Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack 1934-2008

It is with a very heavy heart that I report that Sydney Pollack passed away Monday afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles. Pollack was considered an actors director because Pollack started out as an actor. Pollack studied under the renowned Stanford Meisner, he then spent several years cutting his teeth in various areas of theater, eventually becoming Meisner's assistant. He worked on such shows as "Playhouse 90", and "Alfred Hitchcock presents". By the 1950's after appearing in several Broadway shows Pollack went into directing. He began on TV series such as "Naked City" and "The Fugitive," then moved to film. Pollack's first full-length feature was "The Slender Thread".

Sydney Pollack went on to direct such films as: "The Way We Were", Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, Tootsie, which won best picture. In 1985 Pollack won an Oscar for best director for his film Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

Pollack had begun to play more and more characters in other pictures such as "Michael Clayton", and "Made of Honor". It was Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie" that convinced Pollack to take the role of his agent in the film. Till then Pollack had not acted.

Sydney Pollack was an extremely talented and beloved director in Hollywood. Pollack once said that "stars are like thoroughbreds. Yes, it's a little more dangerous with them. They are more temperamental. You have to be careful because you can be thrown. But when they do what they do best — whatever it is that's made them a star — it's really exciting."

Pollack is survived by his wife, Claire; two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; his brother Bernie; and six grandchildren.*


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Did Indy dumb down Movies?

I recently read an essay about the Indiana Jones movies being responsible for the dumb box-office thrill ride films that preceded it. Carrie Rickey in Sundays Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that she wasn’t a fan of the films and hated what happened to films after the Indy films were released. I had to think for a moment and really wonder if this was true. Rickey says that “she cannot muster enthusiasm for a franchise that has done so much to dumb down movie scripts, ramp up movie tempos, perpetuate colonialist stereotypes, and marginalize women”. Does she have a point I wondered and so I went off and did a bit of research to see if she was right.

Raiders was released in 1981, and I was still in high school. When it came out I thought it was one of the best films I had seen in a while. Of course I was 17 at the time, and my tastes for the cinema were that of action adventures and horror films. There were several other films in 1981 that fascinated me and entertained me such as Arthur, & Time Bandits. I even enjoyed “On Golden Pond”, so you can say that my taste in the cinema was ever expanding.

Ms Rickey does have a point about the dumbing down of scripts since the first Indy film was released. In 1982 & 1983 there was “War Games”, “Tootsie”, “Sudden Impact”, “Staying Alive” & “Flashdance” to name but a few. Several of these films I actual did enjoy, but you can argue that these films were simple on plot & frantic in pace or tempo.

But what about such films as “An Officer & a Gentleman, “The Verdict”, “Risky Business", "Trading Places", "ET: The Extra-Terrestrial ", and "Absence of Malice"? Weren’t these good films, and weren’t these films not all big budgeted blockbusters? I can remember “Flashdance” stunning the critics and going on to make a fortune. “Flashdance” was simply a movie about a girl meets boy. It doesn't get any simpler then that plot wise. I understand that since the release of Flashdance & Raiders movie companies have pined their hopes on one BIG budgeted film that would make them a ton of money, but I think a lot of films that became big money makers were actually made for cheap, and not considered BIG releases. In 1987 who would have though “Dirty Dancing” would become such a hit.

I don’t agree that Spielberg was the person to blame for accelerating movie action beyond the speed of comprehension. I’ve always liked Spielberg’s films for their shots, and the way he uses them to draw us into the action. In Ms Rickey’s essay she states that film scholar David Bordwell does note that “Raiders is a model for the Gen ADHD flick where a movie is paced 25 percent faster then Spielberg’s other films.” I really can’t subscribe to that theory. Yes the cuts are quicker, but the story deems it necessary. After all Raiders was a throw back to those 1940’s & 50’s serials that were churned out on almost a weekly bases back then. I myself remember growing up during the 80’s, and the biggest factor that was happening then was two things and they were video games, and MTV. I think both these factors have more to do with why films today are so fast in tempo. I even find it harder today to watch films now then back in the 80’s. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I do remember the 7 second rule of panning a camera that was taught to me back in school. Now it’s more like just whip the camera around and forget about the audience’s comfort & understanding.

I also don’t won’t to say that the 80’s were filled with films that were garbage. There are some good films that were produced. Such films like “Witness”, Rain Man, Platoon, The Untouchables, Dirty Dancing, Back to the Future and yes even Raiders of the Lost Ark, were and still are good films that stand the test of time.

As to lay the blame for perpetuate colonialist stereotypes, and marginalizing women I don’t think you can blame one film for doing that. These films are simplistic in their plot & are for pure entertainment. I don’t see how the general population would actually believe that these films portrayed any reality in them. As for marginalizing women I have to say that I’ve seen worse, and don’t let me get started about the Bond franchise.

