June 13, 2022

The Whole Blogging Thing

So Rhetorica is one of the oldest, continuously published weblogs. Its earliest iteration began in 1998 as an academic project for my graduate work. It took its present form in March 2002 just before I graduated.

The explanation in the header about a snafu is there in case anyone who remembers the old Rhetorica comes looking for it. And that requires going the Archive.org to find the old content — about the rhetoric of the press-politics relationship in America.

New readers — are there new readers? — get to follow the latest change in my academic career and creative interests: documentary filmmaking  (see also Carbon Trace Productions). I’ve been at that since 2014 but only writing about it recently.

The problem with reinvigorating Rhetorica as a retro blog is that I’m no longer confident in my ability to gain readership in a form that’s no longer current. I briefly tried Substack and didn’t like it. I even tried TikTok for mini documentary film reviews leading to hilarious failure. I still use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Blogging just seems so 2004.

But I’ll keep it up. I like to write.

June 12, 2022

Playing Around With Bumpers

A bumper in the film business is a form of studio branding. You’ll generally see two or three at the start of almost every film. Here’s a list of famous ones you’ve seen dozens of times (sadly, an old list with a few gaps).

Sometimes bumpers are simply visually striking with little attempt to create meaning. The best ones, I think, try to say something about the studio. Here’s the bumper for Carbon Trace Productions, the non-profit documentary studio I co-founded in Springfield, Missouri.

Carbon Trace Bumper with Audio.mp4 from Carbon Trace Productions on Vimeo.

We thought we might be making films about broadly environmental issues of all sorts. Our first film — Downtown: A New American Dream — was a new urbanist film examining the movement back to cities by boomers and millennials. We ended up focusing more on humanitarian service. But the bumper was designed to indicate a cleansing of the earth through our documentary efforts. Hence the smoke cleared away as the moon sweeps by and the name is revealed.

Here’s a draft bumper I’ve developed for The Rhetorica Network.

Rhetorica is a character that represents the concerns of the discipline of rhetoric — the persuasive use of language. I’ve mixed the Old English font with Greco-Roman imagery to connect the past to my application of my academic field (rhetoric, not media) to the persuasive concerns of documentary filmmaking.

Anyway, bumpers are cool and fun to make. So here you go.

June 11, 2022

A Vietnam Peace Story on YouTube

My latest film as director — A Vietnam Peace Story — is now available free to view on YouTube.

June 10, 2022

On Passion and Regret

I made many mistakes in my early career directly attributable to a youthful lack of wisdom. One thing in particular: I wanted to be the best photojournalist, to have my name spoken in company with the best of the 20th century. To win the major awards. To witness the great events. To have my images of those events become iconic.

Luckily, none of that occurred. And while I suffered a bit of youthful regret as soon as it became apparent that dream wasn’t going to happen, I did manage over some measure of years to settle down and be cool with the way things were working out.

Things have worked out better in many ways. But my 24-year-old self would not have recognized my understanding of “better” today.

After earning a Ph.D. and getting a proper academic job, I did the tenure grind and the promotion grind and wound up a full professor. I made a decision in 2014 that, only a few years later, I figured out was sort of wise. So, yeah, gotta be careful there. Wise is a lot like cool or woke. If you claim it, you probably aren’t it.

Some years before my wife and I made a list of things we individually hoped to achieve as we landed in middle age — that was a few years before I finished graduate school and took an academic job, while life was still in flux. At the top of my list I wrote: “Learn to make documentary films.” Not too surprising for a visually-oriented, non-fiction guy. The list was put away and forgotten until my wife found it sometime around 2016 after I’d finished my first documentary film. Oh, look! It was on the list!

In 2014, I began production of my first documentary film with a group of my students. I had not made video much over the length of a standard news report to that point. A colleague in the department asked me — I was a print journalism professor, after all — what I hoped to achieve. I answered with one word: mediocre.

And I achieved it!

Somewhere, somehow — possibly owning to my adherence to Stoic philosophy — I stopped trying to be the best. A first hint was right there on that list of goals. I wrote that I wanted to learn to make documentary films. Not a word about being good at it.

My 24-year-old self would not understand me because I do what I do for me first– and last.


June 10, 2022

Flying Internationally is Hell

Here’s episode 4 of Our Expat Journey to Portugal. It’s a bit different from the first three 🙂

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