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Friday

Boycott Kobo Ebooks and Save the Elephants

With effect from today, I am opting out of the distribution of my ebooks into Kobo ebook stores from Smashwords. Kobo is owned by Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten. Rakuten made the news this week when it announced that it was ending the sale of whale meat through its websites. This is good news. But Rakuten remains the world's biggest marketplace for elephant ivory products, with approximately 28,000 ivory listings on its core Japanese site.

As reported in the Guardian (18 March, 2014), "Rakuten's ads are effectively as deadly as giving bullets to elephant poachers and harpoons to whalers," said Environmental Investigation Agency's president, Allan Thornton. "[It] must act immediately to ban all ads selling elephant and whale products, or its global brand will be irrevocably tainted with the ongoing mass slaughter of these species."

Boycott Kobo

While closing off any distribution route for my work may be commercially damaging, I don't want to endorse or profit from the trade in ivory. The survival of elephants is more important than the sale of my ebooks. My ebooks will continue to be available in all other ebook channels, including Apple, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I urge all independent ebook publishers to withdraw their works from sale on Kobo until Rakuten ends the sale of ivory products. To do this, just log in to your Smashwords Dashboard, choose Channel Manager, then click on Opt out for each title under Kobo. Save changes and your ebooks will be withdrawn from Kobo at next scheduled channel update.

Without marketplaces for ivory products, there will be no point in slaughtering elephants. In refusing any association with ivory marketplaces we, as ebook publishers and consumers, have the power to say that some things are more important than the mindless pursuit of profit.

Gary J Byrnes, 4 April, 2014



Oscars 2014 Preview - Is This a New Golden Age of Cinema?

I don't normally get over-excited about the Oscars, considering it to be a vaguely interesting show and a masterful marketing exercise and nothing more. It says so much about the film industry and how we, as consumers, perceive it, that they can hand awards to each other and the entire world sits up and takes notice and is amazed and is jealous and goes to the cinema and buys tickets. Bravo! And this is to say little about how the 'media' sweats itself into multiple tiny orgasms, red carpet onanism, the build-up, oh, the build-up. Oh.

But 2014 looks different. Whereas we typically have a strong film or two in the nominations, along with the film that must win the key awards because of its 'worthiness', this year virtually every film that's up for the key awards deserves to win. Is this coincidence or is the film industry getting better? Is the increasing connectedness of humanity making it easier for talent to find talent? Are producers finding creative mojo, attempting to make art as well as dollars? Are we, as a species, improving at everything? Nah. It's probably just coincidence. So here's my take on what films deserve to take Oscar home (spoiler alert!):

Gravity - Gary J Byrnes's Top Tip for Oscars 2014
Gravity
This space epic is the best 3D cinema experience I've ever had. It looks incredible, the acting is great and the tension palpable. What I like most about Gravity is that it's not trying to tell us something bigger, worthier. It doesn't make us feel guilty for enjoying the ride. It's simply a story, entertainment. Tight, short and very sweet. Deserves to win best picture, best director, all special effects, sound, production design, best actress - Sandra Bullock is entirely credible and effective.

Dallas Buyers Club - Deserves to Win Best Picture Oscar
Dallas Buyers Club
Brilliant film, packed with great acting and storytelling. Matthen McConaughey is a revelation in the main role and Jared Leto makes for stunning support. The story starts off small and achingly personal but grows up big and crosses the globe, talking about the neverending struggle between small humanity and big government. Deserves to win best actor, best supporting actor, best picture.

Her
A beautiful evocation of a nightmarish future where everything looks lovely on the surface but everybody's miserable. I guess the underlying theme is that technology drives us apart. The idea of falling in love with an OS is utterly depressing and believable - it's probably happened already - but Her manages to give us a happy ending. Deserves to win best actor for Joaquin Phoenix, but he's not nominated! Original screenplay and production design, so.

American Hustle
Character-led caper movie with such terrific acting from all the main players that Robert DeNiro barely registers. Deserves to win for best hair, but isn't nominated. What's that about? Jennifer Lawrence is almost certain to win best supporting actress - the whole microwave thing is just class - and Christian Bale is certainly great enough to win best actor. Best director, best film, why not?

12 Years a Slave
Beautiful, artistic, soul-destroying, painful. Oozes emotional punch. Deserves to win best supporting actor for Michael Fassbender's star turn. Could he be the best Irish actor ever? Will likely win best picture, best actor, best director, best cinematography.