It’s all about the dollars & cents for the studios. I’ve seen it more now then ever. Have you looked recently at you’re local Target and seen the movie tie ins? My two little boys seem inundated by toy manufacturers pushing their toys on them by greedy studios. That’s where Hollywood is going down hill. Star Wars opened the flood gates to the marketing frenzy that is happening now, and were getting films that are inferior in content then they once were. As long as bean counters control the purse strings and not the artists we’ll always get dumb downed movies that just plain suck.. Where’s a Frank Capra or John Ford when you need one?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Life at 24 F.p.s

How does one get better at ones craft? Easy. You learn by doing, and thereby is the crux of the problem. I haven't been doing as much as I should. Filmmaking isn't easy, but with the digital revolution it has gotten a bit easier to create something. All you need is a DV camera and a computer with a fire wire port. Yet the Internet is littered with all sorts of videos, and video clips. Has anyone taken a look at YouTube. The website contains a lot of interesting videos along with some (okay a lot) not interesting videos. Seems everyone has a web cam or a DV camera.

But I'm more traditional. You have a story, you write a script, and you get your talent & start shooting. There's a process, and I like it. It can get complicated, and expensive, but it really isn't that hard. The hardest part in all of it is to get the people together at a particular time. You all know my thoughts on pay or non payment of talent.

I've come to the conclusion of "who cares". I mean who cares about my back story. The only one it means anything to is myself. So enough of the personal crap. I've been more motivated by stories. Some of these stories I've heard about from others and others I've read about. Plus I need to make it interesting.

My resources are still limited, but I do have time, and that's what I need to make use of. I've been doing a lot of editorial work both at work and with my writing. In a nutshell I've been seeing what's good and what's bullshit. Nothing cute and funny. That's just isn't my style. Plus this working in a vacuum sucks, so I need to do something about that.

Filmmaking is such a collaborative process. When do you start to seek out collaborators? I believe that there needs to be at least a skeleton of a story. The structure needs to be good otherwise it's just going to fall apart. After the structure is built then you can flesh it out with others. I've been bantering around the word "work shopping" for some time, and I like the process, but people giving up their free time for nothing doesn't sink too well with me. You still need structure, and it is still YOUR project. You are captain of this ship, and ultimately the decision lies with you.

So for now I'm rummaging through old movies, reading some interesting books, and keeping a writing journal of thoughts and ideas. Maybe something will start to ferment. I've also started to do some video work other then for my work. Something a bit more eclectic. How it works is anybodies guess, but I do know I need to do something, and so I'm preparing to leap. Sometimes leaping into the unknown or little known is an adventure all in itself. So lets see what sticks, and lets get this party started.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Varity is the Spice of Life?

On occasion I head on out and try to see what's new at the local video store. You know that building that has a lot of DVD's where you choose which movie your going to watch that evening. It seems like yesterday when there were so many of those mom & pop stores that had actual video cassettes of movies that you once saw or never heard of. In the 80's it was all about action adventure, horror videos & porn. Very few studios released their films onto tape as quick as they do know. Today it seems as though a film that was playing three months ago is easily available on DVD soon after its release. It's the nature of the beast. In todays marketplace there are companies now such as Netflix that deliver DVD's to your door. It has become a consumer orientated driven business. At one time you get a name actor in your film & have some exploitative elements in your film and you were guaranteed a release, but now it's different. The DV revolution kind of put a movie camera in every bodies hands and suddenly everyone were making movies. Some of these movies were not as stellar as the traditional studio movies, and a consumer backlash occured. Why rent a poorly filmed cheap film when you could rent studio blockbusters.

That's when those mom & pop store began to fade and the more traditional video rental stores began springing up. These stores loaded up on the latest Hollywood blockbuster films. Someone has Batman out? No problem we have twenty copies of the movie. Suddenly the prices for those videos skyrocketed, and mom & pop stores couldn't afford the prices of these tapes. Eventually this didn't last because Hollywood wasn't making enough product, and so in stepped these lower budgeted studio films. Some were successful & others weren't, but this leads me to today's market.

Not only are movies being rented now, but games are also being rented. We now live in a society that competes for your entertainment dollars. Gaming, DVD's, and the Internet have become the battleground for studios to fight over. The consumer has a lot of choices, so what do the studios do but make BIGGER budgeted films. Their job now is to create the BLOCKBUSTER, and mine that blockbuster for all its worth.

