Thursday, September 19, 2019

Three Books That Paint a Picture of Our Presidents and Our Post WW2 History

Over the past 20 years of listening to audiobooks while commuting, I have listened to three that were especially insightful with regard to the presidents who have served our country over the course of my lifetime, which bean in 1952.

The three books I want to highlight here are Walter Cronkite's A Reporter's Life, Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence and Chris Whipple's The Gatekeeprs: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.

I just finished reading the last of these three. Chris Whipple's book is an outstanding insider's view from the hottest hot seat inside the White House, the Chief of Staff, arguably the second most powerful person in the world. Whipple's book is a truly up close look at every Chief of Staff from Nixon's H.R. Haldeman, who literally defined the role, to Obama's series of CoS gatekeepers.

The audiobook I listened to ended at the end of the Obama administration, but offered advice to the incoming Washington outside Donald Trump. The most recent, updated version of the book has added a chapter about the chaos within the current Trump White House.

Whereas the last of these three books is all about the White House and the men who served the various presidents, the other two books each contain a memorable chapter describing the impressions each of these men had about the leaders who served our country.'

A Reporter's Life
Walter Cronkite began his life as a reporter in the late 30's. In the beginning he was on radio at a station that covered college football. In order to get a following they decided to cover Notre Dame because a large portion of the audience was Catholic. They did not have the money to go to the games, so they would follow the games on a newsfeed and pretend they were actually at the game, reporting live. Once in a while they would lose the news feed and make up plays on the fly until the game came back online, a truly original and early version of fake news.

Late in the book he described his first hand experiences and observations from interviewing the various presidents from Ike Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. What I most remember is that Cronkite had assumed that Eisenhower was not a hands-on president but rather a chief executive who golfed every afternoon and was out of touch with the day to day operations of government. What he learned in a late 1970s 13 hour interview was that Dwight Eisenhower was exceedingly knowledgeable and in touch with every facet of his administration, answering in-depth and without notes every question Cronkite threw at him.

Cronkite described Jimmy Carter as the smartest president, yet not the best president. Carter had a brilliant mind but talked over peoples' heads and did not know how to connect with the public. Also, as a one-term governor with no Washington experience, he struggled to be effective. He easily showed that he was thorough, intelligent and grasped the various complexities of multiple issues, but he was unable to bring these ideas down to a layman's language. By way of contrast, Ronald Reagan truly was a great communicator. More about the contrasts between these two men further on.

The Age of Turbulence
Alan Greenspan's memoir, like Cronkite's, is about his own life journey, so only a chapter or two is devoted to Greenspan's intersections with presidents. Greenspan was head of the Federal Reserve for two decades with an astute knowledge of global economics. In the 50s he had been part of Ayn Rand's circle. His first Washington experience was in Nixon era. Reagan appointed him to head the Federal Reserve in 1984 and every four years he was re-appointed up through Bush 43.

The takeaways for me regarding presidents were that Ronald Reagan was not Mensa material but was very definitely wise in his ways. He created a bi-partisan think tank of advisors from both sides of the aisle and the public sector. I can't recall his observations on George H.W. Bush, but remember vividly his description of Bill Clinton. Clinton, he said, was very smart and when seeking advice from Greenspan he would listen closely and try to understand. Greenspan said that Clinton always made the right decision after each of these meetings.

The Gatekeepers
Chris Whipple begins his story with a meeting inside the White House. President Obama's incoming Chief of Staff and 16 of his predecessors meet to discuss the road ahead. That is, the former Chiefs of Staff give advice to the new kid on the block.

If you want a get an inside look at all the presidents from the past 50 years, this could be your best starting point. According to Whipple the Chief of Staff decision may be the most important decision a president can make.

Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to implement the role. His military background showed him that a president needs a gatekeeper who will keep distractions at bay, who will prioritize the president's responsibilities and delegate the rest. This person will have to be brutally honest, several of the former chiefs said, because everyone else in the White House is a yes-man. The courage to speak truth to power is an essential quality in a great chief.

Not all presidents wanted a gatekeeper, but in every instance this decision proved a bad one.

JFK was first to ignore this setup. Had he employed a Chief of Staff he would likely have avoided the Bay of Pigs and other disasters that occurred on his watch.

H.R. Haldeman exemplified what the Chief of Staff position was all about. He was one tough cookie. Unfortunately, Nixon paranoia and some loose cannons gained back door access and the fiasco that followed was inevitable. Whipple's access to released documents results in an eye-opening account of the Nixon years.

I can'r recall much of the Ford story other than by pardoning Nixon he damaged his re-election hopes.

Jimmy Carter had been a one-term governor before coming to Washington. His first mistake was having a friend with no Washington connections or experience to be his Chief. Carter handicapped himself by relying on his own acumen and not understanding how Washington worked. Whipple cites that Carter was extremely smart, but even the smartest man in the room can make bad decisions.

Reagan's successes and failures were directly related to his chiefs. Jim Baker served the first term, and did an outstanding job as gatekeeper. Reagan admitted he didn't understand how the missiles worked or many other things, but he surrounded himself with smart people and trusted them.

