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Dave Weich

This Place Called Nuka (Trailer)

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For a year now, we’ve been working on a short documentary: This Place Called Nuka: Courting Adventure in Wild Alaska. Tell me more, you say? Here’s a brief description:

Jeff and Angela wanted to have a camping trip that never ended, and to see if they could live off the land. So they dropped out of college to attend the “school of life.” They hired a boat captain to ferry them—along with kayaks, snowboards and 30,000 pounds of building materials—to a patch of spectacular wilderness tucked between a glacier and the Gulf of Alaska, seventy miles from the nearest outpost. This Place Called Nuka: Courting Adventure in Wild Alaska brings their story to life.

Today, we’re very excited to introduce the trailer.

If you’re in Portland, join us from 6-8pm on Thursday (July 13) at Bazi Bierbrasserie for the 22-minute film’s first public screening.

Follow Sheepscot Creative on Facebook to stay in the loop about screenings. In the meantime, find more information about This Place Called Nuka at NukaFilm.com.

Top Picks from the Adventure Film Festival

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Adventure Film Festival 2016

If you’ve spoken to me in the last few months, you likely know that Sheepscot is working on a documentary about the inspiring and then, suddenly, harrowing adventure of a young couple living in remote Alaska. (Yeah, sorry, I can’t stop talking about it.) A few weeks ago, I flew to Colorado to attend the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder. We wanted to know: What passes for adventure these days? And how are contemporary filmmakers approaching the subject?

Over the course of two days, I watched dozens of short films. Crews and cameras—predictably, lots of GoPros and drones—roamed from Tasmania to the Arctic, documenting the action. Here are the shorts that have stuck with me, the ones I’ve found myself thinking and talking about most.

The Accord
Icelandic surfers reckon with the island nation’s fickle winds. The most surprising, genre-busting film at AFF. With sick surfing footage.

Martin’s Boat
Two things I learned from what might have been my favorite film of the weekend: 1. Martin Litton prevented two dams from being built in the Grand Canyon. 2. In my next life, I want to be a whitewater dory boat captain.

Return to Zanskar
Soon, after centuries of isolation, a monastery in the Himalayas will be connected by road to the city. Thirty years ago, the filmmaker and his friend spent time there; as construction on the road nears completion, they go back to see what the monks make of it.

Douglas Tomkins: A Wild Legacy
An amazing life story and legacy. Douglas Tomkins co-founded North Face and Esprit; famously climbed mountains with the founder of Patagonia; and until his death in 2015 worked tirelessly with his wife to preserve millions of acres of South American wilderness.

The Last Ride
A love story—about a Peace Corps worker and the used mountain bike he buys in Honduras. Their intercontinental adventures over the next 13 years are recounted with a no-fuss production aesthetic, lots of heart and humility.

The End of Snow
Climate change as seen by a snow scientist. Featuring a fabulously eccentric woodsman character.

China: A Skier’s Journey
Juxtaposing the demise in China of centuries-old, sustenance-skiing mountain communities with the nation’s fledgling consumer ski market.

Haywire
Watching one adventure film after another, I couldn’t help wondering about the emotional well-being of their subjects, particularly when they’re not on camera scaling a cliff or mountain biking across the Alps. How well do these people cope with day-to-day life? Or when things go terribly wrong? Haywire begins to explore those questions.

Sheepscot went to Alaska. And it was epic.

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It’s a job that Michael and I will never forget, filming at Granite Point Mountain Lodge. We turned on the cameras at PDX and didn’t put them away for four days. And that was a good decision, because: OMG those four days. We couldn’t help assembling a travelogue. (More from the trip will follow later this summer.)

Just six weeks ago, I visited Alaska for the first time. I spent the last 2 days and nights of my trip at a private wilderness cabin on Resurrection Bay, on the side of a mountain that falls straight into the sea. Through the length of my stay, a pair of humpback whales roamed in front of the beach and bluff, breaching and spouting nonstop, while bald eagles sailed, swooped, and circled in the sky. “This is blowing my mind,” I murmured to myself over and over–speaking loud enough, I hoped, to keep away the local bears.

Imagine my glee, weeks later, when the man who created the lodge (a remarkable story in itself) hired Sheepscot Creative to come back with our cameras.

Thanks, Jeff. First, for the invitation and your incredible hospitality. And also for the boat tour and jet ski rides, for introducing us to your amazing friends, and for trusting us to tell these stories.

David Bowie Tribute

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OK Chorale PDX is a drop-in community chorus in Portland, Oregon. No experience is required; only a desire to sing. We were thrilled when earlier this year they asked us to document the group’s first-ever public performance, inspired by the loss of David Bowie. We were excited all over again when our video of the event garnered 27,000 views and 350 shares on Facebook within the first few days of its posting.

