Saturday, December 30, 2006

Redemtion

So I've been re-writing a screenplay of mine, and I'm suddenly more and more liking it. Of course I have no idea on how I'll get this into production, but for now I'm enjoying the experience of writing a new screenplay. As all of you know there are several stages a filmmaker goes through with his or her film. At any one of those stages the project can fall apart, or go through some drastic changes. I enjoy the writing stage, but it's a lonely one, and it all happens in your head. I know from experience that what is put down on paper is usually only a blueprint and that with more and more outside influences come change. It's a good thing and a bad thing. You as the originator of the idea have to know what is a good idea and what isn't. That person is called the director, and it's you're job to direct the project to a good and satisfying conclusion. In other words you NEED to know what happens and you need to get form point A to point Z. A director realizes his or her vision.

But in the early stages as the writer the imagination does rule. With me I can't help but see real world problems that will happen in a production so because of that I try not to write things like: "and Charlie saw something that mankind had never ever seen before". Somehow I try to write things that I can shot.

Any way right now I'm just happy that the ideas are coming, and that my characters are developing. It's a good feeling to wrestle with those creative juices, and just be creative. Maybe it's my Christmas gift to myself. It's cheap, and I can work with that. See you in the funny papers people.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Broken Flowers


Okay I had to write this after seeing Jim Jarmusch’s film "Broken Flowers" starring Bill Murry as Don Johnston. It is a very little odd tale of a man who gets a letter supposedly from one of his many girlfriends that tells him that he has a son. The women’s identity is unknown, and there lies the mystery and the adventure that our hero takes. I can’t say I’ve seen many of Jamusch’s films, and the ones that I’ve seen I’ve either been impressed or just plain confused. To say Jarmusch is an acquired taste is an over simplification of his films. You either love it or hate it. There seems to be no middle ground with the Jamusch’s films.

I was turned on by Jamusch’s first film "Strangers in Paradise". Basically it was telling of a story all in master shots. There are no real close-ups in the film, and the film is heavy on dialogue. "Strangers in Paradise" was the film we talked about in film school. It came out in 1982, and it was just at that time as I started film school. The one thing that it proved is that you could make a film outside of the system and get noticed, and Jim Jarmusch certainly got noticed. "Broken Flowers" is as close to a Hollywood film as Jamusch comes to ever making. There are the films "Mystery Train", "Night on Earth" & Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" which are films that had a sizeable budget, but they were steered more to the art crowd, and didn’t get a sizeable distribution which is unfortunate because some of those films are Jarmusch’s best work.

Back to "Broken Flowers". I just saw this film on one of the cable channels, and I came away from it wondering what I had just seen. The film is an interesting character piece. Bill Murray plays down his character, and you get the feeling that he’s an ordinary guy with a lot of issues, but there are some interesting performances from various actors in it that really make the film stand out. The film is slow to move and I believe Jarmush does this on purpose. There is really no resolution in the end and the film leaves you guessing. I know that Jarmusch likes to do this. After all life isn’t really so neat, and a lot of conflicts never get resolved in real life. I even watched the film again after seeing it only a few days after the first viewing. I must say I caught a lot of little nuisance that Jarmusch put into the film. Sometimes silence can be more powerful then dialogue and Jarmusch isn’t afraid to do just that.

I need to re-visit some of his other films, and see how I feel about them again. Jarmush puts a lot of stuff in his films, and they do feel like slice-of-life vignettes strung together in a film that as a whole tells a story. Like I said if you like to see some interesting performances pick up the film, but be prepared to sit through some slow pacing. At a 106 minutes the film isn’t that painful to sit through, and the cinematography by Frederick Elmes is stunning to watch. One thing for sure is that I need to take a closer work on Jarmusch’s other films.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Deadly Obsessions


Okay so I've been thinking about it more and more, and so why not. I've been saying that this blogs purpose is to reach like minded people like myself. Filmmakers, film enthusiasts, and people who just love the cinema. Call me crazy but the cinema is a passion of mine. Heck I even made a film that's how crazy I am about the cinema. I've learned valuable lessons in what to do and what NOT to do, yet with all its headaches I still want to make more films. I'm finding it frustrating to move on, and do another film. Since this time of year is a time of reflection for most of us I too have also been doing just that. So what am I getting at? Well if you are a reader of this blog I thank-you whole heartily for reading these meanderings of this crazed person. I also want to extend my thanks and give you a chance to see the film that I did. Just send me your mailing address to: kgbproductions AT gmail DOT com. I check on this email every so often, so I'll check it in a few days and see how the response is going. I have a limited amount of DVD's to give, so I'm hoping not to run out. I'll let you know how it goes, and I'll be real honest about its progress.

If you'd like to review the film on you're own blog that would be great. Both positive and negative reviews are welcomed. I'm a big boy and I believe I can take the criticism. Maybe we can even discuss what I did and how I did it. Anything that would be helpful to you in getting your own project off the ground would be a kick and something that would make me happy and all this worth while.

I'll leave a deadline of January 31st for all inquirers to be sent. After that the offer expires.

You won't get it right away since I'll be sending the videos out as I get the money to mail them out. Every payday for me more will be sent out. That I promise. I also promise NOT to keep any of the addresses that are emailed to me. As soon as I send the DVD out I'll discard the info.

So again thanks for reading, and I hope that in some way a project of yours is getting closer and closer to fruition, and that you find yourself happy and healthy in the New Year.

Thanks again. Hope all have a HAPPY NEW YEAR and a productive and safe one.

Friday, December 22, 2006

New Media: What's it all about?


So the other day I cruised the web. I sometimes do this to see what’s new & different in the world, and as Time Magazine proclaimed ALL of US to be the person of the year I began to look at some of us. As an aspiring filmmaker I kind of have a vested interest in all this. After all don’t I want my films to be seen by a lot of people? Isn’t that what a filmmaker does? He or she communicates through their films in a form of entertainment. Well now with such things as MySpace, and YouTube we now ALL can communicate with each other and entertain too, so the walls of mass communication are starting to crumble. No longer does a studio or a media conglomeration have sway in what we see or watch. Variety has sprung up, and WE are all stars of our own lives.

But wait hold on for a second. Weren’t we stars of our OWN lives before? We’re we NOT important before, as we are now with all our media outlets available to us? I would think so, or are we living our lives as we always have been only this time more people know about us. I’ve read some articles where people criticize Time for punking out in essence. I mean how lame can one get. Surely there is someone who deserves to be person of the year more then WE all do, or am I wrong? Did WE collectively start something that we are now responsible for? Has the digital revolution made us the stars of our own lives, and by sharing our lives and expressing our opinions have we NOT made a difference? I’d say YES, but is this a fad, or just something that will peak and then die down?

There are some pretty funny video blogs out there in cyberspace. Way to many to list. If you want to see what’s around go to The broadband Internet access charts on wikipedia is an interesting view on just how many of us are driving this digital revolution. In an interesting article from the Times Sir Tim Berners-Lee a British computer scientist tells us about the warnings of why the democratic ethic of the world wide web may be about to end. Net Neutrality is a new term that is fighting to stay alive, and is an early warning sign of things to come if we don’t try and make the web more a place for ideas and not commerce.

There is no way of getting around it. The web has become commercialized. A lot of us do our shopping on the web, and it’s a convenience. With more and more people uploading videos are we not drowning in the noise itself? Who are the gatekeepers? There seems to be no one, and in a democratic way there should be none. As the Internet audience matures we’ll see more and more polished videos and the audience will become more sophisticated. Like TV in the 50’s we’ll see a lot of regional type programming, but as the net begins to evolve will see more and more commercial videos come about as more and more companies fight for your attention for their product. Either people will get tired of watching bad videos or they’ll tune it all out.

