Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ok, not really my style but...

...I can't say that I don't feel this way sometimes.

(If you can't see a video below and you are on Facebook, click the headline above to go to my blog)

Learning to act is hard. Really hard. Every bit as hard as Roland, the guy in this video, says being a designer is.

People who think they need to miss class should think carefully about what kind of profession they think they are entering.

Watch the whole video, and more Roland Young, here.

From the comments under the video on Vimeo:

This is the clearest window into a Creative Director / Art Director relationship I could ever hope a student experiences before they send their first resume out into the world.

You're very-very lucky to have this as preparation for a job in design. Thanks for posting, this is great.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Uranium Madhouse Associate Artist: Travis Shakespeare!

More Big Fat Win for Uranium Madhouse: actor Travis Shakespeare has joined us as an Associate Artist. Regarde:

Travis Shakespeare started acting early on in theater as a teenager in his home state of Colorado. His first recognition as an actor came from his performance in Flowers Out of Season, a Williamsesque drama about a borderline psychopath in Waco, TX. The Denver Post called his work a "bravura performance," which gave him all the reason he needed to head to NY to try for the big time.

After college Travis studied acting with Susan Grace Cohen and at The Actor's Studio. He had a recurring role on The Guiding Light, and featured roles in Spike Lee's Malcolm X and Woody Allen's Celebrity. He appeared in many independent films & commercials, as well as over 20 New York stage productions. Ultimately he nabbed a leading role on Broaday in the Lincoln Center production C'est La Vie, in which he played a young artist vying for success in New York society.

That experience sent him on to Los Angeles in 2001. Critics singled him out in A Charlie Brown Commercial Xmas as "brilliant"(LA Weekly) and "outstanding" (LA Times). A year later Daily Variety, Access Hollywood & Extra! all featured Travis in the industry spoof hit Allyn McBeal.

In 2004 Travis started producing documentary television, which meant less time to pursue acting, but he never lost his love for performing. In 2008 he decided to start auditioning again, and was cast in the Swiss short Big Sur, which garnered much festival recognition and a Swiss Academy Award nomination. In 2009 Big Sur was remade as a feature film, set to debut in the Spring. He also signed with Innovative Artists for commercials.

how Shakespeare changes us

The Muse Daily FTW:

Shakespeare's art is no more and no less than the supreme example of a mobile, creative and adaptive human capacity, in deep relation between brain and language. It makes new combinations, creates new networks, with changed circuitry and added levels, layers and overlaps. And all the time it works like the cry of "action" on a film-set, by sudden peaks of activity and excitement dramatically breaking through into consciousness. It makes for what William James said of mind in his "Principles of Psychology," "a theatre of simultaneous possibilities." This could be a new beginning to thinking about reading and mental changes.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Uranium Madhouse Associate Artist: Cris D'Annunzio

I am exceedingly pleased to announce that actor Cris D'Annunzio has accepted my invitation to become a member of Uranium Madhouse. Ecce homo!:

Cris D'Annunzio was raised in a traditional East Coast nuclear family -- in the sense that his grandparents, both Italian immigrants, lived in the house and there were always bombs going off! He survived to attend Princeton University, where he played football. Cris got his start in acting when he was 'discovered' by the John Houseman Acting Company while moving instruments for the symphony orchestra at Chautauqua Institute in upstate NY -- his summer job during college. The experience of riding his bike to the theatre and performing stuck with him. After a brief stint in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, Cris embarked on an acting and writing career that has taken him from the stage to the screen -- both big and small. LA Stage appearances include Cobb at the Falcon Theater, award winning Cockroach Nation at LATC, and the World Premiere of Beth Henley's Sisters of the Winter Madrigal. NY credits include Miss Julie at Manhattan Theatre Club. Selected film credits include Ridley Scott's American Gangster and Chasing 3000 with Ray Liotta, which Cris wrote. Cris has had numerous TV roles which include appearances on Without A Trace, and Law and Order.

Welcome Cris!

