My presentation for 2021 is one of four on a panel I organized entitled "21st Century Film School: Teaching Virtual Production at RIT" It took place online July 30th at 7pm and included presentations by colleagues David Long, Shaun Foster, and Flip Phillips.
In late 2019, I was part of a group looking to start a film previsualization and Virtual Production curriculum at RIT. As a screenwriter, this field was not my specialty, but I helped write the grant proposal to Epic Games in early 2020 along with RIT MAGIC Center Director David Long and 3D Digital Design Program Director Shaun Foster.
Our proposal was funded by Epic Games at $275,000.00 and a Virtual Production curriculum was established at RIT.
In May of 2020, I became a regular contributor to Script Magazine, an online journal dating back to 1995 and part of the 100-year-old journal Writers Digest
I have written three articles for my column "Reel Impact: Movies and TV that Changed History." The third column will be published in July 2021.
In June 2020, I was asked by Hollins University's Screenwriting and Film Studies program to give a one-hour+ lecture on the subject of my choosing. As I was known professionally as good at writing child characters, I decided to discuss my observations on screenwriting from a child's point of view.
In May of 2020, I submitted an article abstract to the international Journal of Screenwriting. My abstract was accepted for publication in its November 2021 Special Issue: Screenwriting for Children and Young Audiences. My article "Fear and Wonderment in a Limitless World:
Learning to Write from a Child’s Point of View" was included in that issue and is available here.
In 2021, Prof. Susan Lakin and I built on the research we started in 2018 and constructed an outline for a Virtual Reality experience that is currently being animated by New Media Design student Isabelle Anderson.
The promotional virtual reality experience should be completed by September, 2021 for dissemination and review.
In late 2015, author Jonathan Stevenson contacted me about my research interview with well-known CIA turncoat Philip Agee. I had several meetings with Stevenson, first in-person in New York City, then on the phone. The book was published on May 21st, 2021 and included a subchapter about my three days with Agee.
Below is the abstract for my opening presentation for the panel I led and organized entitled "21st Century Film School: Teaching Virtual Production at RIT" It took place online July 30th at 7pm and also included presentations by RIT colleagues David Long, Shaun Foster, and Flip Phillips. (Click here for PDF of my presentation deck.)
Following the invention of transparent roll film by George Eastman in Rochester, New York, two forms of motion picture production emerged: Thomas Edison’s “Kinetoscope” which offered individual viewing of films and the Lumiere Brothers’ “Cinematograph” which projected moving images in a theater.
The theatrical mode took hold and films gradually adopted the conventions of live theater including the framed proscenium stage, costuming and face make-up, exaggerated acting, and, perhaps most importantly, the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief. But as motion pictures became more and more technically realistic, the need for that willing suspension diminished. In the silent era, forced perspective and matte paintings transported viewers to imaginary places created on sets and later on soundstages when synchronized dialogue made the movie experience all the more real.
Early rear projection scenes were obviously that, but improved with use and the front projection in 2001: A Space Odyssey made for a very convincing Pleistocene Africa.1930s Technicolor also added greatly to the verisimilitude of the movie-going experience.
With closeup filming and better sound, acting could be more subtle and writing more subtextual. The advent of blue and green screen chroma key allowed putting more natural acting in front of any imagined background.
Perhaps the most transformative technology was the full and effective use of Computer-Generated Imagery. Beginning most notably with the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, CGI made nearly any imagined reality possible, though at great expense for the most complex worlds and action scenes.
Today, Virtual Production uses real-time game engines and walls of LED screens to recreate the imagined story world more simply and realistically by incorporating parallax in backgrounds and a natural light environment reflected off actors and props. The story world is visible at the time of filming so directors and cinematographers see what they are getting as they are creating. This is the future of filmmaking and it is vital that 21st century film school students learn its techniques and incorporate its possibilities into their artistic visions.
At RIT, in the city where the seminal technology of cinema was born, we are combining our expertise in Motion Picture Science, 3D Digital Design, 3D Animation, and live-action filmmaking into a Virtual Production curriculum that can be expanded and replicated at higher-ed film institutions around the world.
Much of what the public understands about mental illness comes from movies and television while much of what is depicted in movies and television is based on public expectations. The time is now to break the negative feedback loop and depict mental illness as it actually exists, and with the sensitivity it deserves, not only for the sake of effective drama, but also as a public service.
Joker, Psycho, and Silence of the Lambs are great and brilliant films depicting violent villains with mental illness. Part of the reason these films are so effective is they give their villains' evil behavior a kind of scientific legitimacy through a specific mental illness diagnosis. But, in actuality, people struggling with depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders are not any more likely to be violent than the general population; and, if they are violent, it is more likely to manifest as self harm.
This presentation examined the accuracy and lack of accuracy in the depiction of mental illness in past and present movies and television, especially when it comes to the conflation of "evil" with "crazy." The documented medical facts and the best present understanding of various mental illnesses were considered; and then a more accurate depiction for a more responsible, more authentic, and more effective entertainment was imagined.
