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Skip’s Summer School of Photography

Skips Summer School

Matthew Jordan Smith with model Danica

It’s never too late to go back to school. In today’s economy artists are looking to expand their knowledge and add an additional hat to their never-ending hyphenated areas of expertise. Does one become a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ or master one field? With technology today, it’s becoming easier for the average Joe to be a photographer. Digital cameras are becoming cheaper and more user-friendly. Unless you have a true fan-base and a leads machine after having lived in one place, one town, one state all of your life, it’s very difficult to break in to find your niche as an artist or photographer of any kind. Some creatives are switching from stills to videography and vice versa.

My enrollment into Skip’s Summer School at the Mirage Casino in Las Vegas, NV, was for various reasons. I had attended film school in Los Angeles years ago mainly for writing and directing. I somewhat regret not taking the film camera more seriously. I’ve come to terms that I’m a ‘jack-of-all-trades.’ I got into video editing after my initial exhausted pursuit of writing and directing. My editing career was taking off slowly. When I hit a wall, I left LA for Las Vegas to broaden my horizons. In LA, potential clients wanted editors to know motion graphics and effects. After living in Vegas, I found that potential clients are looking for shooter/editors.

A volunteer gets a light reading

While I am trying to learn both After Effects and Photoshop, I decided I should take my ‘point and click’ to another level. I wanted to improve my picture-taking skills. A year ago, I acquired a Nikon D-40. I’ve only taken it out a bunch of times. And now I’m looking to purchase a Canon DSLR camera to gain potential clients as both a still and video photographer. I also want to shoot my own projects. As much as I don’t really want to be a jack-of-all-trades, you have to be unless you can specialize in one field.

So, in adding an additional hat, I need to learn anything and everything about film, video and photography. Skip’s Summer School, in its 3rd year, was started by Skip Cohen. The event took place from July 31st through August 3rd and was championed by some of the best photographers in the business showcasing their work and sharing their knowledge, tips and experience. These photography gurus included Jules Bianchi and Joy Bianchi Brown, Clay Blackmore, Scott Bourne, Bambi Cantrell, Tony L. Corbell, Bob Davis, Doug Gordon, Kevin Kubota, Tamara Lackey, Bobbi Lane, Matthew Jordan Smith, Roberto Valenzuela and Jerry Ghionis. Vincent Laforet, long-time photographer, turned videographer, gave the closing keynote address.

Vincent Laforet

Vincent Laforet’s photos and videos were stunning! Somehow he got into shooting from helicopters. Then his photos and later videography lead him to being strapped to the scariest and highest places on top on outside ledges of New York’s skyscrapers.

It was soothing for me that Skip’s Summer School came to a wrap with Laforet’s work as he is one of the trendsetter’s for DSLR cameras. He talked about using most of Canon’s cameras. He brought up how a videographer could make an amazing still image from a screen grab of the video. He put the thought out there that a videographer could be hired to go out and shoot video and get stills at the same time without knowing too much about talking photos. They wouldn’t have to shoot stills at all.

Canon – Sidenote

Even before this school started on July 31st, I had taken a seminar the day before sponsored by Canon and local camera store, Casey’s Camera, for a local Las Vegas photography MeetUp group, Photographic Adventures Vegas. The event took place at the Clarion Hotel and was an all-day affair focused on Canon DSLR cameras and PIXMA printers by Canon as well. Lance Folden, a Product Educator, shared his great knowledge about the cameras and what they can do for photographers and filmmakers alike. Stacey Foster, a Sales District Representative, was on hand with an array of Canon cameras on display for attendees to handle and answer questions. Kevin Wagner of iFocus Productions added tips on creating promotional videos.

Canon was scheduled to be at Skip’s Summer School as I could see by the list of companies mentioned at the event, but were nowhere to be found. So, in a sense, I was able to take advantage of something no one else could this past week. It added to my photography education.

Bambi Cantrell

model Danica

As a part of Skip’s Summer School, the local Vegas MeetUp for SmugMug, held a meeting for 125 people on a first-come first served basis. People didn’t have to be enrolled in the school in order to attend. The guest speaker was Bambi Cantrell whom would be speaking at the school too. Cantrell, like all of the other photography gurus, shared what equipment she uses. She gave tips on posing subjects. Another tip was to not over Photoshop your images. Cantrell said photographers should ’embrace road blocks’ as they force ‘abstract ideas.’ Focusing on a subject’s best attributes is another good tip. If a woman has long, sexy legs, feature them. Cantrell stresses that the client needs to see themselves in whatever sample photos shared with them from a portfolio or magazine ads. Her motto is ‘Humility over ability.’

