Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wave goodbye

This week our class ended. I've read and commented on all the papers turned in Wednesday night. Congratulations, they were really wonderful! Keep in touch! Hope to see you in the Valley Writing Group this February! x-Professor Liz

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ursula K Le Guin remembers freedom

If you are a writer who hasn't read the brilliant Ursula K Le Guin, drop everything and get yourself to a library. Here is her powerful and inspiring acceptance speech for the National Book Awards.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Twin Peaks Detectives

Dale Cooper discovers things have changed in the last twenty-five years of television.

Since so many of you are Twin Peaks fans, here's a clever knitting pattern to make your own Black Lodge gloves.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The power of media and makeup

Stars without makeup. They really do look just like us. Remember that the next time you're comparing yourself to a celebrity.

Friday, October 31, 2014


National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) is upon us!

November is when thousands of writers across the globe commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days (what I affectionately call a "Vomit Draft"). Whether you want to write a novel, a screenplay, or a songbook, COMMIT and use the power of accountability to just do it already!!

The beauty of NANOWRIMO is it gets you out of your head and onto the page, lets you write stream of conscious instead of editing yourself, builds community with other writers, and gets many projects flowing that authors would otherwise never start.

Here are our Los Angeles Resources.

Here is NANOWRIMO's fabulous list of books on writing, including Stephen King's On Writing." Great advice from the creator of NANOWRIMO, as well as success stories of published authors.

Writing Mythical Archetypes

When you go to write your next project, think about designing your characters first.

We've talked in Media Arts 129 about mythical archetypes.

Because so many of you share my love for Twin Peaks, here is a brilliant article outlining how some of the beloved characters can be divided into eternal archetypes that fulfill humankind's constant need for mythical and meaningful storytelling. Notice how each archetype has a runner-up The Lord of the Rings, Twin Peaks employs doubles and twins.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Warriors! Come out and Plaaaayaaay!!!

We are watching one of my favorite movies tonight in class. It is a crazy masterpiece by a writer/director who has amazing craft. And it based on Greek military history, as recounted by Xenophon in Anabasis.

Here is a terrific article on a New Bev showing of this cult film that all your favorite directors love.

And here's the link to rent it for $2.99 on YouTube, because you know you now want to go make all your friends watch it!

Werner Herzog and Darren Aroonofsky's advice

If you don't know Werner Herzog, you should really read up on him.

Besides being one of our best living filmmakers, he's a hell of a human being who is always doing random super hero stuff like continuing an interview after being shot ("It is not a significant bullet"), or pulling Joaquin Phoenix out of a burning car on Mulholland Drive.

Herzog's the type of legend whose work you want to be able to discuss. And if you want to be in the inner Hollywood circle, you should be able to recognize his voice while he's saving your life.

Like Scorcese and Tarantino, he has primarily worked with a female editor.

In this terrific article and video, he gives advice to aspiring filmmakers on the foundation of filmmaking. Read, and go make your micro budget film NOW.

Herzog "has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular." - Roger Ebert

Herzog has an amazing 40-year career and is truly revered, so picking which movie of his to start with is bound to create a fist fight among cinephiles. Personally I'd start with Grizzly Man, My Best Friend and Nosferatu The Vampyre as the most accessible and enjoyable for our class. But here is another suggestion, and the AV Club's Herzog primer.

And here's a great list of 11 books Darren Aronofsky and Herzog suggest you read, including our textbook by Christopher Vogler. Told you it was a seminal Hollywood read!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pop Quiz #3

Congrats to Amber for winning Pop Quiz #2! The answer was Pulp Fiction.

This week's question is in a similar vein...

What iconic film celebrates its 15th anniversary this week? 

Again, it was in many of your Top Five Favs. (And I'm thinking you should try to get your film released the third week of October. It bodes very well for cult favorites that change movie history.)

The first current Media Arts 129 student to answer in the comments (below or in next Wednesday's class) gets to draw from the prize bag. But this time, you won't be allowed to talk about winning.

Here's a tasty Pulp Fiction video for you to consume with the beverage of your choice:

My judging panel interns

For my lucky 13 who signed up to judge The Horror Film Race, we will be meeting in room CC10 from 11am-1pm. See you tomorrow!

Film Radar's calendar of LA movies

Some great stuff going on over the next two weeks! Film Movie Calendar

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cameras under $1000

Here are three great options for Media Arts students to investigate for purchase.

The Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera

Canon Rebel T5

Canon Rebel T3i

On the lowest price end, you can get a great Go Pro HD camera for $400-$500. Go Pro 4

If you can come up with $1200, my expert at Canon recommends the 70D. It has autofocus, which is a pretty big deal and will save you a lot of bad takes.

