Five Personal Filmmaking Tips from Laurie Anderson

One of the most distinctive films on the festival circuit this year was Heart of a Dog, a 75-minute documentary in which performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson remembers the life and death of her beloved rat terrier, Lolabelle. The film was commissioned by the French-German TV channel Arte, which had been asking artists to make short personal essay films that tended to be very simple, running about 20 minutes in length. Anderson's outgrew that model — when she turned it in, she says, it was two years too late and about an hour too long.

Her finished piece combined snippets of animation, her own paintings, digitally processed 8mm footage, dog's-eye POV shots of Manhattan's West Village, and spoken-word narration considering everything from the 9/11 attacks and the surveillance state to Eastern philosophy and that time she broke her back at the swimming pool. Her late husband Lou Reed appears only very briefly, but his presence (and absence) are evident throughout. The resulting film premiered in September at the Telluride Film Festival before moving on to play festivals in Venice, Toronto, New York and Chicago. Acquired by Abramorama and HBO Documentary Films, it's now screening around North America in limited release before playing next year on HBO.

Laurie Anderson self portrait

Anderson visited the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, this week for a showing of the film and an on-stage Q&A with director Jonathan Demme, who first worked with her on his 1986 film Something Wild. The conversation ranged from the question of whether Lolabelle actually carried a camera ("She did shoot some things early, but we didn't use anything that she shot because they tended to be just crotch shots," Anderson quipped) to the absence of Anderson's father from any of the assembled family home movies ("he's where all the dads are — he's the DP," she said), but Anderson kept returning to comments about the simplicity of the film. (As she told Film Comment earlier this year, "My little movie was in the Venice Film Festival, and it was probably less than lunch budget for one day of any of the other films.") Below is the film's trailer, followed by some key excerpts from the conversation as they apply to personal filmmaking.

1.) Filmmaking technology can be simple. "A lot of this was done with iPhones and [Canon] 5D cameras — very small cameras in a very casual way," Anderson said. Viewers of an early cut of the film were taken by the sound of Anderson's voiceover against a silent backdrop and urged her not to add any music but, as a musician, she felt that would be too minimalist an approach. Co-producer Dan Janvey suggested she create a soundtrack using only strings. "I began to realize how many of my favorite movies are just strings," she recalled. "They have no beat. I wanted to make something so that your eye would be very rhythmic. As soon as you have beats, it relates to a cut. So I wanted the eye to be very rhythmic and free, so that's how the so-called score was made. Effectively, it was just me looking at my laptop playing violin and adding some songs. Done in, again, a very casual way. Any time something seemed too busy, I would just make it simple."

2.) Make your instruments — whether audio or visual — your own. Anderson described her preferred five-string violin, which has gone through seven different iterations with instrument designer Ned Steinberger. He is known for designing bass instruments, and helped ensure that she could play low octaves on her violin. And she used special production techniques to help the audience hear what she heard while playing. "When your head is right next to an instrument, you hear all this crunching and you hear harmonics and you hear all sorts of overtones," she explained. "By the time that gets to an audience, you don't hear that. All of that is gone. And I love the grittiness of that kind of sound, so the filters I designed for the software pulls those things up off the noise floor and makes it part of the music."

Heart of a Dog painting

3.) Don't be afraid to mix your media. In addition to camera-shot footage, Heart of a Dog also includes some animation, and paintings Anderson made of Lolabelle. She says the process is not so different. "Those were really big paintings — they were like 14 by 14 feet and doing them was a really wonderful thing for me at the time because I wanted to think about [Lolabelle]," she said. "In a certain way, many of these things are a similar process. For example, drawing something like that, for me, is very much like playing the violin. It's the same gesture, the same way of making something. I ask all the same questions about a piece of music and a painting: Is it wild enough? Is it complex enough? What kind of energy does it have? It doesn't seem like different media to me. It seems like the same way of working."