How does this apply to filmmaking? It’s another form of distribution, where the people decide on whether they like your product. You can target your audience now more selectively. Got a horror movie you made? There are a ton of horror web sites out there that could potentially help you promote that film. Maybe you’re film deals with a certain different lifestyle. You can target that market as well. It’s gotten easier to do this, but it’s going to get harder to get your message through. They’ll be a lot of other filmmakers and studios shouting about their new film and product. It’s up to you to be smart and come up with some interesting ways to get passed the clutter. In the future be prepared to know web design & what it will take to promote you’re movie. Set aside a marketing budget for your film and begin planning your marketing strategy right at the beginning of the film. Even before the film is shot. Not only shoot publicity stills for the film but videotape interviews with cast & crew. The more you provide the more interest you may generate for your film. It’s a difficult slope to climb, and one that may not get you the notoriety you want. I’m sure they’ll be companies that will be better at this since they have a bigger budget for this type of advertising, but a lone filmmaker can buck the odds. Maybe if you’re not as commercial as the rest of the studios and try to go for the more home grown feel you’ll have success. I’m just hoping that there’s a resurgence in better filmmaking about human values we can all identify with and that have some sort of message without the message being beaten over our heads. After all isn’t the Internet a place for ideas? And wasn’t it created to further those ideas by discussion. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Time Management?


So how do I begin? I've been writing a screenplay that was so-so, and is slowly becoming something I'm interested in. I've been reading a lot of film criticism blogs lately, and I sometimes feel as though I'm not culturally empowered. I always feel as though I'm playing catch-up. I do read, and go to movies, but in my older age I've become more selective. Maybe it's a time thing. There are only a certain amount of hours in the day that I can create or try to indulge in my film making endeavors. After that theirs work, family, and sleep. So where do I try and catch up? Well let's see. If I cut in on my sleep time I'll be a big grumpy mess, who will eventually rap his car around some tree, so sleep is good and it's better to have more of it then less of it. Trust me as you get older you'll feel it. Then theirs family time. Let's see I grew up with a father who worked hard, and had little time for his family. It kind of sucked, and I never really got to know my dad as well as I'd liked to have, so that's not an option. After all I really like to know what my boys are up to and I'm sure they'd like to know their father a bit more. Work is a given. Can't shorten that without getting hit in the old pocket book, so that isn't an option. So again where do I fit in all that I want to do in order for me to be a productive artist, and one who is creative?

Selectivity is the key. I used to go to a lot of movies in my youth, but I've become selective. The mainstream isn't for me. Reading books is even harder. If it doesn't have anything to do with the cinema I'm probably not interested. Maybe it's short sighted, and limiting, but with the time I have I can't waste time on a novel that I MAY like. I've said it here in this blog that I'm a very technical oriented guy. It's a plus and also an Achilles heel for me at the same time. If it's one thing in film making I've learned it's knowing what will work and what won't technically work. Of course then there are times where you throw out the technical manual and wing it. So being too stuck in the technical can make for a boring and flawed film.

Originality is something I try for, but it's impossible to do. There is always someone or some film that is similar to yours. It's how you stage it, and present it to the audience that makes it stand out. So again how do I stay culturally relevant when I don't have time to see or read everything that might be relevant? Simple answer: I don't. I do what I think is relevant, and what I find as interesting. Going with the flow never seemed to be a viable option. If it was I'd be working for one of the studios in La-La land churning out reality series or cheap sit-coms.

In the grand scheme of things I know I'm nobody significant. There are a lot of others who produce good work. My challenge is to produce work that I can be happy with, and yet maybe just maybe make a unique piece of work. It's a dream, but it's a dream worth while working for.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

INLAND EMPIRE



I've been hearing about this for some time, and what makes it more interesting is that a BIG time director is actually distributing his own film. David Lynch is a filmmaker who you either love or hate. There seems to be no middle ground with a David Lynch film. "INLAND EMPIRE" is a 3 hour film, and maybe that's why Lynch is doing what he is doing. After all a filmmaker's job is to get his or her film seen by as many people as he or she can, and doing it through the Internet is a good way to go. Lynch already has a fan base, and he has been getting a lot of free publicity by being interviewed by the press, and standing out on the corners of Hollywood promoting his film. Over at the workbook project there is an interview with Eric Bassett. Bassett is a managing partner of Absurda. Absurda handles all of David Lynch’s interactive properties and is currently overseeing the DIY release of David’s newest digital feature, INLAND EMPIRE.

Promotion is more then half the battle, so check it out, and see what Lynch and company are doing. It is inspiring, and I must say I'm a bit envious at the interest Lynch is generating for his film.

Personally Lynch is a favorite of mine. He has always made the films that he has wanted to do, and never compromised his vision. Some would say his film "Dune" was a compromise, but even now Lynch is having the last laugh when the studio releases Lynch's directors cut of the film on DVD. I look forward to seeing INLAND EMPIRE, and hope Lynch has much success with it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ferris Bueller's Day Off


So it’s Christmas and the networks blast there holiday favorites. Some how the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” starring Matthew Broderick has become one of those movies that gets played a LOT during this time of year. The funny thing about the film is that it doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas. “Home Alone”, “Planes Trains & Automobiles”, heck even it’s a “Wonderful Life” I can understand why they play these films when they play them. But Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What’s that all about? Well I do have a theory, so I’ll give it a shot.

What does this film by John Hughes have to do with the holidays? Absolutely nothing, but as like all John Hughes films they do stir up memories for it’s audience, and right now those memories are very fresh. Why you ask? Well “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released in 1986. It was one of John Hughes most successful films, so a lot of people saw it. Now flash forward to today, and what do you have but adults having a nostalgia trip when they see the film. The film itself is a happy romp of a teenager who we all would like to hang out with. The most popular, the handsomest, the all-together kid. Now if that isn’t a misnomer I don’t know what is. All together kid? There is no such animal. It’s a fantasy, but we buy it hook line and sinker in this film. What I always thought was funny and unique was that Hughes character Ferris breaks down the forth wall of the theater and he (Ferris) actually addresses the audience. Ferris is our pal, and WE like him. He talks to us, and we're in with the cool crowd suddenly.

Everyone I meet can pick out a scene they like in the movie, and I really think it brings us back to a certain time in our life that we think we had or are familiar with. I’ll be the first one to say that my high school days in the 80’s didn’t reflect what was on the screen, but Hughes movies touch us in some way or the other. The teenage misfit, the prom queen, the geek, the jock, or the teacher you hated. All are charicatures in a Hughes movie, but their charicatures that we identify with. All the characters in a Hughes movie are universally identified with, and thereby it’s no wonder that a lot of his movies are successful.

So back to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Why does it show up now more then it does any other time of year? I’d say one thing the movie has is it’s nostalgia for the past, and if you look at when the film was released back in 1986 you’ll find that a lot of people who saw it back then in the theaters are now in their middle age. The nostalgia of the past is quite strong among this group, and what better group to market commercials to at this time of year. The film is not offensive, and little of it needs to be cut, so it seems perfect for network TV or cable. Also the demographics is perfect. People 35 to 45 are starting families, and have children themselves. It’s where the money is, so is it any surprise that “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is such a popular film around this time of year. Even myself I’m captivated by the film. I’ll leave it on when I see the film not realizing that I’m feeding my own nostalgic desires of the past.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a funny film. I love the characters, and I really like Matthew Broderick as Ferris. The parade scene with Ferris singing a Beatles tune is funny and you do get a good vibe off it. So it’s not evil by any stretch of the imagination. It’s fun filmmaking and it’s a film that I enjoy watching once in awhile. It’s like hanging out with Ferris. Hughes was ingenious at making Ferris’ character talk to us because when he speaks to us we actually feel like were hanging out with Ferris and that’s what makes the film a cool little film to watch. It captures our attention, and takes us on a ride. Just like what Ferris does to his friend Cameron (Alan Ruck). By no stretch of the imagination can this be considered a teen drama. It is a fantasy like most of Hughes films, and it is cast well. Jennifer Grey as Ferris’ frustrated sister is hilarious. At 102 minutes the film breezes on by and in the end you feel really good. Even at the end credits Hughes has some fun with the characters showing what happens to Mr. Rooney & even Ferris addresses us, and tells us to leave because the film is over. It’s that kind of fun that makes “Ferris Bueller’s Day off” a good little romp for the holidays.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Conflicting Feelings!

It's been a while since posting, and I just thought I should write something. Being that it's the holiday season things get busy in our household. With two boys dreaming of race cars, trains and Christmas trees it gets harder to concentrate on my movie endeavors. I'm still writing, and experimenting, but time is at a premium. Also I haven't been too happy in the quality of my writing, so maybe there lies the crux of the problem. I've already come to realize that in order for me to make another film it is going to take some time for me to pull it off, and if I'm going to spend a lot of time on a film it better be a GOOD one, and something worth saying. In essence it better mean something to me. Money is also a factor, but more importantly its about what I want to say. Life is too short, and I want my boys to look at my films someday and maybe get a clue on who I am or was. Of course it's hard. Film is a collaborative venture, but it takes just one man or women to start the wheels of production. The auteur theory has its place, but one man or women cannot make a film entirely by him or herself, so that person needs to generate interest and a certain amount of spirit in their project. How else can you get volunteers to work on your film for nothing or next to nothing.

