5.31.2005

Why....?

....do people like mediocrity better than complexity?
Why do people like stupid reality shows and hate movies that you have to think about?
People HATE not understanding things.
They also hate having headaches. Complexity gives you headaches.
I don't like headaches either.

5.29.2005

The neat thing about not going to film school is

....you get to figure things out for yourself and they seem exciting. Like associative editing, I think that's what it's called. There are all these cool ways to use a cut to tell a story without saying much. For example there was this cut in TA91 that hasn't been working for a long time, going from Gillian in one room to Molly in another room. It always just looked weird and I wasn't sure why. Last night I rearranged it so that Gillian is doing something different at the cut point which results in her having a very similar expression as Molly when we cut to her. Nothing really changes, but the transition feels righter, and more importantly, by the expression, a connection between Molly and Gillian is felt (in theory).
...Anyway that's probably filmmaking 101 to a lot of people but it's still cool to me.

5.25.2005

Hey, that Sith was pretty good.

Was it another one of George Lucas' occasional perverse strokes of storytelling-structure genius to make Episodes I & II very lame, thus making our expectations extremely low, so that Revenge of the Sith would seem relatively pretty good? I don't know. Is ROTS actually better than the first three movies because the emotional turns are bigger than in any of the first three? I don't know. Are Red Vines actually tasty, or do I just kinda like them because I ate them in high school? I really don't know about that one. But here's what I liked about Episode III:

....Anakin Skywalker has about twelve more actor beats to play than he had in Episode II, and he is pretty convincing with all of them. In Eps. I & II, his basic beat was, "I want to drive the speeder faster....faster!.,..ooh look, hot chick." This is the same defining non-motivation that Luke managed to get over by the end of A New Hope, and thank god. In ROTS, Anakin has to handle real problems, like What To Do With The Evil Guy When He Is The Only Person Who Is Nice To You, and How To Do The Righteous Jedi Thing When All The Righteous Jedis Act Like Dorks. They feel like real, hard choices, and I was feeling the consequences. As other geeky critics have already noted, friends make the difference. Luke had friends and an excusably touchy-feeling relationship with his sister, Anakin had no homies and the love of Natalie Portman. Which one overcame the temptation of evil? Hmmm....
...Even though they used the phrase about a thousand times in the original trilogy, ROTS was the first Star Wars movie where I really felt "The Power of the Dark Side." OK, I needed the Emperor to explain it literally. I'm dumb. But whereas that Dark Side-Light Side thing used to seem like the distinction between what color sneakers you choose to wear, here it was really articulated as modes of self-interest and selflessness. The Dark Side makes a sympathetic case as a whole philosophy of life which nurtures the psyche and doesn't include the words Greed, Vindictiveness and Sense of Entitlement. Meanwhile the Light Side Jedis are artfully revealed as having all the flaws that the right usually accuses the left of having, e.g., grating superiority complex, lack of humanity, and a tendency to speak in mushmouthed equivocations. Like this blog. This blog wallows in the Bleeding Heart Eastern Mystic Liberal Side of the Force.
...Which brings me to what I learned from the movie that I wasn't expecting to learn (me being one of those know-it-alll righteous liberals). When the hype for the prequels started, I didn't get the big deal about seeing How Anakin Falls. I just wanted to see the good n evil battle play out maybe with some nice C-Wing or J-Wing fighters, and was sorely let down on that point. I didn't care to know how Darth Vader became evil, because in experiencing the original trilogy, I took it for granted that that Evil was just what he was. That was the role he filled. It was nice, sure, that he became Good in the end, but it seemed more a romantic expression of Good's inevitable triumph than a moment of innate redemption.
...In Episodes I & II, my perspective didn't change much, because due to the lazy and frankly annoying characterization of Anakin, I continued to feel, "Yknow, that guy's gonna end up evil, and it's no big tragedy, because something about him is inherently off." I mean, "Wizard!" Whatever.
...In this flick I finally got it. He wasn't always evil. He even tried really really hard not to be evil. And maybe somewhere in the personal histories of the George Bushes and Saddam Husseins and Donald Trumps and Kenneth Lays of the world, the real-life figures who deal out various sufferings upon the innocents from behind layers of inhuman armor, there is some reason why they act this way. And the reason that people try to be good is inextricably tied up in the reason that they end up bastards. That, I felt, was kind of deep.
...Lucas has talked about how he likes movies which are implicit and abstract about their social issues, rather than didactic and polarizing like Farenheit 9/11 or the entire Bush administration. He kinda pulled it off here, much to my surprise. Any movie that has a battle scene with empty seats of democracy being launched as bludgeoning projectiles wins a few symbolic points in my book.
....Sure, there are still a bunch of hammy moments and weak lines that do nothing but break the mood. But unlike the first two prequels, there's actually a mood to break. And there are no J-Wing fighters, yadda yadda. Overall, though, in this film's attempt to explore evil's causation, I felt much more the active mind of George Lucas the human being, a filmmaker leaving his own fingerprints on the film, an artist trying to make something more than a stem cell for videogame spinoffs. And it more or less closed this ridiculous nerdy subplot of my life satisfactorily.
....And finally, on a totally meta-pop culture note, it was nice to see Detective Simone from NYPD Blue finally get a chance to raise a child with his wife, after enduring the injustice of dying young and being reincarnated as an Alderanian Senator a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.

