Archive for April, 2009

Creative Screenwriting

When you’re making a movie you kindof just want to cocoon yourself with film and live in that place for a long time. It’s a great place to be. For me, it’s very hard to divide attention. Because of how large and all-encompassing “Trailer: The Movie” is – not in a bad way either, but there is a lot to do – it is very difficult for me to do any fictional writing. I think it is because I have created (and intend to continue to foster) a link between acting and directing. They fold into one under the banner of Filmmaking. Writing is the first step to directing. Anyway, it’s different with acting, because I’ve always kept writing and acting separated. Point is, I still like to write and want to write, and I still have ideas, but I’m not pursuing them at the moment. So, when I can spare a moment, I write blogs, journal, and read. So that satisfies that side, while the director side is in full swing. 

Anyway, none of that is the point (these muscles they are rusty). What’s surprised me is that I’ve been finding time to watch a lot of movies, as well as listen to a lot of interviews and podcasts. I’ve been loading up my iPod lately with them, and I’ve been ingesting them rather quickly. In addition to my regular routine of listening to Battleship Pretension and Filmspotting, I ocasionally listen to The Treatment with Elvis Mitchell, and I have begun listening to the Creative Screenwriting podcast, with Jeff Goldsmith. And it’s great! There is a whole slew of interviews: Charlie Kaufman on “Synechdoche, New York.” Jody Hill on “Observe and Report.” David Wain on “Role Models.” Andrew Stanton on “Wall-E.” (Just now looking through, I found 7 more to download. I’ve got driving to do this weekend). The interviews are in-depth and almost always at least an hour long. That’s amazing! Most Q&A sessions are about 10, maybe 15 minutes long. These interviews cover everything from origins of projects and how the subjects got involved either in writing or directing or filmmaking in general. It’s comforting for a young filmmaker to hear that Charlie Kaufman worked for 11 years before anyone would read anything he wrote. Or that Jody Hill made “The Foot Fist Way” for $70,000.00 less than 5 years ago. It can be frustrating letting people know you want to write and direct because the two most popular responses are both polar opposites and totally unhelpful. One is the person tells you it’s impossible to break in to the business and you might as well not try. On the other hand, the person assumes you’ll be famous two months after you move to LA. No. I won’t. Yes, I get it; it’s difficult. Thank you for opening my eyes.

the second film from Rian Johnson

the second film from Rian Johnson

And in a strange turn of events, the Kansas City Film Festival is going on this weekend, and guess who one of the judges is? Jeff Goldsmith. Tonight he is recording an interview with Rian Johnson after a screening of his 2nd film “The Brothers Bloom.” Unfortunately, it’s sold out, but I’m still thinking of trying to stand in the will-call line just for the experience. I loved Johnson’s first film, “Brick” and he is also a good friend/ fan of Filmspotting. And the world gets smaller still. If you have any interest in making films for a living, check out the podcast, you’ll be glad you did.

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Attack of the Fanboys…and Fangirls

I like to know what all the fuss is about. This is my way. I’ve tried watching quite a few reality shows because of this (Project Runway: pretty interesting. American Idol: Addictive.) I have much more of an interest in hip-hop than I did 3 years ago. I’ve now actually read and liked certain comic books (I think “The Long Halloween” is my favorite so far) When I was still doing a podcast, we did episodes on Michael Bay, Christian Music, High School Musical, and Sex and the City. And in none of those cases was I reformed in my thinking, but by giving each phenomenon ample time to sway me I gained the right to disparage it. I could talk about why I didn’t like it, instead of why I assumed I wouldn’t. I’m interested in the hype, which isn’t the same thing as buying into it. I’ve been called contrarian, which isn’t accurate. I am willing to listen , or watch, or in this case read; but in every situation, I reserve the right to like or dislike as I honestly do. 

