Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Killer Life

I don’t know if my opinion mean squat, but if it does, and you are as passionate about filmmaking as I am then you should be reading Christine Vachon’s new book “A Killer Life: How an Independent film producer survives deals and disasters in Hollywood and Beyond”. Vachon has been a producer on several independent films that are outstanding. They include: Boys Don’t Cry, Far from Heaven, I Shot Andy Warhol, Go Fish, Safe, One Hour Photo, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (a favorite of mine) and Infamous just to name a few. Vachon wrote her first book “Shooting to Kill” way back in 1998. In that book Vachon gives a new nonsense view on producing independent films. In A Killer Life Vachon tells us all about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. She takes us on a tour of what a typical day is for her in her production company called aptly enough “Killer Films”. From the arguments with film financiers to Hollywood stars Vachon shows us how things really work behind the scenes of filmmaking.

I have always liked Ms Vachon’s choices of films she has produced. She works with some of Hollywood’s top-notch talent, and yet she struggles with studios on budgets & who to cast in her pictures. William Goldman once said: “Nobody knows anything in Hollywood”, and Ms Vachon’s book proves it. It’s amazing to me to see how much anyone in the industry truly does know anything about the filmmaking process. Ms Vachon’s book is a reality check on the industry, and she paints an interesting world of the entertainment industry. If you’re at all interested in the industry this book is worth picking up, and keeping. It’s one of those books you just can’t put down.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Feature or Short Film?

Short film or feature film? I find myself questioning what I should be doing. I've done a number of shorts, and have written short film screenplays in the hope of putting them in an anthology. This may be a way to go, but I'm not sure. Long ago I was involved in such an endeavor, but it all fell apart, and I never looked back. I ask myself why would I want to do this? Why make a short film? There is no market for a short films. Film festivals, and maybe the Internet are my only option and I'd never make my money back, so what's the point. Filmmaking is a risky business, why would I want to do a short film with no chance of getting some of my investment back. Short films are usually used as a calling card. I'm still on the fence on this, and I don't know what I'll be doing next. I did see a very interesting short recently and thought that it was very good. Maybe a short has its place in this digital era, but it does seem that there are a lot of these shorts and they seem to get lost in clutter.

So as I re-write my screenplay I'm thinking why am I doing this again. Why another feature? After all haven't I learned anything? Why go down the same path? I'm still going to come across the same obstacles as I did before, so why a second feature when you're first wasn't at all that successful. My answer is why not? I've learned a lot of things, and feel that by only doing another film can I learn more, and get better at my own craft. Maybe my second will be the one. Maybe I'll have some success with it. I won't know until I try, and if I just give up then all of this will have been for nothing. It's my choice to work in this medium, and I'm fortunate to be living in a digital era. Technology leap frogs ahead, and I can still use what I've learned and apply it to filmmaking. Only this time I need more input from the outside, and I want the project to evolve into something that is better then my first project, and the first thing I need to do is rewrite what I've writen. As my screenplay teacher once said it's in the re-writing, and she was so right in that.

I've seen a lot of really good short films on the Internet. Of course I had to have access to high speed bandwidth to view them, and my opinion on that is that not everyone has high speed capability. But what I've seen so far is that there are a lot of talented people out there. Your short film can get lost in the clutter, and it's only going to get worse. I like to concentrate on feature films because it's a challenge. Writing an entire feature is tricky. Plot points and conflict resolution and even character development can really be hard to pull off. In "Deadly Obsessions" I tried to have a twist every thirty or so pages, and in the end I wanted to send the plot in a very different direction. From what I've seen with other film noirs of the past this was routinely done. I had examples and I used them, what I should have done also is get actors together early and do a read through. This helps the writer immensely, and can really make you're film stand out from all the rest. When actors get a hold of the material it becomes a different animal. When you hear the words you wrote you'll know what sounds good and what is total bullshit. The actors can even add things to you're words, and make them sound really good. Whether you do a short film or a feature it is a good idea to run through the lines and rehearse your actors.