The first crisis to shake things a bit was getting shot by John Hinkley. I was in Mexico at the time and it was a very tense moment as the television kept playing the shooting over and over again with the only commentary being "No sabemos" in response to every question. The phrase means "We don't know."

What we do know is that Alexander Haig was a nutcase at that moment, acting as if he were practically next in line and in control of the world for its safekeeping. The team temporarily forgot the chain of command, and thankfully the Commander-in-Chief was going to making jokes about it all.

Reagan's reputation was tarnished in his second term by the Iran-Contra scandal and other issues that arose. Whipple lays the blame directly on the shoulders of Reagan selection of Donald Regan to replace Baker who needed to get a break from the weight of that responsibility.

George Bush Sr. followed. On his watch we had the fall of the Iron Curtain and also Operation Desert Storm, which liberated Kuwait.

Then came the Clinton years. Like Carter, his initial missteps were directly related to his chief selections. He went through several, and despite many positive features of his era, there were ample number of reasons his reign was pockmarked and the Chief role a revolving door.

Of course none of that compares to the chaos the ensued when George 43 came in. What a mess, and Whipple gives you a front row seat.

The book I read ended with Obama's watch. President Obama went through four Chiefs and found it difficult to get things accomplished due to a gridlocked Congress. But his Chiefs didn't always help things along.

Ultimately, these books are an insightful way to understand our history from a vantage point you don't normally have. All are in audiobook form if you listen to books while commuting or working out. I recommend all three.

Related Link
Another way of preserving our presidential history.
The Presidential Commemorative Smog Plates of Kim Abeles

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Watch the Pitch Competition at Catalyst

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
A big part of the business world includes pitching. When I was at AMSOIL we had all kinds of race teams and television shows pitching us to become a sponsor of their endeavors. The key consideration always boiled down to whether it was a win-win and in alignment with our own objectives or just a pickpocket enterprise seeking to have us fund their passions.

In short, over a period of two decades I was on the receiving end of countless presentations in which people were pitching ideas.

The media industry, too, is all about pitching as well. Writers pitch agents; agents pitch stories to studios and producers. Producers pitch projects to businesses, seeking sponsorship. Will the cycle be unbroken?

Pitching is how the industry works. That is why one facet of the upcoming Catalyst Content Festival includes a "Pitch Competition."

Just like the Oscars, there is a process of weeding out the players and selecting the best of the rest. It reminds me a little of the DECA program in which teams of high schoolers learn how to make winning presentations. Except this is a new level, and it's not a game.

The semi-finalists in the Catalyst Pitch Competition were announced this week, and they are as follows.

Coming For You
Created by Taylor Coriell and Adriana DeGirolami

A mockumentary-style comedy about a passionate film director and her crew who take their jobs as filmmakers way too seriously given that they are, well, making porn.

Georgi & The Bot
Created by Jade Daugherty and Fred Soligan

When Georgi’s company tasks her with training “Opto,” a robot that will eventually replace her, she accidentally teaches it to be a neurotic mess, jeopardizing both of their futures. ​

Super Girlfriend
Created by Allyson Morgan ​

SUPER GIRLFRIEND is a superhero story, told from the perspective of the superhero’s girlfriend. When a woman finds out the man she’s falling for is part of an underground superhero network, she must she must decide if their new romance can survive her own priorities and his extraordinary circumstances.

* * * *
For me, this is an area of special interest. My mind farm produces more ideas than I can pursue, bot in the realm of writing and as an artist. No matter how good your ideas are, though, the matter of pitching (selling that idea) must be mastered or you'll never get it off the ground.

This is just one of many reasons I've been looking forward to seeing Catalyst happen and doing what I can to make it a successful event. Will I see you there?

Related Links
Catalyst Content Festival Schedule
Over the years I've produced a number of stories that I believe could be successfully translated to films. Some would be short form, a few could be features, and I can envision a couple of these as multi-years series television.
Short Form Film Ideas
The M Zone
The Empty Space
Full Length Film Concepts
The Red Scorpion
Coyote With Broken Mouth (A Black hills Story)
Multi-Season Series Idea
A Unremembered History of the World
Also available as part of this short story collection, Unremembered Histories

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Changing Face of Post-Production for Movie Makers

Photo courtesy Cirina Catania.
I mentioned yesterday that 300 hours of video are being uploaded to YouTube every minute. Though not all is being created new--some, like the George & Ringo video I shared, is previously created content from the television era--this is still an astounding quantity of video. What I share here will explain how this has become possible

In 1987-88, when I became the in-house ad agency for The Chromaline Corporation in Duluth, one of my first projects was to produce a training video for their decorative sandblasting product called SBX. For this I hired Parthe Film & Video Productions, a local videographer. (EdNote: Lance Parthe grew up in Hollywood and at age 17 was one of the four cameramen Steven Spielberg relied on to film his mega-hit Jaws.)

