Finishing out Rome

We’re on our last full day in Rome.  Our stay has been marvelous.  There’s been three themes:

1. Great art.

2. Amazing history.

3. Great food.

Today included all of these.

First, the art.  We spent the morning in the Galleria Borghese where one can see the palace and art collection of a 17th century cardinal.  Cardinal Borghese used money, power, threats, and extortion to put together an astonishing art collection.  While it’s not the largest art museum out there, piece for piece it’s one of the best collections I’ve seen, right up there with the Louvre.  Among many other things, it has major paintings by Caravaggio and sculpture by Bernini, two guys who are quickly climbing to the top of my list of favorite artists.  Here’s a couple of poorly photographed examples:


This is a detail of a Caravaggio painting of David holding the head of the slain Goliath.  The key thing to note is that Goliath is a self-portrait of Caravaggio, painted as an expression of guilt over a man he had killed in a duel.  Caravaggio hoped to get a pardon as a result and be able to return to his home in Rome.  He got the pardon, but alas died before he got back.

Here’s a Bernini sculpture of Apollo and Daphne.  Apollo is on the verge of capturing Daphne when Daphne’s father, a river god, turns her into a tree to protect her from Apollo.


This sculpture has to be seen to be believed.  Daphne is transforming into the tree even as Apollo is grabbing her.  Her toes are taking root, her skin is turning to bark, and her fingers are sprouting leaves.  It’s hard to believe that this can be done in marble.

Cardinal Borghese was patron to both Bernini and Caravaggio.  The man clearly had taste.

After a quick lunch:


we headed off to the Capitoline Museum, a collection that combines art and history.  Here, for example, is an ancient statue of the emperor Commodus:


Doesn’t look at all like Joaquin Phoenix, does he?

And here’s some guy standing next to the remnant of a giant statue.  That must have been some statue!



After that, we returned to the ruins of ancient Rome.  Once again, I found being there incredibly evocative.  Walking down the street that Cleopatra took into the city.  Seeing the stone where Julius Caesar was cremated.  Walking through the room where the Emperor Domitian was assassinated.  I can’t think of a place on earth that has so much history that had such an impact on our modern world.  Even our language comes from the names of places where I stood today (Capitoline Hill, which led to the word “capitol”; Palatine Hill, which led to “palace”).  Rome is not where western civilization was born, but  it is where it grew to adulthood.


And while we’re talking about amazing things, here’s Julie, holding a piece of mosaic tile that she found on Palatine Hill.  Roman emperors probably stepped on that little piece of stone in her hand.


(She tossed it back.  Taking relics from Rome is not a good thing.)


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The perils of following in one’s child’s footsteps

As I mentioned before, all of our children have already been to Italy.  I realized we’d be seeing things that they already saw, but sometimes that can go too far.

To whit: last year Andy was particularly impressed by the virtuosity of one accordion player.  There are plenty of accordion players in Italy, but most of them limit their repertoires to bad versions of the love theme from “The Godfather.”  This one, by contrast, was playing Mozart.  Here’s a picture that Andy took of him.


And here’s a picture of a terrific accordion player that Julie and I heard today.




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Veni Vidi Vici

Today we visited the ancient part of the city.  I loved it.


At one point, I told Julie I’d make a terrible gladiator.  My years fencing peaked with me becoming the worst rated foil fencer in Virginia (a long story for another day), and being the worst rated gladiator sounds like a bad plan.

But I can’t deny the thrill I felt when I stepped onto the ground floor of the stadium and looked up at all the people milling about in the seats above me.



While I liked the Colosseum, I found the Imperial Roman city much more evocative.  After much study of the history of Rome, I found it thrilling to be walking where Augustus walked, talking where Marc Antony gave Caesar’s funeral oration, standing in Domitian’s bedroom, walking down the Sacred Way where all those triumphs passed.  There was magic to it.

One of the things that helped us imagine the scene was a lovely little book that Julie bought.  It’s called “Rome: Past and Present,” and it shows views of Roman sites as they appear now and as they appeared then.  Here Julie holds up a view of what the Roman forum looked like then against how it looks now.  I strongly recommend this book if you ever find yourself visiting any of the sites of ancient Rome.


Here she is, again looking at the book while standing next to the site of the Circus Maximus, the stadium where the chariot races took place (and note: chariot racing was more popular in Rome than the gladiatorial games):


And one last note, before we move on from the Imperial City: throughout Rome, there are open running water flows set up to allow for easy filling of water bottles.  Here’s one with a wolf’s head that’s across the street from the Colosseum:


I’ve seen similar things in other places, but generally not run by the city.  And not with constantly flowing water – something that would be a no-no in a water-poor city.  But this does hearken back to an older Rome, back when all those lovely fountains served the purpose of providing water for the people of the city.