A short film is hard to pull off when you jam pack things into it. Short films are a art form all onto themselves, and I certainly don't look down on them. To tell a story within 15 to 20 minutes can be difficult, but it certainly can be done successfully. Right now since I spend so much time on a film I'd like to make it a feature rather then a short film. I may not have a lot of money, but I do have time and I have to use that to my advantage. Whatever type of film I do decide to make I do know that I'll need some extensive pre-production to make the film. Getting other people involved in the film can only make a project better. But beware of the too many cooks in the kitchen syndrome. Just make sure you know what you want and have a clear plan on getting it done both during the production and after. Once you know how you'll put the film together technically you should give yourself time to work on the films aesthetics. It can only make you're film better, and it'll stand out more in a world bombarded by many different types of films. As my advertising professor once said: it'll break out of the clutter", and that's the best thing that can happen for you're film.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Departed

Okay I had to see it. I love Martin Scorsese, and I’m a big fan. I was not disappointed. Scorsese has a knack about telling tales of criminals and cops. It’s a genre I don’t think he can fail at. I’ve grown up watching Scorsese and have enjoyed his tenacity. From “Mean Streets” to “Goodfellas” Scorsese never disappoints. He’s a true American maverick. Is it his New York roots that make him so unique? Scorsese knows how to tell a story. His dialogue in a lot of his movies seems true, and you seem transported to another world where most of us wouldn’t survive.

I had heard about the reviews, and no matter what I wanted to see this film. It’s a hard driven character piece, which has multiple characters. Jack Nicholson plays a crime boss named Frank Costello. He is the head of a gang of Irish Mafioso who does battle with the Boston State police. I have to say that I was interested in the characters & it’s story. By the final reel everything falls apart. It is the inevitable conclusion that made me think. Is there something new here? Isn’t this a story as old as time? All our protagonists pay for it in the end, and in drama they usually do. I won't go into the end and spoil it for the people who did not see it, but the ending seemed hollow to me. It just seemed a way to wrap everything up, and I didn’t buy it. I still liked the movie, but it kind of fell flat. Maybe it's because I was so interested in the characters that I wanted to know a bit more detail on them. This is to Scorsese's credit. Scorsese always develops interesting characters for us to travel with.

So is this a movie any good? I’d argue the point that any Scorsese film is a must see because Scorsese brings to his films a depth that few filmmakers do. The characters ring true to us & we identify with something in their persona. Even the bad protagonists have some human quality that we can identify with, and that’s what makes a Scorsese films interesting and so fascinating to watch.
The cinematography is outstanding, and Michael Ballhaus gives the story a nice feel. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is as always flawless, and riveting. The acting is top notch, and the actors even get the Boston accent down perfect. Scorsese uses a lot of music in his film and I always wonder what the budget for music licenses are on his films, but I like how the director uses the music to convey emotion & a certain period of time. Scorsese has used popular music in many of his films in the past and many other films have tried to duplicate what Scorsese does.

The film clocks in at 152 minutes, but there is a lot of story here, and it all works. Like I said the ending had me just a bit disappointed. It came quick, and the old double, double cross just doesn’t ring true. In fact at the end Matt Damon’s character is suddenly shunned by people. Although WE know why his character is disliked it makes no logical sense that other characters would know that. Maybe something was cut out for times sake, and we’ll see it on the DVD. I may have said already too much, but I don’t think anyone will be disappointed by this movie or the things I've already revealed. Scorsese takes us on a trip into the bowels of corruption & criminality in Boston and how they commingle and ultimately explode into violence. The story comes down to a battle between good & evil and why sometimes good people do evil things in the name of justice.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Next?

So I’m writing something that I can possible produce that won’t break the bank. Writing within a low budget kind of sucks. Plain and simple. So how do I make it interesting while obeying the low budget film rules. Rules you say? What rules are they? Well maybe not rules, but lets say their suggestions rather then rules. They are in no particular order:

1. Limited locations
2. Characters kept to a minimum
3. No costly special effects
4. No animals
5. No children
6. Short shooting schedule
7. Use local talent
8. Small crew
9. Shoot DV
10. Pay people for their time

I’m sure there are more rules, I mean suggestions, but I think you get the idea. The following ten things to get your film done is written by me and is the culmination of my experience in making a film & going to dozens of lectures by producers. If these suggestions or rules help great, but remember it’s the story stupid. Above all else the story better be good or all you’re work will be in vain. So why am I writing something that may not be financial possible to make at this time? The answer is “why not”?

