Friday, April 25, 2008

Shotgun Stories

Independent filmmaking isn't for the weak. Take Jeff Nichols feature film "Shotgun Stories". It is being released just now after completing principle photography in late 2004. Nichols explains that he didn't have enough money to shoot his second unit footage, so he waited a year and raised the necessary funds to shoot it. Nichols eventually signed on some producers that helped him find funding to finish the film in post-production.

"We chose to shoot this film in 35mm in the anamorphic 2:35 aspect ratio. When I was fifteen I was fortunate enough to see a re-released print of Lawrence of Arabia in the theater. I'll never forget how the landscape helped define that story and the affect that had on me. I've wanted to tell stories in scope ever since. Southeast Arkansas, where our film was shot and where I grew up, is a place filled with breathtaking landscapes of cotton fields and farmland. I wanted audiences to see this place the same way I see it, in scope. Also, this landscape defines our characters"

If you travel to their website you'll even see that his film is being sold on DVD, and will be released on July 1st, so there is a link to it's pre-order. The trailer looks interesting, and I agree with the filmmaker about landscapes becoming part of the character. The film was made for under 100K, so that is a very good achievement.

It is these little films that seem to come out of nowhere that inspire me the most. When they talk about cinema in our era someday they won't be re-calling the blockbusters that played in our multi-plexes. Instead they'll talk about the small indie films that push the limits of their budget, and actually say something to us as an audience. I'm sure "Shotgun Stories" may just be one of those films

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Phillip Van

Don't walk run to this link. I came across it from IndieFilm, but I was very moved by this short film. The man's name is Phillip Van, and it's a well done short. There's an interview with the director here.

The name of the piece is She Stares Longingly At What She Has Lost

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fellow Maniac!

Okay. Sometimes I just LOVE the Internet. It connects people that you ordinarily wouldn't connect with. Take the video here. The filmmaker's name is James Rolfe, and he has a site called http://www.cinemassacre.com/. I have to say his little documentary tugged at my heart. I remember doing the things he did. Only back when I was growing up and making backyard productions it was Super-8 or 8mm.

This little documentary about James hits home. It's entertaining, and inspiring. I marvel at the quantity of his films. In a society where everyone and his cousin are making films now this brings back a time where making movies was a strange and cool thing to do. I've lost that FUN in making films, and want to so much get it back. Filmmaking was and is a vital part of my psyche, and it took another filmmaker to realize that. Thank you Mr. Rolfe.

Take a look at his work. get inspired. I know I am, and the best thing is that he lives around Philly. How cool is that. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Next Step!

In the past few days I've been thinking a lot about film, and filmmaking. I've talked as much about the subject as I can, and it's time to do something. I came across one of "Deadly Obsessions" actresses' web page, and saw that she had several video clips up on her work. Irene has always been an inspiration to me. To say I learned a lot from her is an understatement. I just wish sometimes I could go see more of her work on stage. It's been awhile since seeing her, and just yesterday I took a trip down memory lane and watched the audition tapes I made for the cast of the film. I'd like to post them, but the entire tape is over 30 minutes, and finding the time to digitize and compress the video seems impossiable to schedule, but maybe sometime soon I'll get to it.

But I also like to compliment my entire cast in the film. They helped me a lot, and it is because of them that I REALLY want to do another film. I've been thinking about what to do, and how to do it. I'm not the best at writing. I like it when a scene develops, and springs forth with the help of it's actors. On Irene's website there are clips to her one women play that she has developed over time through ongoing workshop called “Risk". Irene's play is called simply "Y" has been developed by herself and a gentleman named Brad Calcaterra. If the name sounds familiar Mr. Calcaterra's directing, writing and acting can be seen in the independent film "four eyed monsters". Why don't I quote Mr. Calcaterra on how Irene and Mr. Calcaterra develop their unique style:

"Y" was developed by Irene Glezos and Brad Calcaterra in an ongoing workshop called “Risk” under Brad's direction at the Sally Johnson Studio over the course of one year. In “Risk,” a group of solo performers meet on Mondays to explore their truth in front of each other. We call it "Live Diary" or "Stand Up Drama." Out of these improvisations, characters emerge, and stories begin to take shape. We believe that the things we want to hide from or about which we are ashamed, are actually the seeds of our creativity. The performer’s improvised material is videotaped each week, then transcribed and shaped into the play. The attempt is never to impersonate but rather to engage an archetype, and through the character, to find ways of telling our own truth.