Derek Jacobi on finally playing Lear, being gay, stagefright, and other stuff

Make friends with your fear. It isn't going anywhere. Or, as Jacobi says in this great interview:

"I do get very nervous. Very nervous. And the pressures are much bigger now. There was a lovely actress called Dorothy Tutin and she always said that there were three categories of actor. The first one was "young and talented", which is a great category to be in. You've got youth on your side, and you're the rank outsider in the race. You've got everything to play for, nothing to lose. Then you become, if you're lucky, "experienced and successful". You've got work, you're making a living, and you're also getting wonderful experience. And then there's the last one, which is "distinguished and acclaimed". And that's where the pressure is. Now you're the favourite in the race, you have to win or come a good second. Now people are putting money on you to win."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

fascinating interview with creator of Doonesbury

Gary Trudeau, on the BBC.

Friday, November 26, 2010

why Uranium Madhouse?

Many people whom I have told the name of the theater company I am forming have chuckled upon hearing it, and, after a moment, exclaimed "I like it!" But I think the reason for this name, what I am gesturing at with it, is not immediately obvious. I don't think that's a bad thing, I like a good enigma as much as the next guy and probably more. I have produced a lyrical explanation in the company Mission Statement, and the 9 Muses page on the website I think also does an excellent job of invoking the intended esprit de corps of the thing, but I thought that some of you around me who have been so supportive and encouraging might be curious to hear a bit more about where I am coming from with this name, and, perhaps more importantly, where I am going.

I recently completed a dissertation on the Austrian novelist and playwright Thomas Bernhard. Bernhard is now widely considered the premier writer in German of the postwar era. It's hard to describe him; for a sample, see #2 on the 9 Muses page of the Uranium Madhouse website. His novels consist of long monologues (no paragraphs!), and the narrators rant, relentlessly, at length, about all manner of subjects, from Heidegger to the pissiors of Vienna. They ruthlessly take apart people in their acquaintance, only to take themselves apart with greater ruthlessness shortly thereafter. They resist the use of pronouns, so that as they hold forth on some subject, they will have to repeat certain terms over and over and over again, making them seem as verbally clumsy as they are obsessively fixated. What fascinated me about Bernhard was the effect this seemed to induce: if it wasn't outright laughter (and it often was; I have laughed to tears more than once reading Bernhard), then it was what I can only describe as a certain kind of loopiness or trippiness, a sense of unreality.

In thinking about Bernhard and studying him, I came across a place in his writing where one of his most famous figures describes the world as "a completely, totally carnivalistic system." The writer W.G. Sebald, in an essay on Bernhard, uses this utterance to invoke the work of a thinker named Bakhtin, who had written an important book on the concept of the carnival, the role in played in the consciousness of medieval Europe: a period when the rigidities of the social order were suspended, and nothing was sacred. I recognized this as what fascinated me about Bernhard: that he saw both human society and the human mind as carnivals, places where their own procedures and practices were subject to reversal and parody at any moment.

Ironically enough, around the same time, I had begun to perform in the night club world of San Francisco, including at the legendary Trannyshack. I had created the persona of Johnny Cocksville, based on this photograph of Johnny Knoxville from the cover of Rolling Stone:

The picture inspired me to create a kind of hypermasculine, hypersexual gay superhero:

I performed little vignettes, lipsynchs at bottom, that were structured like vaudeville pieces that told a story of sexual conquest or of abject failure in the sexual realm. I reveled in the carnivalistic dress-up world of the San Francisco drag scene.

At some point, I recognized that the loopiness and absurdity that I appreciated in Bernhard and in the world of Trannyshack were related to each other, as different as they seemed. And really, they couldn't have seemed more different: the asexual, Mandarin Austrian and the punk-juiced dragsters of San Francisco. But in simultaneously mirroring and parodying norms of the world around them and of their own internal worlds, they were engaged in something remarkably similar.

At the same time, in thinking back on past theater projects and also to ones I had a hankering to do, I found that this trippiness or loopiness was a common thread through much of what I had done and what I set out to do. Case in point: Hamlet. The whole middle of the play, when Hamlet is feigning madness, is suffused with a sense that since he has left the norms of behavior behind, he could do...anything. Another case in point: The Ride Across Lake Constance, the play I did as my thesis at the Yale School of Drama. Written by another Austrian, Peter Handke, this play depicts the struggle of a group of silent film stars who find themselves in some sort of hotel lobby, not at all sure who they are or what they are supposed to be doing. Their struggles to have exchanges that feel "normal" or "connected" are by turns comedic and painful. Another case in point: The Duchess of Malfi, in which a man becomes so incensed with the thought of his sister's involvement with her servant that he locks her up with madmen, has her killed, and then comes to believe he has become a wolf.

