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As I write this, I have Microsoft Word open with nothing more than a title on the page. Even the title isn’t sitting well with me. It’s the beginning of a 5-6 page paper due next Friday for which I have a topic, enough background information, and websites for citation purposes. The words are just hard to come by. I’m writing here to vent my frustration with the sometimes overwhelming process of putting thoughts to paper.

In another Word window, I have some sentences down for a project I’m a bit more excited about, though there’s no grade given for that. That’s a personal project. Ideas came to mind, and it was best to write them down. I’ve always dreamed of making a film. Not for fame or fortune because I’m too much of a realist for that, but because it’s the best way I can think of to express some of life’s sensibilities. A diary. I’m not talking about some three hour epic, but something short; 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Maybe several 10-minute sequences over the course of time that add up to feature length. I can post them on a website dedicated to the project. YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram play a part in promotion.

It’s all a struggle. It’s like sometimes your mind just becomes a cloud. The type of cloud with nothing going on inside. No lighting or thunder, no rain or snow. I write, not because I think I’m any good at it (I give myself credit for being pleasantly mediocre), but because it can be very rewarding. Here, I vent my frustration. On another page, an idea comes alive. That’s when I love it. The screen in front of me becomes a form of therapy. Getting started is the hardest part. Then I get started, and the first 500 words become the issue, though once you get into a groove, it can be an infectious feeling. One idea follows another and suddenly you’re several pages in without feeling like you’ve really tried.

What’s the best ending to your story? Forget the story, what’s the best ending to a paragraph? How do I make the simple thought a powerful one? I should let more prolific authors answer those questions. It’s possible the answer isn’t the same for everyone. We each get to a specific point in our thoughts, but go in different directions.

Despite all that, I’ve always been capable of a good paper. Give me a 5 page paper any day of the week over a 50 question multiple choice test. Studying for weeks for a test is arduous at best, excruciating in general. Writing is such an important part of being a student at CUNY SPS. Its helped me view my strengths and weaknesses in equal measure, and with time, improve those deficiencies.

One tip I can give that’s been helpful to me as of late is to find a song, or a type of music you like; something that helps you relax, or puts a smile on your face. Play that music when you write. Not so loud that it’s a distraction, but loud enough so that you feel whatever emotion you’re looking for in the moment. I’d always heard that classical music was a great motivator in the process. I tried it. I liked it. I also find inspiration in a terrific film score. Sometimes it’s dark and creepy, sometimes it’s melancholic, and other times it’s the uplifting sounds that might push you to a place of triumph, so to speak.

Some will use big, thoughtful words, and speak in terms you might not understand. I find as much value in that as someone who just writes what they think in even the simplest of ways. I’ll go back to my open Word windows now and try to piece it together bit by bit. I know it will get done, and done well. It just takes time.

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

The Academy Awards are this Sunday. Here are some picks and notes for the festivities.

Best Picture

SHOULD WIN: Spotlight

WILL WIN: The Revenant

  • CAROL not being nominated is a travesty. THE REVENANT has abundant momentum. Not a film I enjoyed all that much, but the Oscars often get it wrong.

Best Actor

SHOULD WIN: Whatever (Really, whatever)

WILL WIN: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

  • By far the weakest of the major categories. DiCaprio wins by default in a year with no competition, and for a performance that was lacking (I blame the script more than him).

Best Actress

SHOULD WIN: Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

WILL WIN: Brie Larson (Room)

Best Supporting Actor

SHOULD WIN: Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

WILL WIN: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress

SHOULD WIN: Rooney Mara (Carol)

WILL WIN: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

  • This category is a major wild card. Perhaps the strongest all around category, this is a pure guess, at best. Kate Winslet is a terrific actress and always a threat, but I’ll stick with these predictions.

Best Director

SHOULD WIN: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

WILL WIN: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

  • I’d be disappointed by another Inarritu victory, but with recent victories at the BAFTAs and DGA, it seems likely. Really pulling for Miller or Tom McCarthy.