4.) Be open to using footage in ways you hadn't planned. One of Anderson's many subjects in Heart of a Dog are phosphenes, elements of vision that aren't triggered by light entering the eye — if you're "seeing stars," those shapes and lights are phosphenes. You might expect Anderson to use animation or visual effects techniques to approximate the phenomenon, but in response to a question from the audience, she revealed her secret: drones. "Those phosphenes are represented, in this case, by drones," she said. "I shot a lot of this film with drones, and I hardly used any of that footage. It's amazing that there are no laws about drones. You can just drive your drones around buildings and look in. It's horrible! [Laughter.] But that footage was a drone looking at its own shadow in a studio that had a lot of intense light and smoke. So you're seeing the rotating blades of the drone, and then I kind of threw it out of focus. It did remind me of these very organic shapes that are the phosphenes."

5.) Even when it's all about you, it's not all about you. Anderson was careful to note at the close of the discussion that she never intended Heart of a Dog to focus the audience's interest on her own life and experiences. Instead, it was meant as a catalyst for the viewer's own thoughts. "This is not a film about getting to know me or my life," she said. "This is a film that is made for people to jump into with their imaginations. That's why it's made of questions. That's why it ends with questions. It's about where we're going, and what people do with language." She described a scene in the movie about a man who lived up in the trees in Anderson's Midwestern home town, pretending he worked for the telephone company. The locals played along — he wasn't hurting anyone, after all. Anderson found that to be an evocative portrait of small town life, and she wanted to put it in the film without actually shooting footage of a man in a tree. "It's [about] empathy for somebody who is a little different," she notes. "But all you see is telephone poles and telephone wires and blank sky. So this is a radio play in certain ways. It's a work of imagination. I tried to make it as open-ended as I could, to make it about your own life. It's a fill-in-the-blanks sort of movie."

heart of a dog trees

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Six Reasons HDR Isn’t a Done Deal


High dynamic range (HDR) displays are all the rage. HDR systems do a much better job than their predecessors of presenting details in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights of an image, and also maintain cleaner separation of details in highly saturated portions of the picture. The difference might not be quite as big as the step up from SDTV to high-definition, but it's pretty impressive. And many observers say HDR is a more important and fundamental improvement on HDTV than the increased resolution of 4K by itself.

But the roll-out of HDR-capable TV sets has been a little confusing. At an event at Sony's New York headquarters last month, the company said that five of its 4K TVs had been firmware-upgraded to support HDR. (That's the top-of-the-line $7,000 X940C, with its contrast-enhancing backlight plate, above). Further, it said HDR content from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment would stream to the TV via Amazon Video. But the picture wasn't entirely clear. For example, a journalist asked if the TVs would support HDR content encoded using Dolby Vision — by far the most ballyhooed new HDR system (and one that's already supported by TVs from Vizio). The answer was no. And the images Sony showed to reporters in a darkened demo room were undeniably impressive, but raised more questions. For example, all of the TVs support HDR, but the two high-end models feature something Sony calls "X-tended Dynamic Range" to make the pictures look even better. (Think of it as Even Higher Dynamic Range.) So you might reasonably wonder: if you're grading a picture for home viewing, which of those screens are you grading for? It's starting to look like HDR is a moving target.

For the last 12 months, SMPTE has been working on identifying the biggest issues raised by emerging HDR technology, with a study group considering the big questions and generating a series of recommendations. The report was published today, in conjunction with the SMPTE 2015 Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition taking place this week at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. Here's our take on some of the issues identified and what they mean to overall adoption of HDR technology inside and outside the industry.

1) HDR Compliance Is Not a Yes/No Question

Manufacturers have started advertising their high-end sets as HDR-compatible, but it's unclear exactly what that means. There are as yet no agreed-upon standards, and even different models of HDR-ready TV sets will display a visibly different range of color and luminance. As the SMPTE report notes, key specifications for peak luminance and black levels have not been set. In fact, the study group writes, such capabilities "are largely considered an optimization issue for display makers, who must evaluate issues such as panel capability, image quality, color gamut, cost, power consumption, manufacturing, etc…. It is expected that deployment of HDR will occur through gradual improvement and a migration over time to enhanced consumer equipment." That means the HDR set you buy for home viewing this year is far from future-proof. In fact, it may well be superseded next year by a new HDR set with even better dynamic range.

