Math Puzzle

If you have so much time on your hands that you've ended up at this blog, here is a math puzzle I made up... A broker is looking at three stock prices and notices a funny relationship. The three prices are all three-digit numbers. By subtracting the first number from the second number, she gets the same result as subtracting the second number from the third number. By subtracting the inverse of the first number from the inverse of the second number, and subtracting the inverse of the second number from the inverse of the third number, she still receives the exact same answer. Finally, each of the three numbers, minus its inverse, yields the same number (although a different number from the proceeding two operations).

What three numbers was she looking at? (NOTE: if you solve this without using palindromes, the solution is very elegant)

Email me your answer and I will send you a prize!*


*I do not have any prizes.  But you will have my heartfelt admiration.

Victory Post Production

Post-Production for my next short film "Victory or Death" is almost complete. It's a fun process beginning with the edit with Jay Trautman (pictured below). Jay Trautman

After six rounds of edits, we choose music and send files to the rotoscoper. Then we begin color correction with the DP, Marlen Schlawin...

Jay and Marlen just love having their picture taken...

Then it's time for Sound Design with Corey Eccles...

Sound Mix

"Victory or Death" uses of lot of sound design. Everything from earthquakes to humpback whales to ocean waves are layered into the sound mix.

I like these photos because it looks like Corey is flying a spaceship.

Next step is rendering end credits and then we're just about complete!

Wikipedians by Political Party

Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales once said Wikipedians are "more liberal than the U.S. population on average, because we are global and the international community of English speakers is slightly more liberal than the U.S. population." I have crunched the numbers and it appears he is correct.  Wikipedia is more liberal than America.



Of the 14,000,000 registered Wikipedians, it appears 347,000 have created user pages.  Of these 347,000 users, 23,190 individuals, or 6.7%, appear to have professed a political affiliation in the bios on their user pages by mentioning key phrases like "Liberal Party of Australia" or "Social Democrat," etc.  This provides the following data set:


Liberal, Conservative, and Libertarian Wikipedians

There are some 57 countries where English is the official or de facto language.  Any of these peoples and more may be contributing to the English language Wikipedia.  Lumping together these Wikipedians into four basic categories, we get the following totals:


These totals contrast the overall US population in three important ways.

  1. Liberals are slightly overrepresented as compared to the US population
  2. Conservatives are decidedly underrepresented as compared to the US population
  3. Libertarians are dramatically overrepresented as compared to the US population

To illustrate the disparity between the American population and the Wikipedian population, here is a chart showing the USA by political party (2008), using data courtesy of



What is particularly interesting is the preponderance of Libertarians on Wikipedia.  While Libertarians carried 0.04% of the vote in the latest US presidential election, they carry even less of a vote in other English speaking countries.  Indeed, it is somewhat unclear if any functioning Libertarian party currently exists in any English-speaking country besides the US.  So it is statistically interesting to find 10% of Wikipedians identifying as Libertarian.

Methodology, Notes, and Margin of Error

*This data was assembled using Boolean searches of the seed "".

*Various search terms were excluded to prevent duplication.  For instance, a UK Wikipedian self-identifying as a "Liberal Democrat" must not be double counted in searches for the terms "Liberal" and "Democrat."  Thus, Liberals were counted as follows:

liberal democrat liberal -democrat -"australia" -philippines democrat -liberal -social Social democrat -liberal

Note that the "Liberal Party of Australia" is center-right, and thus excluded from searches for "Liberal."  Userpages that mentioned both "Philippines" and "Liberal" were excluded as well because while the Philippines has a "Liberal Party" there is no corresponding "Conservative Party" so a fair tally of left-vs-right Wikipedians would have been disrupted.

*"Labor party" and "Labour party" were conducted as separate searches seeing as Wikipedians may belong to the Labor Party in Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia, the UK, etc.

*"Independents" are almost certainly undercounted.  The word "Independent" appears in many contexts in user bios.  Thus, this search only counted "Independent Party."

*Many Wikipedians identify as "Anti-Communist."  So the search for Communist excluded the term "anti."

*Similarly, "Nazi" was not included in this search as so many Wikipedians appear to identify as "Grammar Nazis" or "Deletion Nazis" or "Wikipedians who have been called Nazis by other Wikipedians," etc.

*While India and Pakistan represent massive English speaking populations, their political parties - being somewhat unique and endemic - were not counted in this search.

*Further exclusions could be added to these boolean searches to refine the data.  For instance, a Wikipedian saying, "I disagree with the Labor Party" would be counted as a member of the Labor Party in this methodology.  Nevertheless, it is assumed such search errors would occur equally for all parties and thus keep proportions consistent.  Furthermore, random spot checks for associations like "Hate" & "Labor Party," "Dislike" & "Labor Party," and "Disagree" & "Labor Party," yield zero results.  And moreover, the 6.7% sample size is fairly robust when accounting for margin of error.