You have to believe in the project so it's all on you at first, and since it takes a while to make a film with the limitations we set for ourselves or that are forced upon ourselves we need to make the film a GOOD film. One that when you look back at the making of the film you won't regret your time spent on it.

That's where I'm at now. We'll see how it all turns out, but hopefully something good is going to happen. I just need to remember that it's my LOVE for film making that drives me not my desire to be famous or wealthy. After all I have stories to tell, and it's all about storytelling.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Don Dohler


I just found out that Don Dohler passed away last Saturday. If the name sounds somewhat familiar it's because Dohler was responsible for such films as: The Alien Factor, The Galaxy Invader, Fiend, Nightbeast, and Vampire Sisters. He also published a magazine called Cinemagic which was bought by Starlog Group back in 1979. I was a kid back then who desperately wanted to know more about moviemaking. I would devour each issue when it came, and I even bought two books Dohler put out about Special effects & stop motion photography. This was way before the Internet, and it was comforting to know that others had the same interest as I did.

Dohler's films were done on the cheap, but at that time it was a lot of money. Dohler was fortunate to have some films when the Star Wars craze hit. He sold his films to TV stations who demanded product. His films were a bit on the amateur side, but they were filled with love for the genre. If you want to hear an interesting interview with Don Dohler check this web site at Ourmedia:

http://www.ourmedia.org/node/115251

Dohler had begun to make films again under his new company called Timewarp films. What I liked about Dohler was his can do attitude. He had fun and made some money at it too, but for Dohler it wasn't all about money. Maybe that's why I liked him. I did meet him at a convention in Baltimore and said thanks for Cinemagic. Dohler was responsible for feeding a young mans dream back in the day where he felt he was the only one. It was fun reading his articles over and over again, and then applying them to a short I was doing. I am saddened to hear that he is gone, and yet I'm glad to have seen him & tell him how much he meant to me. God speed Mr. Dohler. You'll be missed.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Film Criticism Blog-a-Thon!

Okay I saw this on Matt's web site, and was intrigued about the idea that Andy had about a film criticism Blog-a-thon, so here's my take on it all.

How does a person judge a film? A question asked for some time now. I mean I've always been intrigued by the French New Wave, and most of those filmmakers started as film critics, and I do sometimes here review a film I've seen. It's inevitable I guess. I'm a lover of movies, and so it's a natural progression that I write about them.

But what can I bring to the table that would make my film criticism special or unique. With the internet now there seems to be a new crop of film critics who put more heart into their work then the simple jaded film/TV reviewer does that usually writes for a publication. That's not a bad thing. Passion is good, and I've met some reviewers who came off cold, and just too business like. I guess its par for the course especially if you do writing reviews as a profession. Imagine all the movies and TV shows one needs to see and then put a deadline on it, and I can see where critics can loose their passion. It's the old publish or perish I guess, but how do I judge a film and what makes it work or not work for me is a matter of taste I guess.

Simple put does a movie work? Now this could be on several different levels. One was it entertaining? Did I forget my troubles when the lights went down, and the movie started? Did I find any interest in the characters in the film? Was the story too predictable? Did I know what was going to happen? Did I find it funny? (comedy), scary? (horror), eye opening? (drama), or did I just feel I wasted my valuable time?

Since I studied film in school, and I've actually made a film maybe I can add something to my reviews that would give readers an interesting perspective about the film. I've even worked on several films in different capacities so maybe I can add something different into the mix. I'm not saying I'm an authority in filmmaking, but lets just say I have some knowledge about what goes into the making of a film and leave it at that. In no way does this make me more superior or less superior then anyone else reviewing a film. Like I said earlier it's a matter of taste. Let's just say I'm more aware of what a filmmaker goes through to get his or her film up there on the screen.

Now all that said how do I go about reviewing a movie? If I have a good time, and enjoy it I usual like the film, but I do recognize what type of entertainment I've just seen. Will the movie leave a lasting impression on me? In Matt Riviera’s blog he stated that viewing it again and seeing if it still holds up is a valid test. I kind of agree on that, but if I see a movie, and it doesn't let go even after a week or two after seeing it then I know there is something special in the film. Now this something special may only resonate within me. Maybe the film said something to me, and no one else. After all we do bring EVERYTHING to the table when we review a film. Our hopes, our aspirations, our desires are all there, and a film can touch on all of them or none of them.

But what about the film working as a film? Structure, dialogue, shot composition, editing etc. Don't these all have to do with a films success or failure? I agree a well made film from a filmmaker who knows his or her craft can contribute to the films success immeasurably, but some well known filmmakers have been known to make some really bad films too, so that's only part of the equation.

There are several levels on how a film can affect me. A film like “The Dukes of Hazzard” with Burt Reynolds, and Jessica Simpson may entertain me and give me a laugh or two, but in no certain instance do I consider it a cinema masterpiece. It was simply entertaining, funny, and a good night out, or in this instance a good night in (thanks cable).

But what about a film like “The Departed” which I saw recently in the theater and had mixed feelings on. Did I like it or not? In my review I said I enjoyed the story, and told of its faults or what I believed to be the films faults. I was entertained, and enjoyed the story and characters. Pass or fail isn’t what I’m about. One star, two star, four stars are a bit more my speed, but then again how do you review something. Does a review have ANY merit? Does a person say because of this review I’ll go see this movie, or not. In this day of age where information can flow fast and furious I believe the consumer makes an educated guess. If he or she hears several BAD reviews they might consider seeing it later on DVD. But if that consumer is a fan of a particular star, director, or genre then maybe his or her mind won’t be influenced.

All I can say is that when I see a movie I try to enjoy it. Matt makes a good point in his blog, and that is whether you enjoy a film or not.

“Whether you're a film critic, a cinephile or a cinephage (a French term for people who 'eat' film), you never want analysis to get in the way of your enjoyment of the medium. So it's always perfectly fine to "enjoy first, analyse later"...

I like that piece of advice a lot. It’s something everyone should aspire to even critics, and that’s my two cents.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dance Party USA


After hearing about Dance Party USA I was interested in watching it, so I ordered from the filmmaker. I like supporting other filmmakers, and am always interested in new work that seems to get noticed. Dance Party USA is about Gus (Cole Pensinger) a 17 year old who always seems to brag about sex in a graphic and misogynistic way. It isn’t until he meets Jessica (Ana Kavan) that Gus begins his transformation from crass ladykiller to sensitive boyfriend. Aaron Katz directed & wrote this film and he does have an ear for naturalistic dialogue. Dance Party occasionally has its young actors talk about life, or sometimes they don't talk about life. The film isn't afraid of long, silent takes, and maybe that’s where I had a problem with it. Dance Party captures that feeling of aimless youth wandering the landscape, but there is a fine line between naturalistic dialogue & being dull. Did I care enough about the characters to see them through the film, and I’d have to say I fast forward some of the long drawn out pauses in the story.

Aaron Katz has made a very interesting & dynamic film, but one wonders if it would have made a more dynamic short. The film was budgeted at 3 K, and Katz shows a lot of ingenuity with his limited budget. The film was filmed in and around Portland, Oregon where the filmmaker is originally from. It was also shot on digital video. The cinematography by Sean McElwee is stellar, and you really get a feel of the protagonist’s surroundings. I was inspired by watching the film. Dance Party USA is a good example on what you can do with a minimal budget. I don’t regret at all buying the DVD, and hope that the film finds proper distribution. Maybe his target audience are the very teens he writes about. Along with the music within the film I would think that a much younger audience would be interested in Dance Party USA.

Still I look forward to more of Katz’s work and hope to see more from this unique filmmaker. Only time will tell, but Katz is only 22 years old so I figure he has a lot of good work ahead of him.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Joe Dante Blog-a-thon


Joe Dante has been a favorite of mine since I was young. I loved Gremlins, and my wife is a fan of Innerspace. A favorite of mine is Matinee which I think shows a love of B-movies that only Dante could bring to the screen. Then there’s Small Soldiers which was a cute little film that my son’s really like. But what is it that makes Joe Dante that special sort of filmmaker. I do have a theory and that is Dante’s film’s have a humor about them that the audiences connect with. Mr. Dante’s films also contain a certain amount of anarchy which we all love.