The good thing is that if you have GOOD film. Meaning that if there are good performances in the film, and that there are some exploitable elements which you can market you may have a chance to market your film successfully. But if you're just another erotic thriller, or action adventure you better have a hook that draws your audience in.

I looked what were on the shelves, and was astounded at the product. Movies of all genres, and of all budget ranges. Each film professed to have a hook through it's tag line on the DVD box. With all this how does one get through the clutter. With an ever demanding economy people only have a finite time for entertainment. So how does one get above the clutter and go after the consumer? It's a tightrope act, and one that needs money. The old saying "you need to spend money to make money" is worth repeating.

So the next time you're budgeting your film put aside some money for marketing your film. However you do it you'll need money to get noticed. If you're lucky and you're film is GOOD then it will speak for itself, but first you need to get noticed. So don't skimp on the self promotion budget. After all there is a whole lot of competition out there, and you'll just get drowned out if you don't say it louder then the rest of the competition.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Iron Man - 2008

Ever since hearing about the making of Iron Man I've been interested in what the filmmakers will do with one my favorite Marvel comics superhero. To say that I wasn't disappointed is an understatement. So it was with excitement and a little glee that I saw Iron Man today, and I wasn't disappointed. Directed by Jon Favre, the director who has brought you movies such as Made, Elf , and Zathura: A Space Adventure directed Iron Man. Favre does a great job, and gives his actors some real space to actually act. The screenplay is written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway who give Iron Man some very funny dialogue, and an interesting origin.

Iron Man starts off with a bang, and it involves you the audience to invest in the character of Tony Stark who is played by Robert Downey Jr. Downey has fun with the character, and it shows. Downey is a top notch actor, and I hope this propels Downey into more juicer roles. I hear that he is in two other films that are coming out later this year. I've been a fan of Downey since Chaplin, and always thought that Downey was a very good actor, and here he proves it.

Of course there are also other actors in Iron Man who give top notch performances such as Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow. The story is a bit predictable, but origin films are hard, and Iron Man's origin is a bit complex. My six year old liked the movie a lot, but he did find it slow at times. I know, I know a SIX year old at a PG-13 movie? Well with Paramount marketing to this age group by putting out the toys to Iron Man you cannot escape the desire of a little boy to see his superhero. Maybe that's where I kind of get pissed off at the studio. Clearly the movie is PG-13 for a reason, and this is only a guide for parents. Ultimately you know your own child and his or her own temperament & sophistication. Yet the studios flood the toy market with tie-ins to the movie, and this includes everything from T-shirts to action figures. To say "no" to a little boy who wants to see one of his favorite superheros is hard.

Ultimately the dialogue goes over a lot of the kids heads, and they are drawn to the creation of Iron Man and his battles. I also like it that Iron Man is a hero who is a superhero only through his own devices. Brains not brawn win here, and that's not a bad message to send to our children.

I enjoyed seeing the movie come to life. Iron Man has always been a favorite of mine. Even before Spiderman, or The Fantastic Four. I was a Marvel kid, and grew up on their comic books. Seeing it through my young boys eyes gave me a thrill that I really enjoyed. It was also great to see a good movie about a superhero. So many times studios fail to live up to the comic book, and at least here they surpass it.

It was also great to see a cameo of Stan "the man" Lee the publisher of Marvel, and the creator of so many Marvel superheros. In the end Iron Man is a fun romp through the fantastic. I hear that the actors have signed on to two more films, so I look forward to seeing them. in the future. Iron Man rules, and the movie will bring out the big kid in you. I whole heartedly recommend it!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Is Blogging Dead?

There have been a couple of blogs in recent time that have just recently stopped, or if you prefer gone off-air? I've mentioned one of them in my previous post about The House Next Door where it's creator Matt Zoller Seitz has gone on to concentrate more on filmmaking then journalism. Also Raymond Young of the blog Flickhead announced around the same time that his blogging days were over. I actually liked both blogs & hate to see them go, but understand whole heartily why they left.

I've always been a proponent of getting off the computer and get into life. It's a dual edged sword this blogging. On one hand you sit at a computer alone, and type things about yourself, others, or opinions you or someone else has. By doing so you get involved with stat meters, and statistics on who is reading what. It winds up to be all about numbers sometimes and not content. That's the evil side of blogging.

The good side of blogging, and yes there is a good side of blogging is that you get to interact with others who are like minded. Maybe your a writer, or filmmaker, or even an educator who has interests beyond his or her profession. What better way to express yourself then to write about it, and not be censored by a publisher because your that publisher. The free flow of ideas and thoughts can turn into an interesting movement between artists, writers inventors and so on. That's what is so GREAT about blogging.