Personally, I still have a Canon 5D. But I've been eyeing the Sony A7s, which is more of an aspirational camera in the $2500 range without a lens. Bummer, I know. The Black Magic 4K camera is even $500 more.
Here are all of of Canon's cameras for a quick comparison.
Be sure to check out reviews and read articles to make up your own mind. Philip Bloom's site is great.

And make sure you find the best price. There are sales at least twice a year (apparently the Black Magic was 50% off not long ago...)

Good luck, happy shooting!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hero's Journey

We've shown some diagrams in class that were too small for you to really get a good look at. And since everyone has different learning styles for remembering information, I thought I'd give you a wide variety of Hero's Journey charts to see which one works for you!

This one is Joseph Campbell's original Monomyth 17 Stages, which started it all:

The rest are interpretations of Christopher Vogler's Hero's Journey, the hottest structure in Hollywood:

Which one do you like the best? Let me know why in the comments below:

Media Arts 129: Pop Quiz, hot shot!

Okay, no one got my bonus question of how the Zoetrope All-Star Story Contest relates to the film industry. The answer is: Francis Ford Coppola. 

Coppola's production company is American Zoetrope (formerly Zoetrope Studios). 

In addition to making a delicious cabernet, the world-class director has a revered literary magazine, a prestigious annual screenplay contest, and tons of great resources and training for young writers. So check it out!

Let's play Round 2!

This week's question, again for a prize is...

What iconic film celebrates its 20th anniversary today?

Hint: many of you listed it in your favorite films.

To be the one who wins the prize, be the first current Media Arts 129 student to post the correct answer below, or the first to tell me in class.

Good luck ramblers, let's get rambling!

Want to help me judge a horror movie contest?

I know many of you Media Arts 129 students are horror fans! I have a cool opportunity for you this week! I've been asked to judge the Professional Division films from the Horror Film Race!

The Horror Film Race is an annual film festival put on by The Art Institute of Dallas! Festival Director Professor Vince William has approved my use of student interns to observe and participate in my judging process. We'll give you a great job to add to your resume: Judging Panel Intern, Horror Film Race 2014.

Hollywood Industry people hang out with their peers and argue passionately about movies, so let's get you practicing this skillset and add it to your resume! There are 8 short films to judge, about 55 minutes in all. Watching the shorts, discussing them, arguing, and scoring should take about 2-2 1/2 hours (I know we're all talkers, and this should be super fun!). The ultimate decision comes down to me as the Professional Judge, but I want you all to use your powers of criticism, analysis, and persuasion on me.

I'm thinking we can get together in the library this week on Thursday (time to be determined by participants!). If that date doesn't work for the majority, perhaps we can meet at the Starbucks nearest to campus on Saturday or Sunday. The judging deadline is Sunday night.

We will judge on these five categories: Story, Scare Factor, Use of Genre, Visual Quality, and Overall Mood of the Film. Also, Judges can make individual nominations in any category.

The categories are: 

Film of the Year
Best Director
Best Cinematography
Best Villain
Best Scream Queen
Best Blood, Guts & Gore
Best Weapon
Best Scare
Best Screenplay
Best Editing
Best Acting
Best Use of Genre
Best Costume of Horrorfest


In related horror news, I found this Halloween sale at the Writer's Store on a cool-looking bundle of books and videos on how to write a great horror movie. I'm not familiar with any of them so I'm not personally recommending them, but investigate and see if you want them! It's a pretty good price, but maybe you want to split it with a few other students.


Also, here is a horror comedy short of mine based on Italian giallos. The film festival version had licensed music from legendary horror band Goblin, from Dario Argento's 1982 Tenebrae. So watch it once with the current music and then picture this music. It's amazing how much music changes a film!


And here is a gruesome comedy short that won a bunch of awards. I made it the first day I got my Canon 5D, just messing around testing the camera with my sister, my friend, and my dog Hero. So this was me shooting with the lens that comes with the camera, using natural light and a Zoom H4N for sound. The editing took a lot longer, and was done by me in Final Cut 7.


The idea for CONSUMED came from me being on LA INK getting tattooed. I had to listen to the poor woman next to me tell her story on camera over and over again about the coyotes in the Hollywood Hills killing her dog, and how she had to pick up the pieces. Absolutely awful, and I made this movie to purge the story from my brain so it wouldn't happen to MY dog. An example of the art that comes from healthy purging.

LAVC Media Arts Department Annual Student Projects Screening!

I just wanted to say what a pleasure it was to see so many of my students' terrific short films last Saturday! How wonderful was it to have our President Erika and Dean Laurie and Rudy attend, as well as almost all of the Broadcasting, Cinema, and Media Arts Department!