My first Dante film was Piranha, which was his first film he directed for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. His first film which he co-directed with Allen Arkush was Hollywood Boulevard and is legend on how it was created using stock footage from numerous films. The film is a homage/parody of ultra low budget movies, and is required viewing by filmmakers of all ages. But the one film that I went ga-ga for was Dante’s The Howling. The film was a re-telling of the werewolf legend and it was a brilliant horror film that contained a lot of Dante’s signature of comedy and horror. In an early scene in the film involving a character being killed by a werewolf, Dante intercuts a cartoon that reflects the victim's predicament. As a teen I was struck how Dante used comedy in the film. I’m sure this is all due to Mr. Dante’s training as a skilled editor for Roger Corman.

Some critics have criticized Dante for getting lost in his cartoon like world, and using it too much, but that isn’t true on several of his other films. The Burbs is a story that takes place on one city block, and is about the boredom of suburban life, and the embracing of the unusual, or Innerspace one of Dante’s best films with great comedic performances by Dennis Quaid & Martin Short. Both films show a flair for good performances and good storytelling.

Which brings me to Matinee. This is a film that is a love poem to the B movie, and who better to make it then Joe Dante. Dante shows off his love of old films (especially that of the 50’s moviemaker William Castle) and the ritual of going to the movies, while poking gentle fun at Castle-like film extrodinare Lawrence Woolsey who is played by the great John Goodman. As the kids in the theater watch the film with-in a film unspool we the audience cannot feel some sort of nostalgia to our own past.

Joe Dante’s filmography is extensive, and there are too many films to talk about all in one blog, but one thing that stands out in Mr. Dante’s films is his love for the cinema. Having worked on all levels of productions Mr. Dante is a filmmaker who has worked his way up the ranks from low budget films. Happy 60th birthday Mr. Dante, and thanks for the memorable films, and here’s to a lot more years of making memorable work.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman 1925-2006


Okay two in one day, and both obits! Today America lost a great director. Robert Altman passed away Monday night in LA. What can be said about this man that hasn't been said before. He's given us such films as The Player, M*A*S*H, Gosford Park, Short Cuts, Nashville, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Just this year he was given a life time achievement award by the academy. His style and his love for filmmaking were unbound, and he will be sorely missed. Altman directed actors like a maestro conducts an orchestra. Everyone wanted to work with Altman, and he was in a class with such greats as John Ford, Billy Wilder & Orson Welles.

My first Altman film that I ever saw was M*A*S*H, and I was hooked on it from the first frame. The darkness of the film, and yet the laughter the film gave us. You knew by watching the film you were watching something special. Altman gave us a lot of work, and thank God for that. His films will be studied, and revered forever.

Gary Graver 1938-2006


Gary Graver was a cinematographer who worked on a lot of B-movies, and by doing so he worked with a lot of up and coming people such as Ron Howard, & Peter Bogdonavich in the late 60's & 70's. What Graver will probably be best known for was working with Orson Welles. Graver had tried to finish Welles last film "The Other Side of the Wind" & to this day tried to get it finished. Mr. Graver tried to raise $3.5 million he thought was necessary to piece together thefilm from Welle's script and editing notes. Welles had only shot about 40 minutes of the film before he passed away. The film is about a gifted director's artistic decline that Welles had worked on for 15 years. It starred John Huston & Peter Bogdanovich

Mr Graver had shot such films as "Grand Theft Auto, Satans Sadists, Toolbox Murders, Deathsport & numerous other films. I remember a lot of his films having seen a lot of his films on late night TV. It would have been really interesting to see Graver's obsession come to the screen. I do remember in interviews he gave he had mentioned it a couple of times. He also directed films under the name Robert McCallum. Check out his website that he had here. The one thing that amazed me with Mr Graver was that he was a filmmakers filmmaker. He knew cinematography, editing, producing, & directing. He did more films then I know any other filmmaker made. Okay so some were not steller, but that never stopped Mr. Graver from giving it his all. He was no movie snob, and he had a passion that I admired.

Monday, November 20, 2006

DIY & the Internet

Here's a link that may interest some. It's a lecture with several filmmakers who did the DIY route. The filmmakers are Lance Weiler, (The Last Broadcast, Head Trama), Tiffany Shlain (The Tribe), Susan Buice, Arin Crumley (Four Eyed Monster), David Straus (creator of Withou-a-box). It's an interesting lecture, and a detailed look at three films that use the web to self promote.
It's interesting, and pretty eye opening. I'm excited and yet frustrated all at the same time. The lecture was given by Digimart: The International Digital Cinema Market

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ideas, Trailers, and posts

Okay I've done enough talking about ideas, and what I need and want to do, but I do get a lot of questions from students on what they should do. What idea should they write about? I hear constantly "Mr. B I don't know what to write?" I can't say I've had this problem because as far back as I can remember I always had ideas. Comic books, sci-fi novels, and TV , and movies kept my imagination fed. Now-a-days the average adolescent is bombarded with media of all sorts and it's any wonder they can form an original idea from all the nonsense kids are hit with. What I've noticed a lot is that "gaming" is very popular, and has taken hold of this generation in a strong way. I guess I can understand this since I loved playing asteroids, or missile command when I was a teen. But compare those old arcade games to what kids are playing now, and it's like comparing the stone age with the information age. The games kids and young adults play today are light years away from the old Atari games we once played. graphics are sharper, computers are more powerful, and interaction in games have become more and more personal. what one gamer experiences may not be what another one experiences.

When I grew up I read a lot. This generation does still read, but their gaming has kind of stunted their imaginations. Even movies are the culprits now. I've always complained that a lot of what Hollywood produces are games on film. These films have car chases, explosions, action tweaked to the ninth degree, and a lot of kids are robbed of their imagination. I've seen some creative writing teachers help in the idea department when a child is having a hard time coming up with an idea to write. It's a hard line to walk. On one hand you don't want to influence them with an idea of you're own while at the same time you want to cultivate their own ideas. Children don't realize that they do have unique stories to tell. A little coaxing and you would be surprised to see how well a child could write once pointed in the direction. Of course there are self censoring that some teachers do which are counter productive. I've never believed in censoring a child. If it is a story that I don't want to hear that's just too damn bad. Maybe there is a reason why the child writes what he or she writes. Not all is of wine and roses.

That's why I like film making. We are a visual culture and we pick up things fast, and we don't even realize that we've picked it up. Film making forces you to write. I think that everyday the newspapers are littered with stories to be told. Hollywood keeps playing back the same stories to us, and we buy it, but I'm hoping someday that regional film making will become more prevalent. Maybe what plays in the mid-west won't play in the east coast, but on the other hand it might, and maybe we might learn something about each other. It's the story that is of interest. with digital film making it doesn't take that much money to make a really good film. I see and hear about good films everyday, and am inspired. even at the old ripe age of 42. If it inspires me, maybe it can inspire a 16 year old boy or girl who feels alienated, but has something to say. There is ALWAYS an audience out there. You just have to find it, and elevate it to a new plateau & make others interested.

On a personal note I've been trying or working on a better trailer for my film. The one up isn't at all good, but it was done in haste, and it need to be reworked. Finding the time on the other hand will be the difficult part.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Filmmaking in the Digital Era

As all of you know I've been looking around the today's film making landscape, and am trying to come up with a viable idea for another film. As to date I am writing another script, but some articles which I read on different blogs have kind of made me think. One article is of a actor who is now doing wedding's on film. I've actually toyed with this idea, and have at times when I've been filming a wedding or at an event as a guest taken along my Super-8 camera, or my old Bolex. I usually just do it for myself, and I like the experience of shooting on film. I've even taken the old Arri out, and filmed our first Thanksgiving dinner as a married couple. Sync sound and all. The only reason I did this was for doing it. I like film, and am partial to it. Video comes close now-a-days, but shooting in film feels good. Focal length, f-stop, t-stops, depth of field, and film speed are all factors that go into shooting on film, and coming from the film arena I'm comfortable using them. Film has a latitude that I love. In low light, or in well light areas film looks good.