Best Original Screenplay

SHOULD WIN: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)

WILL WIN: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)

Best Adapted Screenplay

SHOULD WIN: Phyllis Nagy (Carol)

WILL WIN: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

  • In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read any of the books these adaptations are nominated for, so I’m not to be trusted with my “should win” pick. I pick Nagy because I loved Carol, but it’s clear McKay and Randolph are the front-runners.

Best Cinematography

SHOULD WIN: Roger Deakins (Sicario)

WILL WIN: Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)

  • I’d love to be wrong here. One of the great cinematographers of this or any era, Deakins has been nominated 13 times for an Oscar, and has come up empty each time. I could make an argument for each of the other nominees: Ed Lachman for Carol, Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight, John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road, or Lubezki. Lubezki does brilliant work, but has won 2 years in a row (Gravity, Birdman). Would like to see a spread of the wealth. Wildly competitive category, and a great year for one of the most vital and powerful parts of the medium.

Best Foreign Language Film

SHOULD WIN: Son of Saul

WILL WIN: Son of Saul

  • Mustang is terrific as well, but this should be a slam dunk.

Best Documentary Feature

SHOULD WIN: The Look of Silence

WILL WIN: Amy

  • This is a shame. Amy has racked up almost every award this season, and while it’s fine (I feel like this doc could be made about thousands of people, making it less unique), it in no way compares to Joshua Oppenheimer’s devastating companion to 2012’s The Act of Killing.

That’s all I got. If you’re into it, enjoy the show. Brace yourselves for the inevitable boredom that will strike somewhere in the second hour (maybe first depending on how well Chris Rock is doing as host), and don’t take it too seriously. A lot of your (my) favorite movies this year weren’t nominated.

****One additional note: World of Tomorrow is nominated for Best Animated Short. It is incredible and at only 17 minutes, well worth your time. I LOVED THIS. It’s streaming on Netflix.

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

With critics awards almost completed and the Academy Awards a little over a month away, I felt inclined to share some of my favorite movies from the past year. Mine is just another list for people to roll their eyes at. I mean, who’s reading this? I’m just some guy who really likes movies. A guy who would rather stay at home on a Friday night to watch one, and then wake up Saturday morning to hit the matinee for another; a matinee that sometimes sparks an entire day in the theater. I wrote in an earlier post about this not being a banner year for film. At the time, summer had come and gone. The bombardment of overwrought blockbusters, sequels, reboots, and end of seasons dumps were coming to an end. As 2015 grew older, however, the output seemed stronger than in recent years past.

The sequel/reboot fad didn’t end with the summer season; however, this fall gave us two reboots that reinvigorated franchises beloved by millions. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though not as iconic or as unique as Episode IV or V, was an enjoyable movie-going experience. The first 30 minutes is as fun and exhilarating as anything released this year, even if the film is essentially A New Hope remix. Another reboot, what I would call my surprise of the year, Creed, knocked it out of the park (or ring?) for what amounts to the best of the Rocky franchise since the original.

The end of 2015 also re-introduced the world to the 70mm format. The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s mystery-western set in the 1800’s, is the first film projected entirely using the Panavision equipment since Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012). 70mm allows for a higher film resolution than the most frequently used 35mm, as well as capturing colors more vividly. It’s a glorious and exciting way to see a film. Questions arose about why a story such as The Hateful Eight needed to be shot in 70mm. It probably didn’t, but kudos to directors like Anderson, and Tarantino (as well as Christopher Nolan who has championed the idea of film use to the studios for several years) for attempting to bring this beautiful format (KILL DIGITAL) back to the forefront. These are filmmakers that truly care about the art. Whether or not every movie is a hit is irrelevant. They’re making them the way they want to make them about what they’re interested in. It’s something for anyone to admire.

The digital vs. film debate is a heated and contentious one as described by this Vox article.

***PRO TIP: Do not see The Hateful Eight and The Revenant back to back on the same day as I did. It was an endurance test I nearly didn’t survive. I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan of either, though Hateful had some big laughs.***

There needs to be a willingness to find great movies. This is not to say that a movie not seen by mass audiences are always better, but in watching there’s a feel they’re made with more care. I’m coming off as a snob, but I point this out because much of the following list will not be seen during the Oscars telecast. Go and find them.

