Friday, November 5, 2004

Acting – Brilliant!

FDR (Kenneth Branaugh) addresses the 1928 crowdThe 1920 crowd and Tabernacle decoration1920 crowd and campaign signs
This November the boys of Cloudjammer – Patrick Greer, J.D. Jordan, and Fleming Patterson – starred in HBO’s upcoming feature film, Warm Springs. In such breakout roles as “tall man in the crowd,” “Vermont delegate #4,” and “young man in the balcony,” we stole the show from more veteran actors. We were film stars. We were actors.

We were the extras.

HBO filmed Warm Springs between Atlanta, Lake Lanier, and Warm Springs, itself, relying heavily on local talent to fill in the “background.” When Cloudjammer heard that the casting company was having trouble finding enough Caucasian males we answered the call. Unfortunately, the call was for 5:00am.

Warm Springs
is the biography of the 32nd president of the US, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, directed by veteran director Joe Sargent and starring Kenneth Branaugh (Henry V, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), Kathy Bates (Misery, Fried Green Tomatoes), Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City). The film focuses on FDR’s pre-presidency days, from his time in the New York State Senate to his being diagnosed with polio in 1921, one year after his unsuccessful bid for the White House as presidential nominee James Cox's running mate.

For the two days we participated in the movie shoot, the film’s production company, 32nd President Productions, transformed the Tabernacle in Downtown Atlanta into the 1928 Arizona and 1920 San Francisco Democratic Conventions. Clad in vintage suits, we fleshed out FDR’s (Kenneth Branaugh) cheering crowd and on-stage delegates. We sat behind Eleanor Roosevelt (Cynthia Nixon) in the VIP box. Some extras even got to do close-ups for a newsreel reproduction and were offered higher-paying speaking roles.

As extras, we were costumed and made-up (including haircuts) in the exhibition hall of the CNN Omni hotel. From there we were shuttled to staggered holding areas in the Tabernacle itself – organized into color coded groups based on the period quality of our costume/appearance. We shot scenes in the decorated concert hall, the balconies, even backstage. But mostly we waited and watched the crew do their job – in many ways, the most interesting part of the entire experience.

We only made $200 for two 14-hour days, but the experience was both memorable and fun. We met a lot of interesting people, got to film scenes with great actors, watch a Hollywood movie I production and, while waiting between scenes, we got to catch up on our reading. And what did HBO get out of the two-day shoot? 500 extras a day and two minutes of footage.

If you’re interested in doing extra work, there is plenty of it available – from movies like Stroke of Genius and Dumb and Dumberer to myriad advertisements. Just keep your eyes on the newspapers (social publications, too, like Creative Loafing). You’ll get to see how movie magic is made, likely get a free haircut, and, if you’re lucky, actually end up on film.

See you in the movies. fb

The Project For The New American Century

This issue, Fight.Boredom will take a look at The Project for the New American Century, a political think tank that has exercised tremendous influence on our nation and its foreign policy over the last four years – and promises to influence it all the more over the next four. In doing so, we would like you to keep in mind the following question: Just whom did we vote for?

Pax Americana
Pax Americana (Latin for American Peace) is a term used to describe the period of relative peace in the Western world following World War II – a period in which the United States of America has and continues to play the role of a modern-day Roman Empire or British Empire (Pax Romana and Pax Britannica, respectively).

Pax Americana is also used by critics to describe the alleged efforts, on the part of the US government, to militarily, economically, and politically suppress those countries that do not cooperate with U.S. foreign policy. It describes a world condition in which the United States has sought, or has been forced into, a quasi-imperialist role by its status as the world's sole superpower and in which the goal of western hegemony, encouraged by the Monroe and Truman Doctrines, has expanded to include the larger world-view.

It is in the context of maintaining Pax Americana that The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) takes center stage. The PNAC is a Washington, DC based think tank established in the spring of 1997 as a non-profit organization with the goal of promoting “American global leadership.” The group is an initiative of the non-profit New Citizenship Project and, as of this writing, is chaired by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard.