After all the footage was shot, I travelled to Minneapolis with Lance for final post-production at Northwest Teleproductions. I was told (warned) that however long this takes, we will stay till it's done.

Northwest Teleproductions was essentially a complex of editing rooms. My recollection is that the size of the room was roughly that of a high school classroom, though much more posh. A large glass window separated the equipment from the editing team and the client (me). The reason this equipment had been placed behind the glass was to keep all dust out, much like a clean room for imprinting circuit boards.

The system we worked on was a Tape-Based Linear System. What this meant was explained to me. It was essential that the client be present because all decisions were being made in a linear fashion and you couldn't change your mind afterwards. Should the logo be on a black background or a blue one? Should the logo be at the top of the screen or the bottom? Should the credits be at the beginning or the end?

Each decision was stitched together in a linear fashion, and whatever decisions were made were permanent. You could not cut and re-arrange anything after it had been laid down.

Every kind of tool imaginable is at our disposal now.
The piece of equipment in this editing/post-production room was valued at $4,000,000. That is four million. And facility seemed to have dozens of such rooms. I do not recall exact number, but in light of the costs it was a pretty high bar to get in the game.

The next phase in this game was a Non-Linear machine that gave a rough cut and gave you numbers. Off-Line editing followed, and then Online editing. Each iteration gave the production team more versatility and I remember when ten years later Lance acquired some new computerized technology that enabled him to do non-linear post-production with more power and versatility. This new Finishing Suite was only $100K.

In other words, the cost to produce a video dropped significantly. It was expensive in 1988 because the people who invested in those four million dollar production suites needed to charge enough money to pay for it and make a profit themselves.

When I called Lance to get my facts straight (memory is a funny animal) he told me that today you can download DaVinci Resolve 16 for free and accomplish more (and better) than that four million dollar dinosaur from the 80's. You only need a laptop now. (The full suite is $299.)

This is highly empowering, but is also a challenge because suddenly everyone thinks they are a cinematographer.

Just as print-on-demand publishing opened the doors to tens of thousand of writers, it has also resulted in a glut of books of uneven quality.

When Pagemaker and personal computers came out, everyone could suddenly become a designer and do page layouts, make signs and the like. A lot of bad design ensued. (EdNote: I am not dissing this empowerment.)

Just as there are rules of design, there are all kinds of matters that a professional cameraman and cinematographer has learned over a period of decades. For example, there are rules surrounding lighting, lenses, depth of field, messaging and how the brain interprets visual information. One doesn't instantly understand all this just because they know how to push the red button and record.

Last month, when Cirina Catania flew in to conduct a two-day master class in film making, each team produced a short film using only an iPhone and their editing tools. In other words, the barriers to entry have been practically eliminated.

The times have certainly been a-changing. Do you have a story to tell? The ball is in your court.

Related Link
Catalyst Content Festival

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ringo and George on Aspel & Co.,--YouTube and History

Photo by Elijah O'Donnell on Unsplash
YouTube is definitely one of the phenomenon of our time. Currently 1.3 billion people use YouTube and it hasn't even reached its 15th birthday. The infrastructure that is in place must be powerfully advanced since 300 hours of video are being uploaded every minute.  Yes, minute! And 5 billion hours of video watched every day. Yes, billion. Every day.

You might say that the Google has a vested interest in keeping it all going and now currently supports a 2000 man army of Minutemen on two artillery bases to protect the YouTube Complex.  (Please: THIS is Fake News. I made that up.)

YouTube was started in 2005 by three former PayPal employees who became quite rich when thy sold the video-sharing service to Google a year later.

According to surveys, 6 out of 10 people prefer Online Video to television, which is why we're seeing such a massive amount of content being created for online distribution. In part, this is one of the drivers behind the Catalyst Content Festival which will be held in Duluth next month. The demand for quality content is exceeding the supply.

Exceeding supply? 300 hours being uploaded a minute and the thirst is greater?

Re-read the sentence: The demand for quality content...  is insatiable.

Catalyst exists to help more content creators become more professional, to be suitably prepared for working in this expanding industry.

* * * *
This past month I read Paul McCartney: The Life and found it to be an exciting, insightful read with many lessons about many aspects of life, business and the challenges of success. One of those challenges has to do with managing money, and managing relationships.

As a Beatles fan, it was (for me) all about the music. I didn't read the mags and the rags or the books till much, much later. Through Philip Norman's book I gained a much deeper understanding of the legal crap these four boys never imagined they'd have to deal with one day. When they were starting out, rock stars last a year or two at most. Their unfathomable wealth was not part of the dream they dreamed.

So, when I came across this video of George and Ringo on the Aspel & Co. show, a British talk show featuring high profile celebrities, I tuned in. If you watch, you'll find a brief segment in which their lawsuits are brought up. They seem surprisingly good-natured about it, which just shows how classy these two guys were.

Here's the URL if the embed fails at some point down the road.

It won't be long before we'll find the entire history of media on YouTube. And maybe, just maybe, at some point in the future--when time travel has been worked out--we'll get ALL of history on YouTube. Whatcha think about that?