Tamara Lackey

Tamara Lackey mentioned that photographers should meet with a family beforehand to discuss how to proceed if something goes wrong as far as a child’s behavior. If the child acts up during the shoot, try to get them alone and simply talk to them. Lackey told the tale of this one fussy boy who was upset about not having his cranberry muffin that morning. In addition, he was spending his last day of summer school on a photo shoot. After opening up and getting his feelings off his chest, the boy found his smile and was content for the remainder of the shoot. Lackey stressed to photographers to sell clients on the positive things about a photo when there are faults to be found. Perhaps the family members are not all still and leaning on each other perfectly. A boy’s hand placement on his mother’s shoulder shows affection. A little girl’s foot lifting sand up shows action, life, in the moment. And as photographers, look for the positives in your own photos. Learn from your mistakes, but celebrate the good attributes.

Roberto Valenzuela

Roberto Valenzuela will drive you bananas! Well, he often practices with bananas when pre-lighting. He’ll throw a bunch on top of a tripod or stand and look for what shadows it creates. Then he imagines where his subject will be placed. That or he’s just BANANAS! Honestly, his seminar was awe-inspiring! Valenzuela tells the attendees to see things differently and develop an artist’s eye.

“A shadow is an opportunity.”

Skips Summer School

Roberto Valenzuela and his charts

He had charts he developed that help him keep things in mind such as geometry, symmetry, balance, and color in addition to the typical elements; lighting and depth. I overheard other gurus wanting to start implementing Valenzuela’s charts.

That’s the beauty of this school is that everyone is attending to learn from each other including the gurus. The gurus can learn a thing or two from each other. They inspire the attendees and each other.

Roberto gets dust for effect

One of the inspiring things he shared was how he used dust coming up from a car to add an effect in the background of this rural road behind a couple.

He goes on to say that shooting and event is not practice. Photographers need to practice on their own time and be ready on location to be perfect.

‘Perfect practice makes perfect.’

Clay Blackmore

Clay Blackmore’s lecture was more straight forward regarding how to light and pose subjects. He stressed how shoulder placement is the key to great portraits. Blackmore cautions photographers that the use of a flash flattens the face when used head-on. Blackmore tilts his camera to be slightly different. He poses a subject’s face before he sets the lights. He uses triangle shapes to pose people especially in group photos.

‘Application is the key.’

Matthew Jordan Smith

Tyra Banks & Tyra Banks

Matthew Jordan Smith often does a lot of exploring ideas before taking any picture. Smith comes up with very creative ideas and then sets up his subjects accordingly. Smith’s biggest advice is to master one light first. When a photographer feels comfortable using one light then they can move on to an additional light. Smith who’s worked with very famous clients such as Vanessa Williams and Oprah Winfrey does a lot to make his clients feel special before the shoot. He places flowers in their make-up room and plays music to soothe them. He does everything to make his clients feel beautiful. Direct! Don’t pose! Smith suggests not to shoot the same poses everyone else does.

Smith has a conversation with his clients making them feel comfortable and relaxed. The way a photographer speaks or even whispers to his or her client sets a nice tone. In doing so, those life capturing moments will be discovered. Let them let their hair down. He feels that a flash going off in a subject’s face takes them out of the moment.

Make the subject forget they’re sitting for photos especially if they’re dreading it. Smith, knowing ahead of time, told Samuel L. Jackson riddles because he knew he loves them. When Gregory Hines was showing little interest in sitting for pictures Smith told Hines to think about tap dancing in an elevator. And now we all have that visual.

‘Shoot images for yourself no matter what the job is.’

Tony Corbell

Tony Corbell in F.G / Danica model in B.G.

I didn’t have many notes during Tony Corbell’s session. He complimented me on the Who shirt I was wearing. It was a pleasure to watch him shoot various set-ups of that gorgeous model, Danica. Corbell seemed to enjoy shooting her as much as his audience enjoyed watching. Corbell mentioned that when working with ambient light, work to the edge of light.

When Scott Bourne spoke towards the end of the school session he quoted Corbell.

‘I may not be the best photographer, but I may be the nicest photographer.’

