Friday, July 25, 2014

On the Cheap: My life in low budget filmmaking by Greydon Clark

 I have a fascination of low budget films, and when I heard that Greydon Clark wrote a book about his career my interest peaked, and so I was happily given the book by my family for a father's day gift.  Who is Greydon Clark you ask?  He is the producer and director of such films as: Black Shampoo, Without Warning, Joysticks, Satan's Cheerleaders just to name a few.  Why should you care?  Well if you're a film enthusiast, a filmmaker, or even if you happen just to like low budget films this book may shed some light on how hard and difficult it is to produce these types of films.

Mr. Clark goes about telling us how he financed, and how he produced and directed his films.  Many of these films were ultra low-budget, but you would be surprised to know where all the money goes, and that is talent.  Clark never skimped on his talent, and knew that he needed to draw audience's in by getting bankable stars.  Mr. Clarks budgets ranged from 50K if you can believe that to a couple of hundred thousands, but in each of his films he puts it up all in the screen.  There is one film called the "The Forbidden Dance" that was produced for about two million, and shot within 18 days.  I won't go into details, but the story behind "Forbidden Dance" is a movie in itself.  From conception to actual movie all within 90 days.

The book is littered with stories on how Mr. Clark went about financing and shooting his films.  It's even really amazing to hear how he himself was stiffed by unscrupulous producers and distributors.   Mr. Clark does not mince words here and is a gentlemen through and through.  He does not exploit some of the problems he had with his talent, and he keeps it civil which shows what type of guy Clark is.  No low blows.  The book is all about the films and his career and how he had to fight his way through the production madness we call filmmaking.

The book is laid out in script form, and to any filmmaker it seems familiar but may be a bit distracting for other readers though I didn't find it a bit.  I liked the way it was laid out.  The book does contain photos also of his productions, but here I believe it cold have been laid out better.   But I'm sure publishing costs to do a different layout would be a bit more expensive, and Clark wants to tell us the stories, and that is what's important here.

I have a whole new respect for the man though.  Clark consistently gambled on his future by investing in his films.  I always thought that for someone to consistently put his own money and risk his own fortune on his abilities as a filmmaker shows that this man has stones,  Simple put he saw a market, exploited it, and sold his film off so he could make the next one.  I find it hard to believe that no one in Hollywood would even put up his or her money and have Mr. Clark direct.  It was Mr. Clarks speed, and his cost consciousness that got him the gig for "The Forbidden Dance".   I guess it is as Mr Goldman says in his book "Adventures in the screen trade".  "Nobody knows nothing in Hollywood".

The book is really interesting when Mr. Clark get's personal, and he does share his credit with his late wife who was always behind her husband and very supportive.  It is tragic on how she passed, and it's heartbreaking to read.

If you're interested in filmmaking and want to hear what it's like from the trenches back in the day this book is a great read.  Some of his ideas and his chutzpah would still work, and should be of some value to fledgling filmmakers like myself, but otherwise it's a fun read.  It's available from the filmmaker's at his web site

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Earth to Echo (2014)

My oldest who is twelve wanted to see this and so over the July 4th opening we went with the family to see "Earth to Echo".  A film about four kids on a search for extraterrestrials.  This is not ET, or a re-hash of it.  This is a bit different.  The movie focuses on the kids, and the film is seen through video that the kids record as they go about their adventure.  I thought the way the film was presented was kind of cool, and was a different take on movies with the same plot line.  The movie reminds me a bit of a Spielberg produced movie entitled "Batteries Not Included", but their are differences such as the main characters are kids and the movie is marketed to younger teens and kids that are a bit younger.  The movie is not great for children younger then 8, or that's how I felt.  My youngest who is ten liked it, and thought the alien was cute, and there is the movies problem.

For all the promotion of the movie there aren't enough scenes in the film with our little alien friend.  There should have been more scenes involving the teens and the alien.  ET is the movie standard that the filmmakers needed to overcome.  Spielberg knew what made his film and that was ET's interaction with the children in the movie.  Here in Earth to Echo there isn't enough of that.  The scenes with the alien and the kids are classic, but again not enough, and therefore I think the younger audience wouldn't care about the film.  I believe the filmmakers made a mistake here, but one that isn't fatal.  Maybe for their box office, but not for the film.

What the filmmakers have in their favor is that the movie is one if not the only movie that is out this summer that is for kids.  I implore the studio to push hard on the kid friendly movie aspect, and maybe then they'll have better success at the box office.  After all it seems as though this summer Hollywood is experiencing tough competition from other entertainment outlets, and it just being summer and kids have better things to do then going to movies.

The movie is like a puzzle and feels almost like a video game.  Echo needs parts, and he is rebuilding himself.  He has a mission to take back a long buried star ship under the earth.  Now how the ship got there, and why we humans haven't found it until recently is a bit of a mystery to me.  Also it seems that our government knows of the aliens existence and had shot it down, but how they knew it was heading to the ship, and why they shot it down in the first place is a mystery.  The plot holes in the movie are big and confusing.  Maybe something was lost in the editing of the film, but both my wife and I looked at each other and just shrugged our shoulders and went with it.  The government agents don't show themselves in black, and carrying guns, which I believe is because of the demographics the movie is trying to appeal to.  After all you don't want to scare your audience that you're trying to appeal to, so again I didn't make it an issue.

There's a lot to like though in this movie.  I really was rooting for the alien, and really thought the children in the film were really good.  I loved how they presented the movie.  Like it was a video you would find on the Internet.  A sort of found footage movie, but it did have scenes where we the audience were taken out of the footage the actors supposedly shot and into a conventional movie scene.  But the filmmakers (Dave Green, Henry Gayden and Andrew Panay) do this skillfully, and it helps the movie.  I think what sells this movie are the actors performance.  They are good, and the four actors have chemistry together.  It helps with the story line.  Teo Halm, Brian 'Astro' Bradley, Reese Hartwig, and Ella Wahlestedt all do a great job in the film, and it is because of their performances that the film works.

I think this may even have some fans among the young ones it s marketed to.  After all the message is that "your important" and "you can do anything".  It addresses emotions that young teens and teens for that matter feel that no one takes them seriously, and the film doesn't preach the message.

All in all I enjoyed seeing it with the family.  We all had fun, and we laughed even my mom had fun.  So if you're looking for some family entertainment don't hesitate to go and see "Earth to Echo".  Great family fun.