One book, one graphic novel. “Twilight,” by Stephanie Meyer, and “Watchmen,” by Alan Moore. Both works huge successes in printed form, brought to cultural juggernaut status by another: film. I can’t say I found either before they became movies, but I also don’t tend to read 80’s graphic novels or young adult fiction. As soon as I saw the trailer for “Watchmen” I knew I had to read it before seeing it, which is harder than it might seem, since it’s an incredibly dense read. There is just as much detail on every page as a novel, but it’s even harder because you often have to hunt the page for it. With a novel, the words are clearly there for you. And I mean EVERY page, almost every panel. I didn’t want to read “Twilight” at first. Nothing about it appealed to me. It’s a remarkably easy concept to roll your eyes at, although I suppose so is “Watchmen.” I want to say the difference is that one is a literary-minded attempt at deconstructing a popular genre, against the backdrop of relevant socio-political intrigue, while the other is run-of-the-mill chick-lit. What’s probably more accurate is that “Watchmen” is written by and mainly for an audience of guys and “Twilight” is written by and mainly for an audience of girls. Fair is fair.

Vampire Chic: The new clothing line by Express

Vampire Chic: The new clothing line by Express

I saw “Twilight” before I read it, or had even decided to, but I don’t think that matters much. I didn’t decide to read it because of the movie, which was laughably (but also enjoyably) awful, but because everyone I knew who had read the book(s) loved them, or at least love them while they were reading them despite their sobered protestations to the contrary (if needed, I can quote directly from her blog entry about the book. Don’t push me). And of course, I realized that I didn’t know of a single male who had read the book. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

My guess is that most women haven’t read “Watchmen” and most men haven’t read “Twilight.” So my position is somewhat unique, and in addition to questions like “is one better than the other?” or “is either good on its own merits?” is this: should men read “Twilight” and women read “Watchmen” ?

One of the Best Characters Ever Created: Rorschach

One of the Best Characters Ever Created: Rorschach

Comic books aren’t my thing. As a kid, it wasn’t interesting to have to imagine the motion of the images in between each frame, and cartoons were so readily available that even though the stories themselves were gripping (guy can fly and punches people? I’m so there, and I’ve got the pajama outfit to prove it) comic books never did much for me. So, it has been a transition to enter into a) the dense subculture surrounding comic books, simply due to the sheer number of them, and b) the mode of storytelling. You can’t just read the words and move on, you’ve got to take in the images, and your eyes have to be trained to sortof do them both at the same time. All that said, I really loved “Watchmen” the graphic novel. I purposely split the book up, reading only about a chapter a day, maybe two. It was important to try to experience it in segments, even if it wasn’t a month apart each time (one of the movie’s biggest strengths is that you can trace each issue onscreen), and that was effective. It’s not saying anything new to say that Moore’s storytelling is brilliant, the way he switches narrators and perspectives, the way he blends an alternative reality with a deconstruction of superhero (and American) iconography. He’s a damn good writer. Rorschach and the comedian in particular, are two of the greatest characters ever created, and I would pay good money to watch the adventures of either of them for two hours. Dr. Manhattan is fascinating in his own distanced way, and Dan Dreiberg is an effective oaf for the first part of the story. 

Ultimately, though, the graphic novel is far from perfect. The purely written sections in between each chapter are very effective in rounding out the world of the story, and the images at the beginning of the final chapter are brilliantly horrifying. It’s the story itself that gave me pause. It is fair to point our that this is one of the first novels to deconstruct the superhero, but that doesn’t mean its flaws don’t show or that things like the violence and some of the costumes haven’t aged pretty badly. The illustrations by Dave Gibbons are perfect for much of the book, but they lacked excitement in the action. There is a lack of understanding of the idea of an action set-piece. And before someone says they didn’t have action set-pieces in the mid-80’s, I suggest you look at “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the original “Batman” movie (which came out after the book, but nonetheless is a part of the same general time period). It should’ve been better. Those are little qualms. The major flaw of the story is that it does not effectively weave its separate narratives together. There are three major plot lines: 1) The murder of The Comedian (or, to be broader, the mask killer plot). 2) The origin of superheroes. 3) The impending nuclear war between America and Russia. Let me revise. The 3rd plot line is  very well woven into both the first and second plot lines, which makes sense because it is on the periphery anyway. But there is little to no overlap between the investigation of The Comedian’s death and the origin stories. The investigation all but stops after the first few chapters and the book becomes immersed with the backstories of its heroes, because that is really what the book is about. But it leaves its major dramatic story line adrift, so that these backstories feel like they’re being forced on us. There doesn’t seem to be sufficient motivation for telling them; but if you weave the two plots together, you create a situation where they build on each other instead of standing alone side by side. 

