Monday, June 30, 2008

Film vs Digital (the argument continues)

I read a lot about production, and sometimes I come across some really good interviews with either a filmmaker or cinematographer or editor. In a recent interview in the magazine "Student Filmmakers" I came across an interview with Richard Crudo ASC. He is a director of photography and more recently a director of a film entitled "Last Night".

The interview is in the November 2007 edition, so if you want to read it you can go on over to Student filmmakers website and see how to acquire it.

The part I thought of interest is where Crudo is asked about his opinion about digital technology today and his opinion on HD cameras.

"Clearly digital technology is the future of what we do. There's no question about that. Unfortunately, the future isn't here yet. And the industry has been sold an enormous bill of goods with regard to what this technology's current capable of doing..."

Crudo goes on say "Primarily digital needs to improve in these areas: color space, contrast, quality of the blacks, and resolution. We need a interoperable system of color management. We also need a widespread adaptation of Technicolor's Digital Printer Light System, which is an absolutely brilliant way of returning control of the dailies process to the cinematographer."

"The ASC has gone a long way in driving a lot of efforts in these areas, and we will continue to do so. In many cases today you've got digital technology- a brand new way of doing the same thing - reinventing the wheel. But the trouble is that the wheel is too often surrounded by a flat tire. The unfortunate thing for us is that rather then starting at a point at least equal to the best of what the existing technology delivered (i.e. 65mm), digital started at a point 40 notches down the pole. Through a massive wave of diabolically smart marketing, people (some producers, studio executives and others who don't know any better) were taught to believe that anything new is automatically better. And they bought it no questions asked. It's another tool in the box that has its own applications. But to me the downside still outweighs the benefits. For the thinking cinematographer, digital technology is still not at the point where we need it to be. And it's not going to be for a very long time."

I kind of agree on this. If you said I can do it cheaper digitally then on film I would be the first to tell you that you're wrong. I could shoot on film and edit on film, and still produce a film cheaper then you could do on digital. Why? Because in digital you're hit in post production with the expenses. Everyone may be able to edit on Final Cut or Avid, but you have to output it eventually, and that's where it's going to cost. The old argument that something "new" is better is horse shit.

I'm not saying digital is wrong, or it's evil. I'm just saying that it isn't there yet, and for people to tell you that You YOURSELF can produce product like Hollywood does is a lie. You can get your film to a certain stage, but if you want or need worldwide distribution then it's going to cost, and don't get me started on E & O insurance. But I digress, and so I'll close with Richard Crudo's comments on digital technology. In his comment he explains the crux of the conflict which is "image capture".

"(Image capture) represents the dividing line between people who think digital technology is the answer to every question and the people who think it represents an incomprehensibly poor way of "improving" things. In its simplest terms, it comes down to this: people who prefer digital technology above all always use the term "image capture" in relation to what we call "original photography". People who have come through the filmic tradition, who have that discipline in their bones, will use the term "image creation". The best way to think of the schism is to imagine a bunch of engineers dictating to artists what they think the artist will need instead of the other way around. This is one of the biggest factors that's slowing the actual maturation of digital technology - which we're all desperately hungry for."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sharkey's Machine (1981)

I've always been a fan of this film and after coming across this review by Matt Zoller Seitz I had to post it here too. I agree with Matt that the film is a classic. The photography and the editing all point to a well crafted and interesting film. It's a film that should be viewed again, and appreciated.

Matt does a fine piece of cinema appreciation, and I agree with him on the films merits. Sharky's Machine feels like a simple exploitation type film, but it has deeper roots then that. Maybe that's why I like it. I was surprised it did moderately at the box office, but then again the beauty of DVD is that people can re-discover hidden classics, and that's what Sharky's Machine is a hidden classic.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Some interesting thoughts about Indie filmmaking!

This Sunday I read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Art houses being empty, and having a hard time surviving in today's economy. I do believe that the independent film distribution model is undergoing a change. There is more product and more specialized markets now. Meaning you can target the audience you want to see your movie. Instead of wasting money on advertising that won't draw in your audience you can now specifically target that audience you want to see your film. Of course this also means narrowing your film audience which isn't good if a film is going to be successful. After all you want your audience to be diverse and not narrow.

I also came across this interview on indiewire called "Yes, the sky really is falling". It's a cold hard look at distribution in today's digital market. It's not a fun read, but it has some eye opening stats that every producer should know about. I found it quite honest in it's portrayal of today's indie market place.

Yet I still have desires to do some more work. Maybe it's something I just want to say, and get out there, or maybe it's me chasing that notion of making a BETTER film. After all you learn by doing, and so far I feel I've learned a lot.