Jerry Ghionis

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! shouted the crowd. Jerry Ghionis is a rock star in this industry as I found out. I kept hearing from people as the week started, ‘Wait until you hear Jerry speak.’ Ghionis is very inspiring. It’s one thing to listen to a photographer talk about his or her craft and then someone truly gets you worked up and inspired to go out and shoot anything.

‘Do you know who you are as an artist?’

Ghionis states the importance of knowing your own identity as it speaks volumes when taking on a shoot or project. He encourages photographers to be different, stand out and experiment. He often uses mirrors and rear-view mirrors. Ghionis says to think outside the box. He’ll actually blur out faces in photos if they lack expression. How brilliant is that? Ghionis says to learn the craft before you go breaking the rules. He uses action in stills to create an effect such as a woman shaking her dress. He’ll use natural smoke as an effect. Ghionis will actually underexpose for a dramatic effect. He’s got all sorts of tricks up his sleeves. Ghionis will ask couples or loved ones to hug each other as if it’s the last time. He says to photograph the subject through the eyes of a loved one. A husband may think ‘She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.’

‘If you want to be a better photographer…be a better person.’

Jules Bianchi and Joy Bianchi Brown

The Binachi Sisters marketing tips

They were two cute fast-talking sisters who had to constantly tell each other to slow down as they spoke. Their session on stage was mostly about how photographers can further their business through networking, likeability and marketing. They had some very good tips. If you want to be in the dog photo business, hang out with dog businesses. Don’t eat alone! Meet a potential client or business contact for lunch. Be generous with your time and share your resources. When at an event introduce yourself and give your name. Don’t just say you’re a photographer. Meet people. You never know where it leads. The sisters say that you should be a connector. Help people out whether it forwards your business or not.

The sisters suggest that photographers can do creative partnering for effective targeted marketing. To do this you can hold free community events, do charitable work and teach workshops. Teaching workshops puts you in a position to be looked upon as an expert. Throw a party! You can offer to shoot free photos for their FaceBook profiles. Then follow-up with hand-written postcards. No one mails postcards anymore. Be different and personal. The Bianchi sisters also had some great tips on sales and closing the deal.

Scott Bourne

Scott Bourne had a lot of similar tips for photographers in his last speech on the last day of school regarding about helping others. Bourne’s main addition is the use of social media, mainly Twitter. Bourne says that just by helping others find what they need may lead to future clients. The example he used was that he read a Twitter post of someone seeking a printer for their wedding photos. Scott knew of a great printer in that area and shared his knowledge with this complete stranger. The hope is that the person will look you up and see your profile. By chance they still need a wedding photographer, they can see that you’re a wedding photographer from your Twitter profile.

I had wanted to sign up for this school months before the event, but didn’t have the money. It’s actually a very good price for what you get back out of it. I signed up a week before the one week school and am so glad I did. It was invaluable. If you know what’s good for you, you should follow Bourne on his Twitter account. (HINT: He gives away cameras. Shh.)

Jerry Ghionis says ‘What’s priceless tomorrow is priceless today.’

Viva Las Vegas Film Festival

Las Vegas Film Festival MarqueeAs a filmmaker, I’ve attended many film festivals either with a film in the festival or just as a movie and filmmaker looking to network with other filmmakers. I’ve attended film festivals such as Sundance, Slamdance, LA Film Festival, AFI, Valley Film Festival and the IFP Market in NY. I missed out on the most well known film festival in Las Vegas, Cine Vegas. For whatever reason, the festival has taken place in a while either because of funding, the loss of Dennis Hopper or both.

The Las Vegas Film Festival, in it’s fourth year, ran July 15 – 17th for the second year in a row at the Hilton. I met Milo Kostelecky, the festival director of operations, as I went to the first function that I thought I could attend with my all access film pass. Apparently, the all access pass did not include the networking dinner at Piero’s Restaurant. He mentioned it cost $95. I’m a filmmaker. I don’t have that kind of money. So, after parking my car through the valet, I was outside again in five minutes to pick up my car. In-and-out! While waiting for my car, some employees were hanging out. One older gentleman asked me what the function was inside. I told him it involved a film festival. The man then informed me that his son had a film that was in Sundance. Really? I handed the man a flyer for an upcoming event I’m having with RAW Artists, screening a short film. Then the valet driver wanted to know what I handed the other employee so I handed him a flyer too. That night wasn’t a total loss. I was planning on dropping off flyers at Emergency Arts cafe and gallery off Fremont St. anyway. Not expecting much, I was very impressed with the LV Film Festival. Milo has done a fine job putting this festival together.