The chorus meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month (mostly) at Martha’s Cafe/Bar at Revolution Hall and sings two songs. Visit the OK Chorale PDX website for more information.

Paul Simon in Conversation

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Paul Simon; photo credit, Myrna Suarez

On a new edition of the All Songs Considered podcast, Paul Simon walks host Bob Boilen through the construction of the opening track on his forthcoming album. It’s a fascinating 40-minute lesson on narrative mechanics, offering a rare and candid glimpse into the process of one of America’s great songwriters.

“What instruments I use and where they sit in the track,” Simon explains, “there must be hundreds of those decisions, or maybe thousands, for all I know, of tiny decisions, about whether there should be some piece of musical information or whether you don’t need it at all.” According to a New York Times preview, four of the album’s first six songs don’t use any guitar.

In so many ways, the conversation is a revelation. Simon discusses line-by-line how the lyrics came together—the song’s first words were changed, for example, because they reminded him too much of “You Can Call Me Al.” (Also on the subject of his back catalog: at 22:20 of the podcast, he calls attention to backing vocals lifted directly “Late in the Evening.”)

The full album, Stranger to Stranger, will be released on June 3rd, with a “first listen” available via NPR beginning on Thursday, May 26th.

Back-Calculate: Jennifer Egan and George Saunders in Conversation

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This past weekend, The New York Times Magazine published a conversation about craft between two fiction writers whose wildly inventive feats with language and structure never feel forced; instead, they pull readers deeper into the story, closer to the characters. Beginning with Egan’s very first question, the exchange reads like a master class in narrative mechanics.

Jennifer Egan: I want to start by talking about how we define writing about the future. Some things that I think of as futuristic, when I’ve looked at them again for this conversation, I’m not sure they really are. So I guess my question would be: What leads you into territory that feels futuristic? How do you end up there? And what makes it the future?

George Saunders: Well, I never really have any desire to be a futurist — to predict, which I think is probably a fool’s errand. Mostly I just want to get into some exciting new language space. I might stumble on an intriguing kind of language and go: Who is talking this way, and why? And then I back-calculate a surrounding world that allows me to keep doing that voice. Sometimes it turns out to be a world that hasn’t existed yet.

For example, in my story “Jon,” I came to that odd diction by way of one of my undergraduate student’s written responses to Kakfa’s “The Metamorphosis,” which began: “Upon perusing this work of literature, I felt myself at a distinct tilt.” And I thought: Jeez, that is great — off, somehow, and yet also oddly communicative of … something. I felt a strong urge to imitate that fragment — to riff on it. I did about five pages of that, and of course it spun off into being something different: a combo of Valley speech and corporatese, in which the speaker (whoever he was) kept lurching into commercial metaphors whenever he had something deep he wanted to express. For example, when he first falls in love, he can only express how intense this is by comparing it to a commercial for Honey Grahams, in which “the stream of milk and the stream of honey enjoin to make that river of sweet-tasting goodness.” So then I had to ask: What conditions would have to pertain to cause a kid to talk this way — equal parts adman, stoner, New Age guru? What I came up with was that he had a chip in his neck that contained every commercial ever made, and had lived his whole life in some sort of corporate facility. But that process was very mechanical — trying to come up with the simplest answer to the question: “Kid, why are you talking like that?”

from Choose Your Own Adventure: A Conversation With Jennifer Egan and George Saunders; New York Times Magazine, November 15, 2015

There’s Only One Amazon, and for Amazon’s Partners That’s a Problem

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Last week, Amazon introduced its Prime Now app to Portland. Our city joins 10 more where Amazon Prime members can place free, 2-hour delivery orders at popular local businesses — in Portland, participating stores include New Seasons Market, Uwajimaya, World Foods, and Cupcake Jones. And when you simply can’t wait for your Kombucha, cupcakes, and organic dish soap, a $7.99 fee buys you delivery within the hour.

The announcement spun me back a decade—to my years as the director of marketing and development at Powell’s Books, to the time when we went into business with Amazon.

By the early 2000s, Powell’s already had a business relationship with Amazon; like many booksellers, we posted our inventory on secondary sales platforms such as Alibris, eBay, and Amazon Marketplace. Then news came through back channels that Amazon didn’t know what to do with its overstock. Up in Seattle, they were sitting on thousands of recently published books that hadn’t turned out to be quite as popular as the company’s buyers had hoped. Apparently Amazon had better things to do with its warehouse space than store surplus copies of The South Beach Diet Cookbook. Powell’s did not.