In order to get a film done, and out there you’re film has to be a passion of yours. Passion will get it done, but you can’t ignore the realities of film marketing and that is that the film needs to generate interest in its audience. After all you’re not making you’re film just for yourself. I’ve heard many filmmakers talk about their film as something they wanted to do for themselves and I never buy into it. Go ahead and tell your investors that you’re making this film for just yourself. If you said that to anybody they call you crazy and wouldn’t give you a dime. That’s why “Deadly Obsessions” exists. It isn’t a personal film where I want to preach some sort of lesson or message to my audience. My film exists because one I wanted to prove that I could make a feature, and two that I could entertain people with its story. I worked within my budgetary constraints and tried to make it interesting. It’s not the happiest film out there, and its kind of dark, but I kind of like it. It isn’t another horror movie of some horny teenagers running around in the woods and getting chopped up by some psychopath. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not against the horror genre. In fact the horror genre holds a special place in my heart. I’ve worked on even a couple very low to sub-basement budgeted films in my career, and it was always fun, yet tiring. My film tried to emulate the old 40’s & 50’s films of the past affectionately called ‘film noir”. I updated the look & tone to present day and hoped that I could pull it off. To some extent I think I succeeded. I’m proud of the results, and so I need to move on.

So what’s next? What do I do for my next film? I’m not entirely certain on the project, but I do have a film that is close to my heart and one I would like to shoot, but it’s a bit personal. But wait didn’t I just say that a film needs an audience? Didn’t you just say that you should be thinking about your audience? I did didn’t I. But that’s where “Deadly Obsessions” fails. Did I not just write that I’m proud of the film I did? I most certainly did, and I still am, but I do have to look at why it didn’t get into festivals, and why it didn’t play at your local bijou. One reason for its failure is that I aimed high and couldn’t compete with what Hollywood produces. Hey that’s okay. I think I have enough exploitive material in the film to make it entertaining and interesting. What I don’t have is the money Hollywood has to market it, and hype it. After all it’s ALL hype. Hype creates interest, and Hollywood is good at that. How many times did you leave the theater muttering to yourself “why in God’s green earth did I pluck down my $10 to $12 for such a piece of crap”. It was the hype. It gets us all.

So why am I writing something personal? Surly you can’t keep an audience interested. But I’m betting I can. How you ask? Well it’s become apparent to me that we all go through things that rock the very foundation that makes us ourselves. Loss, love, heartbreak, sickness, joy, divorce, birth, and yes-even violence. We deal with it in our own way and just maybe I can create a piece of work that touches us in some small way.

Good films rock us. They touch our core, and entertain us. The good films find common emotions that we all share and exploits them. . I said I want to do a film that touches others. Now that I’ve learned how to make a better film maybe it’s time to make something better and something bigger. Something that transcends the film. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that. Maybe it’s too grand of an idea, but Harry Chapin said it better in a song he wrote: “If we don’t strive for heaven, are we just settling for hell”. Wish me luck, and thanks for listening.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Just Breath Stupid!

Ideas, thoughts, and visuals. How does one live in a vacuum. I don’t think it’s possible, but then again I can be wrong. How many scientist, artists, and writers have lived in their own worlds? Think about it for a moment. Take all the artists & people who have made a mark in their respective fields and see how they got there. I believe it was never by taking a poll of what people thought. I more see these people like Sherman tanks running over things that got in their way. Sometimes aggressively, and sometimes these individuals were a bit less aggressive. Either way their work eventually caught on, and the result is that their work prevailed among all others. Sometimes these individuals were way beyond their time. Eventually others discovered them, and their work rose to the surface while others didn’t. Is it truth or a connection with other like-minded people that elevate these individuals work? Is it their brilliance that suddenly grabs us, and thrusts them into the forefront of their fields? Or maybe it’s a bit of everything. After all the work does speak for itself. That’s what illuminates these individuals. I’m sure all or most of these individuals suffered through doubt, and discomfort at the hands of the public or community they wished to enlighten.