2) The Viewing Environment Is More Important Than Ever

For creating HDR content, as well as for viewing it, the ambient lighting in the environment where the display is placed will have a greater impact on how brightness is perceived — especially in the darkest parts of the image. "Ambient and surround light have a large effect on perceived blacks and contrast, and can change the choices in grading content to better reproduce images within a particular viewing environment," the study group writes. "This becomes even more pronounced when working with HDR content." The study group suggested testing is needed to define correct lighting levels for mastering in HDR, and said automatic brightness control on a display might be "essential" in order to match a display's calibration to a range of room lighting environments, suggesting such research "might be a useful SMPTE effort."

3) Nobody's Sure How Much New Metadata We Will Need

The study group said existing systems, including the ASC's CDL, will become even more important in order to keep acquisition, dailies and editorial speaking in a common color language. But more metadata may be needed. For example, the report highlights some uncertainty about whether new dynamic, content-driven metadata will be required to allow better interoperability between HDR content and SDR-only displays, or whether standard, pre-defined conversion techniques will maintain acceptable quality. Of course, standards will have to be created for carrying that metadata over SDI and IP infrastructure, as well as in file and code stream wrappers.

4) HDR Adds Complexity to the Filmmaking Process

The co-existence of HDR and SDR displays will raise some new issues in production and post, the study group noted. For example, do editors need to cut HDR pictures, or will SDR images suffice? Do multiple deliverables need to be created so that dailies can be viewed on displays with different characteristics? Does grading on set take on new importance if cinematographers will be able to hold onto more dynamic range through delivery?

5) It's Hard to Even Test HDR Worflows

A filmmaking A team including director Howard Lukk (formerly of Disney and Pixar) and DP Daryn Okada, ASC, tried out an HDR worfklow on the 13-minute short "Emma," shot last year on the ARRI Alexa XT. The Academy's ACES color-encoding method was a great help, but Lukk noted that the lack of HDR support in projection display devices prevented the production from doing a full theatrical grade, and the lack of appropriate lighting environments for on-set monitoring in HDR meant lighting choices were made "in the blind" — just like in the old days of shooting film. "Lack of standards for HDR display devices and its ecosystem is probably the biggest issue facing filmmakers at this moment," Lukk wrote in January of this year. "Without standards, one must provide a separate, color-corrected version for each HDR ecosystem."

6) A Good Old-Fashioned Format War Is Brewing

The study's Appendix A outlines differing approaches to providing HDR signals from rivals in the broadcast and consumer electronics technology industries. The BBC and NHK have a combined proposal. Dolby is aggressively promoting Dolby Vision. And Technicolor, Philips and Samsung all have their own approaches. The study group warns that these multiple, competing schemes would make the HDR roll-out a vastly more complicated proposition. "Such fragmentation will introduce complications to HDR workflow, and may lead to requirements for multiple HDR deliverables. This, in turn, could lead to a delay or even a barrier in adoption of HDR technologies by content creators and users." The study group is urging SMPTE to create a standard before conflicting proposals — and the ensuing consumer confusion — derail HDR entirely.

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Surviving Your Directorial Debut

I've been working on this piece for a while. It turns out a lot of people go into film production thinking it's going to be a piece of cake, or feeling they know what they're up against. For a first time filmmaker, trust me … you don't, and it isn't.

Some of the biggest challenges are psychological, and they come from several directions. First is dealing with organization. Microbudget films require very strict organization and scheduling. There is no budget for screw ups. But perhaps your biggest difficulty will be yourself: dealing with your stress, and dealing with your crew and their stress. Fortunately, I'm also a psychologist and had a private practice: The Aspen Stress Management Clinic. I learned a lot there, and I'm going to share some valuable tips on how to survive the filmmaking process emotionally.

Your First Feature

Making a feature film is way different from making a short. Making your first feature film is going to be one of the most stressful things you have ever done. No .. it will be the most stressful thing you have ever done. So you damn well better take care of yourself physically and psychologically.

When things seem really tough, remember that 85-year-old Clint Eastwood still directs amazing movies. If he can do it at that age, you can do it. Right? But you will have to be mentally prepared, and that means doing your homework so you can go through the process without cutting too many corners.