5.19.2005

and now a few words about co-directing

I'm told co-directorships are not allowed by the DGA, which is silly, but as this may go towards the long-term mental health of directors perhaps this saves them on insurance payouts.
...Co-directing is somewhat insane when you consider the godawful number of decisions a film director has to make which now have to be filtered through two people. The two people contradict each other. They debate while the rest of the crew has to wait for instruction. They give everyone, especially each other, massive headaches. No matter how well planned, they will have sudden creative inspirations....often, against all that is holy, SIMULTANEOUSLY...which will send the ship flying in multiple directions.
...That said; it's good to go in with a partner.
...On an indie film set particularly, the director often has to be several places at once, because he/she may be doubling as cinematrographer/wardrobe/craft services/what have you, and everything needs to be done at once. In such situations, it's good to have more than one person who can offer decisive creative authority. On TA91, where microbudget perils endangered our shotlist on a pretty much daily basis, we were several times lucky enough to be able to split the crew into two units to shoot two scenes at once. Each director got to work on the stuff that they were good at, and eager to shoot, with the trust that the other would get the right shot over in the next room.
...Also, it belies the whole anti-democratic director-centric BS that so distorts people's ideas of what filmmaking is about. There's a popular illusion that the director's all-powerful vision spontaneously creates every single element of the movie. While it's much better to have a vision than to not have one, a vision is something you can have in the desert after eating hashish. It doesn't actually generate a movie. The movie happens because the director is good at his/her job of working with people who do certain things much better than he/she does, like act, rack focus, sew, etc. and sort of funnels all those skills towards a single end which is something like the director's vision. It's not an easy job, which is why you need directors, or else actors would just sort of act aimlessly about paperclips for 24-hour marathon handheld shots. But it is just one of the jobs on a set. Every job has a vision which in some way makes it into the movie. You know that feeling of seeing a movie which clearly had a strong vision, but that vision pretty much sucked? With a co-director you have some checks and balances.
...Lastly, and this is the thing I just figured out recently, a partner whose interest in the movie is the WHOLE movie, not just the individual success of a shot or a performance or a makeup job, is good to have when you're losing your mind. As painful as the working relationship can be, as difficult as it is to come to creative compromise (remembering that Hitler also had what could be called an "uncompromising vision," I think of compromise in the positive sense), it can be fruitful to have two people pressuring themselves to do nothing but make the movie a little better. The producer wants the movie to be finished and financially viable, and most actors want the movie to favorably showcase their talents. The director who is also the movie's producer, like me, often wants to give in to producerial concerns. And when I'm really wanting to do that, my co-director offers and idea for how to make the movie better. It's not always an idea we agree on, for sure, but it keeps that channel open. And it's an agonizing process, a lot of the time, but I don't think it's wasted time. In the end, it's much more true to the spirit of collaboration and co-existence that artistic ventures should be about, rather than this cover story of individual brilliant geniuses.