Finally, and I won’t spend too much time on it, but the rationale for Ozymandias’ master plan and the discovery of his plan feel completely rushed and hair-brained. The film is actually a huge improvement on the details of what’s been done, in a way that directly comments on the deconstructive elements of the novel. Moore should have been smarter, because the big reveal is nearly laughable. 

And hey, speaking of laughable, let’s talk about “Twilight,” and why Stephanie Meyer creeps me out. Listen, this book doesn’t just need an editor, it needs a 9th grade English teacher. Meyer’s writing is just about the worst thing ever. Not because it’s bland, not because she can’t craft a story (well….hold on), but because she subscribes to the notion that every line of dialogue needs a qualifier. He said flippantly. He chortled. She retorted. He said laughingly. He quipped. She rasped. Also recycled are the same 3 adjectives page after page to describe her vampire heart-throb. Mysterious. Perfect. Gorgeous. We get it. The story is actually kindof engaging, if cliche. New girl in small town. Falls in love with the bad boy. Excitement, romance, mythology ensue. It’s a recipe for a tween sensation, yes, but also for a good fast read, which it also is. Fast, that is. If Meyer knew how the hell to write a conversation or how not to completely telegraph her story, this book could’ve been great. But she can’t, and it isn’t. 

What is most horrifying isn’t that Meyer thinks her cutesy dialogue is actually funny, or romantic. It’s a giant ball of cheese is what it is, but aside from annoying me, it creeped me out. Consider. The vampire, Edward Cullen, is infatuated with Bella Swan. So infatuated that he will go to her bedroom at night and watch her sleep. So infatuated that he starts shaking whenever she’s around. So infatuated that he keeps putting himself near her even when it appears she’s trying to avoid him (at which point he tells her to stay away from him…which she was already doing). At this point, you might be thinking, well, he’s in love with her. Well (he chortled) Edward is over 100 years old. Edward is a pedophile. And a creepy old man who looks like a teenager is still a creepy old man. Think of the difference in maturity. Think of how many thousands of different ways Edward can manipulate Bella (and does). Now consider that almost all of the nation’s women (but specifically teenagers) are in love with Edward. In love with a manipulating old man who talks and talks and talks about how he’s not going to defile her. Why does he keep bringing it up, hinting at it? Um… so that the girl will start to think he’s holding out on her and “decide” that she wants him to defile her. This book is about a child molester convincing a 16 year old girl that she wants him to fuck her. And she does. Oh man does she ever. By the end of the book she is practically aching for it. The book operates under the guise of abstinence, but it’s paper thin. 21 year old guys, you may send your thank you cards to Stephanie Meyer for convincing your 17 year old girlfriend, who you picked up at your high school when you offered to buy them beer, to have some vampire sex with you in her parents’ basement. That’s Stephanie Meyer, at… The other thing is, it sets the worst possible example for teen relationships and a completely unrealistic expectation for guys. Not to mention, an idiotic one. I feel awful for Meyer’s husband. Your wife becomes successful for writing a book about the guy she would rather have married but couldn’t find, who happens to look like her high school prom date. Gulp. Yes, I am speculating, but I betcha I’m not far off.