Sure, you'll have to find ways to shoot on the cheap. You'll have to keep locations to a minimum, and you'll have to skimp on crew and cast wages, using friends and family where you can. But you'll need a few pros on your team. And you really, really need to follow the time-honored process of filmmaking, step by step. Yes, you can be creative, but you still have to see to it that each step is completed in an organized way. Disorganization is a large source of stress that must be avoided.

The reason I'm emphasizing this is that I've chatted with a number of young filmmakers in forums and on Facebook. It is amazing how many of them feel that they can shoot from the hip without a schedule. No shot breakdown, no scene analysis. Too many are driven by the more glamorous aspects of filmmaking and have little or no interest in the actual tasks involved, like budgeting and scheduling.

But the reason you do those things is to keep your film under control. Shooting it just because it feels right is going to cost you way more, and you'll end up with an inferior product. I don't care how creative or talented you think you are, filmmaking is a process, and you have to embrace the whole package.

The Process

It pays to keep calm. 
There are an infinite number of ways to complete the process, but they all involve breaking down the tasks, costing them out, listing needed resources from people to equipment to places, organizing your shots, and managing your crew in an effective way. My suggestions are garnered from people who have tried it the other way and failed, but got smart and did it properly. Please don't let us hear: “But doing all this organization bullshit will stanch my creativity!” If that is the case, you're in the wrong business.

Staying Organized

Let's face it, you may not be the “organized type.” But you can still make a movie. Your gut will tell you to “wing it” and just feel your way through. That is the classic formula for failure.
Film is not a medium that lends itself to muddling through. Micro-budget film requires more organization, not less. Disorganization is a huge money pit.
If you are smart, you will inventory your weaknesses and get them covered. Do not try to be all things. Stick to the parts of moviemaking that you're actually good at, and get others to function in your areas of weakness. Do this deliberately. This is actually the core of your organization strategy.

For example, I've seen a creative but disorganized director hire a co-director who was more OCD and technical than he. That can be a wise move. Neither of you are likely to create a five-star movie on your own, but together, if you communicate, who knows? Working as a team can generate its own stress, and communication issues have to be resolved up front if possible. I'll address these shortly.

Are you good with software? If not, find someone who is. There are great software packages available to help you keep your production organized. You may have heard of some of them. Here are some you should at least be familiar with, and you should be using one or more of them to keep things organized. If you're not good with software and not known to be organized, get help.

Get Computerized

Each software package has it's own interface and work flow. Find the one that works best with your brain, or with the brain of the person you put in charge of this stuff.
Chimpanzee is made for low budget filmmakers 


As a beginner, you will want to check out Chimpanzee from Jungle Software. Seriously. It's a reasonably priced application designed specifically for low-budget film makers. It comes with modules that help you do various things. Tasks are color-coded by time of day for the shot, and once you get used to it, you can quickly find what you're looking for. There is strong psychological evidence that color-coding helps creative people who are less than well organized.

The Budget module helps you design budgets, build breakdown sheets, manage cast and crew, and generate call sheets, prop lists by scene, shot lists and storyboards. With it, you can import your script from one of the screenwriting apps and start applying various templates that help you link up the script with various schedule elements, cast, crew, locations, props etc. For example, you can hit a key and send a shooting schedule to an actor with her call times, locations, wardrobe and personal props. It automatically generates the reports you'll need to stay on top of things. I recommend having someone more organized than you help you set up Chimpanzee and keep it updated. Later on, you may graduate to Gorilla, which is meant for higher-budget productions, but I recommend starting here. Here is a brief video overview of the package.

Note: avoid Movie Magic. It's long in the tooth, has not been updated properly and is designed for bigger movies anyway.

And if you don't want to come up with the $129 for Chimpanzee, take a look at Hot Budget from ReelGrok. It's free!

Hot Budget Logo 

Hot Budget

This is an AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) budget program. Don't let that stop you. So it's set up for producing commercials? Big deal. Many people have adapted it for documentaries, industrial films and small features. You should be able to use a little mental elbow grease to adapt Hot Budget to your microbudget film production. Download it and check it out.
Another great cloud based system.  