Related Links
My Dinner With George (scene from a dream)
Have You Ever Wanted to Work in Media?
Was Ringo A Starr? Oh Yeah

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Few Comments On Bob Dylan's I Shall Be Free No. 10

Ain't no use a-talkin' to me.
It's just like talkin' to you.
Last week as I read about JFK and the space race, various thoughts fluttered through my head like butterflies, which I often feel obligated to capture and pin down. While reading, the Dylan line, "what if the Russians get up there first" from "I Shall Be Free No. 10" got me scurrying to find the rest of that stanza.

Well, turns out he sang  about the streets of heaven being lined with gold, and
I ask you how things could get much worse 
If the Russians happen to get up there first 
Wowee! pretty scary!

It's actually a mixed metaphor. No one at that time was worried about Russians getting to heaven first. On the other hand, plenty of people, ever since Sputnik, were anxious about the Russians being the first to land men on the moon.

* * * *
If you're not familiar with "I Shall Be Free No. 10," the fifth track on Another Side of Bob Dylan, you really should give it a listen.

I frequently get insights about Dylan songs at Tony Atwood's Untold Dylan blog/website. In this entry he notes how Dylan recorded several additional songs that didn't appear on the album, which has been a custom of his. What I recall, from another source, is how he recorded many, if not most, of the songs here in one take.

I remember a friend who years ago commented that there were always a few throw away songs on Dylan's albums. I found this a curious statement and can't say I ever bought into that. I mean, there were songs that didn't move me or that I didn't connect to, but I couldn't call them throwaways. Or I never considered them in that terse of a dismissal.

As for this song, I don't see it that way at all. It's perfectly in line with a number of other amusing pieces, such as Talkin' World War III Blues and his Bear Mountain Picnic rag. And what's Bob Dylan's 115th Dream if it's not a mix of comic wit and satire.

When I hear I Shall Be Free #10 I'm immediately curious what #9, #8, #7 and the rest were like. Without doubt it's a sequel to I Shall Be Free of sorts.

1962. Photo Ted Russell. William Pagel Archives.
Atwood points out echoes of Lead Belly and Chuck Berry in the song.

As much fun as the song is, understand where Atwood is coming from when he he says "it was a bit of a bore to listen to over and over when one played the LP." That is, after the first few listens, you already get all the punch lines and want to move on. For some reason I don't tire of it.

I am that way with "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" on Bringing It All Back Home sometimes. The sequence of Dylan tunes beginning at Tambourine Man is so potent still that I get impatient waiting for it to arrive and skip 115th Dream.

* * * *
With "I Shall Be Free No. 10" each stanza has its own comedic feature. The first stanza plays off being common. The second springboards off the champion boxer's celebrity. Stanza three is our light-hearted Cold War scenario spoof. "Wowee! Pretty scary!" Stanza four is a playful reversal of the usual quip about who can and can't live in the house next door.

Stanzas five and six are just plain hilarious, playful and weird. And like the song, it's another side of Bob Dylan. Comin' to think about it, so's the rest. And guess what? It is what it is.

* * * *
Author Tim Cain, in his 2006 article Bob Dylan is a funny, funny man: XM radio reveals humor in enexpected places, also cites I Shall Be Free, among other things. The article was written in response to Dylan's radio hour along with the release of Modern Times.

The late John Bushey, host of the KUMD radio show Highway 61 Revisited, loved Dylan's sense of humor also. On one occasion when I was a guest on his show, John wanted to play a song from a live concert in France in which Dylan spends the first four minutes tuning his guitar. John asked me with a grin, "Do you think I can get away with this?"

There's humor woven all through Dylan's lyrics. Just listening to the dialogue between God and Abraham ought to be a clue. A bit later, "Howard just pointed with his gun. That way, down Highway 61." Who are all those crazy characters anyways?

When I interviewed Bob this spring he didn't say a word.
Photo courtesy Michael Anderson.
Maggie's Farm has some hilarious characters, too. Maggie's pa is one of them. "Well, he puts his cigar out in your face just for kicks .His bedroom window it is made out of bricks.  The National Guard stands around his door--"

What makes his comic side work so well is that it serves as comic relief from the sobering nature of much of his content. Find me one example of Dylan singing with a cheerful tone, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." Yet right in the middle of that song we have a line that continued to get laughs decades later. "Sometimes even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked."

That last humorous image brings to mind (for me) Kevin Kline's interrupted shower in the movie Dave when the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) confronts him, perfectly demonstrating the double meaning of the word "exposed."

Louie Kemp, in his book Dylan & Me, has more than a few comic anecdotes in it revealing this other side of Bob Dylan. Kemp insists that the Bob Dylan everyone knows publicly is just a persona. Where one ends and the other begins--the person and the persona--is not my problem.

Here's the song. You can find an outtake on YouTube in the links at the bottom of the page.