The work was stellar! I want to hear all about how it felt to have your work shown, if this was your first chance to see your film on a big screen or if you've played other festivals and screenings, if there's any editing you want to do now that you've heard an audience's reaction to your work, which film festivals you're going to enter it into next, and overall what you learned! Feel free to post below, or talk to me before class.

Remember to thank your professors who put this cool event together for you, especially Jennifer Penton, Aranxta Rodriguez, Chad Sustin, and of course our awesome Chair and Media Arts 129 Co-teacher Eric Swelstad!

I'm happy to mentor about any of the above or any other questions you have, and view your films again individually to give you specific feedback. If you have your short online for public viewing, please email me at Lisfies (at) gmail (dot) com if you are okay with me posting your short here. If you need help figuring out Vimeo or Youtube, I can help you set up an account.

I'm particularly impressed with the students who stuck out the whole four hours, and came up to me afterwards. Remember, the key to success in the film industry is building your network and finding your core team of filmmakers. So staying to support your peers' work instead of leaving after your short screened, or coming to the screening when you didn't have your own work in it are the signs of people who are ready to make it in the film industry! Congratulations!!!

Check out the coverage by LAVC campus newspaper The Valley Star.

While I'm proudly bragging about Media Arts 129 students' stellar filmmaking, remember that our Timothy Quirus still has his crowdfunding campaign going for Missy from Mississip! You can support him by donating or spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter @MissyFromMississip. Getting the campaign out there makes all the difference, so start practicing the Networking Golden Rule of doing four favors for every one you ask!

Thoughts, feedback, ideas to make the screening better next year? Post them below!

Monday, October 13, 2014

David Fincher

Here is a wonderful short video on David Fincher's directorial process to supplement our class discussion on his masterpiece Se7en.

Storytelling through photos

Many media experts are predicting a bleak future for theatrical film and TV now that an entire generation has turned away to short YouTube amateur videos and the pleasures of being the hero in video games.

But storytelling itself and our primitive desire to devour great stories will always remain, no matter what the platform or length.

When you think about the projects you want to accomplish, does it have to be a 300 page novel, or could it be a 50 page Amazon singlet? A 120 minute movie, or just a photo with a paragraph caption that makes people laugh, weep, and change their prejudices? 

I'm talking of course about Facebook sensation HONY - Humans of New York. (If you aren't on Facebook, here is the less interactive website).

If you haven't heard about HONY yet, you will. The phenomena has 10.2 million viewers today. That's more than beloved icon and King of the Internet Uncle George Takei's 7.8 million!

There's a new King of the Internet, and his name is Brandon Stanton. He's a goofy white guy with a high voice, and a lanky 6 foot plus frame he slouches to be less threatening to the strangers he approaches, often in the roughest areas of New York burroughs.

You might assume Brandon studied photojournalism, and a star college student. But in fact he'd barely picked up a camera before his daily three-mile walks began to include photographs so powerful that Facebook users are demanding he win the Nobel Peace Prize.

And his undergraduate career was so bad his alma mater now proudly bears a plaque commemorating his achievement as their only student to get five F's in one semester! So yes, there is hope for you and your projects. In less than four years of walking around NYC talking to the six strangers a day he photographs, this 29-year-old has become a big NYT best-selling-author (Authors on average get a $1 a book, so do the math on how "comfortable" he is now!) who does special projects for the UN, has speaking engagements at colleges that wouldn't admit him, and is stopped on the streets as an icon and hero.

The lessons here are to follow your passion, do what other people aren't, brand yourself by your differences, and above all TELL US A STORY.


Here is another beautiful example of outside-the-box photographic storytelling done for the cost of a camera by photographer Nicholas Nixon.

The Brown Sisters at Forty Years

This is another deceptively simple but powerful idea (40 portraits in 40 years) that has viewers openly weeping at museum exhibits.

Both of these artists have told incredibly powerful stories simply, and changed the world for the better.

So stop worrying about the future of the film and television industry, and focus on story.

What will your story be?

Free college in Germany

This is pretty amazing.

There are opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. And you're killing two birds with one stone, because so many people's deepest regret is not studying abroad in college. Don't let that be you!

The key to finding the colleges that teach in English is to search for "international programs". Or, German just became your next college course! German language classes are offered here at LAVC, and if you didn't have two years of high school foreign language you need a Level 2 course for your IGETC certification (which covers your transfer to CSU and UC!).

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tonight's Topic: Journeys, Quests, and Odysseys

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is a brilliant movie from 2000 directed by the Coen Brothers. For once there is no debate about whether a film is based on past material, because the Coen Brothers declare on the first title card that it is based on The Odyssey.