I like that idea. I've been thinking about writing a synopsis of a story I've been carrying around for sometime, and then have actors take it from there. In essence let the actors flesh out the characters and their motivations. What I would supply is a beginning, a middle , and an end. In my case it would be of a son coming to terms with his dad as his dad falls victim to Alzheimer's.

Yes it is a personal journey, but I think one that has universal appeal, and something actors can sink their teeth into. The one thing I learned is that one should not close one's self off to criticism, and opinions. Those opinions may help the story flow better, and make a better film.

So what do I do? Take out an ad in Backstage and set a list of characters I'm looking for. Call it "work shopping" a film, and say little to no pay is involved? Right now there is nothing, but an idea. Will actors respond to an ad for "work shopping" a film? It does take a bit of time, and money to get the ball rolling in the right direction. Another issue to address are credits. Not only are the actors more then actors they are participants to a story. They are it's writers in a sense.

I once took a week-end course with Rick Schmidt about co-collaboration, and making films for used car prices. Schmidt is a fantastic filmmaker who makes film's out of workshops he's done. I like what he does, and still believe today that along with the Internet it's the only way to go now. Art must evolve, and doing a film this way makes a lot of sense. Where I can not offer money I can offer credit. I've already established that I'm a pretty fair technician, and I can get the job done. But what I need help with the story.

My other objective for this project is to do it quickly. I don't want to belabor the process. Once you have a working script you need to go out and shoot it. That's the Roger Corman mentality I have. I know I can get a film done quickly, and efficiently, but I need good content. Content that matters to me, and to the other artists who participate. I guess I'm just thinking out loud, but what better place to do it then here.
As you can see the wheels are spinning, and I need a definitive idea to put onto film. I need to come up with an idea for a film that I want. The first step is always the hardest I guess. As I've always said in the past "nothing worth doing is easy", and in filmmaking nothing is ever easy. So I better get writing some more and see what springs forth.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Long & Winding Road!

I've been writing more here about films I've seen then films I want to do, and that is a bit annoying. So here's a post from the heart, and what I've been wrestling with. I had seriously considered folding the company known as KGB Productions, Inc. There has been little activity, and I certainly haven't made any profit from the company. It cost me about $150 to $200 dollars a year to keep it open a year, and it has always been something of a reminder to me of why I formed the company in the first place. And that reason was and is to make movies. I haven't been doing that, and it bothers me. My day job as a media technician for a school district keeps me busy. I cover events, sports, and award ceremonies for their in-house cable outlet. I like what I do, and I like the people I work with. I'm also frustrated in that I know I can do more, and I have other things I want to say. That's where KGB Productions comes in. It's my outlet. My wife is a partner in the company, and the other night we were talking on what we should do, and she said what I had been thinking all along, and that is if we close the company it's like we've given up. It is that thought that has had me in the throes of anxiety, and despair for the past several months.

I HATE giving up. There I said it. No one wants to lose, and especially not me. I love filmmaking. It's been a part of me since I was 8 years old, and I was shooting back-yard epics with my Super-8 camera. It's a form of expression, and a sort of obsession. I've always LOVED the filmmaking process no matter how crazy it gets, or how hard I have to work at it. This decision to close shop has been hanging over my head like an executioners blade for sometime, and I just can't do it. Both my wife and I have said that the cost is nominal to keep the company open, and we both agree that there will be other films that we'll be doing in the future, so why not keep the company open.

In a sense having the company is an incentive to get something done. The company is a constant reminder of our dreams & hopes. To give up on one's dreams isn't right. Sometimes our dreams are all that we have sometimes, and it lights the darkness. I'm glad I have such a great partner as my wife because only she really knows what the company means to me, and in a way it means a lot to her also. I remember the day we incorporated the company, and how proud both of us were. It was exciting, and something I'll always remember.