The RIT previsualization and virtual production group began planning and brainstorming meetings in the fall of 2019. I joined the group mostly due to my familiarity with RIT alumnus Chris Edwards and his highly-successful Hollywood pre-visualization company The Third Floor which I had visited on several occasions as a member of RIT's Entertainment Advisory Board.
Though I was familiar with some of the basics of 3D computer animation and Epic Games' "Unreal" game engine, as a screenwriter, this field was not my specialty. In meetings, I mostly listened and learned, but when I expressed concern about the clarity of prose in early drafts of the grant proposal, RIT MAGIC Center Director David Long assigned me the task of rewriting and revising the document for clarity and style. My lack of close knowledge of the subject helped me discern where descriptions were confusing to readers technically unfamiliar with the subject. I tried to construct a document that could be easily understood by someone like myself and most of my work was on the Executive Summary which I believed could make or break the proposal. I found the work challenging as I strove for clarity without undermining the original meaning.
In January and February of 2020, I worked with David Long and 3D Digital Design Program Director Shaun Foster to create a clean and understandable proposal. I also included photographs in the proposal, half of which were taken by me. To put it simply, David and Shaun took charge of the content and I took charge of the clarity of prose, as well as the look and layout of the final proposal to Epic Games.
In July of 2020, our proposal was funded by Epic Games at $275,000.00 and a Virtual Production curriculum was established at RIT. That curriculum was described and discussed at our "21st Century Film School: Teaching Virtual Production at RIT" panel at the University Film and Video conference on July 30, 2021.
This talk was based both on my research writing my article "Fear and Wonderment in a Limitless World: Learning to Write from a Child’s Point of View" for the Journal of Screenwriting and my own experience writing child characters as a professional screenwriter. For this talk, I delineated five fundamental aspects of a child's point of view and supported my observations with examples from enduring literature for and about children. (Click here, or on image for PDF of presentation deck.)
For this aspect, I drew primarily for the writings of children's author Margaret Wise Brown whose "Noisy Book" series and the famous "Goodnight Moon" engages young listeners with sensations and simple emotions, with very little in the way of plot and story. I read these books to my own children when they were young. They found these recitations very engaging and never tired of them until the got older. I also drew from the first-person narration of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" with its heavy use Huck's detailed descriptions of his external environment and internal emotions.
Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" - which my mother read to me and I read to my own children - perfectly illustrates the lack of difference between the possible and impossible in a child's mind. The popularity of the Harry Potter series, also demonstrates the growth of a child's consciousness from belief in a fantasy world to a longing for a fantasy world.
There are a lot of examples of this desire in children's literature, but I returned to the work of Margaret Wise Brown and her classic "Runaway Bunny" which tells the story of a child bunny trying to get away from their mother, but with the mother always finding them. The book simultaneously satisfies the opposing child desires of independence and emotional safety. "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats depicts a young boy who finds adventure in his city neighborhood when it is transformed by a heavy snowfall.
For this aspect I returned to Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" and how Max quickly becomes "king of all the Wild Things," until he becomes bored and longs for home. I also went into some detail describing how Huck Finn actually believes he is going to Hell because he helped his enslaved friend Jim "steal" himself from Miss Watson who legally owns him. Additionally, I describe how the belief in personal power was accompanied by a longing for agency in the world.
For the final aspect of a child's point of view, I drew from my own experience writing the Columbia Pictures film Josh and S.A.M. based on my own childhood relationship with my younger brother Sam Deese. Child characters can be both direct in their opinions and how they are feeling while also having difficulty articulating their feelings which are often all-consuming.
In May of 2020, I submitted to an article abstract to the international Journal of Screenwriting. My abstract was accepted for publication in its November 2021 Special Issue: Screenwriting for Children and Young Audiences. My article "Fear and Wonderment in a Limitless World: Learning to Write from a Child’s Point of View" will be included in that issue.
In the summer of 2018, Photo Professor Susan Lakin and I began research on a promotional Virtual Reality film to promote the Society for the Protection and Care of Children which has operated in Rochester since the 1870s.
Formerly the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the organization grew out of animal protection society whose founder saved Mary Ellen Wilson from her abuse and helped get her to a new family on a farm outside Rochester, NY. She lived there until the age 92, survived by many children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
The SPCC continues to do crucial work in the Rochester area. Susan and I interviewed several young women who were severely abused and who found new lives through the SPCC. Their testimony will be part of the immersive film experience were are currently working on.
Isabelle Anderson has joined out team as a virtual reality animator. We expect to have a version of the experience finished in September 2021.
SPCC Virtual Reality recreating experience of abused child Mary Ellen Wilson locked in 1874 closet.
In late 2015, author Jonathan Stevenson contacted me about my research interview with well-known CIA turncoat Philip Agee. I had several meetings with Stevenson, first in-person in New York City, then on the phone. I also sent him a PDF transcript of my three-day recorded interview with Agee, which he used in the book with my permission.
The book was published on May 21st, 2021 and included a subchapter about my three days with Agee.
Click here to read a PDF of Subchapter.