The PNAC is a very controversial organization. Critics, conservative and liberal, have argued that the Project proposes military and economic domination of land, space, and cyberspace by the US to establish total American dominance in world affairs (Pax Americana) for the future – hence "New American Century." Conversely, PNAC supporters argue the project's aims and agendas are often misinterpreted, sometimes deliberately.

The source of much criticism stems from the ideological and political affiliation of the Project’s membership. Present and former members include several prominent members of the Republican Party and the Bush Administration, including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, Dick Cheney, William Kristol, Steve Forbes, Francis Fukuyama, and Dan Quale – a large number of which are associated with the neoconservative movement.

Neoconservatism and The Project for the New American Century
Neoconservatives (“new conservatives”), compared to other U.S. conservatives, are characterized by an aggressive stance on foreign policy, a lesser social conservatism, and a lesser dedication to the basic Republican policy of minimal government. The term is used more often by those who oppose neoconservative politics than those who subscribe to them – many to whom the label is applied reject it – and fails to address critical political differences between so-called neocons.

How well does Neocon ideology describe the platform of The Project for the New American Century?

PNAC founders believed that, under the Clinton administration, American foreign and defense policy was adrift and precious political capital was squandered. Foreign affairs and defense spending was cut, the tools of statecraft were ignored, inconstant leadership made it difficult to sustain American influence around the world, and short-term commercial benefits threatened to override long-term strategic considerations.

At the same time, conservative politicians remained indecisive and divided – allowing petty differences over political tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the 21st century.

The Project for the New American Century aims to change this perceived failure of conservatism and to make the case for American global leadership while reviving the essential elements of the Reagan Administration's success: a strong military that is ready to meet both present and future challenges; a bold and purposeful foreign policy that promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities.

As the world's preeminent power and Cold War victor, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

In particular, the PNAC believes the US must play a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, shaping circumstances before crises emerge, and meeting threats before they become dire.

The Project for the New American Century thusly maintains the following objectives:
  • The US needs to increase defense spending significantly so it can carry out its global responsibilities and modernize its armed forces for the future;
  • The US needs to strengthen its ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
  • The US needs to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
  • The US needs to accept responsibility for its unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
Several of these objectives align directly with Bush administration policy – especially on defense issues dominated by neocons Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. A 2000 PNAC document, “Rebuilding America's Defenses," lays out the foundation for the Pentagon’s Transformation military and even describes the 21st century American hegemony that has already begun to form over the disputed conflict in Iraq. Several other objectives contradict stated campaign issues from the 2000 presidential race – such as Bush’s campaign stance against international policing – but have proven themselves in subsequent action. And the neocons and the PNAC have little apparent domestic policy agenda to deter Bush’s own almost paleoconservative policies therein.

Of course, the argument can be – and has been – made that 9/11 necessitated a restructuring on national objectives to the profit of the neocons and the PNAC. That a political environment was created in which PNAC ideologies might flourish. All the more reason for the American public to be mindful and watchful of the PNAC and its advocates lest we settle for the by-products of reactionary policy.

The Critics
Several groups, liberal and conservative, are critical of the Project. One such group,, focuses on investigating, analyzing, and exposing the Project for the New American Century and its plan for a "unipolar" world with special emphasis on the big-picture plan behind the current war in Iraq and other foreign policy decisions of the current administration.

A British pundit, Barry McNamara, has recorded a very popular, if somewhat paranoid, online film, “What Barry Says” in collaboration with’s Simon Robson. The film’s animated monologue explores US imperialism and the Project for The New American Century. “What Barry Says” is targeted at a visually literate European generation that conspicuously lacked interest in the anti-war movement during the attacks on Afghanistan and the Second Gulf War.

This brings us back to our formative question: Just whom did we vote for? Several members of the Bush administration – including the Vice President, his chief of staff, the Secretary of Defense, and his deputy – are founding members of The Project for The New American Century. And, with few exceptions, the policy of the administration remains closely aligned with that of the PNAC.

And this raises even more questions: What do you call a shadow government that hides out in the open? That posts its policies and advances its agenda in the open and online? Was 9/11 merely a political pretext for the PNAC agenda? Is this political agenda a bad one?

And do they really have the best interests of the United States in mind? Certainly, they believe they do. And how much control do PNAC advocates have over the current administration? Divergences do exist: The PNAC openly opposes the actions of Putin’s regime in Russia while President Bush avoids direct criticism.