I Shall Be Free No. 10

I’m just average, common too
I’m just like him, the same as you
I’m everybody’s brother and son
I ain’t different from anyone
It ain’t no use a-talking to me
It’s just the same as talking to you

I was shadow-boxing earlier in the day
I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay
I said “Fee, fie, fo, fum, Cassius Clay, here I come
26, 27, 28, 29, I’m gonna make your face look just like mine
Five, four, three, two, one, Cassius Clay you’d better run
99, 100, 101, 102, your ma won’t even recognize you
14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, gonna knock him clean right out of his spleen”

Well, I don’t know, but I’ve been told
The streets in heaven are lined with gold
I ask you how things could get much worse
If the Russians happen to get up there first
Wowee! pretty scary!

Now, I’m liberal, but to a degree
I want ev’rybody to be free
But if you think that I’ll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I’m crazy!
I wouldn’t let him do it for all the farms in Cuba

Well, I set my monkey on the log
And ordered him to do the Dog
He wagged his tail and shook his head
And he went and did the Cat instead
He’s a weird monkey, very funky

I sat with my high-heeled sneakers on
Waiting to play tennis in the noonday sun
I had my white shorts rolled up past my waist
And my wig-hat was falling in my face
But they wouldn’t let me on the tennis court

I got a woman, she’s so mean
She sticks my boots in the washing machine
Sticks me with buckshot when I’m nude
Puts bubblegum in my food
She’s funny, wants my money, calls me “honey”

Now I got a friend who spends his life
Stabbing my picture with a bowie knife
Dreams of strangling me with a scarf
When my name comes up he pretends to barf
I’ve got a million friends!

Now they asked me to read a poem
At the sorority sisters’ home
I got knocked down and my head was swimmin’
I wound up with the Dean of Women
Yippee! I’m a poet, and I know it
Hope I don’t blow it

I’m gonna grow my hair down to my feet so strange
So I look like a walking mountain range
And I’m gonna ride into Omaha on a horse
Out to the country club and the golf course
Carry The New York Times, shoot a few holes, blow their minds

Now you’re probably wondering by now
Just what this song is all about
What’s probably got you baffled more
Is what this thing here is for
It’s nothing
It’s something I learned over in England
Copyright © 1971 by Special Rider Music; renewed 1999 by Special Rider Music

Related Links
Humorous Bob Dylan Lyrics
Jokerman: The Humor of Bob Dylan
Tony Attwood's tak on this song.
And this Outtake you can find on YouTube

And the beat goes on.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Have You Ever Wanted to Work in Media?

We're less that four weeks away from the first Duluth-hosted Catalyst Content Festival, a potentially much bigger event than most Northlanders have yet to realize. It's actually been years in the making in a pair of ways.

First, there have been years of investment in making Duluth the remarkable place it's become. After the collapse of it's industrial base, it took quite a while for the Twin Ports to find its footing. Over time, with much investment, Canal Park, Downtown and Lincoln Park have been transformed.

Second, ITV Fest's first 13 years enabled it to find its own footing as regards what it is and how it fits into the new media landscape. Now in its 14th year and bearing a new name, Catalyst has come of age. In short, for a variety of reasons it appears to be a perfect marriage.

Friday night St. Scholastica hosted a Catalyst Content Preview Event in Mitchell Auditorium. The room wasn't as packed as when Low or Trampled By Turtles performed, but it was a healthy, appreciative crowd. Clearly, something special is coming to town.

We were welcomed by St. Scholastica marketing director Ira Pavala who shared a few remarks including, "We're proud to be a part of this." St. Scholastica is a two year sponsor and will he home to the Storyboard Academy beginning January. "The aim is to lower the barriers to entry into this industry," she stated before introducing Catalyst executive director Philip Gilpin.

Philip Gilpin
Gilpin was upfront that the aim here is jobs, and helping people to find their place in this massive industry. Where do you fit in? We're all familiar with the actors and extras who appear on the screen, but part of this event is helping people see the scale of infrastructure and staffing needed to bring stories to the screen.

In addition to story developers, directors, producers and casting, their are all kinds of other roles and needs to fill. A few of these categories include:
Props, Set Direction, Locations, Art Department, Camera, Grip, Lighting, Production Sound, Special Effects, Transportation, Greenery, Paint, Craft Services, Catering, Publicity, Music, Post-Production, Picture Editing, Visual Effects.

Greenery? Well, yes. For example when Marlon Brando was chasing his grandson through the garden in The Godfather, somebody had to be taking care of the plants, someone with a green thumb. That's greenery.

To see the full range of jobs required to make movies and shows, visit

Mitchell Auditorium Friday evening.
Here's a surprising detail. Last year, more films were shot in Georgia than in Hollywood. Why? Because they have the infrastructure in place for all these various needs.

Part of the Catalyst Festival is simply bringing people together, and part of it is training so that there is more talent in the industry. A third part is simply having fun for a week, sharing ideas and watching films.

Gilpin stated that there were 800 submissions for this years festival from all over the world. 60 to 70 films will be screened during the five day fest. A requirement for the selected films is for the film makers to be present, so we can ask questions, get to know them and their motivations.

