Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Clerks


Over at filmmaker magazine's blog they had a news idem of Kevin Smith's "Clerks 2" getting a standing ovation at Canne. This made me kind of nostalgic, and so I reviewed "Clerks" ,Smith's debut film again. Why you ask? Well when Clerks was released, and the legend began I was still formulating on how to get a film done myself. I'm a fan of Kevin Smith, and I've seen most of his films. I've laughed at his characters antics, and have been thoroughly been entertained by what I call the Kevin Smith universe. Back in 1994 when Clerks was released I was taken aback by Clerks, and it's funny and comical look at minimum wage workers. I was even more impressed at Smith since he himself lived that life, and knew full well about that world. I was also impressed on the budget and how Smith filmed his debut film. I eventually saw the film three times. Once with my girlfriend, and then twice more by myself. I studied it, and all three times I enjoyed what I saw, and heard. Smith has a ear for funny dialogue, and he is well steeped in the youthful culture of today. I believe it is because of this he has so many rabid fans. Through the years I've seen most of his films, and been very entertained by them. After seeing most of Smith's films I have formed an opinion about him as an artist. Now I don't want to cause a huge debate on this, but Kevin Smith as a filmmaker is so-so. Even he'll admit that to you. It seems as though Smith has made a name for himself, and he himself is a character in his own films. I'm not talking about "Silent Bob" his character in some of his films, but Kevin Smith the writer & director. In a world where self promotion and inventing a persona is everything Kevin Smith is the man. While listening to "Managing the Gray" ,hosted by C.C Chapman, Mr. Chapman said something that made me connect the dots, and that was promoting a brand name. Well in essence Kevin Smith is a brand name. Smith's movies have it's core fan base that will see his films sight unseen, and that's what Kevin Smith has accomplished so well. Using the internet, and his appearances on Late Night television Smith has made his name into a "brand name". Smith's loyal fan base is of those who share a FU mentality to established institutions. It's generation X, and Smith has taped that market and made it his own.

So after reviewing Clerks again on DVD in it's 10th anniversary edition I had to really admire Smith's bravado, and his balls to the wall way of filmmaking. In the commentary track Smith tells his audience the trials and tribulations of guerilla filmmaking. It's not a very good looking film, but the style, and the look is what makes Clerks work. Had Smith gone with his original ending we probably would not be talking about Kevin Smith, and his movies. He has learned on each of his films, and yet kept his core fans happy. Kevin Smith is a model of good marketing & savvy media manipulation. 20 or 30 years from now though there will be someone else who will be the "Kevin Smith" of their time.
And where will Kevin Smith be? I'm sure he'll re-invent himself and hopefully still be making movies, or perhaps his future lies in TV.

All I know is that way back in 1994 a filmmaker burst on to the scene that convinced me that with a little luck and a lot of HARD work you can buck the odds, and possibly make a living at doing something you loved. The scene has changed a lot since then, but a film can connect to its audience and propel the maker of that film into the Hollywood scene. It's just a matter of promotion, and the message you want to send. Kevin Smith has been playing that game well, and a lesson can be learned from him. SO where will I be on July 21st, 2006? Where else. Watching "Clerks 2".

Friday, May 26, 2006

Four Eyed Monsters


I wanted to write about a special film I have not seen yet, but am interested in seeing. "Four Eyed Monsters" isn't a film about some monster terrorizing the streets of downtown Manhattan, but a love story instead. Arin Crumley & Susan Buice made a film about their relationship, and how they met. I know you're saying not another film of young twenty-something angst. Sure enough there are enough of these films already, but what Arin & Susan are doing is unique. After playing in Slamdance and a couple other festival they have decided to tour with their film to different cities. They themselves are promoting the film through the use of video podcasts. These podcasts are about the making of the movie and in essence a movie unto itself. These podcasts reveals what a independent artist must do to promote his or her own film in today's media frenzy environment. In their latest podcasts entitled simple "7: give a mouse a cookie" we see the problem one can have with collaboration projects. It is maybe this problem that is keeping distributors at bay for not acquiring the rights to distribute the film. Though I have not seen the film I believe both Susan & Arin have created an honest portrayal of young love in the 21st century. The problem being that maybe it's too honest. Go watch the latest podcast, and see what I mean. When does a movie stop becoming a movie and start becoming a documentary or a slice-of-life ala MTV. I'm hoping that the filmmakers get a chance to come around to my area, but till then this movie remains a fascination in the independent community. "Four Eyed Monsters" shows what a filmmaker needs to do to be heard. Even if your film is good it is still hard to get the message out in this media frenzy world of ours. If one does not have the time to promote his or her film there is little chance that it will be seen or heard from ever. For 95% of us we need to pay the bills, and for most of us that means work. I am finding that I am not willing to sacrifice "family time" for promotion of a film I've lived with for far too long, but that's what filmmaking is. You live with your films for a very long time, so you better like your film, but after seeing the film countless times you see more the mistakes then its successes. I guess it's the nature of the beast. The one thing I have learned is that having a life outside of film is a lot better and healthy then being all consumed by making a film. I have not thrown in the towel just yet, but look to make more personal and smaller films. Something that has deeper meaning. That means better writing, and smarter filmming. I'm afraid I won't have a very extensive filmography when I kick off this mortal coil, but maybe it won't be about the number of films produced but of the quality of the films produced. Go check out Four Eyed Monsters web site. Their podcasts are quite good, and honest, and it's refreshing seeing a good film trying to buck the odds.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Raiders: The Adaptation