This popular film is a terrific example of how to update a cultural myth, in this case taking the well-known story of The Odyssey and recreating it in Depression Era America as a musical. The hit soundtrack went on to sell 5 million copies, and win the Country Award's Best Album and Best Song. The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. George Clooney received the Golden Globe for his performance.

IMDb citings of Odyssey references

Quizlet Chart comparing The Odyssey to O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Comparative Mythology

The Latin translation of George Clooney's name Ulysses is Odyssseus, which means "Man in Constant Pain and Sorrow". The hit song Ulysses records is "Man of Constant Sorrow."

Ulysses discovers his wife hasn't waited for his return and is marrying another man.

Big Dan Teague is the Cyclops.

Baby Face Nelson machine guns the cows for no reason during his getaway, echoing the fools' slaughter of Sun god Helios's cattle, for which Ulysses is later punished with the threat of the electrical chair, and taunted as a "cow killer". (In the Odyssey it is the Sun god's lightning bolt.)

The Sirens homage needs no explanation:

Pete is changed into a frog mirroring Odyseus's men being changed into animals. Ulysses frets about his hair, pride in appearance being his tragic flaw.


The Hogwallop barn fire fight references Odysseus' journey from Scylla to Charybdis.

This scene mirrors Odysseus hiding as sheep from the Cyclops.

The flood scene is an amazing reference to Poseidon's many floods in The Odyssey.

The Coen Brothers would go on to do another mythological adaptation in 2009, with "A Serious Man" taking on the Book of Job. That acclaimed film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.

Watch some movies we've discussed in class

Netflix Instant:

Say Anything

Netflix DVD:

No Way Out
Quest for Fire
The Big Lebowski

The Hero's Journey as explained by puppets

This six minute supporting video is one of my class favorites. It clearly explains the supporting characters in a monomyth, shows great examples from famous films, has humorous recreations,'s puppets!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Zoetrope All-Story

You have until tonight at 11:59PDT to get your short story entries into Zoetrope's prestigious All-Story contest. It's annual, and costs $20 an entry.

The first student to tell me at the next class on 10/8/14 what Zoetrope's connection is to the film industry wins a small prize from me.

An Idea...

Hi Students!

Many of you are aspiring screenwriters, novelists, and storytellers. The great thing about this idea is that you don't have to have done any of those accomplishments yet to win! This is a Monthly Logline Contest, with only a $5 entry fee.

*Ultimate Logline Contest
Monthly. $5 an entry. Add “Award-Winning Writer” to your resume in the easiest and cheapest way possible.

Learning to write a logline is an incredibly important and criminally underrated skill. It is the key to how you get professionals to take their valuable time to read your amateur spec script. 

How do you write a logline the industry wants? 

Here is an analysis of the ten loglines from the 132 spec scripts that sold in 2012.

Here is Scriptshadow's advice: 

Remember to keep it simple. James Cameron's pitch for TITANIC was "ROMEO AND JULIET on the TITANIC." Yes, he was James Freakin' Cameron...but don't you already get what the movie was about and see the poster? Bingo.

x-Professor Fies

* I'm not affiliated with the contest, I've never entered it, and I don't know its reputation. But it seems like a fun, easy way for you to enter the confusing world of screenwriting contests.

Welcome to Professor Fies's Supplemental info for Media Arts 129!

Hi Students!

Here are some resources, and this week's list of revival screenings and special appearances in Los Angeles. Enjoy!

x-Professor Fies

Resources: screenwriting articles from working pro Terry Rossio. screenwriting articles and podcast from a working pro.

WGA Writing Seminars:  (free newsletter) Get to know Kevin Ott at the free library, and his intimate “Genre Smash” writing panels every month at Nerdmelt. I’m attending 10/21 Chris Carter panel.

Revival Screenings and In Person Appearances:

Sign up at for their newsletter alert of LA screenings and appearances.

Aero Theater in Santa Monica:

This Week’s Events 10/1/14:
10/2 Harmontown screening, Dan Harmon in person.
10/4 Spectrefest, networking with working filmmakers and festival programmers.
10/6 Greg Proops Film Club, networking with film lovers and comedians.

Alliance of Women Directors:
10/7 New Models of Distribution $10 7-10pm!page3/cee5

Arrow Theatre:
10/2 The Judge, director in person

10/2  Directors Liv Corflixen & Nicholas Winding Refn in person between their films.
10/3 Director Fred Dekker live at Monster Squad.
10/ 4 Snowpiercer screening with comic book writer Ed Brubaker.
10/4 The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Director appearance and Jason Blum!
10/4 Tokyo Tribe – Manga creator and actors in person