1. Phoenix

2. Queen of Earth

3. Carol

4. It Follows

5. The Clouds of Sils Maria

6. Spotlight

7. Sicario

8. Mad Max: Fury Road

9. 45 Years

10. Creed

11. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

12. Ex Machina

13. Tangerine

14. Heaven Knows What

15. The Duke of Burgundy

Twitter: @BobbyJDaniels

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

It began with a miracle.

It ended with a miracle.

Earning the trust of a viewer is paramount to a successful show. We want to be taken places we didn’t think possible, but have it make sense creatively, while having it make an impact emotionally. Recently concluding what some consider an all-time great season of television, Season 2 of The Leftovers took me there and then some. We watch the show from a fresher perspective this time around, one that the show so successfully employed in Season 1’s ‘Guest,’ by using a single person POV. It narrowed the focus of each episode while sharpening the edges.

(SPOILERS: I will be touching on some plot points of the season, so if you want to watch the show spoiler-free, your eyes need go no further.)

This season began with the Garveys + Nora leaving Mapleton for a place that was virtually unharmed during the Departure—Jarden, Texas, otherwise known as Miracle National Park. This is not a reboot. It’s more a contemplative continuation of the seeds that were planted in Season 1. Their move breathed new life into the series. It instilled the feeling of hope that was there in Season 1, but not prevalent. (Full disclosure: I’m a staunch defender of Season 1 despite it’s issues.)

“There are no miracles in Miracle,” says John Murphy early on. The Murphy’s, long-time Miracle residents, and new neighbors of the Garveys, have a checkered past of their own. We witness their journey from comfortable on the surface—a strong contrast to what the Garveys often present—to confused and lost, just like many outside their sanctuary of Miracle. In the finale, we see Erika Murphy and her husband John in separate scenes make clear that they don’t understand why their world has crumbled around them. Their daughter Evie, who disappeared towards the end of the premiere episode, has reappeared under peculiar circumstances unwilling to even speak to her parents.

“I don’t understand what’s happening,” says John.

“Me niether,” replies Kevin.

There’s a magic to this show, as Alan Sepinwall of Hitfix.com writes. A feeling that every time you watch, something profound is about to happen. We sit on the border of real and surreal, living the show through the eyes of the cast. In those eyes we must figure it out along with them.

Taking a page from The Sopranos playbook, the eighth episode, ‘International Assassin’ forces Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) to navigate his way through a sort of Hell in order to find peace. Or was it purgatory? It doesn’t matter because what we got was one of this year’s finest hours of TV. When he wakes up back in the Hotel Hell in the finale, we’re once again blessed with a moment not soon to be forgotten. Kevin must karaoke Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ in order to leave this place. To go back to his family, the people he loves, the life he feels is not yet complete. The gut-wrenching is agonizing; the confusion and pain pouring out of Theroux’s face was something to marvel. In a show filled with poignant musical moments, this topped them all.

The Leftovers is a metaphor for death. What happens when you lose someone? How do you react? How do you move on with your life? Co-creators and writers Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta (author of the novel, The Leftovers) are going for maximum emotional impact with this series. Home run.

As Season 2 wound down, it was unclear whether there would be a third. Ratings dropped precipitously from Season 2, and though it was critically acclaimed, that’s no guarantee. The Leftovers has found itself on many year-end top 10 lists, including #7 in the HitFix critics poll (a cumulative poll of more than 50 television critics.) The reviews were not as kind for the first season making it more than apropos that the turnaround seen in the next would take place in a town called Miracle. HBO issued a press release last week announcing that The Leftovers would return for a third and final season next year. The trilogy will be complete. THANK YOU TV GODS.

This is an experience. A show that thrives off insanity. As engrossing as it powerful, as sad as it is beautiful, there are very few experiences that compare. In this age of peak TV, we’re lucky to have a show like this. It takes risks and goes for broke. It grabs you by your heart strings and keeps tugging. Lindelof and Perrotta have my utmost trust and respect. They can take this in any direction and I’ll follow. In the words of Iris DeMent, “I think I’ll just let the mystery be.”

Miracles do happen in Miracle.