But now what? Money is scarce, and time is at a premium. Where do I go, and how do I pull off another film? I've already come to the conclusion that the next film will be very close to my heart. Because if I'm going to work on it for awhile because I have no choice in the matter then it better be something worth doing, and worth talking about. With digital, and the Internet I see a lot of promise, but I also need to do a lot of work. I'll keep writing, and I'll keep doing side video projects from time to time, but the goal is to make make another film. Not a short, or a trailer, but a feature. I see anything else but a waste of time. It may be difficult, and a very long & winding road, but it's a goal I like and I think I can keep.

Here's the definition of amateur from the dictionary:

Most commonly an amateur is understood to be someone who does something without pay or formal training. Conversely, a professional is someone who has received training in a particular area and who also makes a living from it. The word comes from French, and can be translated as "lover of", reflecting the amateur's motivation to work as a result of a love or passion for a particular activity

I like that. "Lover of" or "motivation to work as a result of a love or passion". It kind of sums up my motivation for the company.

All I know is that there are some more mountains to climb, and much more things to learn about, so it's about time I start doing what I was meant to be doing. Thanks for listening to an old mans dreams & I hope your endeavors are coming true, and coming to fruition. Remember think creatively.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Fight Club (1999)

I have to say that when I saw David Fincher's film "Fight Club" when it first came out I didn't like it. I'm not too sure why. The film struck me as being over produced & a bit pretencions. After seeing it twice I have to say that the film has grown on me, and I see Fincher's genius at work. The film isn't just about a couple of boys starting a "fight club", but something a lot more. Finchers films are dark, and brooding films with an undercurrent of subversiveness that makes one smile. "Se7en", "Aliens 3" The Game", "Panic Room" & "Fight Club" all have several themes running through them. What these films also have in common is their darkness. In Fincher's world the world is not beautiful but filled with decay, and violence. Fincher photographs and presents these worlds in their own beauty. I would compare Fincher to dirctor David Lynch, but Fincher is more rough, and sinister.

"Fight Club" is a a film that works on a lot of levels, and that's why maybe at first viewing I missed it, or maybe it appeals to me now since I see what Fincher was really after, and that is to shock the complacency out of his audience. Fincher gives us a reality of boredom, and complacency. It is only when Tyler (Brad Pitt) comes into the picture that our world is shaken upside down. Even at the end when Fincher reveals who really Tyler is do we realize that we have been witness to one mans decent into madness.

I really liked the film. The performances by Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham-Carter are top notch. I would have loved to been in the rehearsals for this film and watch the performances evolve. The effects in the film are also stunning, and I really like the photography in this film. Fincher along with his cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth make urban decay have it's own beauty. Fight film is a good film, and one worth seeing. It works on a lot of levels, and it shows that David Fincher is a director who knows his stuff.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Videodrome (1983)

I just recently watched David Cronenberg's film "Videodrome" again, and found that it still really holds up, and actually is a really fantastic film. I've been a Cronenberg fan for sometime. His films such as "The Brood", "Rabid", and "Scanners" are very horrific in a cerebral sort of way. I've always said that Cronenberg was the thinking man's horror director. The topics in his films were delicate subjects taken to extremes, and that's why I think h is films are so visceral. Even today the films he's made in the past still send a chill down my spine. Cronenberg knows how to get under our skin, and sometimes literally that happens in his films. But back to Videodrome, which was released in 1983. For me I was in my early years of college, and Cronenberg had a deep influence into what I wanted to do, and that was filmmaking. In 1981 when Cronenberg released his film "Scanners" I read an article in the magazine Cinefantastique about Cronenberg. In it it had a section of his earlier work when he was in college. I do remember trying to emulate his style and writing. I remember doing films in Super-8 which contained a lot of elements that Cronenberg touched upon.


But again I digress. What about "Videodrome"? To say that the film plays well today is an understatement. Back then cable was in its infancy, and the day of 3oo channels was only a dream. Now where digital cable, satellite TV, and the all powerful "Internet" has taken hold of our culture you can see that Cronenberg was a man ahead of his time. The story is simple in Videodrome. James Woods plays a sleazy small time cable operator who is looking for the next show. He stumbles across "Videodrome", and finds a program that appeals to the lowest common denominator and that is sex & torture. Thinking he needs this for his station he goes on to find out where the signal is coming from, and find the creators of "Videodrome", and buy it. What he doesn't know is that embedded in the signal is a mind altering signal that will warp his reality, and make him a pawn in a much bigger game. Throughout the film we are subjected to some really alternate reality. At some point we don't know where the reality ends, and where the fantasy begins, and that's what Cronenberg wants you to feel. For a picture that was marketed as a simple horror film the film works on many levels.