How We Got Here
Gilpin shared how he met Riki McManus last year in October. Riki’s and others’ work has made this possible. Duluth has much to offer and was selected because there was a sense that with the industry at an inflection point there might be more rapid growth than their Vermont home could accommodate.

As has been noted here in the past, Minnesota believes in the arts. There's an infrastructure here that believes in and supports the arts. The City, the County, the people, the sponsors… "It's a town with great energy, which makes something like this possible."

He also cited the five year commitment the Abrams Artists Agency has made to Catalyst. There is a hunger for narrative episodic content, but with technology advances  costs have been greatly reduced, making it possible to produce quality material for pennies on the dollar compared to the big budgets Hollywood must fork over.
Six months ago when this event was first announced, it had an air of unreality about it. Could it really work? Could they really pull it off?

Today, as we stand on the threshold, it's apparent that a lot of work has preceded this moment. It's not a misty phantom but rather something firm, solid and really taking shape before our eyes.

Have you ever wanted to work in media? This is a great opportunity to see what it's about.

Related Links
Catalyst Home Page
Festival Schedule
ITV Fest Re-Branded as Catalyst
Sign up to as a Volunteer
Unremembered Histories: Six Stories with s Supernatural Twist
(I included this last link because I believe some of these stories might make thought-provoking and entertaining short films, with the title story a multi-year episodic series.)

Friday, September 13, 2019

A Few Miscellaneous Events of Note, Plus Quick Peek at my Four Course Birthday Dinner


Catalyst Content Preview Event
Tonight there is a special event at Mitchell Auditorium on the College of St. Scholastica campus from 7:00-8:00pm

This is a unique opportunity to:
--See details about the impact Catalyst can have on the local community
--View the list of TV industry executives coming to Duluth
--Preview trailers from some of the show selections
--Watch our public reveal of our new official trailer for Duluth and Catalyst!
--Ask questions about what to expect & how you can benefit
--Learn more about Catalyst and its TV/film production job &, educational plans

If you're a regular reader of this blog you already know at least a little bit about this festival. Some pretty big players will be in town next month.

What is Catalyst?
Catalyst is a year round educational and professional development organization for the TV and narrative arts. Our activities culminate each year at the annual Catalyst Content Festival in October.
Learn more. Visit the Catalyst website.
* * * *
Wednesday September 18 there will be an opening reception for three new exhibits at the DAI. In the Morrison Gallery you will find Jean: The inspiration behind the Birkenstein Arts Movement. In the Steffl Gallery is an exciting Minnesota Black Fine Art Show. It's my understanding that this was a juried show, which makes it all the more significant that our some of our own local artists have several pieces here that you will want to see. Claudia Faith's "Family" is simultaneously on display in the Corridor Gallery.

On November 2 the DAI will be having a Masquerade Gala Fundraiser. Details Here.

There are so many things happening that the best place to fill in the blanks on your calendar is by bookmarking and visiting the Twin Ports Art Blog, managed by Esther Piszczek. Here is the catalog of September activities. Since Nice Girls of the North in Lakeside was missed this time around I'm giving a shout out here. They're open the second Saturday of every month, just so you know.

* * * *
Tweed Museum of Art
Ken Bloom departed as director, but the collection remains. When UMD is in session I've found parking to be easiest on weekends. Sunday afternoons are an especially nice time to spend a little leisure time enjoying what is on display.
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I REALIZE that not everyone can have a child who's been to culinary school, but if you do, you know what a blessing it is when they offer to make you a meal. Here's what we enjoyed last Wednesday, courtesy chef Micah.
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First Course
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Second Course
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Third Course (My apologies for the lack of clarity in this photo. I must have
unintentionally bumped a setting.)
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Caprese Salad. Buffalo mozzarella cheese; pickled and raw cherry tomatoes; mint, basil & olivewood balsamic.

Seared scallops, dehydrated olives and crispy prosciutto, tomato saffron w/celery, fennel, taragon, etc.

Pan seared Yker Acres pork chop, pickled crab apple (from our tree), mustard seed, with salad frizze, apples, pecans, special butter and black apple puree.

Pecan pie with butter pecan ice cream.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Spirits Lifted at the Hawks On High Book Launch

Phil Fitzpatrick shared stories, poems and enthusiasm..
The weather couldn't have been worse, but it didn't really matter. Everywhere I looked spirits were soaring at Phil Fitzpatrick and Penny Perry's book launch for Hawks On High: Everyday Miracles in a Hawk Ridge Season.

A hard rain was falling, and to make matters worse, it was so windy that to use an umbrella was nigh impossible. Add to that the Superior Street construction that made it difficult to figure out how to cross the depression and near muck. As noted, spirits were not dampened, and the musical accompaniment was just what the doctors ordered. Pianist Ryan Frane produced his magic during the first hour of socializing, and Woodblind (Veikko and Jason) lifted hearts in the latter portion. In between, Phil Fitzpatrick thanked oodles of people, told the story of how this project came to be and read several of his poems.