The Wolf of Wall Street
I do volunteer work at my local credit union and I have to admit it's exactly the same as Wolf of Wall Street. Only without the sex, drugs and money. Leonardo diCaprio is mesmerising and certainly deserves a lead actor Oscar. Jonah Hill is excellent in his supporting role and could get the nod on the night. Martin Scorsese's direction is perfect, but his formulaic approach could work against him as, visually and structurally, Wolf of Wall Street is similar to Goodfellas in many respects. This is not a criticism, more an observation.

Captain Phillips
"Hey Irish!" Yet another true story with Tom Hanks as impressive as always. The strong script and strong supporting actor in Barkhad Abdi could take Oscars. Good film, even though it does descend into a US military recruiting video towards the end.

Bottom line: This year, it really doesn't matter what films win. Enjoy the show!

Note: I haven't seen the remaining best picture nominations, Philomena or Nebraska, yet but I look forward to both of them.


Thursday

Forget Big Brother, Boycott Russia and Sochi Olympics Sponsors

Big Brother loves Facebook, really loves it. Besides the fact that anonymous security officials can monitor your online opinions and friends, keep tabs on where you are, what you're doing, what you're thinking, Facebook is a great way for its users to vent. Putin sends Pussy Riot to jail because they don't dig his new, medieval-style blasphemy law? 'Like' (but ironically). Gay people are getting beaten and killed in Russia every day because Putin gives his tacit consent to such deeds? 'Like'. 'Share'. Comment. "Down with this sort of thing." And it's done. We've given out, but within the walled garden that is Facebook. Big Brother loves Facebook because that's where our passions are trapped, in endless circles of liking and sharing, going round and around the network. But going nowhere really.

As the Sochi Winter Olympics get under way, it's time to move beyond Facebook and do something real. In these horrid times, money is all that matters, certainly to the people who run the world. So we need to hit Putin in his pocket, affect the Russian economy and the corporations that help fund Sochi 2014. Russia's main source of income is natural gas and Germany, France and Italy rely on Russian gas for energy, which means the EU will do absolutely nothing to challenge Russia's homophobia. So it's up to us, the consumers.

Where to start: Even though Russian vodka is the best vodka, boycott it. This means no Stolichnaya or Russian Standard. Don't buy it as gifts. Don't drink it in bars. Tell your friends to stop drinking it.

Boycott Sochi 2014 Sponsors
Then look at the sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics: McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Samsung, Dow Chemicals, Procter and Gamble ('Proud sponsor of mums'? Don't make me laugh, you're the proud sponsor of homophobic tyrants), Visa, NBC, Omega and Atos (French IT consultants). Can you avoid spending money on them, at least for the duration of the Olympics? Can you remember their names so that, when making future purchase decisions, Russian discrimination and its corporate sponsorship leave a lingering taste of fear and horror in your mouth? AT&T, a key sponsor of the US team has stated that "We stand against Russia’s anti-L.G.B.T. law". So it can be done. Corporations can take a moral stand and, in the longer term, I'm confident that they will benefit financially. But the first step is to shame the corporations who look the other way in their insane quest for never ending growth.

Then look at homophobia and religious discrimination closer to home. Stand up for the human rights of all humans everywhere. Challenge the religious, the media, the politicians and the corporations who, between them, have made the world a hate-filled toxic dump.

For sure, Facebook is good for expressing opinions, building networks, learning about stuff. But don't let it end there. Look over the wall. Do something real.


Within Facebook's walled garden, like this page and share it out: https://www.facebook.com/Boycott2014WinterOlympicGamesInRussia
Join the Spartacus Project at https://www.facebook.com/aslavenomore

Saturday

Ireland's Green Delusion

Sure, isn't Ireland a grand little country? Endless - mostly benign - wind blowing in from the Atlantic. Sweet rain, again driven by the Gulf Stream, pristine by most standards. Lush, green fields as far as the eye can see. Naturally beautiful landscapes in every direction. And then the Irish happened.
"The only way to stop repeating our catastrophic mistakes is to abolish politics and political parties." - Gary J Byrnes

Though the Republic of Ireland is less than a century old, we've already ruined the environment, poisoned the water, destroyed the view and pumped more than our fair share of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Ireland's disgraceful environmental failings include:

  • We dig up our bogs, which are unique wildlife habitats, safely storing millions of tons of carbon. And we burn their peat, releasing more greenhouse gases than even filthy coal. It's 'tradition'.
  • We put poisonous fluoride into our drinking water, as the peasants are too dumb to buy fluoridated toothpaste. Ireland is the only country on the planet that necessitates this mass medication by law. Then we privatise the whole water network so the peasants can be made to pay for it, without doing anything to reduce the wastage - estimated at 40-50%! - from the Victorian-era pipe network. Pay up, Paddy!
  • We let Shell develop huge natural gas fields off the west coast in a deal so bad for Irish citizens that we may never see a cent from it. Profit share? You're having a laugh - we're thick Paddies!
  • Whenever there's a strong gust of wind, power lines are knocked down plunging thousands into darkness. So what do they want to do? Build more pylons, of course, across beautiful vistas. Put wires underground? Are you mad or something?
  • Ireland hates nuclear power because east coast residents have been poisoned - been given cancer, some would say - for decades by the Sellafield disaster zone across the Irish Sea. So what do we do? We connect the Irish and UK grids so that nuclear-generated electricity can flow to Ireland and wind-generated power can be exported to the UK to help them meet their targets. But what about our own targets? Erm...
  • The ESB, Ireland's monopoly power company knocked, an entire Dublin city street of beautiful Georgian houses to build an ugly concrete head office.

The EU has set ambitious targets to help mitigate the disastrous effects of global warming, aiming for 27% of energy to be generated by renewables (such as wind) and 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (compared with 1990 levels) by 2030.

Ireland currently generates just 3% of power from renewables and actually increased greenhouse gas emissions in 2012! While the new EU targets are overall, not country-specific, I fail to see how our bungling, self-serving government ministers with responsibility for environment and energy can possibly get us on the right path in time. Their track records do not engender confidence.

If we are to stand any chance of compliance, we need a coherent wind power policy, one that doesn't foist the bill on the taxpayer to suit the UK, and we also need to shut down our peat-burning power stations with immediate effect. But the only way to stop repeating our catastrophic mistakes is to abolish politics and political parties as we know them, building a participative democracy in which citizens collectively take decisions. And not just in Ireland, but everywhere on Earth.  It can be done. It must be done or the entire planet is fucked.

Sunday

Beyond the Bailout, Ireland Remains a Land Without Hope

Yes, Ireland is the poster child of neoliberalism and our technical exit from the bailout is lauded in Frankfurt and New York. But we have not fixed our underlying problems, which include a deluded political class, a dysfunctional public sector and the long-term social damage caused by the sheer inequity of citizens bailing out bank shareholders and bondholders to the tune of €26,000 per working person, the most expensive bank bailout in history. 10% of the population now lives in food poverty, and this in a country once decimated by famine.

True, the Irish didn't riot. Not because of some misguided 'patriotism', but because we're dazed, confused and our spirit is broken.

Ireland's National Debt, as at 15 December, 2013. Courtesy Finance Dublin
Making taxpayers cover the gambling losses incurred by bank speculators was the single most disastrous decision in Irish history and until that decision is reversed, Ireland has no hope of genuine recovery. To understand the shocking reality of Ireland today, just take a look at the national debt clock. At time of writing, Ireland's national debt stands at €174 billion, up from €65 billion in June 2009. (View the live debt clock here.) The debt is equal to 104% of GDP or, for a more accurate reading after funds funnelled through Ireland's paltry corporation tax regime by the likes of Microsoft and Google are stripped out, 128% of GDP. And the clock ticks inexorably upward.

Until this debt stops spiralling out of control, saddling future generations with so much debt that they will simply leave the country once they can afford the plane fare, Ireland has no hope. Repeat, no hope. And this is coming from an optimist.

Monday

Breaking Bram - On Filmmaking

I was up until 3am watching the finale of Breaking Bad. I had four episodes to go and planned to watch maybe two. But that's Netflix for you. And that's Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad rewrote all the superlatives concerning TV drama, with its great writing, incredible acting and stunning cinematography. At its heart, it's a buddy story, primarily concerned with how two characters develop and how they interact, their chemistry together. And wow. We got plenty of that.
Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad.
What I liked best about Breaking Bad was how each individual episode had the scope, breadth and depth of a feature film. In time, individual episodes will be judged as separate pieces of art, with self-contained character and plot dynamics. I know of a few episodes that I will watch again, selecting them like rare fine wines from Netflix's seemingly infinite cellar of plonk.