Do you remember seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" way back in 1981? For me it was a film that galvanized me to want to be a filmmaker. Steven Spielbergs & George Lucas were filmmakers that inspired many young kids to want to become filmmakers, but for three boys living in Mississippi it became a bit of an obsession. These three boys decided to make a shot for shot adaptation of the movie. It took 7 years to complete, and about $5K to finish, but they did it. The $5K is an approximate value of their budget. No detail budget was formed it was pay as they played you could say. The movie the boys made had its local premiere, and then sat on the shelf for several years. It played in some comic conventions, and slowly the video got an underground following through these viewings. Eventually it fell into the hands of Eli Roth who brought it to the attention of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg was impressed, and sent the boys a letter thanking them for their tribute. But the tale does not end there. Now that the boys are all older and do work in the entertainment business in one form or the other there is interest in a film about the making of their film. So we may actually see a film about three boys making a film that they were inspired to emulate.

Now how cool is that. If you go to the Indy Experience a web site devoted to the Raiders trilogy you'll find more info about the films and the adaptation the boys created. After hearing this I had to smile myself. I can remember the days of being in the back-yard or the basement filming the latest Super-8 adventure that I had written in one of my many spiral notebooks. These were the days of magic & fun. I was too young to realize the hard work it takes to make a film. The sheer determination of youth is a refreshing thing, and sometimes it's that thirst for that simplicity that drives us. I still find filmmaking an exhausting, yet exuberating experience. Hearing about these boys brings back fond memories, and should be an example to all of us. Love, and perseverance will do a lot for you. It's only as you get older that life gets a little more complex, and things begin to weigh a bit heavier for us all, but if you REALLY LOVE what you are doing then it will show, and if you stick to it maybe you'll be heard from and you'll have your moment in the sun. For those three boys I can only imagine how they feel, and how still hungry they are to tell more stories. Maybe through this deal they will, and they have every right to take their turn in the limelight. After all they certainly did earn it!

*Special thanks needs to go out to Stefan Avalos for making me aware of The Adaptation. Stefan is another inspiring filmmaker. Thanks Stefan!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Obsessive Cinema!


I didn't even know it was Jess Franco's birthday until I saw it on Tim Lucas' Video Watchdog blog. Lucas pretty much sums up my feelings about Franco, and his obsession with the cinema. I too didn't think much of the filmmaker until I saw Franco's "VENUS IN FURS". There are several other Franco films that I've liked but their names escape me at the moment. His films are so numerous and have been re-titled, and/or re-edited that it is hard to get an appreciation of his films, but with the advent of DVD a new generation can find out how truly gifted Franco is as a filmmaker. Also we can re-discover his films in a new light as more and more films are un-earthed minus the cuts Franco never intended. Some distributors have even begun to try and re-assemble some of Franco's films as per his original design. Maybe then when more and more audiences have seen his work in it's original cut they will show more of an appreciation to Franco and his work. Well anyway I'm no expert on Franco, yet I share an appreciation of his work as a filmmaker and human-being. I mean come on. Having over 180 films to your filmography? That's a feat unto it's self. So Happy belated birthday Senor Franco, and may you have many more.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mission Impossible 3


So today was the day MI:3 came out, and being a fan of the series I went to see it, and I wasn't disappointed. MI:3 is a movie which moves along at the beginning, and doesn't stop till the end. If anything Hollywood is good at it is this. The spectacle. The effects, the stunts, and the sheer non-stop action. Yeah, but is it good? If anything is true it is that story is king. You want to believe in the characters and you want the story to take you to far off places where you've never been, and MI:3 does that. Cruise puts his stamp on it as producer along with Paula Wagner. The film is directed by J.J. Abrams the creator of two TV series "Lost" and "Alias". Abrams does a great job at weaving the action and the story together, and making us care about the characters. In MI:3 the characters are no longer one-dimensional. Their is a story here, and the heart of this story is that it's a love story. It is said that Cruise wanted Abrams to humanize the series, and inject new life into the franchise. With Abrams he has. Some of the effects in one scene looked a bit rushed or cheesy, but make no mistake it does not distract from the film.

MI:3 has it's share of heart pounding scenes, and some pretty intimate scenes where we get a glimpse of what makes the character tick. Sure their are the requisite stunts, and special effects, and gadgets, but that's Mission Impossibles MO. The TV series relied on it and so do the movies.

Only Hollywood can deliver this kind of movie, and for all intense of purpose it's what it does best. MI:3 is a fun ride, and a well crafted piece of film, and I dare you not to get goose bumps when you first hear the theme song. Let's just hope that this injection of new blood is a sign of where Paramount wants to take the series, and that it doesn't de-volve into a satire like some of the James Bond films did.