Now getting back to the article. I've always wanted to do a character piece about a wedding or event such as a anniversary or even a baptism. Weddings seem more fun to shoot because there is a lot happening, and everyone is in their finest. I still edit & shoot weddings on occasion, and I never have a bad time at one. I like doing it, and I take my time, and put no undue pressure on myself since I am usually doing it for next to nothing, or just for my own self. I did a lot of weddings in my college and high school days when I worked for a local wedding event company in NY. I learned a lot then, but I also learned what NOT to do, and as I get older I seem to be getting more confident in my abilities as a filmmaker. Especially now where all things seem to be done in digital. I've learned that it's in the editing where the magic really happens. When I shoot at events I shoot a lot of footage. It's only video after all, but when I shoot film I pick & choose the scenes I want to film. I try to get the key moments on film when I can. I combine the footage I shoot in different formats throughout the video.

Now here's the idea. Why not do a film based on the idea of a wedding. Use actors, and non-actors, and stage a wedding over a week-end. Of course the story needs to be GOOD, and interesting, and the film has to have that feeling of reality. After all don't we all love to look at other people and see their problems and joys. Hence all the reality programs playing now on television. The film would be scripted, but I think I would leave room for some improvisation. Trying to create the happy accident within the scene. Did you ever read how they shot the wedding scene in "The Godfather". Francis Coppola knew how to stage that, and it felt real, but I believe only Francis could pull that off, and make it feel so authentic. Of course that is only a scene in a movie. One really GREAT movie to be precise, but none the less it's an example of what you can do.

I'm not even saying shoot the whole film on film. Mix formats. Super-8, 16mm, digital video can all be combined, and give that feeling of authenticity of the film. The Blair Witch Project works because it feels authentic, and yet we are seeing actors up on the screen.

I bet a lot of filmmakers & aspiring filmmakers can do a lot with this. All kinds of stories are possible here. Over at "Lost in Light" a website where "they are devoted to preserving, showcasing, and celebrating films created on the small-gauge 8mm film format they're retelling old stories. I think this is a GREAT idea and something that needs to be explored even further. I've always said everyone has a story, and these small films tell that story. By using this footage one can only be inspired.

So I really don't know what will come out of all this. All I can say is that I'm excited by the prospect of using a variety of formats to tell a story. It's always been about the story for me. That hasn't always been the case earlier in my career. Style, and shots were more important back then. Now in this digital arena a lot of styles can come together, and a story can be told. I'm excited by this, and I feel that the many ideas springing up within my head have potential. Now it's just a matter of getting them up on the screen. Ain't that always the challenge.

Monday, November 13, 2006

In search of an idea


Sometimes what works for me is that I write my original material in notebooks hand written, and then type it out in Final draft. While I type it out I begin re-writing some scenes, and in effect I create an 2nd draft of the script. It's frustrating, and maybe a bit time consuming, but it's how I get to the meat of the story. I have a tendency to write on, and not concentrate on what I really need as opposed to what I think I need. In film you need to get to the story quick. William Goldman said the first ten minutes (ten pages) are what you need to draw your audience in. I'm not the greatest writer, and I've worked with others and always found it difficult accommodating others styles. I'm not against writing as a group, but only when there is an agreement with everyone involved on the story. Working on sections of stories is sometimes a good way to work. But all need to agree on where the story is going, and how the character(s) will get there. But mostly writing is a lonely act that you need to shut out the rest of the world, and concentrate on the story. Sometimes this is fun, and at other times it's hell.

I've been trying to get a story done that I can shoot for. No pie in the sky, and therefore I needed to obey certain low-budget film rules. I think I've listed some of them in a previous post so I won't go over it again.

I see all kinds of software for writing scripts or writing stories, but I don't buy into all of it. I type my script out on Final Draft, and it's not the latest version either. I'm comfortable with the version I have, and I can crank out a script quickly in it since I'm familiar with it's features. There are other software applications out there, but I know of people who use word, and are happy to use that. It's the idea. Not the software that makes you a good writer.

I don't know if this is a film I'll even do. I'm not sure how I'll be able to pull it off, and make it, but at least I'm trying. I need to continue this until something hits me so strong that I will be compelled to get it made. As my screenwriting teacher said "it's in you're head". SO the wheels spin, the smoke begins to rise, and here's hoping for some divine inspiration.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

So long Jack!


Jack Palance died yesterday at the age of 87. He was one of my favorite actors of all time, and I was glad to see him win an Oscar for "City Slickers" back in 1992.

But what I remember Mr. Palance most from was such films as "The Professionals", "Portrait of a Hitman", "The One Man Jury", "Revenge of the Gunfighter"" & "Vamos a matar Companeros" both directed by the Italian filmmaker Sergio Corbucci. It was only later in the 80's where I saw Jack Palance on the big screen in such films as "Alone in the Dark" and "Without Warning". Most of the movies he had done were considered B-films, but man when Palance was on screen you could feel your skin crawl. His bad guys were memorable, and no one played the tortured protagonist better then Palance. In the late 60's & earlier 70's Palance played in numerous films directed by such filmmakers as: Sergio Corbucci, Freddie Francis, Richard Brooks, Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi, Jesus Franco, Enzo G. Castellari, & Gianfranco Baldanello. These were the days of the spaghetti western, and a lot of films were co-productions with studios in Europe.

I saw a lot of these films in old theaters on 42nd street, and on late night television. So I guess when you mention Palance I can't help but think about these films. Some were so-so, but all entertained, and as a young child growing up in Brooklyn they had a BIG influence on me.

So long Mr. Palance, and God speed. You were loved, and you brought joy to countless hearts in the roles you played. We loved hating you, and we're going to miss you a lot.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Filmmaking in Progress (BEWARE)


The above photo is from when we were shooting my film "Deadly Obsessions". It was the last day of principle photography, and I was quite relieved we were ahead of schedule, and actors had already their next gig lined up, so production was coming to an end. One of the crew made this sign to alert people that we were shooting a film. We didn't want to cause any problems with the neighbors like we did earlier in the shoot. We even had a police officer on the set to make sure that we were okay. Philadelphia now provides a police officer free of charge to a production if you request it, but back when we were shooting we had to pay for the officer. It was no big deal, but I could have put the money somewhere else had it been free. After all every dollar counts in a low-budget film.

I currently find myself now in the process of writing another script. The first draft is done, and it needs some re-writing, and this picture reminded me that I should have that sign up 24/7 outside my house. If I'm not writing, I'm editing, if I'm not editing, I'm shooting something, so I still live and breath filmmaking. What I find so frustrating is the time between films. I want to make more films. Yes I know ALL the pitfalls, and the problems of making another film, but something still draws me to it. I've said it before I'm like a junkie who is chasing their last fix. I've always had a lot of energy and that has sustained me and my filmmaking endeavors, but as I get older, and wiser I'm more slower to react. I take my time, and work at something I really care about. Something that I'll be working on for awhile because as I said before time is what I got a lot of, so I better use that time and plan. Yet I'm not one to keep on talking and not do anything. I hate people who do that, and I certainly don't take after these people. After awhile it's time to get off the pot & move forward.

So what am I talking about? Writers write, painters paint, photographers photograph, and filmmakers make films. I haven't done anything and it's making me crazy. My day job provides an outlet of some creativity, but I need to start another project.

There are obstacles abound, and I have NO idea on how I'll pull it off, but if I worry about it now I'll paralyze myself into doing nothing. Doubt is the killer, and I can't let that happen. I may not shoot the script I just wrote, but it's the first step in a process to something better. So yeah the sign is up, and the keys are clicking away. The old wheels in the brain are starting to spin, and I'm smelling smoke. How? What? Why? and who? are the questions that fill me, but maybe if I get excited again I'll actually get others excited, and when that happens good things happen. It's the fucking journey that counts isn't it? So it's time to set sail, and try out the things you learned. No guts, no glory!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Adrienne Shelly 1966-2006



So I just found out that Adrienne Shelly passed away on November 1st in her office. Ms Shelly had been best known for her parts in Hal Hartley’s film “The Unbelievable Truth”,which was her debut film, and “Trust”. She was a very interesting actress, who was lately concentrating on directing. She appeared in ”Factorum” this year as Jerry, and has appeared in many other films. Her directorial debut was “Sudden Manhattan” which was made in 1996.

Born in Queens and raised on Long Island, Shelly lived in Tribeca with her family and had been focusing more on writing and directing lately and caring for her daughter. Shelly recently wrote and directed a film called "Waitress," which starred Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion. Ms Shelly had just sent her most recent film, Waitress, off to the Sundance selection committee.