To their credit – and in opposition to many of the PNAC’s critics – The Project for the New American Century lays it all on the table (or, at least, the website). It’s all there to be read and reviewed. Their opinions on invading Iraq were posted months before the military was sent to the Near East. Their goal of political and economic hegemony is outlined.

Go look at their website. See what they, and their critics, have to say. Learn whom we put in power and, most importantly, if you agree with it. fb

Revenge of the Movie Poster

View the poster for Star Wars Episode III: Revenege of the SithView the posters for the original Star Wars trologyView the posters for the prequel Star Wars trology
This fall Lucas Film Ltd. released the movie poster of the final chapter to the Star Wars sagaEpisode III: Revenge of the Sith. For many die-hard Star Wars fans (we at Fight.Boredom know nothing about die-hard Star Wars fans…heavens no…) this poster was as much anticipated as the subsequent trailer and final film. Indeed, this expectation made the poster’s design that much more disappointing.

With almost thirty years of marketing behind it, the Star Wars film saga and its expanded media universe has an impressive catalogue of well executed and inspiring design. Focusing on the film series alone, the original trilogy and the two previous prequel films all profited from well-designed and exciting movie posters.

The movie poster for Return of the Sith immediately stands apart from its predecessors for two reasons. First, it is far more abstract. A survey of the series’ previous posters shows few that employ interpretive design elements – they rely directly on photographic or photo-realistic representation of characters and story elements. Second, it treats the Darth Vader character uncharacteristically. While three of the five previous posters have featured imagery of the series’ most notorious villain, each had done so without as much distortion and, arguably, as much distraction.

The combination of these elements alongside the imagery of the Vader-to-be, Anakin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christianson) proves complicating. While the illustration of his inner demon finally erupting forth is conveyed, it is not executed with the same graphic simplicity utilized most of the previous film posters. The final result is an uncharacteristic and clumsy execution – one that feels unnatural in its presentation of the Anakin character and irreverent in its depiction of Darth Vader.

But it’s just a movie poster, right?

Movie marketing relies most heavily on the cinematic trailer – movie posters, print advertising, television, and Web promotions rating a distant second. But of these secondary media, the movie poster figures perhaps the most prominently. It is often the initial marketing media, appearing in theater lobbies, conventions, and publications before principal filming is even complete. The poster is often featured over the film stars’ shoulder during press junket interviews. Secondary marketing material, including newspaper ads, billboards, web sites, and licensed products, often reuse the poster’s key art and logo – it forms the design foundation for much of the subsequent media – the trailer included.

Hollywood poster designer John C. Allen was quoted in a interview on the subject, saying, “Generally, most movie posters tend to be conservative, an effort to appeal to the broadest (and lowest) common denominator. It's important to remember we're not necessarily out to create a “cool image” – we're trying to market/sell a film.”

He goes on to define two “rules” about movie posters:
  1. "Can you tell what it is if you were driving by at 40 mph and saw it in a bus shelter"?
  2. "Would your mother understand it?"
So how does this Star Wars poster fare against these two rules? While the imagery is quickly recognizable as Star Wars – even at 40 miles per hour – my mother did not understand it. Despite decades of Star Wars paraphernalia and videos in her home, she failed to recognize the Vader mask awkwardly integrated into Anakin’s billowing cloak.

But despite these grumblings, don’t think that this is Star Wars’ first marketing disappointment. I encourage anyone with access to the Original Trilogy DVDs to watch the original film’s trailers. A more awkward and disastrous three minutes of science fiction has rarely been seen by this writer (with the possible except of any three-minute selection from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes – or any one-minute selection of From Dusk Til Dawn).

And it should be pointed out that other marketing material for the film is more laudable. The film’s logo, revealed almost a year ago, is a wonderful, if sinister, reflection of Star Wars’ previous climatic film, Return of the Jedi.

One can only hope that this poorly executed film poster is actually the harbinger of good things to come. Episodes I and II both had wonderful teaser posters – it was the films themselves that left much to be desired. Perhaps this time the luck of millions of Star Wars devotees will be the other way around. fb