Later in the day, we took a tour that promised to be nicely gruesome.  A visit to the Capuchin Monastery that is decorated with various tableaux made of the skeletons of past monks.  It was about as gruesome as one would wish, though also contemplative (the monks apparently did this with the idea of giving a graphic demonstration of the fragility and impermanence of life).  Alas, no photos were allowed, so I will have to leave you imagining what a chandelier made of human bones looks like.

No photos were allowed in the Catacombs either, another stop on the tour.  There were no actual human remains on display either, though many more philosophical musings on mortality.

And finally, we visited San Clemente  Basilica.  A lovely church that contains areas built in the 14th, 4th, and 1st centuries, the last one being a pre-Christian temple to Mithras.  No photos allowed here either, which means that the last half of the day was a complete shutout where photography was concerned.



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Let’s go Art!

A long, tiring day, full of great art, good food, and lots of walking.  We went to the Vatican, including spending several hours in the Vatican Museum (which has amazing art), not to mention St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistene Chapel, visited the Pantheon, visited the Doria Pamphilj gallery, visited some random church, and had a marvelous dinner at the restaurant where they supposedly invented Fettuccini Alfredo (and the FA there was the best I’ve ever tasted).

Not much theme to the day, other than the great art.  I have developed a great fondness for the paintings of Caravaggio, and I saw three of his originals plus one very good reproduction.  But there was plenty of other good stuff.

But before I get into a bunch of pictures from the day, let me share a picture of one of the most important shrines in Rome.


That is the tomb of Queen Margherita in the Pantheon.  Margherita was the second queen of Italy.  It is because of her that we have the modern pizza, with cheese, tomato sauce, and basil (which represent white, red, and green – the colors of the Italian flag).  It was invented by a Naples chef who wanted to impress the queen, and even now in fancier pizzerias you will find that kind of pizza called a Margherita Pizza.

Now on with the pictures:



In this depiction of the geniuses of ancient Greece, Rafael decided to paint in all his artist buddies as Greek geniuses, including Michaelangelo, Leonardo, and himself.


There’s that woman I keep running into in Italy, this time at the Vatican.  Good thing she’s pretty.



My favorite Caravaggio of the day, one that’s in the Vatican Museum.  I love Caravaggio’s use of light to tell story – and it should be noted he’s a favorite of many cinematographers.


In Rome, Annubis is so cool that he wears a toga to all the parties.  He invited me along as his wingman at this one.


Meanwhile, Julie started tumbling down a truly awesome staircase.  (Okay, she didn’t really.)


In Rome, if you walk into a random church that you just happened to pass on the street, you’re likely to see all sorts of cool art like this.  Pretty neat.


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Thoughts of old friends

Travel gives a chance to see and think new things.  But it can also bring thoughts of those we once knew.

This trip, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about my dear friend, Walter Neill, who passed away last November.  Walt loved to travel, and one of his favorite trips had been to Rome.  He also was a fond reader of this blog and frequently commented on my travel posts.  I’m sure that if Walt were still alive, he would be reading and commenting on these entries, and probably passing on valuable tips for travel in Rome.

I’m particularly missing Walt today because I have a story he would have loved that is in part about him.

Today, after visiting the Vatican, Julie and I popped into a minor art museum in Rome, the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj Gallery.  The Doria Pamphilj is a family of Italian nobility who collected art over the centuries.  Their family palazzo is now opened as an art museum, and it is well worth a visit.

As I was listening to the audio guide, I noticed an interesting coincidence.  One of the things that Walt and I shared over the years was role-playing games, games in which one plays characters in a scenario created by another player.  In one game that I ran set in Victorian England, Walt played a character based on a nobleman of the time, John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury.

As I was listening to the audio guide today, I found that Mary, the real-life daughter of the real John Talbot, married the then Prince Doria Pamphilj.  Her portrait now hangs in the gallery.  Walt had played the father-in-law of the then Prince Doria Pamphilj.

Walt would have loved that little detail about his character.  And I would have loved sharing it with him, and finding some way to work it into the game.



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A nice place to visit, as long as it’s not August 24, 79

Imagine that you wake up one fine morning and head downtown for a couple of meetings.  After a full morning, you’re just finishing lunch when you look past city hall and notice something strange. Is that mountain really supposed to be exploding?


That’s what happened at 1:00 PM on August 24, 79 AD, in the little city of Pompeii. I’m happy to report that it didn’t happen today: the smoke over Vesuvius in the background is only a low-hanging cloud. Phew.