Meanwhile, in 2008, I awoke fully to the political realm, which I had had a fairly dim awareness of previously. After I came to know the full-blown dementia evinced by Sarah Palin, I immersed myself in politics and the Presidential campaign. (I even performed as Johnny Cocksville with the Obama logo painted on me where the target usually was. ) As I did so, I became more aware of what had unfolded in the last eight years, and the madness which seemed to have gripped the country in the wake of the fall of the Twin Towers. And I noticed what a big role uranium had played in all of that. Lying about Saddam Hussein trying to enrich uranium had been an important part of mobilizing the nation for the Iraq war, and the worry about a nuclear Iran and North Korea seemed to be bearing down just as hard.

The notion of radioactivity resonated in another way with me: I had studied acting with some truly remarkable teachers at Yale, and had come to see the actor as a generator of "heat", and I don't even really mean the quote marks. An actor who was working from a visceral place seemed to radiate, in a way that compelled our attention from deep within our cores. This phenomenon was so important to me that I would eventually found an acting school, so that I could put the process of helping actors to radiate in this fashion at the center of my work, and develop my skill at doing so.

Also around this time, I read a great book by Adam Phillips called Going Sane, in which he attempts to think about the relatively bland role that the notion of sanity plays in our set of concepts compared to the one played by its opposite.

Lastly, I had long had a sense that in starting a theater company, I wanted to think of it as starting a rock band. Growing up gay (and really afraid of what that meant) and studious, I have long felt that I missed out on the kind of carefree adolescence that many had, or at least that popular culture seemed to suggest many had. In the music of Blink-182 (also to be found on the 9 Muses page, in a video in which they band members run naked through the streets of San Diego), I discovered in my late 20's this spirit of irrepressible insouciance and even omnipotence that bordered on the insane, that I felt I had missed out on. So when I started to think about what my company would be called, I thought of it a little like coming up with a band name. Something like the Flaming Lips, or Vampire Weekend, or Okkervil River, or the Dandy Warhols, or...

And then, in a moment of epiphany, it all seemed to come together in the phrase Uranium Madhouse: the radiation, the danger, the insanity, the vitality. It had to be. It was what I wanted to do with the second half of my life. To create a context and an artistic family which would celebrate all of this, and invite the society in which we live to join in our revels.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

9 people I am thankful for

In living color, right here.

Vive l'art!!!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

cool stuff I saw on the internet

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NorCal Friends and Family Night December 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Uranium Madhouse website launches

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation." --Stephen Crane

Well, Uranium Madhouse exists now, on the Interwebs at least. Please visit, and take a look around. Visit the 9 Muses page, and be introduced to the guiding spirits of this enterprise, ever leading us on toward critical mass.

Friday, November 19, 2010

playing the bad guy

It's not every day that I recommend the work of a competitor, but I have included parts of Howard Fine's book into my class syllabus. The piece I like the most is the section that comprises the first of what Fine calls "The Common Mistakes": it's called "Judging the Character". It's a great discussion of how one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the actor is the tendency to look at the character as from the point of view of an external, evaluative observer, rather than the attempting to get. under the skin of the character and finding out why it is NECESSARY (necessity is the mother of invention!) to do and say the things that the character does and says.

When we talk about this point in class, a question that frequently arises is: "what if you are playing a serial killer or other predator?" And the answer is to try to discover how the character sees his actions as totally justified: usually as a result of some past way in which they were violated. (Remember: in acting class, we are in the business of learning to act roles compellingly, not in the business of making ethical judgments).