OPENING NIGHT – “The Story”

The first film I saw was the opening night premiere, “The Story” directed by Ski Channel’s Steve Bellamy. It was a very entertaining and insightful feature documentary about outgoing adventurers seeking to climb the highest mountains such as Mt. Everest and skiing down the steepest, most impossible mountains. The film stars many of the top winter athletes and features Olympic Gold Medalists Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn. One very touching story involved a woman who had lost her legs. Well, don’t let that stop her. She had a special sky created so she could still ski. Another mountain skier extremist seemed to have a death-wish, jumping off ridiculously steep and high cliffs. Don’t try this at home or on any mountain top.

“Oxy Morons”

There was a festival party at a club on the Vegas Strip hosted by Michael Madsen. I was somewhat tired and discovered that there was an additional feature film screening that night at the Hilton. I am so glad I stayed! The film, “Oxy Morons” was a last minute addition to the festival. The filmmaker, Johnny Hickey, lived this twisted life in Charlestown, an area of Boston, Massachusetts, where bank robbing was a typical occurrence. You might have heard of that other film about Charestown, “The Town,” starring Ben Affleck. ‘Oxy Morons” is inspired by Johnny Hickey’s and his brother’s lives growing up and dealing drugs to survive. The drug that the boys discover is their ticket to making a ton of money is OxyContin. They turn the community onto the drug and eventually the boys land into prison. Their strength to survive is tested on many levels. Johnny had dreams of being an actor before he got deep into crime. Now, Johnny is turning his misfortune into a acting and filmmaking career. The cinematography is a little rough in the first 20 or 30 minutes as everything was handheld, but once the story kicks in you’re hooked and really care about these characters. It’s one of those films that gets better as you’re watching it.

DAY TWO – “Holy Rollers”

Las Vegas Film Festival - "Holy Rollers"The full length film title is officially “Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians.” My first impression of the title and marketing was that the film was going to glorify Christianity in some bizarre way. In actuality, it is a bizarre way to glorify Christianity, because most devote Christians would want nothing to do with playing blackjack or gambling and especially Sin City, Las Vegas. God bless these filmmakers! You never know where a documentary is going to go or if the filmmakers even have a film. The filmmakers realized some time early on that (paraphrasing) ‘Oh, yeah! We’ve got something!’ The Christian card counting team started off innocently enough. It just so happened that the early team members were affiliated with churches. Some members were even ministers. The leader of the team taught the small group how to perfect counting cards. He also taught them tricks on how to behave when playing at the tables. Sometimes the players would spend an hour playing and other times they’d be kicked out within minutes. Once the players had been in a certain casino a few times the casino staff is on to them. The casinos, as you may know, have very sophisticated face-recognizing equipment and camera surveillance. Since the casinos are very sophisticated, the group got wise too. They’d dress up in costumes and disguises to throw off the casino managers, pit bosses and cameras. Their team of Christians grew as the stash grew. Their core Christian beliefs is what kept their trust initially. Whatever money the members made would go into the collective. There was no way to really prove if anyone was stealing from the group or not adding all the winnings. The film showed both the upside and the downfall of the group. It lasted for a while, but perhaps God put his or her foot down. The leader of the group now makes a living teaching blackjack tricks to aspiring gamblers. The film was very well done and very entertaining.

Mob Panel – “Forget about it!”

Las Vegas Film Festival Mobster Panel

(L to R) Antionette Giancana, Henry Hill, Lou Martini Jr., Frank Cullotta, Meyer Lansky II, Tony Montana

Las Vegas Film Festival Mobster Panel

Me (Right) and Lou Martini Jr. (Left)

“Goodfellas,” “Casino,” and “The Godfather.” These are some of the best mob movies ever! The Las Vegas Film Festival managed to get a group of old timers that were very involved with ‘organized crime.’ Even the mobsters don’t like to be referred to as mobsters. The usual suspects included Henry Hill, Frank Cullotta, Meyer Lanksy II, Tony Montanta and Antionette Giancana. The panel was moderated by Lou Martini, Jr. who was in episodes of “The Sopranos.” These ‘wiseguys’ were very open to discussing their lives in depth. The discussion went in so many directions. A woman in the audience who had read a book about Cullotta asked him about being a hitman. Cullotta responded that he was just following orders. He had to kill or be killed. When the panel was asked about how they were treated in prison, Cullotta mentioned that he’d take being in prison in America over anywhere else. He praised the United States. They all had to deal with the Justice system, but they respect the U.S. for being the fair system that it is. Giancana was the liveliest of the group. She was very full of spirit. She even showed up at the Artisan that night to party. Meyer Lansky II said that his famous grandfather was hard to figure out. There was also a discussion about the fact that Meyer Lanksy was not accepted by the Israeli government when he wanted to retire in Israel. I met and talked with Lou Martini, Jr. after the panel ended. Nice guy. To me, it was a thrill to see the real people behind such legendary movie characters. These are the real people that lived the mob life whether they themselves were criminals or just in the family.