It's not about the stats, or the circulation, but about the ideas. If it weren''t for blogs I wouldn't know of such people as Matt, Raymond or Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog). True we have never met, and they may not even know of me, but I know them. My mom had always said that in order to make friends you need to interact with them. What better way to interact then in a blog. We're not best buddies, but maybe colleagues for sure.

I've been blogging for over three years now, and I also have a personal blog that I do for myself, and for communicating with friends & relatives about the family. I don't have it closed off, and I don't limit the people who view it. This blog which you are reading now is all about filmmaking, and the filmmaking process. It's been a passion of mine, and I hope sharing my discoveries, and my thoughts about the subject shed light on it, and give ideas to people out there.

Another thing this blog does is make me more creative. I write. Maybe not as well as Matt, Raymond, or Tim, but I write. Ideas spring forward, and I write some more privately in my journal where it becomes fertile ground for a seed of an idea that I may write about or film in the future. It's all about writing. I write for myself, and by doing so I keep those writing skills sharp, and maybe just maybe an idea worthwhile will spring forward that is worthy for the rest of the world to hear about.

Like everything on the web things get commercial, and when something becomes a task or God forbid work itself then the joy of it is lost, and then what's the point of it all. I do this for me. I enjoy what I do, and love it. I don't keep track of the stats. I have a stat counter below and that's about it. I'd like it more if there were more interaction out there between artists, but maybe that will come. I like dialogue, and I think talking about life, love, and filmmaking is as good as it gets. When we use blogs to break down the walls of conventionality we show a bit of our humanity. We show that we are the same yet different, and that we are all unique in our own universe. That's not a bad thing, and for me blogging is far from being dead. In fact I think it hasn't even begun to fulfill it's full potential. Call me an optimist, but I see better days ahead.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

There’s More to life than movies....

Over at the House next door theres a conversation between Matt Zoller Seitz & Keith Uhlich. Matt is and was the creator of the blog The House Next Door", which has been a blog of all things related to TV & film. It has many contributors, and it's a blog where you want to go to read some thoughtful reviews & opinions on film & television. It now seems as though Mr. Seitz is headed off to do other things after over 17 years as a journalist. In his conversation which you can hear here Matt and Keith go over their influences and memories of filmmaking as they were growing up. Being I guess around the same age as Mr. Seitz I have almost those same memories. He mentions two films that though aren't significant masterpieces they seemed to have a strong influence in us deciding what we wanted to do or were interested in. The mentioning of the magazine of "Famous Monsters" is also relevant. I wasn't too big of a fan of them, but I had a friend that liked them, and I would buy old copies of the magazine in the comic book shop I haunted in my youth.

Long ago I got a degree in film production, and it was the ONLY thing I desired. Film, and filmmaking was something I enjoyed doing. Of course the reality of filmmaking is far less glamorous then the illusion of what filmmaking really is, and it's a lot of hard work. I remember being on the set at 2 AM watching equipment on location. Not the most glamorous indeed, but it feed the demon in me. What I found out eventually was that filmmaking for me was always going to be about the mechanical. I was a good technician. I could be a PA, a grip, a gaffer, an assistant camera, but no matter how many positions I held it never lead me to doing my own work. I was either too poor or too busy to work on the things I loved. In the meantime life was passing me by. Hence the title of this post. It's actually in the conversation between Mr. Uhlich, and Mr. Seitz, and I thought it quite relevant being it's May and it happens to be my birthday. I listened to the whole conversation, and was fascinated at how some of us wind up where we are now in our life. It's a matter of moments I guess that shape our lives. It's always been about the technical for me, and I eventually perfected that, but I still have problems finding time to do my own work.

Mr. Uhlich mentions to Matt if there are regrets, or that if getting out of journalism is something that Mr. Seitz wanted, and Matt does mention about a story about his lost movie camera. Listen to the conversation and you'll get it, but it hit a chord with me. You see I've always been technical, and I've never lost that camera. I've always believed that it was the work that was important, and the work would lead to better things. Sometimes that is true, and other times it isn't. You NEED to have the PASSION, and somewhere I lost it. Not the passion for filmmaking, but the passion of collaboration. Nothing exists in a vacuum. My film "Deadly Obsessions" wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the many fine men & women who worked on it. Collaboration is what I miss, and engaging and thoughtful collaboration. People like Mr. Seitz and Mr. Uhlich are passionate people, who are following their own star. It's hard sometimes to do just that. Life gets in the way, and that's alright, but you have to know yourself, and know what you love.

Time to refocus & find out what else I can say or do. There is only now, and tomorrow is only a promise. Hopefully I can make that promise worth listening too as Matt & Keith have done and are doing. Thanks guys for the extra wind in my sails. Let's see where this ship takes me now.