Last night I was enjoying the latest episode of This American Life. In this episode, as in virtually all the others, the infallible instinct of Ira Glass and friends for unearthing rich, surprising material was once again on display. This episode was called Petty Tyrant. It tells the story of Steve Raucci, a school maintenance man who rose through the ranks to become the tin pot dictator of the school system maintenance department. He bullied and intimidated, and exacted bitter retribution against those who crossed him. He sexually harassed men and women, he slashed tires and set cars on fire. He was eventually brought down, but the reign of terror he prosecuted is astounding.

At one point in the podcast, the narrator, Sarah Koenig, reports that Raucci thought of himself as a good guy, someone who hated bullies, and who was put in the position of having to mete out justice because if he didn't, then who would? He believed in "street justice".

It's a great piece, for a lot of reasons. Hearing the emotional testimony of some of his victims at his sentencing hearing reveals how harrowing an ordeal this was for everyone involved. But I thought it was particularly interesting to hear about how this man who is clearly sadistic sees himself as persecuted and therefore justified in tormenting others. Actors who have to play bad guys, take note.

there is no limit to what virtuosity combined with daring can do

two Sunday Afternoons

Thursday, November 18, 2010

quantum leaps

The expression "quantum leap" is kind of tricky to use correctly. As one physicist explains:

Some people think that a quantum leap is a particularly large leap. This is incorrect. In fact, in quantum physics, where the expression came from, a quantum leap is usually a very tiny leap indeed, often smaller than the diameter of the nucleus of an atom.

In defense of the people who are using the term incorrectly: if I recall correctly, quantum leaps can produce radiation, so while the leaps themselves may be very small, the results of said leaps can be significant, to say the least.

So what does all of this have to do with acting?

There are certain types of behavioral tics that crop up again and again when people are acting that, once they are addressed, can unleash enormous acting power. It's as if the actor has everything in place, internally, but some part of her is using the tic in question to hold back and remove herself from the fray, to stay safe. Once that little bit of interference is removed, the actor's work catches on fire, becomes radioactive, in a good way.

So what are some of these tics?

LOOKING AWAY BEFORE STARTING TO SPEAK:When I see an actor CONSISTENTLY look away from his partner before starting to speak, I always take notice. The actor is not looking at anything in particular, but is simply looking to the side or down, into space, for a moment, before starting to speak. Then, as soon as he starts to speak, he makes eye contact with the partner. Why is he looking away? It would seem he is formulating his response to what he has heard, find the right words, or something of the sort. We do this in real life. However, when an actor does it CONSTANTLY, every time he speaks, or more than half the time, this is a sign that the looking away is not arising from the situation he is attempting to inhabit, but is rather a response to being an actor in front of an audience, and the anxiety that goes along with that. Often, the actor will be using that disengagement to recall the next line, and will also use it to "compose" himself before speaking. As such, this looking away is a bid for control, an unwillingness to allow the impulse to arise from the connection with the other actor, but rather to reserve the right to shape or control the utterance he is about to undertake. Eye contact is intimate, and is therefore scary. Invariably, when I call an actor's attention to this and INSIST that he make eye contact with the partner upon starting to speak (this usually takes a little work, first to make the actor aware of what he is doing with his eyes, and then to get him to stop doing it), there is a DRAMATIC flowering in the actor's work. And to be clear: the goal is not "eye lock", which occurs when an actor maintains eye contact with the partner only because she is directed to, but to inhibit HABITUAL looking away before starting to speak.

SMILING:Again, smiling is part of our repertoire for expression as human beings, a regular part. However, an actor who is smiling more often than she isn't smiling in a scene is simply holding tension in her lips, probably out of anxiety. This will dramatically affect her ability to "throw the ball", that is, to use her words to impact her partner, to place pressure on him. She will be effectively pulling her punches. When I see this, I ask her not to smile, and again, the results are often remarkable. Suddenly she is no longer fighting herself in her verbal expression, and she starts to really get her words out into space and into her partner.

