My Sketchbook: Bucket

Every day I sit at my work table and try to produce or to shadow as many drawings as I can. At the end of the day I maybe have drawn 70 drawings but have no satisfaction of accomplishment - finishing the project is still 2 years away.

To remedy my satisfaction blues a year ago I started a sketchbook that I draw into after work, on subway. The rules are pretty simple - don't be afraid to fail, draw any lines that hand wants to draw, then make a finished drawing of that mess. Show to no one.

I filled one sketchbook and started another one. But a nagging thought kept creeping into my head: if I make a drawing in my sketchbook and no one sees it, does it really exist?

To assure the existence of my sketchbook, I am bringing one drawing outside of it, for you to see:

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Now, there. It exists. 

 

Happy New Year!

It is clear now - the 2017 was like a drunk gift-delivery driver. You watched it with hope and anxiety: will it run me over? will it remember to give me gifts? Running away from being hit while trying to get closer to the gifts was quite a task. But we managed it, somehow.

Now we wake up in the middle of night with a new anxiety. It has become obvious that 2018 is not going to be the same as 2017. The needles have moved, the accustomed points of references discarded. New piñatas are craving the abuse. Will I avoid suffering? Will I succeed to eat, work and be merry?

Facing my old fear in front of uncertainty of future, I drew 4 cards for happy 2018:

The New Year is like a garden that only you can make bloom.
The buckets of 2018 are full. What's in there?
I'll build a new house
2018 is made of ice and snow

Happy New Year!

With love and gratitude

Signe

 

 

Happy Winter Solstice! (with failed cards)

Every 6 month there is a major Solar event that I dedicate a great deal of my thoughts and efforts to: Solstice. Solstices punctuate my bipolar nature swinging from too much darkness to too much light. To celebrate this awareness I make greetings cards, sometimes more than just one. 

This December I drafted 8 of those Merry Winter Solstice cards, 6 of them you can see HERE.

But 2 of them I had doubts about and consulted with my Inner PR person.

- Too phallic, - she said about one. - In this political climate golden balls attached to a golden penis is the last thing people want to see. 

- This is too dark, - she said about the other. - And what are those little hairs between the legs? Too suggestive of pubic hair. It will upset parents and will ruin your reputation. If you publish this you may never be able to run another successful Kickstarter campaign.

So I didn't publish them when the Solstice took place.

But the effort that went into making them kept nagging me. Now when my Inner PR person sleeps on her soft nest of laurels I am publishing the drawings for you to judge if they are too dark and too suggestive. What do you think?

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Studio News from John, Part 7: Let's Learn About Latvia!

Most everything I know about the country of Latvia - which I admit, is not much - I only know because I've known Signe for so long.  I know that the capital of Latvia is Riga, and it's located between Estonia and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, and that it was part of the Soviet Union from the start of World War II until it declared independence in 1990.  

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I joke around with Signe by telling her that if weren't for a certain basketball player on the New York Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis, she'd have a real shot at being the most famous Latvian in NYC.  Who knows, maybe someday he'll be traded to another team and she can move up in the local rankings.  

Kristaps Porzingis, at 7'3" the most famous (and tallest) Latvian in NY. (Sturgis Warner added to photo for size comparison)

Kristaps Porzingis, at 7'3" the most famous (and tallest) Latvian in NY. (Sturgis Warner added to photo for size comparison)

If you've been following Signe on Facebook, then you know she and Sturgis have been in Latvia for the last three weeks, and she'll be back in New York just in time for Christmas.  But it hasn't been a vacation, they've been supervising the Latvian recording of the dialog and songs for "My Love Affair With Marriage".  

If you remember Signe's film "Rocks in My Pockets", there were two versions released theatrically, one with English dialogue and the other with Latvian dialogue.  Her film was so successful in Latvia that it won Best Screenplay and Best Animated Feature in the Latvian National Film Competition, and also the Best Feature Film Prize at the Riga International Film Festival. Then it was chosen as the official Latvian entry to the Academy's Foreign Film category, which was a great accomplishment for an animated film. 

Obviously, with a story based on Signe's family history, which was set in Latvia, that film had a strong connection with the people of Latvia.  Since part of Signe's next film is set there, too, it makes sense to see if lightning will strike twice, and make a Latvian version of "My Love Affair With Marriage" also.  

This means that the dialogue and songs that were recorded in English earlier this year have to be re-worked and re-recorded with Latvian actors and singers.  So that's what Signe and Sturgis have been doing in Latvia, working with the film's Latvian co-producer, Locomotiv Productions.  

At MUTE Studio in Latvia with Arnis Racinskis and LMND / Limonade

At MUTE Studio in Latvia with Arnis Racinskis and LMND / Limonade

For the songs, they called on the Latvian trio known as LMND/Limonade, which consists of Ieva Katkovska, Kristine Pastare and Iluta Alsberga.  They filled the roles of the Mythology Sirens, who sing advice to the main character about how to behave and fit in with society.

Signe and Sturgis in the studio with voice actor Kaspars Znotins

Signe and Sturgis in the studio with voice actor Kaspars Znotins

And now they've moved on from the songs to recording the dialogue.  From what I hear, the work schedule has been very intense, but it's also been very exciting to hear the film's soundtrack coming together, now in two languages. 

So while we've all been rushing around here in New York., getting ready for the holidays, Signe and Sturgis have been hard at work!  I hope that they've allowed themselves a little time to relax and enjoy the trip, and I wish them safe travel back here on Christmas Eve.  