Twitter: @BobbyJDaniels

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

In today’s corporate world, people are hired and fired on a daily basis.  There is a transient nature to this ever-evolving process; I may be here today but could be gone tomorrow.  People attempt to stitch together the semblance of a career while trying to maintain the perception of loyalty to their current employers.  We often remain vigilant to the next position possibility, and the reasons are numerous, but often these reasons are rooted in consistent themes: an opportunity came along that I just cannot pass on; I have a desire for more money, and I deserve it; my manager is simply unrealistic, unreasonable, and unbearable – it is just time to go!  Regardless of these valid motivations, one consistent reality remains unchanged; we are each CEO of our own company: Me, Inc.

In a sense, we are all just free agents in an ever-changing job market paradigm.  But as free agents we each carry certain notable attributes along with us, many of which are intangible.  It’s incumbent upon each of us to ask ourselves: What do I want my brand to be?  What are the qualities of my brand that differentiate me from my competition? Everything matters: our educational level attained, our ability to communicate in verbal and written form, our choice of wardrobe, and our ability to work and play well with others.

We have sufficient control over most of these.  What we do not have control over is the manner in which they are perceived, and perception – in marketing – is everything.  The best approach to mitigate this reality is to contemplatively observe and critically analyze each segment of our brand: Me, Inc.  More than likely we are stronger in certain areas than in others, and can strengthen our shortcomings to become a more formidable brand overall.

Utilizing LinkedIn or writing a blog are channels to market oneself and assist in constructing a solid foundation for the mosaic that composes who we are as individuals.  Gaining new expertise, developing new capabilities, increasing our colleague set, and constantly reinventing ourselves as a brand are critical in the process of brand strengthening.  The sooner we begin viewing ourselves as individual brands, the better positioned we will become in reaching success in whichever career path we find ourselves on.

John Brigantino is a graduate student in the Master of Science in Business Management & Leadership Program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies.  He enjoys writing, non-fiction books, traveling and the many cultural and leisure experiences Manhattan has to offer.

As we continue to discuss ways to strengthen your personal brand online, proper attention needs to be given to the importance of blogging.  If the idea of starting a blog, or contributing to an existing one, sounds like an attractive idea it can become the centerpiece of your online presence.

Content is Key

More important than a fancy design is the text, photos, or other content you’ll be delivering.  You can dress it up any way you like, but the most important thing is engaging your audience.  Find a topic that you’re interested in presenting and can hopefully provide new insights.  The last thing anyone wants to see is a lazily produced product that is never updated.  So if you’re excited about your content, it will become that much more appealing to prospective readers.

Pick a Platform

If you’re starting a blog from scratch, your second big decision after deciding on your theme, is to pick a blogging platform.  There are a variety of popular and free sites that will host your blog for you and offer a variety of benefits.

WordPress – When we were deciding on a platform for the SPS Community Blog, WordPress emerged as the clear frontrunner.  It is the most fully featured free blogging platform, and offers the most options in terms of customization, content control, and reporting.  The drawback is that it isn’t the easiest site to familiarize yourself.  Especially when compared to some of its competators.  Still, it’s far from rocket science, and once you get the hang of all the WordPress dashboard has to offer you’ll find a wealth or resources to improve your blogging.

Blogger – It’s impossible to talk about something tech related and not expect Google to be a key part of the conversation.  Blogger is Google’s blogging platform and it boasts an easy to use interface that only affords a minimal amount of customization.

Tumblr – The new kid on the block, Tumblr is known as a “microblogging” site.  It focuses on shorter updates, with an emphasis on photographs and creative layouts.  This is a funky and fun platform that’s ideal for artists.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

Another great way to get your name and content out is by joining a preexisting blog.  Find something in your area of interest, and reach out to them about becoming a contributor.  There’s strength in numbers, and it also adds a certain sense of legitimacy to your content that you would otherwise have to work to gain on your own.

I’m happy to answer any and all questions on getting started as a blogger, and invite all SPS students and alumni to try it out by contributing to this very blog.  Feel free to contact me at shawn.abraham@mail.cuny.edu with any questions.  I look forward to reading your future posts!

Shawn Abraham is SPS’ Virtual Campus Manager, which means he gets to have a lot of fun building an online community for the school.  He also has a lot of fun reading books about zombies.  These two things rarely intersect.