Amazon started selling overstock to us by the pallet. Many pallets. Powell’s was unique among potential buyers in that we sold enough books to replenish in such bulk, and Portland is just a short drive down I-5 from Amazon. We made easy partners.

Those books quickly became our most profitable inventory. They sold much faster than used books, and at a far greater profit than new ones. Priced at a discount, a viable market existed for them. So Powell’s bought more and more. And then Powell’s bought more warehouse space to accommodate the more and more. Our dot-com and marketing teams moved from a 10,000-square foot building in the gentrifying Pearl District to a 60,000-square foot warehouse on the edge of the city. Our staff grew in order to handle all these books: receiving them off trucks, unpacking boxes, data entering and shelving, and then only a few weeks later pulling the same books from those shelves and packing them to ship. We got very good at all that.

We weren’t naive. No one doubted that we needed to diversify our inventory sources. We had no illusions about our business partner.

Trouble was, there were no other sources of such fast-selling books at such low prices. There was only Amazon.

And of course they stopped selling to us. Amazon realized that they could make more money by holding onto the books a while longer and selling directly to their own customers; and when they were ready, they did. But not until we’d invested in infrastructure and equipment, not until we’d hired staff, not until we’d scaled to serve customers who thereafter didn’t find many of the books they’d come to expect in our stores and at Powells.com. That sucked.

New Seasons is a beloved Portland-based grocery chain. I want it to thrive—for the city’s sake, for the employees’ sake, for all the charitable causes the company supports and because my eating life would be a total shambles without their prepared foods. So I can’t help wondering: What is New Seasons’ plan if Prime Now catches on? How will their model evolve to handle the growth? They’ll need new and expanded supply chains, right? What else? More warehouse space and staff? Will they ramp-up investments in technology? Can they maintain the superior food quality and best-in-town in-store experience?

The articles I’ve read haven’t mentioned how much money Amazon takes from each transaction through Prime Now, but you can bet it’s a healthy cut. That means that as the delivery app catches on, an ever-increasing proportion of New Seasons’ revenue will be generated at smaller margins.

And all of that revenue, day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter, will be dependent upon the functionality and features of the app, which no doubt Amazon will reinvent when and how it pleases.

I’d like to ask a publisher, or any of Amazon’s other so-called partners: How should these businesses protect themselves for the day when “The Everything Store” deems that it’s no longer in its best interest to make the partners as profitable? Or, worse and just as likely, once Amazon has established the local infrastructure and customer base to compete directly.

As a dedicated New Seasons customer, I hope they have a plan.

Narrative Attack (with Power Sanders)

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I wasn’t familiar with Mark Bradford‘s work before reading about him in last week’s New Yorker. He’s an abstract painter, in case you don’t know. I didn’t.

There’s so much to recommend in the essay. Here’s writer Calvin Tomkins describing Bradford’s process:

He starts with a stretched canvas and builds up its surface with ten or fifteen layers of paper — white paper, colored paper, newsprint, reproductions, photographs, printed text — fixing each layer with a coat of clear shellac. Sometimes he embeds lengths of string or caulking to form linear elements in the palimpsest. When the buildup reaches a certain density, he attacks it with power sanders and other tools, exposing earlier layers, flashes of color, and unexpected juxtapositions. Not until the first sanding does he begin to see where the painting is going. He works like an archeologist, rediscovering the past.

Tomkins has composed a fascinating character study from similarly unexpected juxtapositions: art, Home Depot, race, hair salons, international travel, family, social justice, Los Angeles, antiquarian books, standup comedy… Read the essay while it’s still available at NewYorker.com.

Mark Bradford photographed by Catherine Opie for the New Yorker
Mark Bradford photographed by Catherine Opie for the New Yorker

Joshua Ferris | All literary art is basically the art of perspective

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We invited author Joshua Ferris to a party at my house, to talk about his novels and share ideas about how stories get made.

Each party guest brought a unique perspective on narrative mechanics. Among us: an illustrator, a publisher, a biographer, a teacher, a playwright, a recording engineer, a creative director, a magazine editor, an actor, and a consumer experience designer.

We put a wireless mic on Josh as soon as he arrived.

People mostly hung out in the kitchen, as people at parties will. Lisa and Michael roamed inside and out, shooting on Canon DSLRs.

My friend since middle school tended bar. (Thanks, Vitz.)

We drank and mingled. For a while, everybody gathered in the living room to talk as a group. And then before that could get old, we disassembled to drink and mingle some more.

Josh’s most recent novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The paperback edition hits stores on March 10.