We'll see how it all pans out. I'm still writing, and I need to get something I'm in love with finished first & then see take it from there.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

So I stole away and finally saw "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", and I have to say I liked it, but not as much as I did the others. Maybe the franchise is just getting old, or maybe it's me. After all I'm older too, and the film does make a lot of references to age. But the film does stand on it's own, and I like the way they worked in the 50's and the McCarthy witch hunts. I'm sure the filmmakers are winking at us and at how the more things change the more they stay the same. The bid bad Soviets are the bad guys here, and Cate Blanchett plays an evil little foe for Indy to go up against. Shia LaBeouf plays Indy's long lost son, which is no surprise. I mean I saw that coming a mile away, but the filmmakers have some fun with it, and if Shia LaBeouf is going to be the heir apparent to the Indy mantle then I don't see a problem. After all the franchise needs to continue. My only complaint was that Shia LaBeouf is a better actor then he plays here. In some scenes I sense he's just phoning it in. Harrison Ford does a good job, and he makes the age thing work for him, and don't forget Karen Allen. She's great at reprising her role as Marion. The end even works for me, so it's a nice wrap up for the series, but still there seems to be a lot of CGI in the film. Maybe it's the way things are, and I've complained about this before, but because you can do it doesn't mean you should use it.

The alien plot was a bit different, but it worked. I did feel that there were a lot of flights of fancy in this Indy then in others. The battle in the jungle seemed to go on forever, and after awhile it seemed just too unrealistic. But again the franchise is based on those 40's & 50's serials where the main character always got in over his or her head, and by next week he or she easily manages to extricate themselves from certain death.

Spielberg still has love for his characters, and he shows it here. I'm sure filming Indy 4 was a delight, and something special for the actors involved. The cinematography in the film is reminiscent of the old 40's noir lighting. Our first glimpse of Indy is in shadow as he puts on his famous hat. Maybe the other films are so steeped in our sub-conscious that nostalgia plays a big role in when we watch them. After all a lot of us were young when we first saw Indy kick some Nazi butt, and it was a style of filmmaking that had long ago been forgotten. The phrase what was old is now new is true here. Watching Indy 4 I got a bit misty thinking when I first heard Indy's theme swell up through the theaters speakers. John Williams score is as intrical to the film then any other element in the movie, and its an amazing score. I do feel that Spielberg does push it at times in this latest film, but then I can't blame him for doing so we all like what we hear.

If you're a fan I think you won't be disappointed, and if you're not and new to the series I still think you'll enjoy the roller coaster ride, but do see the original it still rocks even in today's age.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jess Franco Films in Paris

The Cinemathèque Française in Paris is mounting a ambitious retrospective of Jess Franco tonight. The Franco retrospective (which consists of 68 films!) will run from today, June 18, through July 31.

Franco & Lina will be in attendance. It's cool to see Franco get his due. Whether you like or dislike his films you have to give Franco his due on his perseverance in filmmaking. If you want to see what films they are showing head on over to Robert Monell at his website I'm In a Jess Franco State of Mind.

That's pretty cool. I also hear most of the films will be shown in 35mm. It's probably the best venue to be seen in. Congrats Jess!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I went to see the "new" Hulk movie this week-end with my son. I was one of the few who liked the first Hulk directed by Ang Lee, so going into this movie I really didn't expect much. Surprisingly the filmmakers stuck to the TV series roots more then the comic roots. I didn't hate it, and I like the nods to the old series. In one scene they show Bill Bixby in a video clip on a television, and then there is the casting of Lou Ferrigno as a security guard. There is a lot of CGI work in the movie, and I've gotten used to it. The CGI work is okay, and done with some care, but in the back of my mind I'm wondering if filmmakers are relying too much on CGI.

My little boy enjoyed it, and he did say that it was a bit scary for him (he's six), so I take that into consideration if you were taking a child to go see the movie. Again I'm amazed at how the studio markets the film to kids, but yet puts it out as a PG-13 movie. Of course this is all about parents discretion, so ultimately it's your decision if your child should see the movie or not. All in all Kris enjoyed the film, and he had a fun day out with his dad. Dad didn't mind the film either. There is not much on plot except that Bruce Banner Hulk's alter-ego is always searching for a cure. It's what the TV series did so effectively week after week.