Still No Oscar for Best Casting Director

Casting Director is the only above the line movie credit that does not receive an Academy Award.  For years, I have awkwardly cornered people at parties demanding to know why this is the case, but nobody seems to know the answer. This month, the Los Angeles Times interviewed the Academy Executive Director, Bruce Davis, and it appears we finally have some answers.  According to Davis:

  1. "There's no easy way to tell who did the casting in a movie."
  2. "We're not looking for a lot of new categories. People think the award show is long enough."

Fascinating.  To the first point, Davis is referring to the fact that Producers often cast the starring roles, and Casting Directors often fill out the supporting roles.  To the second point, it's just sort of interesting the Oscars can squeeze every above the line credit into a four hour show, with the sole exception of Casting Director.

To appreciate the role of Casting Director, consider how many thousands of teenagers Allison Jones had to wade through before discovering the likes of James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Linda Cardellini, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  Or consider Lisa Beach and Pat McCorkle's casting of School Ties (1992) that launched the careers of Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris O'Donnell and Cole Hauser.

The Casting Society of America has petitioned the Academy three times in the past 15 years to add an award for Best Casting Director.  This would bring the Oscars in line with the Emmys and the Spirit Awards.  Here's hoping they are someday included.

Anthropogenic Fibonacci Sequences

DNA measures 34 angstroms long by 21 angstroms wide for each full cycle of its double helix spiral. 34/21 = the Golden Ratio. As folks know, the Fibonacci sequence and its corresponding Golden Ratio can be observed throughout nature, from the arrangement of leaves on a stem to the spiraled florets on the head of a sunflower.  But what about man-made Fibonacci sequences?

Here are some Fibonacci sequences I have observed that are created strictly from humans being human beings:


Arriving for an early flight, I witness a terminal opening for the morning.  The first security guard enters the security check.  He walks through the metal detectors, passes his bags through the x-ray, and then runs the metal wand over his body.  Then clips on his security badge.

Thus screened, the first security guard performs the same operation on the second security guard.  While the new guard clips on his badge, the first guard screens a third guard.  Now the first two guards screen two more while the third clips on his badge.

Factoring in the pause time while each newly screened guard clips on his badge and turns on equipment, I realize that the rate at which security guards pass each other through the security check is a Fibonacci sequence.


The incubation period for mononucleosis - the time between exposure to the contagion and the appearance of symptoms - is roughly one month.  Once exposed to the virus, a person carries it for life and can theoretically pass it on for several years.

Thus, imagining a population in which (1) the "Kissing Disease" is introduced by a single person and (2) every person kisses exactly one new person each month, the spread of mono throughout the population is a Fibonacci Sequence.

  1. MONTH ONE: 1 carrier; 1 incubating
  2. MONTH TWO: 2 carriers; 1 incubating
  3. MONTH THREE: 3 carriers; 2 incubating
  4. MONTH FOUR: 5 carriers; 3 incubating


I witnessed the following Fibonacci Sequence at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.  In a special ceremony, the minister turned off the church lights and distributed unlit candles to every member of the congregation.

The minister's candle was the only lit candle.  He used it to light the first candle in the first pew.  While that person's candle flame gathered strength, the minister lit a second person's candle.  Now two people could light candles while the third person's flame gathered strength.  Soon there were eight people with lit candles and five who could light other people's candles.  Thus the brightness of the dark room accelerated in accordance with the Fibonacci sequence.

Ode to Joy on a Chess Board

How would music appear if played on a chess board? Following comments from my Chess Music post about translating famous chess games into music, a reader requested to see the Ode to Joy on a chess board. Again, mapping algebraic chess notation to scientific pitch notation allows us to play Beethoven on a chess board.

I transposed the Ode to Joy from D Major into C Major for simplicity's sake (apologies to Beethoven). From there, you can see how the notes E, E, F, G, etc, become E3, E6, F3, G3, etc on the chess board.

Note: my chess program automatically flips the chess board every move which makes the video a bit tricky to follow. But you can still get a neat sense of the symmetry of Beethoven's melody showing up visually on the chess board.

Fibonacci Scale

If the Fibonacci sequence (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21...) were translated into music, how would it sound?  The answer – surprisingly – is, pretty good. Creating the Fibonacci Scale

To play the Fibonacci sequence on a piano, one must assign a number value for every note of the keyboard; A=1, B=2, etc.  As every octave has seven notes, every eighth note starts over at A.  Therefore, 8=A, 9=B, 10=C, etc.  Because there are only 7 possible notes, determining where a given Fibonacci number falls on a scale essentially deals with remainders:

Scale Note = Mod (F,7)

The next, and trickiest step for playing the Fibonacci sequence is finding a piano keyboard that extends into infinity.   Playing only the Fibonacci numbers on your infinite keyboard, one discovers the repeating sixteen note group A-A-B-C-E-A-F-G-F-F-E-D-B-F-A-G (repeat). Expressed numerically (Fibonacci sequence, Modulo 7), the sequence is 1-1-2-3-5-1-6-7-6-6-5-4-2-6-1-7, repeatedly infinitely.


It's pretty nifty to find an infinite recursive sequence yielding a repeating finite group under modulo 7. But then, the universe is a nifty place.

Playing the Fibonacci sequence on a regular piano (for instance, in one octave of A major) is not unpleasant as the sixteen notes fit squarely into four measures. The sequence begins on the tonic note and ends on the leading tone, musically resolving when the sequence repeats.