This is a free cloud based production document management package that helps you keep all the scattered pieces of your production documents in one place, with an interface that helps you find what you need when you need it. It has excellent script management tools, security procedures, analysis tool and email distribution tools. You upload your script and Scenechronize uses an intelligent agent to create instant breakdowns. The documents are beautifully formatted. You just right-click on them and save them as PDF files. Any way you look at it, this is going to save you time and money getting set up. It also uses color-coding to help you quickly find what you're looking for.

There are $75 and $150 upgrades for special versions including Team Scheduling and Shorts production. It's all from, where you'll find several other more-than-basic applications for payroll and accounting and multi-project management … but those are not really what you're interested in.

The cloud can be your friend 


Another cloud based system is Celtx, where you write your script, and do your breakdowns, schedules and budget all in one environment. It has the advantage of working with mobile apps for iPhone and Android.

There are others, and you can find them on your own. Just be aware that help orgainzing your film project is available in the form of cleverly designed software. It really does simplify the process and help keep you sane. But still, if you're going to be directing, you should consider hiring or conning someone into giving you a hand with it.

Your support group

If you are to survive the process, you will need a friends-and-family support group — people who believe in your project and won't belittle you for being so stupid as to want to make a movie. It is wise to set up this support group deliberately, letting it's members know what to expect. A big chunk of that is “the unexpected.” Explain to them that you will need them be honest with your and help keep you on track. There are many distractions while making a movie, but you have to keep your eye on the task ahead. Your support group an help you do that.

Treat your support group well, don't yell at them, and don't show anger when they tell you the truth about how they feel about your last shot. Ask them for specifics. Don't accept, ”Well I didn't like that last shot, it was too dark for me.” Ask them for details about what turned them off. You don't have to listen to them, but you need to understand their reaction. Others are likely to respond in the same way.

As a writer/producer/director, you will have blind spots. If your ego keeps you from listening to more objective minds, then your picture is likely to be awful and fail and you will have deserved that. That said, remember that you are the creative force. Though you listen and evaluate the opinions of others, you still have to make your own decisions on how you proceed. It's rough, and you're likely to make some serious mistakes. Budget for it … mentally, physically and financially. It's a cosmic irony that the lowest-budget films require the most talent and efficiency to pull off. Big-budget studio films are typically rife with waste and excess, as well as ego control issues, but it all works out in the end. You can't afford that system. The thing that will keep you on track will be communication with your cast and crew.


Communicating is an art. We all do it every day, but most of us do it badly. One of the most destructive things on a set is a director who uses too many generic terms and avoids specifics, hoping someone else will fill in the blanks for him. You've all heard it. “Pull up the light on the thing. You know what I mean.” “No, what?” “You know. The watchacawlit.” It seems like a joke, but it happens all the time.

Another problem is not finishing an idea. People often think far ahead of what they are saying. They half-finish words or leave out words, and they are not at all aware of it, yet you are missing a third of what they are trying to convey.

But most of all, only a small percentage of communication is contained in the words spoken. The nuance is in the body language and use of voice. It's called non-verbal communication, and it's very important. Most of us are completely unaware of our non-verbal messages.

If you are going to be a successful director, you have to be articulate. If you're not by now…you're already in trouble. Improving your communication skills will help your entire life.

Believe it or not, there are books on the subject, training courses and articulation coaches. Before you direct, find out if you are a decent communicator. It's complicated. How you use your voice, how you treat your crew, and how you state your message all enter in. Here is a free video that will get you thinking. You'll see that these skills will help you at every turn, from selling your ideas to selling your picture. Here are six skills that will vastly improve your communication.

Lower your Stress 

Believe it or not, you can actually do something about your stress. It's not rocket science. Stress eats up a neurotransmitter called serotonin. When your serotonin levels drop below a certain point, depression sets in. When that happens, it gets progressively harder to focus. So here are six simple things you can do to relive your stress.

1. Strenuous exercise. Handball, running, tennis, racquetball, mountain climbing or hiking. This kind of activity actually builds up your serotonin levels while burning off stress.