Hawk Ridge director Janelle Long made a few remarks early on, thanking Phil for this book of poems as a tribute to the work there. Janelle said that Phil has been going daily to Hawk Ridge last fall and this fall. Sometimes he even brings pizza for staff.

Hawk Eye by Penny Perry
Penny Perry was Phil's collaborator on this project. If able, you will want to stop in at the Zeitgeist Atrium to see her illustrations and paintings. Phil said her drawings "appeared like magic out of thin air."

Penny said that the biggest challenge was producing illustrations that would coordinate with the shape of the poems. Duluth Poets-Laureate Ellie Schoenfeld and Deb Cooper were the ones who suggested to Phil that he ask her. "Poetry, ink drawings, birds. Oh yeah, that's my wheelhouse." Anyone who has followed Penny Perry's career knows this is so.

For Penny, accuracy was an important part of these drawings. As for all the people who paint and write and make music, she thanks them as well. "You all show up and I appreciate it."

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And a feather.
Phil then proceeded to read to a packed out room. Having watched Phil perform numerous times over the years, I always come away impressed with his ability to command the room. Phil and Penny's goal was to make Hawk Ridge come alive in all the book's readers. For sure this event will undoubtedly prompt more people from the community to visit this resource again soon.

There's a sense in which the poetry reading reminded me of an artist's talk as he told stories leading into many of the poems, their inspiration or important background information.

The first poem he read was "Peregrine Over Hawk Ridge," which opens the section Dramatis Personae and appears on page 47. It begins:

trackless tracer
record holder
black bullet-bird
cloud piercer

Now you got me, Phil. I want to see one of these.

We even had a hawk present.
Phil described how some of the poems emerged "from something that blew me completely away." Forget the Binos! was one of these.

"Oh, my God! Dude, look! Up there! And forget the binos!"
you hear yourself say as the wingbeat dream begins; just
lean back: you're under a tsunami of striped boomerangs

You can read the rest of this one from page 77.

People who enjoy poetry get jazzed when poets paint images with phrases and word combinations that create an almost electrical charge in your brain synapses. I would compare it to memorable lines in favorite films, or those unforgettable scenes. A film without memorable lines and scene is 'just a movie." Phil's poems are seasoned with ample quantities of lively imagery.

One of my favorite pastimes as a creative is naming paintings, drawings, poems and stories, and I can tell Phil has taken an equal measure of pleasure titling his poems. Here's a smattering of examples.
Rhetorical Question
Peregrine Cam
But Who's Counting
Whiteness, For Instance
The Season's Last Bald
Kaitlyn's Wow
Double Gos Tease

In fact, any page you open to will give you morsels to chew slowly and savor.

Souvenirs help support Hawk Ridge research.
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Peregrine Falcon, Penny Perry
I recently read a bio of Paul McCartney with a really insightful anecdote about the early days of McCartney and Lennon writing songs together. Each day they would come up with several new tunes and songs, but they didn't write them down. They believed that if something they came up with was destined to be memorable, they would remember it the next day. In this manner they separated the wheat from the chaff.

Phil shared this notion in a similar vein. "The good ideas stay, the everyday miracles."

Tip of the hat to Mike Savage of Savage Press for his assistance in bringing all these pieces together.

Phil & Penny's book can be purchased at Hawk Ridge, at Zenith Bookstore, as well as directly from the author and the artist.

Penny Perry illustrations have been scanned by CPL Imaging. To learn more about the services of CPL Imaging visit

Related Links
Interview with Phil
Interview with Penny Perry
The Name Game
Savage Press

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Local Art Seen: Encore Performing Arts Center & Gallery in Cloquet--Almost Wordless Wednesday

"The First Ladt of Comedy" by Susan Krochalk. This is what my family's TV set
looked like in the 50s. And who didn't love Lucy?
Last Thursday's art crawl in Cloquet and Carlton was fun. First stop was the Pine Knot where Native artist Karen Savage Blue's paintings are on display. From there I scampered to the Encore Performing Arts Center, home to the County Seat Theater Company, located East on 33 just off the circle, to see the new collection of works gathered for the end of September show, Hilda's Yard, curated by Kris Nelson. The paintings on this page are just a foretaste of what you'll if you make it to one of the shows.

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Kris Nelson's chairs are always fun to see and share.
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"Li'l Finlanders" by Rebecca Koepke
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"Iris Garden" by the popular Sue Brown Chapin
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"Wilder" . Adam Swanson is almost always represented at the Encore.
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"Woodland Cottage" by Edna Blanchard
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"60's Nightlife" by Sue Pavlatos. A definite Edward Hopper feel here. 
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Detail from another Kris Nelson chair. Definitely 1950's.
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Same chair. Full Monte.
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Final stop was the Magnolia Cafe in Carlton. where the photography of New Englander Ryan Pennesi was on display. Pennesi is now part of the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center and working towards an M.A. in Biology. You should check out his nature photography via the link below.