It sounds like this: Fibonacci Sequence MP3. Take a listen!

Proving the Finite Group

To prove the Fibonacci sequence under modulo seven has a finite order of sixteen, we can use mathematical induction...  Special thanks to Kiri Wagstaff for helping me with my math!

Since it's known that Fn+1 = Fn + Fn-1, let's assume that:

Mod (Fn+1, 7) = Mod (Fn + Fn-1, 7)

Or in other words:

Mod (Fn+1, 7) = Mod (Mod (Fn, 7) + Mod (Fn-1, 7), 7)

This holds true for our base cases, n = 1 and n = 2.

For our inductive step (to prove the sequence repeats every sixteenth natural number) let's assume that:

Mod (F(n+1)+16, 7) = Mod (F(n+16) + F(n-1)+16 ,7)


Mod (F n+17, 7) = Mod (Mod (Fn+16, 7) + Mod (F n+15, 7), 7)


Mod (2584, 7) = Mod (Mod (1597, 7) + Mod (987, 7), 7)


1 = 1


Mod (Fn, 7) = Mod (Fn+16, 7)

Fibonacci Fugue

Without further ado, here is a fugue I whipped up using the 16 note Fibonacci Scale as the main theme: Fibonacci Fugue MP3. Take a listen!

Order of Group for Non-Western Scales

What does the Fibonacci sequence sound like if played on non-Western scales? Repeating sequences again occur on scales of any length (excepting base 10-divisible scales which spit out gigantic Pisano periods before yielding an identity).  For instance, playing the Fibonacci sequence on a pentatonic scale yields the repeating pattern: A-A-B-C-E-C-C-A-D-E-D-D-C-B-E-B-B-D-A-E.   Playing in a nine note scale also yields a twenty note repeating pattern: A-A-B-C-E-H-D-C-G-A-H-I-H-H-G-F-D-A-E-F-B-H-A-I.

Fibonacci Scales in Bases 2 -15

Examining the modulo sequences, distinct patterns emerge.   The longer the modulo sequence, the more it approaches the Fibonacci sequence.   For instance, all of the sequences begin with 1-1-2-3-5, or A-A-B-C-E.   Furthermore, the sequences all end with the highest possible note in the scale.   Melodically, this means that every sequence begins on the tonic and ends on a leading tone, which is harmonically pleasing.  The second to last note is always A.  The third to last is always the second highest note in the scale.   The fourth to last note is always B, etc.   As larger sequences are generated, greater patterns emerge (see chart above).   Although it must be a mathematical coincidence, these patterns create harmonic consistencies that are not half-bad to listen to.

Perhaps most bizarrely, these Fibonacci scales all appear to obey the laws of musical phrasing.   Simply stated, the peak of a musical phrase is very often the highest note of a musical phrase, and tends to occur around 2/3rds (or maybe .618...) through the length of the phrase.   Furthermore, if a musical phrase begins and ends in the tonic key, the peak of the phrase will often be in the dominant key.   This pattern is bizarrely exhibited in the Fibonacci scales (chart above), which all contain a middle sequence of A-M-N-M-M-L-K, where N is the highest note in the scale, and M is the second highest, L is the third highest, and K is the fourth highest.

Square Scales and Cube Scales

Recurring sequences do not appear to be endemic to the Fibonacci sequence.  Playing the squares (1,4,9, etc) on the infinite piano yields a recurring order of seven {A,D,B,B,D,A,G}.  Playing the cubes (1,8,27) on the infinite piano yields a different recurring group order of seven {A-A-F-A-F-F-G}.   Perhaps these math-based melodies will one day provide inspiration for modern composers.

Victory Filming

I had an absolute blast filming "Victory" this weekend with a fun and talented cast and crew.  Below I have posted a few set photos about how we shot the film... ABOUT THE MOVIE

Actor Gary Cairns presented me with the idea for "Victory" a few months ago and asked if I would write and direct it.  "Heck yes," I said.

My friend Sarah Newman connected me with our wonderful DP, Marlen Schlawin.  Randy Wayne and Nick Slatkin came on board to produce.  And in the past two weeks we raised the budget, raised the crew, found the locations, and shot the movie.


Marlen and I logged 16 hours preparing the shot list.  105 shots across 16 locations in 2.5 shooting days.


All of the movie's dream sequences were filmed on the 7D and linked together using Michel Gondry-style transitions.  In the sequence below we start with actors Gary Cairns and Janina Gavankar rolling over in bed...

Janina and Gary

Peter Marr built us a wheel mount (above) and we rolled the 7D along the plank to follow the motion of the actors.  Then Marlen rigged the 7D on a slider to follow the motion of the actors in a top shot...

Placing the Actors

Once Gary rolls and hits his mark we transition into the next shot.  Gary spreads his arms...

Gary Filming

...and we match cut to Gary in the same position on a TV screen (it makes sense in the story)...

Gary Cairns on TV'

Marlen's crew lays down dolly tracks so we can dolly out of the TV set...