Ms Shelly made a big impression on me when I saw her in Hartley’s film “Trust”. She brought to the role a kind of vulnerability that really made me interested in her character. I always thought that when Ms Shelly was up on the screen you couldn’t look away. "She was beautiful, and projected the essence of a smart and slightly lost young generation"*. Since she was close to my age I guess I identified traits in her characters with my own generation that seemed to not know everything & didn’t have all the answers. This is a blow to the independent film community, and she will be sadly missed. There is a Newsday article , which has more, and over at Filmmaker Magazine is another write up.

* Filmmaker Magazine quote (Scott Macaulay)

**Final Post-script

Indiewire posted that the NYC police have arrested a Brooklyn construction worker for the murder of Ms Shelly. More infor here at CBS/TV

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Amateur or Professional?



So what’s the difference between amateur & a professional? The dictionary defines amateur as “a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.” While the dictionary defines professional as: “following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain”. The word amateur comes from the Latin word “amator”, which means lover. I kind of like the word amateur, but it’s used a lot to look down on individuals who do not do what they love full-time. What made me think about this is what is happening now in the realm of filmmaking. Digital video has made filmmaking more accessible to the masses. All you need is a computer & a camera and you can do a lot with that. Along with the Internet one can be seen by millions all at the touch of a keyboard or mouse click. Of course this flood of films has produced some interesting and some not so interesting films. But why look down at these people who do it for the love of filmmaking or the love of a genre. Coppola once said something in the same vein and that was that one day a farm girl from Ohio will make a movie that will blow the socks off the industry, and she’ll do it all from her computer in her bedroom. Already we are seeing signs of this. Shorts, documentaries and some features are being made at half the fraction that Hollywood usually pays out.

It takes passion, determination, and something worth saying to get a movie made. Yes, we all know that the story needs to be worth hearing, but usually these people who are creating these types of work are ones that newspapers and the media would label “amateur”. Now I kind of twinge at the use of this word, but part of me wants to shout from the rooftops that “yes I am a amateur, and I like it”. The Cinema has been something that is special to me. It means a lot to me, and it’s my love for it that has gotten me this far. Sure I’d like to make some money at filmmaking, but if I really were interested in getting my investment back I would have sunk my money in a less volatile scheme then making a film. There is no guarantee that I’ll ever make a success out of this endeavor, but I’m hoping that if I keep plugging away I’ll get it, and be a better filmmaker, and maybe a more successful one.

I’ve been reading, and have met several people out there who make films for next to nothing, and every time they keep coming back for more. It seems that the one’s who are successful at filmmaking get out of their cliques, and venture out into the world coming into contact with other cinephiles, and lovers of cinema. We learn from each other and grow from that. There are others who don’t venture out of their circle of influence and only wind up to be pigeon holed as a genre director/producer or “amateur”..

I think in order to be successful you need to bring something personal to you’re work. Sure we can all write about the action adventure we see regurgitated on TV and in the movies, but what will separate us from all that is the personal. How can we connect to the viewer, and how she or he connects with us. I’m not saying that one genre is better then the other. I love many genres. I just feel that in order to be successful you have to come up with something new that others can relate to. Amateurs do this because it’s what they know, and it’s their strongest suit. We are becoming more and more a society that is very selective, and one that has specific needs or wants. I see more and more films that are either in the category of horror, supernatural, or family orientated films. All from different distributors that seem to cater to their target audience. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Who can say? Are having so many choices a good or bad thing? I think those answers are best answered at a personal level. A don’t think people watch ONLY one particular genre. They like variety, and the Internet, and cable provide that for them, but if you look at cable they repeat their product over and over again, so that’s telling me that there aren’t enough shows out there to fill program schedules.

Now I’m sure there is product out there to program for these markets, but maybe not of the caliber that network TV or cable is used to. Where am I going with this? Simple it all comes down to money. Amateur & professional productions are usually categorized by production budget. Is the film shot on film or digital tape? Are there stars in the film that markets can exploit to its audience? After all we are still a celebrity driven culture. We like to see beautiful people up there on the screen. Star power adds another hook that you can market you’re film with.

So there is a line between amateur and professional, but audiences don’t care. If you’re story is solid, and the production is of professional caliber your sell your film. What do I mean by professional caliber? Lighting, acting, editing, sound, & direction are important. TV has been around for some time now, and the audience’s are getting smarter. They know bad when they see it. They also know poor quality when they see it. What destroyed the video market in the mid to late eighties was that video companies were beginning to pick up product of inferior quality. Usually the film was shot on video and it was slickly packaged for video stores to buy. Back then all you had to do is show a few exploitative elements on the package and you would be guaranteed a sale. The audience got wiser, and are now much more selective in their buying habits.

I like the word amateur, but I don’t like the connotation that the word brings. Bad acting, poor sound, and so-so story. It’s good that YOU care about YOUR film, but should anyone else? Is there a market out there you can target? The days of the big advances from distributors are gone. No longer do distributors fork over huge sums of cash for a film that you made. These advances now don’t even cover your production expenses, so you have to be smarter. There is a lot of product out there, and though a lot of it is of poor quality there is still a lot of product out there for them to choose from. The one’s that the distributors will choose will be ones that will be good, and have some sort of exploitative element so they can hook their audience. The word is entertainment, and that is what the distributors are in the business to do.

So great you’re an amateur filmmaker what can you do? If you have no money start looking outside your circle. Use professional actors. Maybe go see some local plays and see whose good. There are a lot of great actors out there dying for exposure. Pay them something for their time. We all have to eat. Write, write, and then re-write you’re story. Get people involved early in the work, and let the seed grow. Research you’re chosen genre that you would like to write about. All this is called doing you’re homework. It doesn’t matter on what you shoot on now as long as your story is good, and you know you’re medium. It’s okay to be a “lover” of the cinema, but unlike writing a book, or taking a picture, or painting a painting, filmmaking is a collaborative art form, and one that is expensive. We just can’t go out and buy a canvas and some color paints and start drawing our masterpieces. Filmmaking is dependent on a variety of art forms to come together, and is subject to the whims of the entertainment marketplace. You have to be smart & know you’re end goal for you’re film, so keep that “amateur” status in your heart, but strive to be a professional, and then maybe just maybe you will graduate to doing that next film.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

$10K & under!

So this week-end is the Delaware Valley Film Festival, and I’m thinking of going. I do know of someone’s short film that is in the festival and it would be great to see it. The festivals requirements were that the films budget was not over ten grand, and that’s why I never bothered to submit my film. Now you say that with just $10K or less how can a person pull off a successful film? There would be certain limitations that is for sure when you’re filming for such little money, but there are also a lot of things you can do that will make you’re film just as interesting as the ones Hollywood churns out.

How? You ask. Well first you’ll be shooting in DV. Not film. No lab, and no film stock, so you can now channel some of that money into your cast & crew. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Hire REAL actors. Go out and hold auditions, or use a local casting company. Local talent is preferred. That way you don’t have to splurge on hotel rooms, and extra meals. When you make a film you will be surprised to find where the money really goes. Food, room, and transportation can eat at any budget, and when you have a small budget of $10K or less every dollar counts.

I’ve already gone over on how to make a film for less by limiting actors, locations, and crew, but one thing I haven’t discussed is scheduling. Scheduling a film is important. I see or hear of too many films shooting and stopping and then shooting again. The hardest thing to do is start filming again after a brief time of not filming. Especially if you are not paying people. If you are paying people, and you schedule this brief hiatus then actors & crew can make alternate plans on their off days. It’s even great that you may have friends who are really talented, and can act, but paying them ensures that they’ll be there when you need them. It also says that I value you’re time, and I don’t want to exploit you because you are my friend. I know it’s hard, and every cent counts, but keep cast & crew happy and you’ll ensure that you’re film will get finished. Remember also to treat your people right. Feed them properly. Not just quick take-out stuff, but real meals. Remember you are what you eat, and if you serve junk you might be looking into a rebellion happening among your cast & crew. So in the end do the cheap thing and provide for the cast & crew. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Killer Life



I don’t know if my opinion mean squat, but if it does, and you are as passionate about filmmaking as I am then you should be reading Christine Vachon’s new book “A Killer Life: How an Independent film producer survives deals and disasters in Hollywood and Beyond”. Vachon has been a producer on several independent films that are outstanding. They include: Boys Don’t Cry, Far from Heaven, I Shot Andy Warhol, Go Fish, Safe, One Hour Photo, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (a favorite of mine) and Infamous just to name a few. Vachon wrote her first book “Shooting to Kill” way back in 1998. In that book Vachon gives a new nonsense view on producing independent films. In A Killer Life Vachon tells us all about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. She takes us on a tour of what a typical day is for her in her production company called aptly enough “Killer Films”. From the arguments with film financiers to Hollywood stars Vachon shows us how things really work behind the scenes of filmmaking.