Related Links
2019 Season Schedule for the Encore Performing Arts Center
Ryan Pennesi Photography

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Megan McGarvey and Katie Lindow Discuss Outsourced, Their Documentary Film About a Decision at UWS

Megan McGarvey with Katie Lindow
Last Friday a schedule for the upcoming Catalyst Content Festival was posted online. Having thrown my hat in the ring as a volunteer, I was eager to see what would be happening when so I could schedule accordingly. (I believe volunteer opportunities still exist if you are interested yourself.)

Two films especially interested me. One of them features Jeffrey T. Larson, founder of the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art here a few years ago. (Watch the trailer.) A second is a documentary selection titled Outsourced: The New Wisconsin Ideas.

Outsourced is a documentary about the abrupt suspension of over two dozen programs at the University of Wisconsin Superior on October 31, 2017. The film digs deeper into the aftermath and the real impact of those suspensions, from faculty, students, and the community of Superior Wisconsin. The documentary doesn't just highlight this event but it expands beyond it and looks into why these suspensions occurred in the first place. It's a deeper look into the budget cuts to higher education both in Wisconsin and across the country.

Megan and Katie in Superior.
The director and producer of the film, Megan McGarvey and Katie Lindow, are UWS alumni who say they love UW- Superior as an institution but do not condone the decisions made in secret. felt we needed to tell this story. The two submitted their film to eight film festivals before getting accepted as part of the Catalyst Festival. They considered it important that Catalyst is committed to independent and small creators in both traditional media and new media.

The interview here was originally with director Megan McGarvey. Afterwards II was interested in hearing the producer's answers to the last two questions as well.

EN: How long have you been making movies?

MM: I started making films professionally June of 2018 so just over a year now.

EN: What motivated you to your documentary Outsourced: The New Wisconsin Idea?

MM: Katie, my producer, and I were really motivated to make this film because we both care deeply about UW Superior and all of the people who were effected by the suspensions that occurred on October 31st 2017. As alumni we felt like we needed to preserve this moment in UW Superior's history, and share the voices of those people who were directly impacted by these suspensions, and to look deeper into what those suspensions meant for the entire UW System.

EN: What is it that makes movies such a potentially powerful medium?

MM: Cinema, and media in general, is such a powerful medium for story telling because it can be the most authentic piece of truth or the most beautiful illusion. Narrative filmmakers have the ability to completely construct a reality. Documentarians have the opportunity to share stories that are preserved truths.

Personally, the story we tell in Outsourced is a very complicated one, however with the power of film we were able to drop audiences into the actual experience of what it was like to be a student at UW- Superior. You get to see never before seen forum footage, and be a part of protests that only students or UW Superior Faculty knew about. You get to hear from experts and eye witnesses and that is definitely a more powerful method of story telling than me gabbing all afternoon about one event.

Scene from . film. Vigil in Superior.

Getting the angle right.
EN: You submitted this film to nine Midwest festivals. Is Catalyst the first to accept it?

MM: Yes, Catalyst will be our first festival, and my first film festival ever!

EN: What were your biggest takeaways from working on this project?

MM: The biggest take away from working on this project is that whatever you do, do it with passion and zeal. Katie and I would spend hours at her kitchen table editing on two standard laptops combing through over a hundred hours worth of interview footage every Sunday together for a year. We would meet each other at work watching cuts of the documentary in between dinner breaks. Neither of us had all of the professional equipment, and we definitely didn't have money but we put our hearts and souls into this film. It was with that passion that we were able to finish this film and we feel so blessed that we get to share this film with Catalyst!

EN: How have you been personally changed?

MM: I've been personally changed in a lot of ways. I have changed in how I approach projects now and how I would like to execute them. I also feel this deep connection towards anyone who has allowed me to be a part of their story and I take great care of that story once it is given to me. I respect my subjects so much and I am always so grateful when someone will agree to sit down with me. If everyone would have said no to me then Outsourced wouldn't exist! I really got to experience just how collaborative this medium is and it is still one of the best experiences I've ever had and I can't wait to start on my next project!

Producer Katie Lindow was also  asked these last two questions.

EN: What were your biggest takeaways from working on this project?

Katie Lindow: The biggest takeaway for me is how important it is to have passion for the project. This is a subject we both care deeply about, so it was important for us not only to complete this film but to also create something we felt could stand on its own for a larger audience. The other takeaway would be the importance of having a well-thought-out process in place to get through this film. Megan and I both work full-time careers and also hold second jobs, so we were really structured in what our goals each week were. We had the entire film mapped out with completion dates long before we really got into the editing process. Having a plan really allowed us to stay on schedule and create a beautiful end product without feeling rushed.

EN: How have you been personally changed?

KL: Since Megan and I were the only two people working on this project, we really had to become jacks-of-all-trades. In my role, I juggled fundraising, screenings, marketing, and had a hand in editing the project, while Megan became the cinematographer, director and editor. Time management became something that was incredibly important, and something that I'm happy to say I've succeeded in.

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Related Link

Catalyst Content Festival