American Iconography or Edward Cullen, age 53 ?

American Iconography or Edward Cullen, age 53 ?

Thinking about the two works together, it would certainly make for an interesting double-feature. I’m not sure how much cross-over there is among the fans, but I would guess not much. The original fans of “Watchmen” aren’t likely to be fans of “Twilight,” if for no other reason than that they are probably purists by nature, and the “Twilight” series is idiotic by nature. And yet, there is the same tenacity in both groups. I imagine a cheese and punch mixer with the two groups after viewing both movies. The 30-something nerds might see glimmers of themselves in the extremism of the teenage Cullen-ites; they would miss the good old days. Whereas, the teenagers would probably look at the 30-somethings and swear be creeped out by their adulthood. This will not be their ideal picture of grown men. They will be terrified. And if you think that might be a sexually irresponsible situation to put teenage girls into, then why would you ever allow someone even older and creepier to watch the girls while they sleep?

Objectively, I would recommend seeing both movies. “Twilight” because it’s so bad, it’s good, and “Watchmen” because it’s a good movie with some of the same flaws as the novel and some hypocritically gratuitous violence thrown in. Don’t ever, ever, EVER read “Twilight,” because if you like books, you’ll hate this one. And do read “Watchmen,” because it has a lot of insight into iconography and some very difficult philosophy to digest. I’m sure someone somewhere is writing a dissertation about the iconography of “Twilight,” and I’m sure you could overlay that onto the book, I just don’t believe Ms. Meyer knows what the word means, so I hesitate to give her credit for putting any into her book, much less for commenting on it, which she doesn’t. Guys will hate “Twilight,” as all rational people should. Women will probably not like “Watchmen,” if for no other reason than that women tend not to give a damn about the deconstruction of traditionally male-centric iconography. It’s probably about as appealing as a deconstruction of the outfits of “Sex and the City” as they relate to social status in Manhattan proper. Although a) that sounds kindof interesting to me and b) “Sex and the City” as a complete work is also terrible, whereas “Watchmen” is good. So, perhaps the comparison does not hold.

Worst-Ever Case of the Mondays

This weekend, we began shooting “Trailer: The Movie” and we couldn’t be happier. Regardless of our cinematographer bailing on us (10 hours before we started filming: not professional). Regardless of the cops showing up (After speaking to him, Officer Stone told me: Well, you’re not bothering me any. Carry on.) Regardless the rain on Saturday. Regardless the issues with Adobe Premiere. We spent 23 of the 48 hours on set, I got less than 10 hours total sleep, and I can’t remember being happier. There was a moment, just before we started, when all the extras and crew were gathered around Adam and I (we’re co-directing), all eyes on us, everyone waiting to be told where to go, what to do. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it. We filmed an m-f’ing RIOT on Saturday. We blocked off a city street. We staged 2 different car-chases. We used real guns and fake blood. We shot a fight scene using a defibrilator. The actors were brilliant, the crew was on top of every detail, the footage looks great. And from what I can tell, everyone had a great time. This was our Action Weekend, so most of the scenes were purely physical: lots of running, fighting, driving, shooting. Lots of guns. Lots of fake blood (maple syrup + chocolate syrup + red food coloring = badass). The extras did a really fine job, and they gave a great texture to everything. It didn’t look polished, it looked messy and accidental and perfect. It’s hard to describe the vibe on the set. It wasn’t strictly serious, but no one really goofed off or screwed around. It had a nice balance of everything. there were times when we’d be really serious and no one really talked between takes. Then, other times, usually involving the fake blood, we could barely keep going we were laughing so hard. We stuck to our schedule very well, even got a few shots done from next weekend, but one of the things I’m most proud of is that we weren’t too rigid. We took our time, got the footage we wanted and then moved on. Most of all, with so many action scenes, you want variation. So the second part of Saturday and much of Sunday was shooting action scenes on the fly. See a location, block a fight or a gun shot, move on. We had the freedom to be inspired by the location and as a result, we got unique and awesome shots.