Dolly Shot

The camera will dolly back until we reveal Gary sitting on the couch (above), watching himself on TV.

Marlen looks happy with the shot...

Marlen Schlawin

I look happy too.

Gary Cairns and Jonathan W. Stokes

Chess Music

For absolutely no good reason, I found myself wondering what a chess game would sound like if played on the piano. One can't help but notice that algebraic chess notation maps almost perfectly to scientific pitch notation...


The eight columns of a chess board correspond to the eight audible octaves.  E.g., C4 is a middle square on the chess board and C4 is "middle C" on the piano...


(Both images from Wikimedia Commons).


I know what you're thinking: the diatonic scale has seven notes "A" through "G," but the chess board goes up to "H."  So how can we overlay chess notation with pitch notation?

Fear not!  We'll simply use the Northern European system of musical notation, where an "H" indicates a B Natural, and a "B" indicates a B flat.  This is the notation that composers from Schumann to Lizst used to sign the name "B-A-C-H" into their music (see BACH motif).

The Bach Motif

So we now have a system for mapping the moves of a chess game onto a piano keyboard.  For example, Anderssen's "Immortal Game" begins with 1. e4 e5 2. f4… which maps to E natural in the 4th register, E natural in the 5th register, and F natural in the 4th register.


The remaining task is to assign note values.  What makes a quarter note, a half note, and a whole note?

The relative value of chess pieces is Pawn = 1, Knight = 3, Bishop = 3, Rook = 5, Queen = 9, and King = Infinity.

Assigning these exact ratios to note values will create some rather annoying polyrhythms.  So let's round off the ratios a tiny bit and assign the following note values to the chess pieces: Pawn = 1/16th note, Knight = 1/8th note, Bishop = 1/8th note, Rook = 1/4 note, Queen = 1/2 note, and King = rest.


To put the icing on the cake, let's condense the 8 registers into a single octave to make the chess melodies more tolerable. If a note is doubled (as in 1. e4 e5), let's jump the second note up an octave to provide some flavor.

So without further ado, here are three famous chess games mapped onto the piano:

"THE IMMORTAL GAME" June 21 1851

In "The Immortal Game," Adolf Anderssen gave up both rooks, a bishop, and ultimately his queen, in order to checkmate Lionel Kieseritzky using only his three remaining minor pieces - a bishop and two knights.

LISTEN TO THE MP3: The Immortal Game

I set blues chords in the left hand to justify the constant tonal shifts from B to b flat in this chess game. The chords modulate from C Major to F Major and finally end in B Flat Major.

The game/melody: Pe4 Pe5 Pf4 Pe x Pf4 Bc4 Qh4+ Kf1 b5?! Bxb5 Nf6 Nf3 Qh6 Pd3 Nh5 Nh4 Qg5 Nf5 Pc6 Pg4 Nf6 Rg1!! Pcxb5? Ph4 Qg6 Ph5 Qg5 Qf3 Ng8 Bxf4 Qf6 Nc3 Bc5 Nd5 Qxb2 Bd6 Bxg1? Pe5! Qxa1+ Ke2 Na6 Nxg7+ Kd8 Qf6+ Nxf6 Be7#

THE OPERA GAME 1858, Paris

In "The Opera Game," Paul Morphy bested the German Duke Karl of Brunswick and Count Isouard during the Opera "Norma" at the Italian Opera House in Paris.

Morphy won with a snazzy queen sacrifice in what is considered one of the most brilliant combinations in chess history.

LISTEN TO THE MP3: The Opera Game

This bouncy, modal melody seemed to lend itself to a Baroque invention. So I added in a left hand melody using Species Counterpoint.

The game/melody: Pe4 Pe5 Nf3 Pd6 Pd4 Bg4? Pd4xe5 Bxf3 Qxf3 Pdxe5 Bc4 Nf6 Qb3 Qe7 Nc3 Pc6 Bg5 Pb5? Nxb5! Pcxb5 Bxb5 Nbd7 0-0-0 Rd8 Rxd7 Rxd7 Rd1 Qe6 Bxd7+ Nxd7 Qb8+! Nxb8 Rd8#

World Chess Championship 1972, Game 6

Bobby Fischer bests Boris Spassky with an aggressive queenside attack. Spassky joined the audience in applauding Fischer's win and called it the best game of the match.

LISTEN TO THE MP3: Bobby Fischer 1972

This chess game produced a wild jumble of syncopated sevenths and minor seconds. I tried to find order in the atonal chaos by laying in major ninth and suspension chords. My hope was to somehow evoke the major seventh chord sound of the 1970s, when this game was played. It came out sounding like if Schoenberg wrote intro music for a morning talk show.