Michael Madsen – Indie Icon Award

“Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie, or or you gonna bite?” – “Reservior Dogs”

Michael Madsen @ Las Vegas Film Festival

Michael Madsen accepts Icon Award

After a screening of Michael Madsen’s latest film, “Vice” which he starred in and was the Executive Producer, Actor/Director Ash Adams sat down on stage to interview Michael. Before the interview, Ash screened a video tribute, showcasing all the people Michael has worked with. It was a very interesting and entertaining discussion about Michael’s acting career. Madsen said he didn’t think his career had a chance to go the distance until he was in “Donnie Brasco” (1997), surrounded by Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. Madsen talked about getting advice from his close friend, Dennis Hopper. Madsen was down about his career and tells Hopper maybe he should have been a carpenter. Madsen then repeats what Hopper told him, “Look what happened to him” (referring to Jesus). Although Madsen has portrayed many similar characters, he has been some great films; “Reservior Dogs,” “Kill Bill I & II,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Free Willy” and “The Doors.” Congrats Michael!

“Behind Your Eyes”

OK. This was not one of the better films I had seen. I knew the caliber of films couldn’t stay as good as what I had seen the night before and “Holy Rollers” that morning. The cinematography in “Behind Your Eyes” was good. The acting was pretty good. It was a good ‘bad movie.’ It had an interesting twist. It was watchable and entertaining. This innocent woman goes away for the weekend with her boyfriend. The boyfriend keeps the destination a secret. A stranger abducts them, ties them up and keeps them in this house. He hits the boyfriend with a belt. While the couple escapes, the boyfriend trips and hurts himself…supposedly. The girlfriend runs to a neighbor’s home to seek help. The older couple next door are not what they seem. Their welcoming gets weird. They tie the girl up. It turns out that the boyfriend hired the ‘stranger’ to abduct himself and his girlfriend so that he could offer both the stranger and his girlfriend up to his bizarre parents he left years ago. The stranger is now a victim along with the girlfriend. Again, the twist is interesting, but not a great film.

Shorts – “The Secret Friend”

Las Vegas Film FestivalThat night I saw a shorts program. The one stand-out in that program was “The Secret Friend.” An elderly widow lives alone after her husband’s passing. One day her phone rings and no one says anything on the other end. She hangs up. The calls continue and always at 3:30PM. The elderly lady, lonely and desperate to fill the void of her late husband, starts talking through the phone and having a conversation even though no one talks back to her. From then on the phone would ring every day at 3:30PM and she would gladly talk sometimes for hours on end. She’d be knitting away and staring at the clock each day waiting until 3:30PM. One day her phone did not ring and it was passed 3:30PM. Days went by and no phone calls. With the phone book on the table, the elderly woman decides one day to call someone else. She doesn’t say anything. She just lets the receiver carry their own conversation just as she did. Paying it forward. This was a very sweet tale. It makes you feel for all those people that live alone and don’t have anyone to speak to.

The Artisan

After the shorts program in the Hilton Theater, I walked towards the nearby Tempo Lounge and there’s Lou Martini, Jr. He asks me if I’m going to the Artisan. He mentioned taking a cab and at the same time he asked me about getting a lift and I offered to take him. So, now I’m taking a ‘Soprano’ to an after party. You never know where the day takes you. Lou played Anthony Infante under Johnny in the NY ‘crew’ on “The Sopranos.” It was an interesting party. It wasn’t a crazy, film festival, raunchy party although there was a busty chick in a bikini who finally ripped off her top and swam around the pool topless. That’s always a plus. I had a brief conversation with Antionette (mobster panel). She actually told me that the girl was too big to be wearing a bikini. I told her that I liked women with a little meal on their bones and besides that busty bikini girl took pride in herself to wear the bikini. The girl was not fat, but Antionette was probably very accustomed to women being of a proper size and wearing the proper things. After all, she’s a lady that could get whatever she wanted. I just hope I didn’t piss her off. Perhaps I should lay low for a while. It was a nice party. I met some people. I actually ran into someone I knew.