STANDING OFF CENTER:When I see an actor standing with their weight over one leg or the other, rather that equally distributed over the two legs, I will ask him to stand over his center, by which I mean the abdominal core of the body, the Pilates core, if you will. When the weight is entirely over one leg or the other, the core muscles are "off the hook": they do not need to be engaged to hold the body upright. When the actor's weight is equally distributed over the two legs, the core has to engage to help maintain balance between the two. And when the core is engaged, the chances that the actor is doing something interesting increase exponentially. But what if it's a character choice to stand with the hip popped and the weight over one leg, like Fonzee? Well, let's just say that that is like a handicap in golf: the actor is making her life more difficult. Not that it can't be done, but it is harder, because the actor is choosing a way of standing that actually undermines the engagement of the all-important abdominal core. So it's a kind of advanced challenge. The actor first needs to learn what it is to engage with his core in a scene, to use it to put his words out and also to receive with it from his partner and from his environment. Once he has mastered that, he can start working at adopting alternate physical attitudes WHILE engaging from the core. But as always, first things first.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of tics that can undermine actors' efforts to engage fully in a scene. It never ceases to amaze me the difference addressing them can make. We get to see an actor catch fire, in a good way.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"I didn't want the movie to end"

That's what I heard a woman say as I was leaving the theater after having seen Fair Game, the new movie about the Valerie Plame affair starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. I knew exactly what she meant.

The credit for the great pleasure that this movie affords goes to Doug Liman, the director of this film and the successful Bourne trilogy. Such skillful storytelling a rarity; very quickly, it becomes clear that you are in the hands of a master, and you feel totally free to lie back enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is: we get to see the CIA bureaucracy at work, we get to experience the Iraq war from the point of view of the Iraqis, and we get to observe the wrenching effects of the unfolding international scandal on Plame and WIlson's marriage.

As deft as the storytelling is, I will say that the acting from the two leads does not succeed as admirably. Sean Penn fails utterly to connect with anything other than righteous indignation about his mistreatment at the hands of the Bush administration: there is a notable lack of depth to his attachment to his wife. This becomes painfully clear in the confrontations with his wife: he brings bluster and little else. Watts is understated and serviceable for much of the film. She does a fair amount of what I have previously referred to as "scrunched up face acting". However, in the climactic scene of the movie she redeems herself and delivers a scene best described as luminous.

It is a testament to Liman's skill as a director that the less-than-stellar work from Penn and the mostly unremarkable work from Watts do not mar the experience of the film. Many fine performances from the supporting cast also help to make the film the pleasure that it is. In fact, I think it says something about the nature of the "star system" in which Hollywood directors have to work, that the general level of acting among the supporting cast is noticeably higher than that of the two leads *(excepting the one scene mentioned previously, in which Watts is transcendent).

For Hollywood fare, this film is very, very good. And as we as a society consider our next steps in the Middle East, it is a timely reminder of the bad decisions made over the last decade.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Uranium Madhouse Advisory Board Member #6: Alex Fishkin

It is with great pleasure and excitement that I announce the latest addition to the Uranium Madhouse Advisory Board, Google intellectual property attorney Alex Fishkin. Alex joins David Chambers, Dr. Amir Eshel, Elisa Carlson, and Karim Javeri on the Advisory Board for Uranium Madhouse, the theater company I am forming in Los Angeles.

About Alex:

Alex Fishkin is an intellectual property attorney at Google. He holds an MS in electrical engineering and an MA in Slavic languages and literatures from Stanford University, a JD from Northwestern University, and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. With his diverse background, Alex has advised countless entrepreneurs, small companies, non-profit organizations, and Fortune 100 companies on a variety of engineering, legal and business matters. A native or Latvia, Alex spent most of his life in Chicago and is now living in San Francisco.

Welcome Alex!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Uranium Madhouse Advisory Board Member #5 -- Joanne Butcher

I am thrilled to announce the newest member of the Uranium Madhouse Advisory Board, my close friend Joanne Butcher. Joanne joins David Chambers, Dr. Amir Eshel, Elisa Carlson, and Karim Javeri on the Advisory Board for Uranium Madhouse, the theater company I am forming in Los Angeles.

JOANNE BUTCHER, M.A., Fund Development Consultant

Joanne has been developing organizations for 25 years. For the first 21 of those years, in South Florida- one of the most well-funded cultural centers in the U.S.- her work was entirely in time-based arts: theatre, media and dance. There she was the Executive Director of the much loved Alliance Cinema and IFP/Miami, film school; partner with the Brazilian Film Festival for 10 years, and co-founder and Education Director of the Festival’s Trade Show. Working on the funding side, Joanne served at State and Regional levels for a variety of projects, administered a Statewide program funding Florida interdisciplinary artists by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Andy Warhol Foundation.