A fascinating day, full of fascinating ruins, lovely preserved art, and a constant weird feeling of what it must have been like on that August day so long ago.



We not only visited Pompeii, we climbed Mt Vesuvius itself. Here’s the crater, which is bound to erupt again one of these days.



And lest you doubt that it’s still live, here’s some steam rising from part of the crater:



Note that there are several hundred thousand people living in the red zone.  When – and that’s when, not if – Vesuvius goes up again, it’s going to kill a lot more people than it did back in 79.

Any trip with Julie is going to involve the occasional Art Attack.  This time, she’s got a strange little book that gives her little assignments.  One was to stomp some dirt onto a page.  She of course chose volcanic dirt.


But that wasn’t the only art up on the mountain.  On the road to the drop-off point, before the last steep hike up to the crater, there’s several odd and lovely things  made of volcanic rock.


And special bonus for the day, with a special call-out to my WWII-history-geek friends: on the way to Pompeii from Rome, the bus made a bio-stop in sight of a little monastery named Monte Cassino. Yes, that Monte Cassino. (Clearly, they have rebuilt it since 1944.)



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Rome Ho!

Shockingly, it’s been three years since Julie and I went on our last big trip, our voyage to Egypt. Further, a year and a half ago, Andy went to Italy. A year ago, Kate and Diana went to Italy. It’s getting so that Julie and I are left out of the family conversation. All of which is to say, going to Italy has become a necessity.

So here we are now. After a day of many transit delays, we are here.  (Yes, many transit delays.  Late planes, missed connections, screaming babies on red-eyes.  All the joys of modern travel, with the only consolation being that a hundred years ago it would have taken a week-long ocean voyage to get to Europe, not an annoying day of airport roulette.)

In any event, we had a nice afternoon wandering around Rome near our hotel. Though all in all, some of the things we saw were a bit disappointing. For example:


The Trevi Fountain is a lot less impressive when there’s no water in it.



The Spanish Steps lose some of their romance when there’s several hundred people sitting on them.



Augustus’s Tomb is a pile of dirt with some trees growing around it.


But Rome does have its consolations, chief of which is that everywhere you look, there’s:

– An amazing statue in front of a old church:


– A relic of the Roman days (in this case, Marcus Aurelius’s column):


– A cool fountain, many of them with actual water:



– A beautiful woman standing in front of a bunch of latin inscriptions:


Though I have to admit, the thing that I find most entertaining in Rome (other than the beautiful woman, anyway) is the way they incorporate their ancient history into their day-to-day existence.  For example, this is what a drain cover looks like in Rome:


And this is the city’s Logo on the side of police cars:


(For those not up on their Roman history, that’s the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, a key detail in  Rome’s founding myth.)

And of course, there’s gelato.  Lots and lots of gelato, sold on every corner.

So all in all, it’s a good place to visit.  And we’re just getting started.




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A new website

I’ve got a new website all about the movies I’ve been making. It’s That will be the home of all my movies, thoughts about my movies, and future blog posts about filmmaking.

I’ll still be posting here about things in my non-film life, but when I have something to say about movies, I’m going to say it over there.

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A new movie

After all the fun I’ve had doing 48 Hour Film Festivals, I decided I really wanted to try doing one by myself.  Do the writing, the directing, the camera work, the sound, and even all the acting.  And by myself, of course I mean with Julie’s help.

Looking at their schedule, I found that Richmond was holding a 48HFP, just a little ways down I95 from home.  So I entered.

Here’s the director’s cut of what we produced. By director’s cut, I mean this is not the version that I completed in 48 hours and submitted, but rather a version that I spent another week editing.

Flowers for Daniel from Joe Dzikiewicz on Vimeo.

I am happy with the result. I think it’s the best movie I’ve made yet. But I learned a lot of lessons, and I think there’s at least one major flaw in the movie. More on that when I have time for a post-mortem post.

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Fighting with myself, or more experiments

I’m working on a video project that requires one actor to play multiple roles.  Those roles interact with each other, and there’s going to be times when we’re going to want multiple versions of the actor on screen at the same time.

I’ve been wrestling with how best to do this.  After watching one of the films in the Best Of of the DC 48 Hour Film Project, I noted how they did something similar.  (I think the movie in question was “Miss Fortune” by Crowded Elevator Productions, but I could be wrong on that.)

Here’s a test clip that uses the method that I think they used.  Comments to follow.

Quote of the day goes to Kate, who upon seeing this clip said, “Now you know how we all feel.”