Having recently completed my first short film, Vampire Story, as writer and director, I now appreciate more than ever how much work is required to make a movie. I'm convinced that, having been through the mill, I genuinely enjoy quality work in a way that I couldn't otherwise. Making a film, however short, is a great way to learn, to develop new skills and to appreciate others' talents. If you're considering making a short film, here are some tips:

1. Story is king
Vampire Story is about a writer of vampire literature, how he deals with rejection and the pain of living forever. There's a nice twist when we discover who the writer is and it was this twist that made the film worth making. Breaking Bad is unique story-wise in that the good guy, Walter White, becomes the bad guy, while Jesse starts off as a (vaguely) bad guy who turns good. This story arc alone makes the project different, compelling and intriguing. The script for Vampire Story was rewritten many times during filming and the story was changed even more during editing. So be prepared to change the story as you go, but have a clear script to begin with.

2. Acting is hard
Bryan Cranston's performance in Breaking Bad has been described by Anthony Hopkins as the best acting ever and it is certainly that good. In making Vampire Story, I learned that acting is tough, so tough. The ability to say a line so that it means something more than words, to communicate an emotion with just a look, to have a genuine presence on screen and to do all these things take after take after take is a true skill, is art.

Philip English on location at Poolbeg, Dublin with Marcus filming.
Good acting must be truly appreciated as it is actors more than anyone in the filmmaking process who cause the audience to suspend their disbelief and to go with the story. Breaking Bad didn't just luck out with great actors in the key roles, pretty much everyone on screen is quality. My favourite, besides Bryan and Aaron, is Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and I just can't wait for his own spin-off series. Vampire Story had a lead actor with great screen presence, Philip English, great support from Jessie Doyle and a host of dedicated talent.

3. Lenses matter
Breaking Bad was shot on 35mm film. This would have accounted for a fair chunk of the $3 million per episode budget but the payoff was gorgeous depth and rich colour. We didn't have the luxury of film for Vampire Story, shooting on Canon 5D HD digital SLR cameras and using some of our total €1,200 budget on lens rental. Lenses, or glass as they're called, add real depth to digital film and can cost more than the camera.

Mark filming Wendell outside Anglo Irish Bank, St Stephen's Green, Dublin.
The Canon 5D, with great glass, offers cinema quality results, especially when in the hands of an expert, like our DP (director of photography) Mark Downey. I'm especially pleased with the scene of Wendell watching from his car as Philip arrives at the bank and also the extreme close-ups of the girls applying make-up that we shot in the Shelbourne Hotel, but the whole thing looks great.

4. Planning is everything
Between cast and crew, we had about twenty people on set for our main interiors shooting session. It was across four sets and was planned out shot by shot. It still went from 6.30pm to 2.30am, much longer than anticipated. It could have been better planned, as some of the actors had to hang around for hours until they were needed. When nobody's getting paid to make a short, you need to not squander their time. Making a film is a really complex project, so talk it through, plan it out, make schedules, use common sense.

Planning shots in Crumlin, Dublin.
Above all, expect everything to take twice as long as you expect. And the more people you have to help out, the better. I used to wonder why it took so many people to make a movie or a show like Breaking Bad. Not any more.

5. Sound and music are as important as visuals
Breaking Bad set up every episode with that theme. It worked. But it also had perfectly fitting music from ZZ Top, The Monkees, JJ Cale, Bach and many more artists. Songs really matter and when a TV production doesn't have a budget to stretch to some classic or specifically-penned songs, everything suffers. Vampire Story was lucky enough to have singer Carol Keogh team up with synth legend Aidan Casserley.

Aidan and Carol perform music from Vampire Story, live at Night of the Machines, Dublin.
Carol and Aidan composed original songs and music specifically for the film and really took it to another level. The other aspect of sound that's crucial is atmospheric sound effects. For us, this meant taking a Zoom (an amazing, compact, stereo digital sound recorder) to the beach, to Dublin city centre and on location. We had seven audio tracks in Vampire Story as that's all the video editing software would allow. Seven more audio tracks would have been better. Sound is such great fun to do and, as you add each layer of sound, the film genuinely benefits.

Another aspect of sound is recording dialogue. We had some technical problems while filming one scene, so couldn't record dialogue. I assumed it would be easy to record later and match it up (this is known as ADR - additional dialogue required). Wrong. Matching dialogue later is seriously tricky so do your utmost to record dialogue while you're shooting. You can worry about all the other sounds later.