It’s still very disheartening that the film community here in Las Vegas doesn’t attend their own film festivals. A few people I recognized were present throughout the event, but how do these people expect to go anywhere if they’re not out there meeting people. People from all over the world come here to Vegas to screen films and network. You don’t even have to go far. It’s in our backyard.

Day Three – “Virgin Alexander”

What ever happened to Balky? Remember “Perfect Strangers”? Bronson Pinchot is now doing something ‘perfectly strange’…giving handjobs to guys in this cheesey, wannabee a good feel movie. Yes, this was another bad movie. It takes a lot for me to walk out on a movie especially if I have an all access film pass. I stayed until the end for this movie. It was a very bad script. First draft? The actors were not funny. It’s about a young male virgin, ‘ALEXANDER,’ in his mid-2o’s who’s grandfather leaves him his house until the grandson discovers it’s going into foreclosure in ten days. He meets this girl who becomes a call girl in order to raise money for college. Pinchot is her pimp. Eventually Alexander and the girl set up a brothel in Alexander’s house in order for both of them to raise the money they need. It was pretty dumb and not funny. The best part of the film shocked the hell out of me. Here’s this really quiet guy playing the lead male virgin. His deadpan ‘paleface’ expressions actually reminded me of Buster Keaton in a good way. The actor steps out onto a floor after the film part is over. He then starts tap dancing like nobody’s business. WHAT? Why didn’t they change the character to a dancer instead of a piano player? Are you kidding me? So, I’m getting lunch at the Pizza Hut at the Hilton. On my way back I recognize the actor on a poster and his name, Rick Faugno. He’s in “Jersey Boys” playing at the Hilton. It doesn’t take one too long to figure how that film got in. Who knows? Maybe the screeners didn’t know who he was. It wasn’t the worst film I’ve seen and certainly not the worst film at this festival. That film came later in the day.

“Finding Kind”

WOW! Every now and then comes a feature film documentary that actually makes a difference in the world. Director Lauren Parsekian set out with a girlfriend to travel across America to interview hundreds of women about ‘mean girls.’ Lauren and her friend would visit middle schools and high schools. They’d get a group of the girls together to discuss being victims and being bullies too. A truth box was set up so girls could talk straight to the camera in privacy to talk about their feelings. In groups and classes the director and her friend passed out apology notes so girls could apologize to each other. The girls did exactly that. It was a very powerful and moving occurrence. They interviewed mothers that went through the same issues. The film often mentions how men are different then women in the fact that they abuse each other one minute and they’re friends the next. Girls and women often don’t work that way. With women, their appearance and social standing are critical to surviving their school years. Much of what the girls go through lives on in adulthood. A lot of the reasons girls become bullies is because they’re either taught it at home are because of something going on in their home that makes them that way. Bullies are often bullied at home so they look for others to bully while at school.

This documentary not only achieved critical acclaim and is being picked up for a theatrical run in NY and LA, it’s gone above and beyond expectations. Lauren Parsekian has started the Kind Campaign which is an educational program for girls teaching them about bullying. Parsekian is going to additional schools with the Kind Campaign and hopes to take it to every school in America. This film really did a fine job of hitting an increasing issue in America at a much needed time as more and more teens are being bullied and committing suicide. Bullying has been around for ages, but social media has recently taken it all to unbelievable levels. I highly recommend seeing “Finding Kind.”

Shorts – “Misdirection”

The standout from the last shorts program that I saw was “Misdirection.” I can see why it’s won some awards at other international film festivals. Peter, the grandson of the legendary magician, Castulo the Magnificent, discovers the real magic behind a set of secret cards his grandfather has. Evil magicians are out there in the world trying to track down these secret cards and it’s up to Peter to stop the cards from getting into the wrong hands. This was a very clever story told extremely well with some visual effects that truly added magic to the film. It had very good acting and direction.