The game/melody: 1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 O-O 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 b6 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.Rc1 Be6 12.Qa4 c5 13.Qa3 Rc8 14.Bb5!? 14...a6?! 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.O-O Ra7 17.Be2 Nd7 18.Nd4 Qf8 19.Nxe6 fxe6 20.e4 d4 21.f4 Qe7 22.e5 Rb8 23.Bc4 Kh8 24.Qh3 Nf8 25.b3 a5 26.f5, exf5 27.Rxf5 Nh7 28.Rcf1 Qd8 29.Qg3 Re7 30.h4 Rbb7 31.e6 Rbc7 32.Qe5 Qe8 33.a4 Qd8 34.R1f2 Qe8 35.R2f3 Qd8 36.Bd3 Qe8 37.Qe4 Nf6 38.Rxf6 gxf6 39.Rxf6 Kg8 40.Bc4 Kh8 41.Qf4 1-0

UPDATE: By reader request, I've translated Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" into a chess game. Click the link to see the video.

Great Books I Read in 2010

This year I read 58 books, a little more than one per week. As ever, a chipper tip of the hat to Aaron Swartz, who reads over 100 books every year, and inspired me to start blogging annually about the books I read. Swartz is an absolute James Franco of productivity; his article on being productive is worth a gander. I've tracked my books read since 2003. It's interesting seeing how your perceptions change with time. For instance, I really dogged "Atlas Shrugged" when I read it in 2008, but find myself constantly mentally referencing the book - it's definitely affected the way I evaluate my world. So what follows are books I loved reading in 2010, whether or not I will still agree with myself come 2012.

The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian

Really very good.  Almost worth rereading sheerly for the clever dialog in the first half. Great rapport between characters and deeply clever descriptions, particularly in the first quarter of the book.

I Am America And So Can You - Stephen Colbert, Laura Krafft, and a bunch of other writers

Colbert is just wonderful - when he's good, he's great - some laugh out loud wonderfulisms in here - really well done.

The First Billion is the Hardest - T. Boone Pickens

Everything this guy touches turns to gold. He became a billionaire twice in his career. His predictions on the future of energy are startling. It will be interesting to see if America proceeds with wind power and with natural gas vehicles. I think Pickens' book is a strong inspiration for seniors as he's having the best time of his life as an 80 year old, and achieving incredible and growing success in his billion dollar commodities trading business.

Shibumi - Trevanian

A strong read.  A book about character that is heartfelt and inspires the imagination; really a great spy book with extremely clever dialog that feels amazingly current.

On Writing - Stephen King

I particularly enjoyed the first third; you just hear his voice so plainly with its humor, honesty, and realism.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Vernes

Really captivating. A great and imaginative adventure with great ideas.  Granted, the protag is not particularly proactive, but the ideas are neat and there's great suspense.

Jeeves and The Mating Season - P.G. Wodehouse

Just wonderful and laugh-out-loud funny.

The Hot Kid - Elmore Leonard

The first chapter is astonishingly well written.  All in all a very terse and gripping writing style - highly enjoyable.

"Killer in the Rain" and "The Curtain" - Raymond Chandler

Always a delight.

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

A riveting read. Truly fascinating. Empowering and chock full of wonderful and engaging ideas. A great book.

Freakanomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I liked the connection between abortion and crime and the sections on crack dealing and sumo wrestling in particular. This book was a huge best seller in part because it's great fodder for dinner party conversation. I reference this book incessantly in conversation.

The Loo Sanction - Trevanian

Some really enjoyable stuff and very ahead of its time.  Yet another Trevanian spy thriller with great ideas, impressive action sequences, and clever dialog. Very well constructed.

Goodbye Columbus - Philip Roth

The first half has very good dialog writing. Ultimately, I'm not sure what the book is really about. The big plot point seems to center around buying a diaphragm?  The book felt excellent at capturing a Jewish slice of life for the time period, but what does it all mean?

Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy

Just gorgeous, masterful writing - absolutely immense; an American classic.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

Very enjoyable read.  Very well plotted and delightfully Swedish.  Perhaps the idea of a father/son serial murder duo is a bit much to swallow.  But the book is so much fun and really stays with you.  Just excellent.

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson

Really page-turning and impressively plotted.  Larsson was already setting up this story in book one, which is outstanding.

The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

So much fun.

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

Lots of color and detail and psychological background that must have been extremely cutting edge in its time.

All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy

One of the great accomplishments of American literature by one of the very best; outstanding literature and outstanding writing.

The Wordy Shipmates - Sarah Vowell

An exploration of what it means to be Puritan, and what it means to say that America is puritanical.  Interesting and accessible and fun.

Assassination Vacation - Sarah Vowell

She has a fun, immensely likable voice that is informative in a neat and pleasant way.

Silmarillion - J.R.R.Tolkein

Pretty delightful, amazing how he pulls everything together.  Quite possibly it's the last chapter that really got me amped up (the whole beginning is a bit meandering).  Fun seeing how Middle Earth was in its last gasp preparing for the final battle of LOTR.   Awesome to see the origins of Isuldur, Elendil, Gondor, Sauron, Mordor, Mirkwood, Rivendell, Lothlorien, Morea, the Elves, the Dwarves, the Hobbits, the Numenoreans, the stewards of Gondor, the Rohanim, and the Wizards.

1776 - David McCoullough

Excellent. Truly outstanding. An amazing tale that brought tears to my eyes and made me proud to be an American.