2. Get sleep. Insomnia is common among filmmakers. It's not good. I use OTC melatonin to get me started sleeping, but talk with your doctor. Avoid prescription meds if you can. Melatonin works great for me, but they say it can give some people a headache. I'm not prescribing it, just sayin': get some damn sleep.

3. Meditation. I'm a bit obsessive, so meditation for me was once nearly impossible. That's where you clear your mind of all thought. I can now do it in the snap of a finger. So Google methods of meditation. It lowers stress and increases serotonin. I started with the "falling leaves" meditation. It's fairly easy. Instead of pushing all thoughts out of your head – very hard to do if your are compulsive – you acknowledge each thought, attach it to a leaf and let it blow away. Start by picturing a fall tree with golden leaves. Calm your mind as best you can, and then wait for the first thought. Give it a name and say it in your head three times as the leaf spirals away in the breeze. For example, I hear a truck passing and it distracts me. I attach the sound to a leaf in my mind and say “truck, truck, truck” as I visualize the leaf blowing away. Other forms are less work, but you have to work up to them. Just make meditation a part of your routine. It is not religious in any way.

4. Compartmentalize. Learn to leave work at work and keep home your sanctuary. Do not edit your script at the dinner table. Make a place to work and keep it away from your regular living space. I have an office with a door I can close. I mentally shut out the world when I close that door from the inside. I mentally shut out the film when I close the door from the outside.

5. Learn about interpolated activities.When you reach a block point or your breaking point, stop, no matter how tight the deadline, and find an activity that is as opposite as your work as you can. For example, I always have a hobby of the month. It keeps me sane. I'll be working on my blog post and hit a wall. So I go up to my scent lab and work on a new, signature scent for a male cologne. I have made dozens. Great snob appeal too. An attractive woman says “I love your cologne.” And I say, “Oh thank you, it's one of my creations.”

6. There are other things you can do, but make it a priority to understand yourself and how you react to stress. Take precautions and warn people around you, if necessary. Part of your job is to help them keep their stress levels under control.


Following up on my last post, here is an excellent Photoshop tutorial on creating cinematic images for your movie posters. It's full of great ideas. Use some or all of them to create your iconic image. 

I'm working on several projects for this blog pertaining to microbudget film making. For one I'm still talking with successful low budget producers/directors, asking them to share with us what pitfalls, tips and tricks they've discovered.

I've also joined a stock footage group online to see if I can gather enough decent footage to create a compelling into. I intent to steal ideas from some of the best movie and TV intros, like True Detective and Justified. Normally, you would capture short clips live and then integrate them into your title sequence. Developing this sequence can be very expensive if you work with a professional studio. So you want to learn how, or have a friend lean how and DIY. I discovered many things. One is that these groups have you pay a certain amount per month for free access to their video library, many of which now include 4K clips. But there are interesting problems as well as advantages. I'll talk all about them, most likely in my next post.

Wishing all a happy and productive fall. Get out there and shoot some awesome reference footage. You never know where you'll use it.


Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro: The Battle for Your Briefcase

iPad Pro vs Surface Pro

It had been obvious for a while, but Apple's iPad Pro launch event today made it abundantly clear that the new oversized iPad is gunning directly for Microsoft's Surface Pro. With Apple's new Smart Keyboard attached, the new iPad Pro even looks just like a Surface Pro. And with pricing starting at $799, Apple is angling to match the competition dollar for dollar. If you're thinking about buying a big, powerful tablet to carry with you on your next project, consider these key points of comparison.

1) Nobody will want a $799 iPad Pro. 
Sure, the iPad Pro starts at a relatively wallet-friendly $800 bucks, but take another look at the configuration. The low-end model has just 32 GB of storage on board. Cloud-connected workflow or not, you're going to want to keep at least some of your media on local storage alongside all your apps, and 32 GB isn't going to go very far when you start talking about editing 4K video, as Apple's Phil Schiller did today. The 64 GB on the entry-level Surface Pro 3 is less of an insult to content creators. Go a little upmarket, and the Surface Pro 3 starts to look more attractive. A 128 GB Surface Pro 3 with keyboard and stylus runs $1,029, compared to $1,348 for an iPad Pro with keyboard and Pencil. Advantage: Microsoft.