I have always liked Ms Vachon’s choices of films she has produced. She works with some of Hollywood’s top-notch talent, and yet she struggles with studios on budgets & who to cast in her pictures. William Goldman once said: “Nobody knows anything in Hollywood”, and Ms Vachon’s book proves it. It’s amazing to me to see how much anyone in the industry truly does know anything about the filmmaking process. Ms Vachon’s book is a reality check on the industry, and she paints an interesting world of the entertainment industry. If you’re at all interested in the industry this book is worth picking up, and keeping. It’s one of those books you just can’t put down.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Feature or Short Film?


Short film or feature film? I find myself questioning what I should be doing. I've done a number of shorts, and have written short film screenplays in the hope of putting them in an anthology. This may be a way to go, but I'm not sure. Long ago I was involved in such an endeavor, but it all fell apart, and I never looked back. I ask myself why would I want to do this? Why make a short film? There is no market for a short films. Film festivals, and maybe the Internet are my only option and I'd never make my money back, so what's the point. Filmmaking is a risky business, why would I want to do a short film with no chance of getting some of my investment back. Short films are usually used as a calling card. I'm still on the fence on this, and I don't know what I'll be doing next. I did see a very interesting short recently and thought that it was very good. Maybe a short has its place in this digital era, but it does seem that there are a lot of these shorts and they seem to get lost in clutter.

So as I re-write my screenplay I'm thinking why am I doing this again. Why another feature? After all haven't I learned anything? Why go down the same path? I'm still going to come across the same obstacles as I did before, so why a second feature when you're first wasn't at all that successful. My answer is why not? I've learned a lot of things, and feel that by only doing another film can I learn more, and get better at my own craft. Maybe my second will be the one. Maybe I'll have some success with it. I won't know until I try, and if I just give up then all of this will have been for nothing. It's my choice to work in this medium, and I'm fortunate to be living in a digital era. Technology leap frogs ahead, and I can still use what I've learned and apply it to filmmaking. Only this time I need more input from the outside, and I want the project to evolve into something that is better then my first project, and the first thing I need to do is rewrite what I've writen. As my screenplay teacher once said it's in the re-writing, and she was so right in that.

I've seen a lot of really good short films on the Internet. Of course I had to have access to high speed bandwidth to view them, and my opinion on that is that not everyone has high speed capability. But what I've seen so far is that there are a lot of talented people out there. Your short film can get lost in the clutter, and it's only going to get worse. I like to concentrate on feature films because it's a challenge. Writing an entire feature is tricky. Plot points and conflict resolution and even character development can really be hard to pull off. In "Deadly Obsessions" I tried to have a twist every thirty or so pages, and in the end I wanted to send the plot in a very different direction. From what I've seen with other film noirs of the past this was routinely done. I had examples and I used them, what I should have done also is get actors together early and do a read through. This helps the writer immensely, and can really make you're film stand out from all the rest. When actors get a hold of the material it becomes a different animal. When you hear the words you wrote you'll know what sounds good and what is total bullshit. The actors can even add things to you're words, and make them sound really good. Whether you do a short film or a feature it is a good idea to run through the lines and rehearse your actors.

A short film is hard to pull off when you jam pack things into it. Short films are a art form all onto themselves, and I certainly don't look down on them. To tell a story within 15 to 20 minutes can be difficult, but it certainly can be done successfully. Right now since I spend so much time on a film I'd like to make it a feature rather then a short film. I may not have a lot of money, but I do have time and I have to use that to my advantage. Whatever type of film I do decide to make I do know that I'll need some extensive pre-production to make the film. Getting other people involved in the film can only make a project better. But beware of the too many cooks in the kitchen syndrome. Just make sure you know what you want and have a clear plan on getting it done both during the production and after. Once you know how you'll put the film together technically you should give yourself time to work on the films aesthetics. It can only make you're film better, and it'll stand out more in a world bombarded by many different types of films. As my advertising professor once said: it'll break out of the clutter", and that's the best thing that can happen for you're film.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Departed



Okay I had to see it. I love Martin Scorsese, and I’m a big fan. I was not disappointed. Scorsese has a knack about telling tales of criminals and cops. It’s a genre I don’t think he can fail at. I’ve grown up watching Scorsese and have enjoyed his tenacity. From “Mean Streets” to “Goodfellas” Scorsese never disappoints. He’s a true American maverick. Is it his New York roots that make him so unique? Scorsese knows how to tell a story. His dialogue in a lot of his movies seems true, and you seem transported to another world where most of us wouldn’t survive.

I had heard about the reviews, and no matter what I wanted to see this film. It’s a hard driven character piece, which has multiple characters. Jack Nicholson plays a crime boss named Frank Costello. He is the head of a gang of Irish Mafioso who does battle with the Boston State police. I have to say that I was interested in the characters & it’s story. By the final reel everything falls apart. It is the inevitable conclusion that made me think. Is there something new here? Isn’t this a story as old as time? All our protagonists pay for it in the end, and in drama they usually do. I won't go into the end and spoil it for the people who did not see it, but the ending seemed hollow to me. It just seemed a way to wrap everything up, and I didn’t buy it. I still liked the movie, but it kind of fell flat. Maybe it's because I was so interested in the characters that I wanted to know a bit more detail on them. This is to Scorsese's credit. Scorsese always develops interesting characters for us to travel with.

So is this a movie any good? I’d argue the point that any Scorsese film is a must see because Scorsese brings to his films a depth that few filmmakers do. The characters ring true to us & we identify with something in their persona. Even the bad protagonists have some human quality that we can identify with, and that’s what makes a Scorsese films interesting and so fascinating to watch.
The cinematography is outstanding, and Michael Ballhaus gives the story a nice feel. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is as always flawless, and riveting. The acting is top notch, and the actors even get the Boston accent down perfect. Scorsese uses a lot of music in his film and I always wonder what the budget for music licenses are on his films, but I like how the director uses the music to convey emotion & a certain period of time. Scorsese has used popular music in many of his films in the past and many other films have tried to duplicate what Scorsese does.

The film clocks in at 152 minutes, but there is a lot of story here, and it all works. Like I said the ending had me just a bit disappointed. It came quick, and the old double, double cross just doesn’t ring true. In fact at the end Matt Damon’s character is suddenly shunned by people. Although WE know why his character is disliked it makes no logical sense that other characters would know that. Maybe something was cut out for times sake, and we’ll see it on the DVD. I may have said already too much, but I don’t think anyone will be disappointed by this movie or the things I've already revealed. Scorsese takes us on a trip into the bowels of corruption & criminality in Boston and how they commingle and ultimately explode into violence. The story comes down to a battle between good & evil and why sometimes good people do evil things in the name of justice.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Next?


So I’m writing something that I can possible produce that won’t break the bank. Writing within a low budget kind of sucks. Plain and simple. So how do I make it interesting while obeying the low budget film rules. Rules you say? What rules are they? Well maybe not rules, but lets say their suggestions rather then rules. They are in no particular order:

1. Limited locations
2. Characters kept to a minimum
3. No costly special effects
4. No animals
5. No children
6. Short shooting schedule
7. Use local talent
8. Small crew
9. Shoot DV
10. Pay people for their time

I’m sure there are more rules, I mean suggestions, but I think you get the idea. The following ten things to get your film done is written by me and is the culmination of my experience in making a film & going to dozens of lectures by producers. If these suggestions or rules help great, but remember it’s the story stupid. Above all else the story better be good or all you’re work will be in vain. So why am I writing something that may not be financial possible to make at this time? The answer is “why not”?