On Directing Film - David Mamet

Many excellent ideas in here.   For a guy known for his dialog, he adamantly believes the shots should tell the story.  I find myself preferring Mamet's interpretation of Stanislavski to Stanislavski himself.  Mamet's a guy who knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

The Crossing - Cormac McCarthy

The first third of the book is immensely gripping and then, suddenly, takes a very cruel turn that alienates me from the rest of the book. The hero switches superobjectives three times in the story, which further alienates me as the story keeps winding down and then firing back up again. The prose is usually gorgeous. Except when McCarthy repeatedly departs from the forward action of the plot to meet with crazy people soliloquizing long Doestoyevskian stories about death and God.  His writing is masterful but this story did not turn the pages for me the way his other books have (although the first 100 pages or so are just wonderful, wonderful, wonderful).  This book was emotionally tough for me, so perhaps I am just too close to it.

"Extra Lives, Why Video Games Matter" by Tom Bissell

Absolutely laugh-out-loud funny. A really enjoyable read. Ultimately, the book does not in any way answer the question "why video games matter." Which is fine I suppose.

The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand

A chore to read, but arguably worth it.  I didn't understand any of the character's motivations.  They are drawn as straw men for Rand's arguments. I also notice that like Atlas Shrugged, the lead female gets to have quasi-adulterous relationships with three men without suffering any tangible consequences, a fantasy Ayn Rand attempted but did not quite achieve in her personal life. While I have trouble appreciating The Fountainhead as literature, I'm sure I'll find myself thinking about the individualist, objectivist, and anti-altruistic ideas she presents for some time.  As mentioned above, Atlas Shrugged is a book that continues to percolate in my mind, years after reading.

Best Screenplays Read in 2010:

Source Code by Ben Ripley

A really tight and superbly crafted script.  Developed at the Mark Gordon company.

All You Need is Kill - D. W. Harper

Based on a Japanese novel and bought by Warner Bros for $3 Million.  Amazing script - excellently written.

The Last Hurrah DVD Release Party

The Last Hurrah's nationwide DVD release is this month and we're throwing a party! If you're in Los Angeles, come watch the movie and celebrate with our actors, crew, producers and distributors. Sunday, February 21 7:00pm - Screening at the Downtown Independent Theater 9:00pm - After party upstairs in the bar. DJ: Jacob Safari 9:30pm - Special visit by the Kogi Korean BBQ Taco Truck (tbd)

Advance copies of the DVD will be on sale for a special price!

Movie Tickets are $10 at the door.

  • *RSVP on Facebook
  • *Pre-order movie tickets online
  • *Pre-order the DVD
  • thelasthurrah_dvd-2

    Great Books I Read in 2009

    This year with 48 books read, I fell a hair shy of my usual goal of 50 books. While I've tracked all my books read and movies watched since 2003, I've only had this blog since 2007.  So what follows is my third annual posting of Great Books  I Read This Year. If my 2009 list seems parochial, just know there are a certain amount of New York Times bestsellers I read that I just didn't get super amped about. Any book on this list below is a book I can confidently recommend.

    "Getting Even" by Woody Allen

    This was a re-read. Guite a few of these short stories absolutely inspired - particularly the one about the 1930's private eye searching to find out who killed God. My love of Woody Allen is a borderline violation of the second commandment.

    "Chopin in Paris" by Tad Szulc

    The subject matter is absolutely riveting - at times I wished the book would never end.  What a fascinating period in world history.

    "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" by David Foster Wallace

    DFW is just such a brilliant, original, likeable narrator. So, so smart in a way that's wonderful and reminds me of the 90's and everything I liked about college and living in the constant company of smart people.

    "Rebel Without a Crew" by Robert Rodriguez

    An absolutely amazing story about the luckiest guy in the entire world.

    "Consider the Lobster" by David Foster Wallace

    DFW is just wonderful; the article about English usage is about the most erudite thing I've ever read. He is really just fantastic. Just a wonderful read.

    "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" by Haruki Murakami

    Murakami has such an enjoyable and minimalist prose.  The first half of the book offers a rare glimpse of a respected author openly discussing their craft. Comparing novel writing to marathon running - two things Murakami excels at.  I have extremely complex feelings about Murakami's writing, so this is a qualified recommendation. As is "Sputnik Sweetheart" by Murakami that I read this year as well.

    "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlien

    This was the unabridged version, so it had more scandalous material than the 1961 version. While the book is filled with novel ideas and clever dialog, I wasn't quite taken with the overall story-telling. The hero of the story has infinite money and power and wisdom and no character arc. All the good guys are always right about everything.  I'm not sure, but I think the moral is that if you're young and attractive and willing to have sex with a Martian then you get to be enlightened.

    "Dune" by Frank Herbert

    Pretty amazing. A wonderfully sophisticated universe. Really smart, scheming characters, constant danger and suspense, really sharp dialog, and everything fitting together really snugly in the end. A pillar of the genre.

    "Thank You Jeeves" by P.G. Wodehouse

    Just the absolute height of British wit.  Just absolutely brilliant and delightful. I love this author. Genius.


    Another reread.  Sort of funny how obsessed the author is with "swords" and "slaughter."  The storytelling is clunky and Beowolf is one dimensional. But dragons guarding treasure and heroes seeking glory? This is where it's always been at.