2) Drawing could be a dealmaker. 
Seriously. Steve Jobs disdained the lowly stylus, but many people working in design, digital painting, and other fields need stylus support. It seems like the Apple Pencil's close integration with Apple's iOS could deliver a truly superior drawing experience on the iPad, that would be a meaningful advantage for a lot of creative pros. Advantage: Apple. 

3) Size matters.
The iPad Pro is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 3, which becomes important in a device you're planning to haul around on set or on location all day long. At 0.27 inches thick (vs. 0.36 inches) and 1.57 pounds (vs. 1.76 pounds), the difference doesn't amount to much. But throw in a slightly bigger screen (12.9 inches vs. 12) and higher resolution (2732×2048 vs. 2160×1440) and Apple has Microsoft beat on that score for now. Advantage: Apple.


4) Microsoft makes the next move.
The iPad Pro won't ship until November, which gives Microsoft sufficient time to work on its head-to-head strategy, announcing the Surface Pro 4 and making any pricing adjustments that it deems advantageous. Microsoft will no doubt be looking to give its Surface as many competitive advantages as possible. Advantage: Microsoft. 

We'll call it a draw, at least based on what we know right now. Apple has a chance to make a big impression with performance and usability — or to end up playing catch-up with Microsoft, who did after all get to this market first.

Wes Craven, 1939-2015

Genre film lost one of its icons over the weekend with the passing of Wes Craven at the age of 76. Craven didn't limit himself to horror — he directed Meryl Streep in the inspirational Music of the Heart and made the thriller Red Eye with Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy — but he was best known for scary movies that left a big mark on Hollywood. Craven has plenty of worthwhile films on his resume, but he made three megahits in three different decades, each of which by itself could have been a career-defining moment. Fortunately for moviegoers, Craven was intent on reinventing himself instead of simply working the same material over and over.

Last House on the Left

Last House on the Left (1972)
Championed by Roger Ebert as "a tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie," Last House on the Left was written and directed by Craven and shot in 1971 on a budget of about $90,000. A grindhouse-style thriller with grueling scenes of sexual violence and a graphic revenge plot, it was actually (and improbably!) inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film, The Virgin Spring. That mix of the arthouse and the grindhouse was key to Craven's sensibility. He held a master's degree in philosophy and writing from Johns Hopkins University and was a college professor before he became a filmmaker. Quite difficult to watch and subject to censorship in many countries, Last House on the Left nonetheless set a high bar for exploitation films that its numerous brutal imitators failed to clear.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Craven worked with the template created by John Carpenter in Halloween — a basically realistic portrait of the American suburbs, with a murderous interloper — but pushed it further. Working with a budget of between $1.1 million and $1.8 million (depending on which source you believe), Craven told the story of a killer who stalks his victims and strikes in their dreams, rather than in the bigger world outside. Blurring the distinction between dreams and reality put a creepy spin on the slasher tale. Craven gave Johnny Depp his first screen role in this film and, of course, Robert Englund's performance as the genuinely nasty Freddy Krueger proved iconic.


Scream (1996)
Of all the Elm Street sequels, the only one directed by Craven — 1994's Wes Craven's New Nightmare — is by far the best. Its playful take on the film series (Craven appears on-screen as himself) reads now as a trial run for the massively successful Scream franchise. Scream was actually written by Kevin Williamson, but the material was right in Craven's wheelhouse. He had made a career out of turning the horror genre inside out, and Scream promised to require a deft balancing act between a funny teen comedy and a scary slasher movie. In Craven's hands, it worked. Scream generated huge box-office results and set a template for a new generation of snarky, self-aware youth-oriented horror to follow (including an MTV series of the same title that has its first season finale tomorrow night).

Out of all his contemporaries in the genre — George Romero, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and more — only Craven managed to remain a hugely successful force at the mainstream box office in the 1990s and beyond. His last film as director, Scream 4, was released in 2011. Horror fans will miss him badly.

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