 

 

The Official Logo for 1 of 3 films within our film

The Official Logo for 1 of 3 films within our film

There’s only one bad part to the whole thing: coming back. Adam and I went to a late dinner Sunday night. Our favorite location and the place much of the script was shaped and discussed: IHOP – where dreams come true. We were talking to our waitress and we ran down how many hours we’d spent shooting. “That sounds awful,” she said. But it wasn’t. Maybe it took explaining to her for us to realize it, but I would so much rather spend 23 hours making a film than 10 hours working anywhere else. It was painful to go back to work today. It itched all over and we both called each other complaining. How do you come back from that? It was impossible to feel motivated. I worked my hours, did my job well, but what a waste it felt. All I could think about was shooting. It’s much different than coming back to work after vacation. You wind down from vacation. It still sucks, but the very idea of vacation has a built-in return to something else. This was different. This was more powerful than vacation. This was purpose, that loaded and overused word. And today wasn’t a let-down, it was a fall from grace. It was a crash.

 

For now, I’ll have to get through a week of my job in order to go to work (let’s use Definition #7 that the dictionary provides: everything needed, desired, or expected). All I want to do is set up a shot, block a scene, direct actors, discuss the lighting and set design. Readers, I’m in love.

Great Movie Trailer

I read a lot of books growing up. The Berenstain Bears were huge in my house. In Elementary School I went through just about every single book in the Hank the Cowdog Series. I don’t recall a lot of the names but I do remember constant books being read at bedtime (the phrase “Pa-Da-Rump, Pa-Da-Rump, Pa-Da-Rump-Pump-Pump” comes to mind, I think it was a book about an errant wheel looking for something). Corduroy Bear was read. My mother tried to get my brother and I into those Boxcar Children losers, and while Tim just didn’t give a damn about the story I kept thinking about how I would exploit such a situation to my advantage. How I would beat up the leader of the Boxcar Children and steal a bunch of stuff and live the most lawless life I could think of (and I forget which of the Boxcar Sisters I claimed for my girlfriend), and I was offended by the lack of imagination on the part of the author. Were these kids complete tools? Where’s the impending amorality this scenario cries out for?

But one book I never got around to was “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak. I don’t know why, either, because I distinctly recall the cover of the book, and I was always intrigued. Part of it may have been that I conflated it with “Where the Red Fern Grows,” and so an impenetrable link to boredom and laborious storytelling was formed. 

And I still haven’t read it, but I think it’s the movie I’m most looking forward to this year. It is being directed by Spike Jonze, and that’s really enough right there to make me see a movie. His films are always really interesting visually – he made “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” and if you think those are simple films, watch them again. And the thing that’s really sold me? The trailer. I like movie trailers. I know some critics and movie nerds have sworn them off, but I feel like I am able to sift through the inherent consumer element and figure out if this is something I will want to see. And I want to see this movie. A year or so ago my friend BJ and I made lists of movies that make us feel like a kid again, in the best way possible. And that’s what this trailer did. It is mysterious. There are creatures, there is a boy with access to a magical world. It mentions 3 key words – Hope, Fear, Adventure. The trailer has a sense of wonder – for some reason, wide angle shots following people running always get me, it’s a favorite of mine. I have no idea why. Watch it now

There have been lots of fantasy children’s movies made the last few years, but all of them look like they’ve been put through the ringer of salability, they feel stilted and stifled. Finally, this one looks alive. And to be fair, I bet a lot of those books were written in those types of situations where the book is written less out of need and more out of its ability to appeal to kids and be sold. It’s the literary equivalent of chemically altering food (with great tasting but less than organic materials) to appeal to the average human’s instinctive tastes. I just can’t wait for this movie. This movie looks genuine, is what I’m saying. Childhood, here I come.


It Has Come to This

April 2009
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