    "The Man in the Iron Mask" by Alexandre Dumas

    Some flashes of the brilliance of Monte Cristo or Three Musketeers, but a plot that goes awry and is a bit sadistic to the reader invested in the story.  This makes my list for some very eloquent dialog and fun action scenes.

    "The Inferno" by Dante Alighieri

    So much incredible imagination and descriptive power from such an early, early author.  Dante is visualizing special effects that Hollywood studios can only now begin to render.  Pretty remarkable for the 1300's.  Granted, some of the theology seems a bit judgmental, vindictive, or logically odd.  But good literature.

    "The Feudal Spirit" by P.G. Wodehouse

    Just fantastic; every sentence is a masterpiece of cleverness and wit.

    "Brighton Beach Memoirs" by Neil Simon

    What can I say, he's an amazing writer.

    "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

    Astonishingly well written; I blitzed through this book in 24 hours. Not particularly uplifting. But his craft is sensational - his description and evocative prose - just so inspiring.

    "Painting with Light" by John Alton

    How to DP in black and white in the 1940's. Interesting from a historical perspective, but technologically it is of course extremely dated. Interesting how inventive these early DP's were, but kind of funny how "realistic" they thought they were being in the 40's. People will chuckle at us too in 60 years (or much, much sooner).

    "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov

    Clever situations and logic puzzles.  Although it seems like the characters all have borderline personality disorder.

    "Cut to the Chase" by Sam O'steen (compiled lovingly by his wife, Bobby)

    Really fascinating view into Hollywood history.  A fascinating man with great anecdotes and rare insight into the editing process.  Very enjoyable and definitely recommendable; also insightful into directing.

    "Jeeves in the Morning" by P.G. Wodehouse

    Absolutely laugh-out-loud brilliant.  Shakespearian levels of linguistic innovation, mastery and genius.

    Akira (Books I, II, III, IV) by Katsuhiro Otomo

    A classic; Neo Tokyo, post-apocalypse, wonderful artistry, framing, and vision.

    "On the Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin

    A masterpiece. Written with that Ben Franklin narrational style of being unbelievably humble, reasonable, charming, objective, and utterly logical. It's flawless from start to finish - I don't think there's a single inaccuracy in the entire work, as far as contemporary science goes. It's just a pleasure to hear the reasonable workings of a perfect mind. And Darwin's predictions at the end are astonishing. Man seems to have been aware of natural selection for millennia, via animal husbandry and basic agricultural for instance, but Darwin codifies it with aplomb.

    "Angels & Demons" by Dan Brown

    Dan Brown knows how to build a compelling story with suspense. He does a wonderful job of putting ordinary people into impossible situations - and then finding an amazing way for them to escape.

    "The High Tech Knight," "The Radiant Warrior," "The Flying Warlord," "Lord Conrad's Lady," all by Leo Frankowski

    A modern day engineer is trapped in 13th century Poland. A guilty pleasure. But honestly very fun.  And well-researched as far as I can tell.

    "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling

    Some captivating and exquisitely stylish writing.

    "A Passage to India" E.M. Forester

    Really insightful writing into human manners and behavior.  Granted, it may suffer a bit from the lack of a protagonist.

    And the best screenplay I read this year goes to:

    "Medieval" by Mike Finch & Alex Litvak

    Awesome fun.  Fantastic writing.  A thrill to read.

    AIR Filming Part Two

    Inside the container we fit six actors and up to nine crew members: Director, DP, Gaffer, 1st AC, 2nd AC, Boom, Prop Master, and sometimes Makeup and Makeup assistant. Just outside the container in video village are 1st AD, Sound Mixer, and Script Supervisor. water-heater Water heater and filter for 1400 gallon tank.

    ac Red camera.

    boom Boom is sending sound to camera and out to video village.

    ian-peter Peter has everything under control.

    peter-gulley Rockstar Matt Gulley spent the whole shoot in the water with the actors, adjusting lights. Here, he and Peter and making some fine tune adjustments to the set...

    actors-laughing Actors find their places...

    chuck-shooting Chuck sets the camera...

    brandon-red And the shoot looks a little something like this.

    joe-red And this.

    group-red-one And this.

    boots That's a wrap!

    PS - For an actor's perspective on the shoot, watch Greg Fellow's behind the scenes footage of AIR:

    And you can see Greg's "Part Two" video below (the first 48 seconds don't have to do with AIR):

    AIR Filming Part One

    It's pitch dark and pouring rain when we arrive for our 6:30 call time, but the actors and crew are in amazing spirits. base-camp By dawn, base camp is built on wooden pallets in the mud.

    mud-flats More wooden pallets lead up to set.

    genny There is no electricity on site. So the entire set is run off of three gennies.

    bates 300 feet of bates cables lead power up to set.

    chuck-truck Chuck's office.

    ian A 12x12 is thrown over the container to block sunlight.

    chuck-pete-ian Set, from the outside. I'll take you inside in the next post.

    sloan Paul Sloan, heading to set.

    jon-brandon1 Jon Stokes (me), Brandon Scott. The shoot is a success because the actors and crew stay in amazing spirits.

    pete-jon Pete Sestina (2nd Second AD) and Jon Stokes (me). We have a dynamite crew - everyone is great at their jobs and I am thrilled.

