Guns and Elmo

Hello, I'm John Pavlus.

This is my internet mood board. Click any entry to embiggen.

In real life I write about science, technology, and design. I also run a production company called Small Mammal.

(FAQ: The name comes from a brilliant photograph by Kenneth Cappello.)


One Shot Stories. This rules. But why does it work? 

  • The title certainly helps: sets your expectations, even creates dramatic tension. How is one shot going to hold my attention? 
  • The shot itself is savvily designed. Telephoto in an urban crowd, so there’s a ton of constantly changing visual (and human) interest. The long lens composition means that nobody is going to stop and gawk at the camera, ruining the shot; and it allows the director to precisely control where the protagonist’s “mark” is when she enters the shot without employing a lot of complicated camera logistics. Slow motion stretches out time and makes everything dreamy, which creates more visual/dramatic interest and tension. 
  • The voiceover. You don’t know who is speaking (yet) and so it feels independent of the visuals, interesting and personal on its own, not just supplemental. 

Two elements (ok, three: music is key too) playing simple, elegant counterpoint to each other. Had no trouble riveting my attention for nearly three minutes.

— 8 months ago
#visualvitamins 

Why Do I Study Physics? Narration + animation doesn’t have to be cookie-cutter and boring. 

  • Handmade visual style FULL of TEXTURE. Despite being monochrome.
  • Surprising style change halfway through that mixes drawn animation with live-action photography in a really childlike, simple, but beautiful way. The opposite of overdone… just-right done. 
  • Brilliantly designed/imagined visual interpretations of the voiceover that emotionally embellish and/or play counterpoint to them, not just redundantly illustrate them. 
— 8 months ago
#visualvitamins 

This is basically a complete Xeroxing of Errol Morris. But when it’s done this damn well, who cares? 

  • Music. Excellent and narrative— feels composed just for the film, not laid in as a bed. 
  • Sound design. Subtle. Note the faint “projector sounds” underneath the typed-out quotations. 
  • Simple, elegant visual design. The film is constructed out of just three main filmed elements: the to-lens interview; the stylized “typewriter” atmospheric inserts; and simple B-roll of Packer photobombing a news event. This is the opposite of my usual “hang out with a person for a day (or more), shoot the shit out of it, make sense of it later” approach. This is designed FIRST, not “found” last. When you can design and simplify the production like this, you can make the visuals really sing without getting messy. 
— 8 months ago
#visualvitamins 

Three minutes of visual detail and texture about honeymaking.

• Color palette is just gorgeous. Pastel-ey without looking washed out. How to achieve this? 

• Show, don’t tell. Done. The moments feel very lightly caught, like butterflies. Not manufactured or forced. 

— 8 months ago
#visualvitamins 

"Meals Per Hour", or a short film about how Toyota’s efficiency system was implemented by a nonprofit food aid group in NYC after Hurricane Sandy.

Things to love:

  • attention to physical detail in the title cards. E.g., a card about the Toyota system is made of letter cutouts (in the Toyota typeface) in a piece of cardboard (like the boxes the nonprofit uses). 
  • Characters shown, not told. E.g., “George” doesn’t get a bloated lower-third telling us his full name, job title, age, and other stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s just “George” and then we only meet him in quick cuts of ACTION, mostly. 
  • Ideas in action. To me this is a design documentary about a system—i.e., an interesting idea—but it’s not laboriously explained so much as keenly observed. The system is still the “star” or “hero” of the film, but the elements of the system (waste, flow, kaizen) aren’t belabored any more than the characters are. They are shown in action, not told in explanation. 
— 10 months ago
#visualvitamins 

What is Neorealism? A video essay.

Holy FUCK this is good. Such supple control of the form and the content—visually, graphically, temporally, historically… 

The internet (vs the cinema or the TV) might just be the perfect medium for the essay-film, in the Sans Soleil mold. 

— 11 months ago
#visualvitamins 

Real simple, real good. Kind of love this. 

  • Snappy graphic design. Just goes SUCH a long way.
  • Love the playing with text and voiceover at the end.
  • An interesting person is interesting on camera. You don’t have to sex it up with a ton of visual “style”.
  • It leaves you wanting more. It’s… incomplete on purpose. 
— 11 months ago
#visualvitamins 

GLAS, Oscar winning docu short about glassmaking from 1959.

99.99% perfection. 

  • Opening and closing titles. CHILLS. Saul-Bass-esque fusion of bold graphic design and cinema and music. 
  • Overall treatment of the documentary subject as musical rather than narrative. The film has “movements” rather than “acts”. A sensory experience, not a cognitive one. 
  • Only one false note in the whole thing, and more just because of tastes/conventions having changed in the past 50 years — the shot at 6:27 when the worker rises up into frame to yell about the broken bottle — just so overtly, stilted-ly staged (rather than observed—even though the film is not at all verite, it still feels gathered-and-arranged rather than simulated/staged) that it feels like a record-needle screech in the middle of an otherwise perfect scene. 
— 11 months ago
#visualvitamins 

This film came online more than ten years ago and it just does not get old for me. 

  • The long lens work. Oh lordy. My mind’s eye is telephoto and I think I got it partly from films like this. 
  • The music. Oh sweet jesus. Oblique and swoony and perfect.
  • Everything between 4:05 and 5:30, especially the flash frame at 4:57. Guuuuhhh hurts so good. 
— 1 year ago
#visualvitamins 

Just great. 

  • No talking. No damn talking. This has the impish visual storytelling of a Pixar short, but with the verite flavor of a documentary. 
  • At :37 - a wide shot of traffic, but all the cars besides the “hero car” are just depicted as barely-sketched squiggles rather than fully “illustrated” parts of the scene. Clever, great design: imparts the motion and chaos of the scene while keeping the storytelling wonderfully focused.
  • 3:19 - bokeh effect on a closeup. Does it “make sense” to mix an explicitly “camera”-based visual effect with a self-consciously graphic, “camera-less” style of animation? No. Which means, yes.
— 1 year ago
#visualvitamins