This was fairly simple.  Put the camera on a tripod, lock down the tripod, make sure there’s sufficient depth of field and everything is in focus, and start running the camera.  Stand in the first position, act a bit, move to the second position, act some more.  All done in one take.  Suck the footage into Premiere Pro, break it into two clips, one with Joe 1, one with Joe 2.  On one clip use the Four Point Garbage Matte effect, cut out the half of the image that doesn’t have Joe in it.  Put that clip on top of the other one.  Move the clips around a bit so the timing looks reasonable.  And Voila, all done.  We now have a simple way to have the same actor appear twice when no overlap is required.

A couple notes on this:

  • Making sure that the camera is exactly the same in the two clips is crucial.  You need a locked down tripod – no handheld on this one!  No dolly action either, at least at my current skill level.  (I suppose if I were really good with my timing, a dolly move would be possible.  But one step at a time.)
  • Blocking is also crucial.  Joe-1 had to keep to his side of the shot.  It would be possible to shift the keying so that the two Joes could alternate sides of the shot, but that would require careful attention to blocking.
  • It would not be possible to have a third actor walk from Joe-1’s side to Joe-2’s side.  Thinking about how to do that continuity correct makes my head hurt.  (Though that could be done with green screen – see the next experiment for some hints on how this might work.)

But what if you want visual overlap?  Welcome to the wonderful world of Green Screen.  I bought a giant role of chroma green paper at the Calumet going-out-of-business sale.  (I’m going to miss that store.)  Chroma green is the green used for green screen.  A couple years ago, I bought a stand for photographic backgrounds which is designed to hold giant rolls of background paper.  So I put the roll of green paper on the stand, set it up in my basement, and produced the following:

I locked down the tripod, set the camera settings, and set up lighting.  I filmed myself twice in front of the green screen.  (Well, four times: once for each scene.)

But honestly, I wasn’t completely happy with this.  If you look at the figures of me, you’ll notice that there’s a light green around my edges.  That’s because of the bright lights I had on the green paper.  That light scattered and backlit me.  I used the forest background image in order to make it look natural, but I won’t always want to do this against a  greenish background.

So I read up on green screening.  It seems like the secret to back lighting is to make sure there is plenty of room between the foreground figures and the green screen.  I tried it again with more space, and this time outside so that I did not need any artificial light on the green screen.  Here’s the result.

Now that’s more like it.

A few lessons from this go-round:

  • In both of these cases, lighting is crucial.  I made it easier for myself by filming the green screen and non-green screen versions in the same place with the same light.  It would have been a huge challenge to get the lighting right if I had filmed the green screen pieces in a studio.  I’m glad I’ve got a green screen background that I can set up where I need it – it makes life ever so much easier.  Doing this outside opens up the possibilities of shifts in light: I clearly want to make sure that I film the green screen and non-green screen versions close in time, and I need to hope that no errant clouds pass over the sun for one of the shots.
  • Blocking is also critical.  I should have marked where I stood in the first version.  I filmed punched-Joe first with the green screen background, then removed the screen and filmed punching-Joe. But I didn’t mark where I had stood as punched-Joe.  The first time I tried filming punching-Joe, I was off by a foot or two which made the sizes greatly mis-matched given that I was using a short focal length.  I had to do another couple of takes trying different placements.  As it is, the placement wasn’t perfect: punching-Joe is a bit smaller than punched-Joe.  When doing this in the future, I’ll be more careful with blocking.
  • Timing is important.  I had thought of filming two punches, but there was no way with one person doing this that I would be able to time two punches.  Lining up a single action between the two clips isn’t too difficult: making sure the timing was correct between the two would have been more than I could manage without some significant help.
  • Having two people to handle the background is important.  The roll of paper is around 10 feet long.  I tried to do it myself, but at one point I had to move the green screen background.  It was painful, so I pulled Julie in as a grip.  Thanks Julie!
  • Given that I want the green screen fairly far back in order to avoid light spillage, shot angles is a potential problem.  I’ll need to use a long lens for that.  I’ll also need to make sure I have plenty of space where I’m filming.  I can also use the Garbage Matte effects to remove some non-green-screened stuff from the green screened version as in the first experiment, though in that case I’ll need to be careful that the foreground figure doesn’t stray away from the green screen background.
  • Blocking wasn’t a problem with the first experiment, when I had the chair in a fixed location as a fixed point to film around.
  • To handle the green screening itself, I used the Premiere Pro Ultra Key effect.  I played around with some of the settings under Matte Generation to improve the keying.  I suppose I could have tried playing with some of the other settings to improve other stuff – I’ll wrestle more with that when I’m doing this for real or in future experiments.

All in all, I’m happy with the results of these experiments.  I feel confident that with these two approaches in my toolbox, I’ll be able to get the effects I need for my project.

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