“The Encore of Tony Duran”

Gene Pietragallo @ LVFF“The Encore of Tony Duran” starring Gene Pietragallo, Elliot Gould and an unrecognizable Willam Katt had a lot of charm. Pietragallo plays Tony, a fat, washed up, divorcee who doesn’t have $2 to his name. Tony borrows money from his own hard-working son and more money from a wealthy old comedian friend for one last get quick rich scheme. He doesn’t tell them how he’s going to triple the money. He stupidly takes the money to a known drug dealer in the middle of no where and tries to get him to help him make a drug deal. Well, the drug dealer, played by Katt, makes him feel small and useless by stealing his money and scaring him away. Tony’s friend, Gould, forces him to sing in front of a room of senior citizens to boost his confidence as Tony once had a dream to be a singer. Well, part of the deal for Tony was to lose 40 pounds. Tony purposely doesn’t see his son for months while training to sing and lose the weight. His son sees him for the first time when Tony is performing at the gig his friend set him up for. During the production, Pietragallo really lost 40 pounds. The actor playing his son had not seen him during all that time so that when they filmed their meeting it would be authentic and it was. This was a sweet little movie about losing one’s way and then finding it again with the help of friends and family. This was a good film to end the festival with. Hell, it’s got ‘encore’ right in the title.

Chad and myself @ LVFF

Hanging with Chad Plummer

Overall, I had a great experience at the Las Vegas Film Festival. Of course, the festival had its kinks, but all festivals have that no matter how long they’ve been running. Viva Las Vegas Film Festival!

Displaced in Vegas

Wow! It’s been one year since I landed in Las Vegas after teaching English in South Korea for 7 whole weeks. What was supposed to be a back-up plan to my filmmaking career ended up being just another experience. I left Los Angeles after 18 years. I have had a love-hate relationship with my filmmaking career. I’m still struggling to make any kind of steady income. The film business is so hard if you don’t have that full-time position. And I know people whom would love to break into freelance work, but are a bit afraid to leave their full-time job. It’s not easy to give up a steady paycheck. So, I don’t officially have a back-up plan.

My back-up plans need back-up plans.

It’s not all bad! Since I realized I may be in Las Vegas for a while, I decided to make the best of it. It hasn’t been easy making friends in this town, but I’ve manged to make a few. A friend told me I could be like a big fish in a small pond. There’s a little truth to that. I’ve had some great opportunities here in Vegas. I edited a short film, “Come Together” about social media. That’s starting to get out there. In April, I wrote an article about TribeFest, a gathering in Vegas of all the Northern American Jewish Federations that was published in David, a local Vegas magazine. That article lead to a 4-page story about myself and my film experiences; screenwriting, directing and editing in David Magazine. That story coincided with a screening I had in June for an old feature film I produced, co-wrote and co-directed. And on July 28th I’ll be screening my short film, “The Octo Circus” as a part of RAW Artists with all sorts of artists; Art, Music, Fashion, Photography and Models.

So, it hasn’t been a great year, but there’s been some good things that have come out of living in Vegas.

‘Always look on the bright side of life.’

If you’d like to attend the RAW Artist event in Las Vegas July 28th click the following link. Make sure you use the drop-down menu to show my name [Ross H. Martin] when buying tickets which are only $10. http://www.rawartists.org/lasvegas/illuminare

Social Media Day

Social Media Day

New York, New York Casino & Hotel

Social Media Day

On June 30th, 2011, a proclamation was made for the state of Nevada that this date is now officially Social Media Day. Sara Gabriella of Finesse Enterprises holds up the proclamation besides her partner, Demont Daniel.

There are other cities that proclaimed Social Media Day. Many cities, at least six, were watching a live stream from Las Vegas @ Rok Vegas club at New York, New York Casino & Hotel. The event put on by Finesse had sponsors including Absolut Vodka and Red Bull.

Social Media Day

Frederick Townes, CTO Mashable

The main sponsor of the evening was the great social media company, Mashable.  A keynote was given by Frederick Townes, CTO of Mashable.

The Rok Vegas club had an inside bar and a Twitter feed set up with a large screen so guests can tweet themselves onto the screen using the hashtag #smdayLV There were some games and giveaways including a one-night stay at the New York, New York Hotel. Later in the evening as the social geeks got a bit tipsy there were some ‘planking’ going on. You have to be in the know.

It was a fun event, good for social media and actually good for face-to-face networking.

And now here’s a word from the sponsor…

Framing A Souvenior

Print From Seoul

10 Months After Landing in Vegas

I bought this print while in Insadong, South Korea, a section of Seoul. The print remained in a poster tube for 10 months before I finally brought it in to be framed. Since I have no place to now put it as I still live with family as of May 2011, it’s covered again and put away like an old relic like the ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Notice the the two men in the distance (top left) gazing at the women bathing.

My First Blog…Through WordPress!