There's always time to play a little game of "Fetch" with a dog.

There's always time to play a little game of "Fetch" with a dog.

Studio News from John, Part 5

I'm back with another update on the production of "My Love Affair With Marriage".  Last time I took things really easy, I just re-printed what Signe and Sturgis wrote for their Kickstarter update, called "Anatomy of a Set", which was a great breakdown of everything that goes into making just ONE of the approximately 50 sets that will be built for the 150 scenes that will make up this feature film.  (This is a very rough estimate, right now we're assuming that each set could be used for about three separate scenes, but this is just an estimate, and is likely to change.)  

While I was on vacation, my wife and I spent a couple days in Dallas and on our way out of town, we stopped at the famous Southfork Ranch, which is where they shot the TV soap opera "Dallas" back in the 1980's.  Do you remember the Ewings - J.R., Bobby, Sue Ellen, Jock and Miss Ellie?  From 1978 to 1991 (and again on a recent re-boot) these characters lived in a big house on this ranch outside Dallas - but it turns out that they only filmed the exterior shots there, since they didn't have permission to shoot inside the house.  All of the interior scenes were filmed months later, on a soundstage in Los Angeles.  

We were a little disappointed, I mean, we got to see where the Ewings ate their breakfast on the patio next to the pool, but the other rooms of the house didn't look familiar at all.  I got to thinking about how much of a hassle it must have been to shoot this TV show, and to keep track of what each character was wearing, or how they styled their hair, because if a character was seen outside and inside in the same episode, those two scenes were filmed several months apart, and in two different cities, hundreds of miles from each other.  Plus, it seemed like a very inefficient and expensive way to make a TV show, especially since they had to fly everyone from L.A. to Dallas and back, and then keep track of what everyone was wearing every day, for the sake of continuity.  

What does all this have to do with "My Love Affair With Marriage"?  Well, you might think that the easiest way to make a movie or TV show is to start at the beginning, film the first shot first, and the last shot last, like a staged play. And some productions may do that to make things easier for the actors to have real reactions to things, but in most cases movies film their scenes out of order, to either work around difficult actor or location schedules, or just because it makes more sense logistically.  The mysteries of scheduling are probably different for every project, and nobody wants to waste time, money or materials any more than they have to. 

For "My Love Affair With Marriage", Signe is going to be filming background plates for the animation, and since these are real physical sets, with real (miniature) props, it's going to require an incredible amount of organization to keep track of everything.  What if Sturgis builds that hallway scene and they film the backgrounds for two scenes there, and then after breaking down the set they realize that there were really THREE scenes that needed to use that set?  That's a lot of work to have to re-build sets, again and again.  So once that hallway is built, it just makes sense to shoot all of the scenes that use it, and then the set can be broken down and those materials can be used for another set-up. 

Then each scene is going through a number of different phases which involve drawing and animating the characters, doing line-testing, scanning, coloring, compositing and editing.  I'll try to cover these steps as topics in later posts. 

But the point is that we've got to be very careful about what we're doing, because things could get very confusing very quickly.  To make sure that everyone will know what's been done and what hasn't been done, Signe made this chart:  

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For every scene from 001 to 150, thanks to the filled-in colors, everyone can now see the progress, what stage each scene is at in the production process.  And slowly over the next two years we'll watch the chart fill up with color.  When everything is green, then the movie will be finished.  

There are a few more sets that have been built recently, in addition to the classroom set that we posted before on Facebook and Instagram, and the hallway we showed you last time.  Now there is also a train car set:

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Currently in front of the camera is a carousel in a park with trees:

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And the most recent set under construction is what will become Zelma's apartment:

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Hmm, I wonder what she pays in rent for that space.  It looks like it still needs a little bit of work.  But at least she's got hardwood floors, maybe she just needs a little bit more furniture, maybe a painting or two would really brighten up the place. 

Every set needs a few props, it turns out, and we now have three people (Margarita, Fiona and Masha) building them, so let's take a look at a few that have been built in the last couple of weeks.  Some of them are self-explanatory, while others are a lot more mysterious....

In addition to the small carousel horses, we now have this larger black horse: 

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And this large cat's head, which looks like it's eating a television set - but that's just an image on some paper.  

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Here are some rocks - (whatever you do, don't put them in your pockets...)

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And this looks like it might become a bathtub, but you never know...

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This person looks like he's got a split personality - 

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And here's a big fellow with spiky hair, carrying a suitcase and another bag:  

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And here's a rather bleak tree, with no leaves: 

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But wait, what are those things around the tree that look like bones?  Ah, that would be a life-sized skeleton kit, which Margarita began assembling on Halloween, coincidentally.

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I like to call him "Mr. Bones", after a character in the Star Wars: Aftermath novels, but Signe's been calling him "Good Will", which I think is a reference to the guy from the music studio next door who plays a lot of music very loudly.  Sort of like wishful thinking.  Anyway, Mr. Bones is almost all assembled now, and he looks like this: 

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I can only imagine what might happen if someone in the building across the street should happen to look over into Signe's studios, like with a pair of binoculars or something, and see Mr. Bones lying on the table.  What would they think is going on over here?  

But what IS going on here?  Why does an animated film need a real (OK, fake) skeleton on a table?  What does this have to do with marriage?  I've read the screenplay, so I have a few theories but I think most people will have to wait to see where Mr. Bones will appear in the final film.  Stay tooned...