    AIR Rehearsal

    We have one last rehearsal two days before shoot. Randy and I are big believers in pre-planning, so we have all production heads attend rehearsal. 1st AD Dan Noa and I run the actors through the shot list and shooting schedule from start to finish. ali-pallas Wardobe Designer Ali Kahn is on hand to test outfits and Property Master Pallas Erdrich is on hand testing everything from flashlights to dry ice.


    Cinematographer Chuck teaches actor Greg Fellows to light the flare while Jon Stokes (me) and Sound Mixer Kevin Sorensen look on.


    Greg Fellows, Paul Sloan (playing dead), and Brandon Scott. Rehearsing actors is one of my favorite parts of the whole process. And these guys give their all in rehearsal, which makes it really fun and rewarding.

    jon-rehearsing-actors Running through every beat. Rehearsal is so valuable because on set there are a million other things to think about - it's best if the actors have a muscle memory for their role by the time they step on set.

    AIR - Set Preparation

    Auditions were a big success.  We have amazing actors on board and are already rehearsing them.  Producer Randy Wayne has a game plan of how to turn this equipment yard into a working set, and now we get down to the glamorous task of movie making. We clean the yard to make it safe for crew.  Then, with rain all week, we must lay a brick path through the mud so crew can move equipment without getting stuck.

    randy-sweep Randy Wayne, producing.

    jon-shovel Jon Stokes, directing.

    jon-tanks Look at this beautiful brick path. I've found my calling!

    randy-roof Randy, be careful!

    There's an 80% chance of rain for this weekend's shoot. I'm checking the weather like I check Facebook. Randy and I cover the container roof in plastic tarp to waterproof it, and then cover the tarp in heavy blankets to soundproof it. We have no idea if this will work, so we budget for a few back up plans and hope for the best.

    AIR Set Construction

    The decision is to build the cave into an 8' x 20' container on the equipment yard. The whole set goes up in one week. charlie-plasma-cutting Charlie plasma-torches support beams across a six foot section of the container.

    peter-metal-saw Peter clears out the space to begin hanging aluminum mesh.  He also does a lot of math to figure out how much weight and pressure the water will exert.

    peter-model-mesh Peter drops in lumber against the welded bars, and begins hanging aluminum to shape the cave.

    peter-mesh The aluminum is screwed into the iron container, which Peter reinforces with several tons of concrete and dirt.  Then Peter fits the inside of the cave with a heavy, waterproof liner.

    chuck-peter-foam Chuck and Peter spray foaming. It is freezing cold in the mountains at night. We're working off of Peter's flashlight.

    jon-peter-foam 11pm on Friday night.  Foam party!

    jon-hands These are my hands at my ballroom dance competition the day after spray-foaming. My poor dance partner had to hold these crusty hands.

    Lesson learned: gloves.  The only way to get spray foam off your hands is sandpaper.

    paint Production Designer Michael Barton puts in three coats of paint in three tints to texture the cave walls.

    paint-and-resin Finally, a fiberglass resin layer is added to water-proof the paint. The resin is toxic so Peter and I have to wear a protective suit with an oxygen mask to apply the coat. I wish I had a picture of this - the outfit is post-apocalyptic.

    cans Spray foam, $200.  Waterproof cave, priceless.

    tanks Peter fills the cave with 1400 gallons of water off a water truck and fills two 750 gallon water tanks for standby. If you peek inside the container you can see the cave set.

    AIR - Location Scouting

    My next film shoot of 2009 is a 16 page thriller short I wrote called "AIR."  The premise... Six soldiers are trapped in a cave. The water level is rising and oxygen is running out. In order to survive long enough to be rescued, the soldiers begin killing each other off, one by one.

    The shoot is technically challenging but I think we've raised enough money to see us through production. To see if this shoot is possible, Cinematographer Chuck and Producer Peter and I location scouted an equipment yard up in the Verdugo Mountains.

    chuck Chuck, in a contemplative pose...

    The trick is we need to build a cave that can gradually fill with water. This proves to be much more complicated than I imagined when writing the script. For one thing, this equipment yard has no running water. So we need to figure out how to move 3,000 gallons of water to this location, and then find a place to put it.

    chuck-peter Chuck and Peter in deep thought.

    We have a few ideas. My main goal is to get this set built well before production, to give us as much time as possible to test camera and lighting.  We need to make sure this is feasible before we drag a crew up here and put them in the water!

    peter-chuck Can we fit a cave in a flat bed?


    It's my great pleasure to announce The Last Hurrah has signed distribution.  I'll have more information in early 2010, but in the meantime we've been busy with deliverables and getting materials squared away for the DVD. It's been an amazing journey.  From three weeks of pre-production, to three weeks of filming, to a year of post-production, and now six months playing festivals.  I don't think any of us imagined that this tiny movie we filmed in one location would someday be playing in a theater or for sale in a video store.  It's a fun ride!