Ross with Giants Cap

Hello there! This is my first post using WordPress. I have an old blog site on Blogger regarding the short time I spent teaching and living in South Korea. I transferred those blogs here. The old blog was called Rossman Got Seoul. Well, I still have ‘soul’, so I’m holding onto the name and making a slight spelling change to Rossman Got Soul.

I needed a place to share my film knowledge and other experiences. I may want to share a small vlog or a brief thought. I’m looking to this area to be my place to fully express myself, my views, my opinions, my voice. As you can see, I wear many hats. Sometimes I wear more than one hat simultaneously. For instance, I may wear my NY Rangers cap while directing a short film. I might wear my NY Giants cap while editing in front of my computer. Perhaps I might wear my NY Yankees cap while screenwriting or playing volleyball or hiking in Red Rock Canyon. (You guessed it! I grew up in NY.) Yes, I live in Las Vegas. I landed here July 12, 2010. I can’t seem to shake the film industry and in many ways I never want to. It’s a difficult business, but I’m driven to make things happen whether I’m in Los Angeles or Las Vegas or wherever.

I look forward to expressing myself, meeting new people and being more involved with the online community.

Thanks and happy reading!

Last Stop: Incheon, South Korea




My flight to Incheon, South Korea was with Asiana Airlines. It was a ten hour and ten minute flight. I watched one movie, “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” It was entertaining. According to the movie, hell is in Hollywood where all the lost souls and wishes go. I love the flight attendants’ uniforms. Very sexy! Is there a rabbi on this flight? I fell in love four times and maybe more. An older Korean couple sat beside me. He didn’t speak much English but we were able to communicate a few things. Of course, like you hear from everyone, the first thing he wanted to know was if I was married or single. Then upon knowing I was single he said “Oh, Korean girls will like you.”

I like how hot towels were handed out throughout the flight. They really make sure you eat. There were two meals plus a snack, a turkey sandwich served on a hamburger roll. The flight attendant asked if I wanted American Western steak or Korean style. I went with the Korean style. I think it’s called bibimbop. It was good. I’m not a fan of kimchi. It was a part of the meal, but I ate it and it wasn’t bad. Some beef was good. Seaweed wrapped in egg wasn’t bad either. Incidentally, the Korean man beside me ordered the steak.

Life begins at 40. I say this because as soon as I step off the plane I will be 40 by Korean standards. They believe that babies are one-years old at birth, from the time of conception.

Albums/Artists listened to on plane:

  • U2’s ‘Achtung Baby
  • Matisyahu
  • Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • MGMT
  • Live

Well, I have arrived at the Incheon International Airport near Seoul in South Korea.

Where did Friday go? Time flies.

Well, you’ll hear more about my arrival in South Korea and my apartment and my school in the next blog. This blog is mainly about getting out of Dodge as in Dodger-town.

Next Stop: Seattle Layover (few hours)


I watched my parents leave the Las Vegas McCarren Airport and realized that I’m completely alone. At least the last time I traveled internationally I was with a large group. This time it is just me. Checking in was fun. Not! My suitcase was overweight. So, I proceeded to shove books from my suitcase into my large duffel bag. It was still overweight, but not as much. Then ten minutes pass as the check-in person was trying to find out what to charge me. The woman check-in person was getting the runaround until finally getting an answer. It ended up being $100 overweight. I think it was simply up to the clerk what to charge. Whatever. I have a plane to catch. The great thing the clerk did though was to have my bags transferred to the Asiana flight without me having to get my bags in Seattle and go through checking in again and going through security.

Upon arriving in Seattle I exchanged some currency so I’d have more won when entering South Korea. I was hungry when arriving in Seattle so naturally I had lunch. Perhaps it was a good time for one last good American burger. I ordered a burger and fries from the Runway Grill.

Seoul-bound!

Ross Waves Goodbye to USA
In December 2009, I took an ESL course (teaching English as a second language) and had been pursuing a job since then. A few job offers came and went as teachers renewed their contracts last-minute. Finally, when it was looking like another job offer was going south, I find myself in South Korea. On May 3, 2010, I was on my home phone with my mother suggesting that I might get hired in Koreatown in Los Angeles before landing a teaching job in South Korea. My cell phone rang while on the phone with Mom. “Gotta go, Ma.”

I moved out of my Valley Village apartment in the San Fernando Valley of California on May 25th. I enjoyed one last drive to Las Vegas to stay with my parents for one day before flying out of McCarren Intl. Airport on Thursday, May 27th, 2010.

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