In more recent years Joanne focused her efforts on capital campaigns volunteering as an organizational development consultant and steering an organization from zero to building and running a $7 million Assisted Living Facility for By the River, Inc in Sebastian County, FL; moving to the Bay Area as Development Director for the YMCA of San Francisco’s $38 million campaign to build a new Y in the Tenderloin; and beginning and completing a $5 million capital campaign for Youth Radio.

Joanne now works in the Bay Area as a consultant specializing in organizational
development, capital campaigns, and fund development.

In addition to her work in organizational development, Joanne has worked extensively in film and television production. Joanne Butcher worked as assistant producer on the 2010 TLC TV Series Addicted (2010); (Script) Consultant on Lost Everything (2008) a Festival Award-Winning straight to DVD indie (Regent Distribution); Production Manager for the late cult-filmmaker Doris Wishman’s last distributed film, Satan was a Lady (2001).

On the other side of the business, Joanne ran a first-run cinema in Miami Beach and brings a rare knowledge of the marketing, distribution and exhibition of independent film. Joanne has served as a reader of producer’s business plans and reels for ITVS (Independent Television Service) and NALIP (National Association of Independent Film Producers). She also created a project called the Florida Statewide Film competition which provide to producers with a script and a business plan to compete for a prize of $25,000 cash and $175,000 in goods and services. In addition to the winning film, at least two other of the films have been completed. One, Full Grown Men, was screened in July, over a weekend in July 2010, as part of the San Francisco Film Society’s programming.

Welcome Joanne!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

wisdom for actors

"Chance favors the prepared mind."--Louis Pasteur

Think about it, actors. Think about it.

Sondheim and the business writer

Worlds do sometimes collide. Joe Nocera is a tough-minded business reporter for the Times, keeping sharp eye on Wall Street shenanigans for the rest of us.

But in this Times piece, he opens up about his longtime love affair with the songs of Stephen Sondheim.

When I fall for something, I fall hard. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever fallen as hard for anything as I did for Mr. Sondheim’s music. His songs and shows became central to my life, insinuating themselves into my heart and mind. I’m a business writer, but I’d often find myself, in the middle of trying to write a tough-minded article, haunted by some Sondheim song that I couldn’t get out of my head.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Mother of Inventioner to appear on The Office

I saw on Facebook today that Mother of Invention alum Cris D'Annunzio is appearing on the wildly popular comedy series The Office.

Wow! Congratulations Cris!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

SF Alexander workshop

Workshop on Saturday November 13th
with Constance Clare-Newman and Amy Likar

Join us for a day of Body Mapping and hands-on Alexander!

We will present detailed slides, and video and of course, handouts.

During presentations, one or both of us will be giving individual hands-on experiential understandings to match up with our intellectual understandings.

If you are a teacher, teaching your students functional anatomy in Alexander lessons clarifies and deepens their understanding and their ability to practice AT skills.

If you are an Alexander student, this workshop will bring a whole new level of awareness into your practice.

Saturday, November 13th from 10-5 at Jeffrey Bihr studio in Rockridge, Oakland
$125, limit of 15 students

Contact Constance for more info or to sign up.

Constance Clare-Newman

Less Effort, More Ease
The Alexander Technique


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

inspiration visited me tonight

There I was in class, facing the challenge of helping an actor get better by helping her to see her character's situation more clearly.

I have faced the particular challenge I was facing in this case many times before. But for some reason, today, I went about it differently. I don't know why I did that. And it probably wasn't the first time I tried this new approach. But tonight was the night that I went the way I did AND I saw the potential it implied: how many new possibilities it opened up.

I remembered how years ago, someone told me about a teacher doing something along these lines, but it hadn't made any sense to me then.

The past and the future converged in the now.

I looked around at my students who were smiling and laughing while they were learning and getting better.

Outside, the horns honked for the Giants. The night was soft and cool.

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