In order to get a film done, and out there you’re film has to be a passion of yours. Passion will get it done, but you can’t ignore the realities of film marketing and that is that the film needs to generate interest in its audience. After all you’re not making you’re film just for yourself. I’ve heard many filmmakers talk about their film as something they wanted to do for themselves and I never buy into it. Go ahead and tell your investors that you’re making this film for just yourself. If you said that to anybody they call you crazy and wouldn’t give you a dime. That’s why “Deadly Obsessions” exists. It isn’t a personal film where I want to preach some sort of lesson or message to my audience. My film exists because one I wanted to prove that I could make a feature, and two that I could entertain people with its story. I worked within my budgetary constraints and tried to make it interesting. It’s not the happiest film out there, and its kind of dark, but I kind of like it. It isn’t another horror movie of some horny teenagers running around in the woods and getting chopped up by some psychopath. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not against the horror genre. In fact the horror genre holds a special place in my heart. I’ve worked on even a couple very low to sub-basement budgeted films in my career, and it was always fun, yet tiring. My film tried to emulate the old 40’s & 50’s films of the past affectionately called ‘film noir”. I updated the look & tone to present day and hoped that I could pull it off. To some extent I think I succeeded. I’m proud of the results, and so I need to move on.

So what’s next? What do I do for my next film? I’m not entirely certain on the project, but I do have a film that is close to my heart and one I would like to shoot, but it’s a bit personal. But wait didn’t I just say that a film needs an audience? Didn’t you just say that you should be thinking about your audience? I did didn’t I. But that’s where “Deadly Obsessions” fails. Did I not just write that I’m proud of the film I did? I most certainly did, and I still am, but I do have to look at why it didn’t get into festivals, and why it didn’t play at your local bijou. One reason for its failure is that I aimed high and couldn’t compete with what Hollywood produces. Hey that’s okay. I think I have enough exploitive material in the film to make it entertaining and interesting. What I don’t have is the money Hollywood has to market it, and hype it. After all it’s ALL hype. Hype creates interest, and Hollywood is good at that. How many times did you leave the theater muttering to yourself “why in God’s green earth did I pluck down my $10 to $12 for such a piece of crap”. It was the hype. It gets us all.

So why am I writing something personal? Surly you can’t keep an audience interested. But I’m betting I can. How you ask? Well it’s become apparent to me that we all go through things that rock the very foundation that makes us ourselves. Loss, love, heartbreak, sickness, joy, divorce, birth, and yes-even violence. We deal with it in our own way and just maybe I can create a piece of work that touches us in some small way.

Good films rock us. They touch our core, and entertain us. The good films find common emotions that we all share and exploits them. . I said I want to do a film that touches others. Now that I’ve learned how to make a better film maybe it’s time to make something better and something bigger. Something that transcends the film. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that. Maybe it’s too grand of an idea, but Harry Chapin said it better in a song he wrote: “If we don’t strive for heaven, are we just settling for hell”. Wish me luck, and thanks for listening.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Just Breath Stupid!


Ideas, thoughts, and visuals. How does one live in a vacuum. I don’t think it’s possible, but then again I can be wrong. How many scientist, artists, and writers have lived in their own worlds? Think about it for a moment. Take all the artists & people who have made a mark in their respective fields and see how they got there. I believe it was never by taking a poll of what people thought. I more see these people like Sherman tanks running over things that got in their way. Sometimes aggressively, and sometimes these individuals were a bit less aggressive. Either way their work eventually caught on, and the result is that their work prevailed among all others. Sometimes these individuals were way beyond their time. Eventually others discovered them, and their work rose to the surface while others didn’t. Is it truth or a connection with other like-minded people that elevate these individuals work? Is it their brilliance that suddenly grabs us, and thrusts them into the forefront of their fields? Or maybe it’s a bit of everything. After all the work does speak for itself. That’s what illuminates these individuals. I’m sure all or most of these individuals suffered through doubt, and discomfort at the hands of the public or community they wished to enlighten.

I am fascinated by these individuals. Some we don’t even know because their work is being unearthed now. I ‘m not talking just about works of art here, but of individuals such as engineers, architects, writers, playwrights, astronomers, and scientists. The list goes on. In a world where we measure our success through so called reality TV shows, and the media dictates who our celebrities should be. Where are these people now? The vanguard as I like to call them. Why aren’t we celebrating their ideas, and their thoughts? Why the resurgence of the same old thoughts & theories? Where are the breakthrough thoughts, and ideas? Why do we seem to be crawling into mediocrity when such brilliance is among us? The only answer I have is that they’re all still working on it. Maybe the rest of society will hear them, or maybe not, but we’ve become a culture of who ever shouts the loudest wins. It’s a short cited argument that won’t hold up though time. What ever is crap is still crap. What is new and different rises to the surface. It’s the work people. Eventually the work speaks for itself. Everything else is bullshit!

Now why am I writing about this? Do I see myself as one of these individuals? Surely I’m not that conceited? No I’m not. My biggest legacy will probably be my family. Everyday I see them grow more and more, and I know that it’s about them and not about me. I’m just the crazed dad who has a passion for movies and things visual. Maybe in some small way they’ll contribute something, and I will be that link in the chain. I can live with that, and celebrate it, but I can’t let my dreams die out of frustration on how the world sees me. I have to be comfortable with how I see myself. I’m not all there, and I’m certainly struggling each and every day, but I’m getting there.

Do things that make you happy, and enjoy the process. Even the frustration, and the doubt. It’s all part of the process. If you’ve gotten this far thanks for reading. I hope you endeavor is going well, and that you are doing what you love to do. Remember the big picture, and just breath.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Balancing Act

**
So I find myself missing the grind of filmmaking. It’s unlike anything anyone can experience. The chaos & creativity that swarms around a movie set is both intoxicating, and maddening. I do remember that whenever I was on a movie set I couldn’t wait till the end of the day. Just for the silence, but I be lying to you if I told you that I hated it all together. A film set can be one of the most creative places around. Just putting a scene together takes a lot of energy. To do this day in and day out can be exhausting, and yet exhilarating. But I’m finding myself more and more challenged to try and get motivated enough in telling a really GOOD story. There was a time when I loved horror movies & other low budget films because it was what really got me going. To some extend I still do love these films affectionately called B-movies, but lately I’ve lost interest in what studios are producing and labeling as horror. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe I’ve just lost my fill for horror and find real life can be much more horrible then the fiction they put on the screen. I’m not adverse in doing a horror film, but I’d like the film to be something more then just another film containing blood, & guts. There has to be more. Larry Fessenden is a filmmaker who does this well, so it isn’t new territory.

So that leaves me where? What can I truly say in a movie? How do I make it entertaining to others while at the same time using the limited resources I have? Can it even be done? I can tell you that one single idea does permeate my thoughts and that is to do something beyond myself. To tell a story that resonates with all of us, and yet has a unique voice. High standards I guess, but then again life is short, and in the end we have only our work that will speak for us. I can’t even say that the work will be heard. The creation of something like a film, or photography or even a painting can only be motivated within the artist. He or she does not know whether it succeeds until it is finished and out there for the public to see. Yes I know the more successful artists are masters of self-promotion, and get the recognition of the public through their exploits. I know all too well that marketing is a skill unto itself, so I won’t shy away from it. It just seems quite difficult that in an era such as ours that a lot of what is worth hearing and worthwhile looking at is drowned out by the loudest or the most affluent of us. Maybe the Internet will help. Maybe it can give a voice to artists who would not ordinarily be heard. I’m not only talking about film, but of music, and photography, and art itself. I see some examples of this now, but the field remains fractured, and not united. We are all doing our own things, and are not connecting, as we should. I’m just as guilty of this. Balancing family, career, and other endeavors seems to be more of a skill then anyone can imagine, and I am still trying to master it, and feel that I may never be successful at it. Yet that inner drive to create, and to tell a story still nags at me. Maybe I’ve made this abundantly clear in previous posts, but it’s a real dilemma for me.

I’ve read several books and watched countless documentaries on famous artists who had something more then me, and they sacrificed things that I’m unwilling to sacrifice. I will not blindly pursue my own art at the expense of my family. But how do I balance all this? Surely I can’t be happy if I don’t try working on creating something I am proud of, and that is something more then myself. I have no idea if I’ll be successful. In the end I guess it’s all about balance, but I find it none too easy. Thanks for listening!

UPDATE
No sooner do I write this when I come across this article in the New York Times. It's called Survival Tips for the aging Independent filmmaker. It's an interesting read.

**Yes that is me under the moving blankets trying to muffle the sound of the camera. It did work!