I am fascinated by these individuals. Some we don’t even know because their work is being unearthed now. I ‘m not talking just about works of art here, but of individuals such as engineers, architects, writers, playwrights, astronomers, and scientists. The list goes on. In a world where we measure our success through so called reality TV shows, and the media dictates who our celebrities should be. Where are these people now? The vanguard as I like to call them. Why aren’t we celebrating their ideas, and their thoughts? Why the resurgence of the same old thoughts & theories? Where are the breakthrough thoughts, and ideas? Why do we seem to be crawling into mediocrity when such brilliance is among us? The only answer I have is that they’re all still working on it. Maybe the rest of society will hear them, or maybe not, but we’ve become a culture of who ever shouts the loudest wins. It’s a short cited argument that won’t hold up though time. What ever is crap is still crap. What is new and different rises to the surface. It’s the work people. Eventually the work speaks for itself. Everything else is bullshit!

Now why am I writing about this? Do I see myself as one of these individuals? Surely I’m not that conceited? No I’m not. My biggest legacy will probably be my family. Everyday I see them grow more and more, and I know that it’s about them and not about me. I’m just the crazed dad who has a passion for movies and things visual. Maybe in some small way they’ll contribute something, and I will be that link in the chain. I can live with that, and celebrate it, but I can’t let my dreams die out of frustration on how the world sees me. I have to be comfortable with how I see myself. I’m not all there, and I’m certainly struggling each and every day, but I’m getting there.

Do things that make you happy, and enjoy the process. Even the frustration, and the doubt. It’s all part of the process. If you’ve gotten this far thanks for reading. I hope you endeavor is going well, and that you are doing what you love to do. Remember the big picture, and just breath.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Balancing Act

So I find myself missing the grind of filmmaking. It’s unlike anything anyone can experience. The chaos & creativity that swarms around a movie set is both intoxicating, and maddening. I do remember that whenever I was on a movie set I couldn’t wait till the end of the day. Just for the silence, but I be lying to you if I told you that I hated it all together. A film set can be one of the most creative places around. Just putting a scene together takes a lot of energy. To do this day in and day out can be exhausting, and yet exhilarating. But I’m finding myself more and more challenged to try and get motivated enough in telling a really GOOD story. There was a time when I loved horror movies & other low budget films because it was what really got me going. To some extend I still do love these films affectionately called B-movies, but lately I’ve lost interest in what studios are producing and labeling as horror. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe I’ve just lost my fill for horror and find real life can be much more horrible then the fiction they put on the screen. I’m not adverse in doing a horror film, but I’d like the film to be something more then just another film containing blood, & guts. There has to be more. Larry Fessenden is a filmmaker who does this well, so it isn’t new territory.

So that leaves me where? What can I truly say in a movie? How do I make it entertaining to others while at the same time using the limited resources I have? Can it even be done? I can tell you that one single idea does permeate my thoughts and that is to do something beyond myself. To tell a story that resonates with all of us, and yet has a unique voice. High standards I guess, but then again life is short, and in the end we have only our work that will speak for us. I can’t even say that the work will be heard. The creation of something like a film, or photography or even a painting can only be motivated within the artist. He or she does not know whether it succeeds until it is finished and out there for the public to see. Yes I know the more successful artists are masters of self-promotion, and get the recognition of the public through their exploits. I know all too well that marketing is a skill unto itself, so I won’t shy away from it. It just seems quite difficult that in an era such as ours that a lot of what is worth hearing and worthwhile looking at is drowned out by the loudest or the most affluent of us. Maybe the Internet will help. Maybe it can give a voice to artists who would not ordinarily be heard. I’m not only talking about film, but of music, and photography, and art itself. I see some examples of this now, but the field remains fractured, and not united. We are all doing our own things, and are not connecting, as we should. I’m just as guilty of this. Balancing family, career, and other endeavors seems to be more of a skill then anyone can imagine, and I am still trying to master it, and feel that I may never be successful at it. Yet that inner drive to create, and to tell a story still nags at me. Maybe I’ve made this abundantly clear in previous posts, but it’s a real dilemma for me.

I’ve read several books and watched countless documentaries on famous artists who had something more then me, and they sacrificed things that I’m unwilling to sacrifice. I will not blindly pursue my own art at the expense of my family. But how do I balance all this? Surely I can’t be happy if I don’t try working on creating something I am proud of, and that is something more then myself. I have no idea if I’ll be successful. In the end I guess it’s all about balance, but I find it none too easy. Thanks for listening!

No sooner do I write this when I come across this article in the New York Times. It's called Survival Tips for the aging Independent filmmaker. It's an interesting read.

**Yes that is me under the moving blankets trying to muffle the sound of the camera. It did work!