So go. Go make a film.


You can see Vampire Story on YouTube at http://youtu.be/mtbuLxOcHLo

You can see Vampire Story with French subtitles on YouTube at http://youtu.be/INUWBrwrMb0

You can connect with and comment on Vampire Story on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vampirestorymovie

Vampire Story

Cast and Crew

Director of Photography
Mark Downey

Featuring
Philip English as The Writer
Jessie Doyle as The Woman
Damien Murphy as The Singer
Wayne Fahey as The Bank Manager
Wendell Marinho as The Vampire Hunter
Bernadette Byrnes as The Vampire Hunter
Jenny Doyle as The Vampire Hunter
Tara Fahey as The Vampire Hunter
Matt Houlihan as The Slaughterman
Kieran Woodfull as The Victim
Eden Byrnes as The Captive Child
Molly Doyle as The Captive Child
Gary J Byrnes as The Bank Worker

Production Designer
Padraig Darmody

Editor and Second Camera
Marcus P Campbell

Creative Consultant
Joel Conroy

Special Effects
Pyrotechnics & Effects Ltd

Set Design
Matt Houlihan

Set Production
Matt Houlihan
Kieran Woodfull

Sound Recording
Marcus P Campbell

Hair and Make-up
Bernadette Byrnes
Frances Murphy


Music

"Grind Decay"
written and performed by Damien Murphy

"Sunburn"
"Killer Heels"
"What a Pain"
written and performed by Carol Keogh and The Wazp

"Sunburn (instrumental)"
"Season of the Wolf"
"The Bite"
"Industrial Horror"
written and performed by The Wazp
www.facebook.com/thewazp

"Longing Distance"
written and performed by Carol Keogh


Title Design
Joel Conroy

Subtitle Translations
Pierre-Adrien Buisson

Subtitles
Elton Mullally

Photography
Suzanne Thompson Fahey
Jenny Doyle
Jessie Doyle

Sun Video
Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams

The Producers Wish to Thank
The Shelbourne Hotel
The Sugar Club
Alan Hanna's Bookshop
Rage Records, Fade Street
Dublin City Council
Catherine Lyons
Mary Meaney
Elton Mullally
Tara Byrnes
Luke Doyle

Filmed in Dublin, Ireland

Written and Directed by
Gary J Byrnes

Produced by
Padraig Darmody and Gary J Byrnes

Copyright © Gary J Byrnes, 2013

Friday

Degenerates: Art and the Nazis


As the fascinating story about the discovery of a vast horde of art masterpieces in Munich broke this week, I was struck by its relevance to the novel I'm working on now.

TO EAT THE WORLD is a New York-set thriller, featuring a cabal of Nazi bankers using their control of the art world - through plundered art works - to set off a chain of events and take over the US economy. The Munich discovery, with all its unanswered questions (eg: why has it taken a year and a half to make the find public?), adds a delicious slice of timely truth to my literary cocktail.

As you can learn from the BBC report embedded above, it's believed that the Nazis seized about 16,000 pieces of art from Jewish owners and art galleries as they conquered Europe. It is truly ironic that the Nazis labelled much the art 'degenerate' - art by greats like Picasso, Chagall, Dix and Beckmann - seizing and hiding it so as to protect public morals while Hitler and his cronies set about dismantling the very concept of morals, classifying certain types of people as animals and foisting the ultimate horror on Europe.

Painting by Marc Chagall, seized in Munich
How many art galleries built their collections on the Nazis' spoils? How many art dealers built their fortunes on the misery - and extermination - of others? Do we still consider Nazi ideas of degeneracy as valid when considering 'modern art'?

Perhaps it is time, given the scale of the crimes against humanity and art committed by the Nazis, for a genuine re-examination of what values modern art holds? Can we continue merrily along the same path and consider what emerges from Munich as simply filling in the gaps in art history? Or must we start asking deeper questions?

Who, exactly, are the degenerates?

degenerate
adjective
dɪˈdʒɛn(ə)rət/
  1. 1.
    having lost the physical, mental, or moral qualities considered normal and desirable; showing evidence of decline.
    "a degenerate form of a higher civilization"
    synonyms:debaseddegradedcorrupt, corrupted, vitiated, bastardimpure
    Source: Google Search

TO EAT THE WORLD by Gary J Byrnes, coming soon to all ebook stores. For release date news, stay tuned to www.garyjbyrnes.com and join me at Google+ here.