A few things to note here though. Marvel is gearing up their franchise. In the movie another super villain is created. If my memory serves me well it was the origin of the mad scientist who is green like the Hulk, and whose head is bigger because he is super intelligent. I don't remember what they called him in the comic, but look for him in future episodes. Also Tony Stark appears at the end of Hulk, and he says he's putting a team together. That and if you saw the end of Iron man and you saw the conversation between Stark & Nick Fury about the "Avenger initiative" you know whats coming. Only time will tell to see how Marvel studios puts it all together. I'm sure my boys will be their target demographics.

Needless to say I liked the "Incredible Hulk", and it was an enjoyable picture to share with my young son. I'm sure Marvel is betting on other dads to take them and share a superhero both know about. That's the magic of it. For us older folk we're flooded with memories of nostalgia, and for the younger crowd they are thrilled to find out about another "new" superhero.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Getting Real or is it Reel?

I've been chomping at the bit to do another film. No surprise, but what? I've written several things and none seem viable, or even of interest, so I trudge along writing more material. I'm just basically just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Some showed promise, and then fall apart. Other ideas never see the light of day.

What also gnaws at me is how I'll be able to do this. Money is short, and resources are limited. I've always been an advocate of paying people for their services, but in filmmaking a lot goes unsaid. In my late twenties I got sick and tired of hearing people complain about their money woes. I just wanted to get paid for my time. Many times I got promises or very little in monetary compensation. It soured my view on the production process. I promised myself I wouldn't do the same. Many projects that I worked on never saw the light of day. They eventually fell apart during post production, or just were simple forgotten when things got difficult. Of course this was way before the days of digital video.

It seems now everyone and their brother is making a film, and all are tauting themselves as the next Spielberg. Heck! there was even a show called "On the Lot" that was a competition between certain filmakers to make the best short. The winner got to go on to do their own film I think, so filmmaking has become a reality series. Anything for a buck right!

But reality has a way of hitting you in the face. How long do you pursue the dream? Do you give up, or do you keep on keeping on? I've always said filmmaking holds a special place for me. While many were getting into trouble, or just aimlessly drifting filmmaking held a fascination for me. I learned early it was a craft, and not for the lazy. You really had to work at filmmaking if you wanted to get good. My mistake was looking for fellow filmmakers to share the dream with. I never actually did find those filmmakers, because everyone has an agenda, and everyone else was interested in what you could do for them free of charge.

At first it was fun, but eventually reality sets in, and you become bitter. You want to know when do you get your chance, or even if you'll get the chance to do your own project. I don't want to sound bitter, but it's a hard road this filmmaking bug. Now in my 40's and a feature under my belt I find that it still isn't enough. The market has changed, and movie making is a lot different then it was when I was growing up or even when I was in college. I still want to do GOOD work, but it's hard when resources are strained, and real life interrupts. With today's gas prices you're budget for that film has gone up pretty dramatically unless your an animator, and it's only you and your creations. You animators I admire a lot, but I know how long it takes to get those shots, and how time consuming animation really is. I've even thought about doing it again. I loved stop-motion, and did a lot of it in my teens, but I love working with actors, and I really would like to do so again. Maybe it's the interaction between the artists that I love, but directing actors can be a frustrating yet rewarding experience.

Over at "The Bleeding Tree" blog Neil Sarver talks about indie serials that are produced for the web. One of those web shows is called "Star Trek: New Voyages". It is produced by some people in upstate New York, and it's production values and stories are quite good. How these talented folks do it with no money is simple amazing. The series makes no money, but it has attracted talent to the projects. It would be great to see the filmmakers who are involved in this get rewarded for their work, but I'm skeptical about the people who own the franchise would ever do it. Again it's the living off the good intentions of some enthusiastic and talent people that I despise. I wish the creators all the luck in the world, and hope to be proven wrong someday.

There are other serials too, which I think is a great idea in showcasing your teams talents, but making money off these ventures is still a tricky endeavor. Neil makes some good points in his blog. As for me I don't know. The Internet makes it easy to self distribute, but it's not a panacea. Maybe the answer is doing more shorts. Maybe that would be better since the net seems more designed for short attention spans. That quick fix works, and videos turn viral if their short enough and interesting enough.

In John Grogan's blog he talks about "Schlubs and their dreams " and points out to a USA Today article about a guy who worked in Home Depot now singing with the band "Boston". All because he caught the ear of Tom Scholz from an MP3 file the guy posted on his website. Maybe that's how the web works best. It allows people to do what they love and other people to hear or see it, and just maybe that someone will have the clout to make those dreams a reality. The Internet works best when it puts creative people with other creative people. Sometimes magic does strike, and careers are launched out of nowhere.

As for me the writing continues. Maybe something will come of it. There is always hope.