Deborah Harry plays Nicki Brand a radio pop psychologist who also gets exposed to the Videodrome signal. It was Harry's first film roles. Before that she played in Lillian in a movie called "Union City". In a side note "Union City" was one of the inspirations for my film "Deadly Obsessions". Since then Ms Harry has played in numerous films, and has proven herself quite an accomplished and skilled actress. Her role as Delores in the film "Heavy" is one such role. But in 1983 Ms Harry's part as Nicki Brand was one of her first, and she plays a person who is a bit damaged too. Just as James Woods character Max Renn is also. Cronenberg's attention to detail in his characters is what gives his films more depth. We know there is more to the characters, and are given clues to their traits, but only little glimpses. Such as the scars on Nicki's shoulders as Woods & Harry discuss pain & pleasure. Another great trait of the film is its cinematography by Mark Irwin . The mixture of video footage and film kind of makes the film have it's own reality, and one that works well. One does not know when we are looking at a delusion of the characters or if it is actually reality that they are seeing. Cronenberg keeps us off balance, and it works for the film.

The film is only 83 minutes long, and it is a quick view. Criterion has released "Videodrome" on one of their special disks, and you can see that Cronenberg shot a lot more of the film that is in the final print. If you get a chance or are a fan I suggest you pick up the DVD and watch all the extras. You won't be disappointed.

After watching the film again I've revived my admiration for Cronenberg. I enjoyed his last two films "A History of Violence", and "Eastern Promises". Cronenberg seems to be staying away from his roots for now, but when he does another one I'm sure it will be one that will rock it's audience to the core. Cronenberg still is the "thinking man's" director. There is always more under the surface of one of his films then we the audience are lead to believe, and that's why on second viewing of his films you'll find something new in all of his films. It is what makes David Cronenberg a good director & writer.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

What can I say about this film that hasn't been said before. You either think it's a masterpiece or it's a pretentious piece of crap. There is no middle ground here. "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas" is based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson. The novel is about his journey to LasVegas in 1971 to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. Along with his buddy Doctor Gonzo Hunter's vacation turns highly irresponsible and reckless as the two consume copious amounts of illegal drugs, commit various acts of fraud, and generally wreak havoc upon the citizens of Las Vegas.

Like I said you either will love this film or not. I happen to be in the later camp. To sum it all up the film is visually creative, but also repetitive and devoid of character development. Johnny Depp plays Hunter S. Thompson (aka Raoul Duke) and Benicio Del Toro plays Dr. Gonzo Hunters partner in crime. The film is littered with skits of the two wasted on drugs. The film feels like it was shot with a wide angle lens to capture that drug hallucinations, and there is some interesting creature effects created by Rob Bottin whose work I greatly admire.

I could not get into this movie. I was annoyed by the characters, and had no sympathy. In fact I just hoped that something would happen that would end this picture. I've read that this film was plagued with problems from the beginning. When it came out the film was a failure, and pulled quickly, but now the film has had a cult like status evolve around it due to it's DVD release.

Terry Gilliam directs the film, and Depp does a good performance of Thompson. The movie is littered with guest appearances by such actors as Tobey Maguire, Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Christina Ricci, Mark Harmon, Cameron Diaz, Lyle Lovett, and Laraine Newman to name but a few. You would think with all this talent the movie couldn't miss, but it does. There is no real focus here other then to get to one skit to another. There is no character development here, and it is a very emotionless film.

Maybe that's what the filmmakers wanted. After all it's about a drug induced trip to Las Vegas. What else does the audience need to know. The only thing is that there isn't enough here to make me want to see this all the way through. I was tempted to just hit stop, and not continue, but I was always interested in this film, and I like some of Gilliam's other films.

If you like coherent plots, and interesting characters don't see this movie. I hear Criterion has put this out in their special criterion DVD collection. Why I don't know, but there does seem to be a small cult like following to this film, and maybe that's all it's suppose to appeal to. The demented few. For the rest of us I'd have to say stay clear. You've been warned.