5.11.2005

ITABALIO

...that stands for "I Took A Breath And Let It Out." My standard disclaimer for when I don't have so much to blog about.
...with the work on TA91 entering its final stages (sound, color, titles, ladida) I'm starting to have a little time to think about my next projects, which is an amazing luxury I never appreciated before. I did have this idea that making an indie feature would be all-consuming before I started it, but it's different when the whale actually up an consumes you. Little things like watching TV, evenings out with friends, and just time to reflect on bullpuckey are great treasures I'll try not to take for granted anymore.
...anyway, I started work on my casino screenplay again. I figure I should have a mainstream-entertainment piece of writing around, just in case, you know, the producing-everything-i-write-myself thing doesn't work out. The whole Cali casino scene is a delicious mix of a familiar cinematic gambling glam with a much dirtier urban subculture that no movie tv show or play has touched, AFAIK, so I figure it's pretty ripe for Hollywood acquisition at some point. I'm not sure when this poker-craze bubble is going to burst, but at our culture's currently level of frivolity there's no reason to think it'll be soon. That's the other plus about writing about something I know; there's no feeling of selling out nor of abusing the subject matter. The depravity is just as it is, and the gratuitous kung fu, sex and gunplay I'm adding is just to lighten the atmosphere. Also, I don't have to worry about libel or confidentiality, because the intricacies of the games and how they're played would be much too boring to have in a movie anyway, and the amusing insanity of the players is interchangeable enough that no single person would recognize themselves.
...so I'm gonna try to finish that soon, and maybe the zeitgeist wil work to my favor. After that or probably during that I'll be writing a new project to shoot. As much butt as TA91 ostensibly kicks, the next project is going to kick even more butt because of what I've learned about doing a microbudget DIY feature. Although it would be nice to have more money next time, I know now that it could be done for even less, with the right planning. It definitely could not be done in a casino though, so for now I'll have to keep those two stories separate.

5.06.2005

A few reasons I want to make the next Hitchhiker's Guide movie...

1. There's a very fine line between a depressive passive character and a depressive active character. In the original TV series, Marvin the robot is hilarious and touching. In this current movie Marvin is ALMOST hilarious until you realize that he's just WHINING. It's just a minor shading different from the TV actor's performance, but a key distinction. The movie Marvin seems to be saying, "Life sucks, and it makes me sad." The TV robot's attitude was "Life sucks," but he was indignant about it. You could detect a certain active hostility towards the Big Futility of It All, buried under the deadpan delivery. That little touch of resentment gave the actor something to play which resonated much stronger than the current movie version, who seems to be merely commenting and reacting to the fact that Life Sucks.
2. The love story of Arthur and Trillian is, in the books, understated to the point of being almost non-existent, and because of that, unbearably sexy and sweet. I had a vivid dream in my adolescence about the whole unrequitedness of it all. By actually depicting the love story in the movie in the form of cutesy "love dialogue," they somehow managed to destroy a romance that barely existed in the first place. We never really get why Arthur digs Trillian, although there are plenty of reasons seeded into their dialogues in the book, all of which are replaced in the movie by this "she's so pretty/she's the one" kind of hooha.
3. The story necessitates a lot of exposition, but there were a lot of tangents which gave the answers to questions I didn't really care about, while other admittedly confusing things were left undealt-with. The whole beauty of Hitchhiker's is that the narrative pauses so frequently to allow you to ponder some trivial aspect of life in a funny and revealing way. It's a rhythmic device that, again, was a lot better in the TV show.
4. At the risk of being repetitive, spending less money makes movies better. I'm way over the whole looking-cool-and-saying-nothing thing. The TV series looked a bit cheap, but there are many things about cheap that are inherently funny. which is all the movie needed to be considered a comedy.

5.03.2005

The test screening went well.
The response forms indicated that many liked it, a few did not, but at least they hung around long enough to write why they didn't like it. Much encouraging laughter from the audience.
Definitely still felt a few draggy parts. Am now exporting a cut that is about 10 minutes shorter, based on feelings I had about the screening. I attacked it again with the "less is more" mentality....one should always do thus in film editing, I guess, but it was much more clear after seeing it with an audience which parts were redundantly redundant.
....
Am cautiously anxious to see "Hitchhiker's Guide," mainly because it will be nice to see a movie in a theater again after months of being stuck in my own navel/Final Cut Pro session. But also because the original books had a huge effect on me in my adolescence, made me want to write, and as such caused everthing I write to knock off Douglas Adams a little bit, TA91 being no exception, perhaps in fact the worst offender. This new Hitchhiker's movie praaaaaaaabably sucks a bit in that Hollywood way, but that suckage it itself would go further to prove so many of Adams' theses, that I can't imagine it won't be enjoyable.
...
I think Hitchhiker's Guide is also what taught me to write long run-on sentences with lots of double negatives and interminable clauses under the theory that the sheer length in itself will prove funny and the reckless abandon with which the sentence is written, coupled with the complete lack of tangible point, will not be too extremely infuriating.

5.01.2005

Our test screening is tonight.
How do I feel about that? Kinda numb.
But am reminded of the helpful phrase, which were the first words I wrote in this blog:
"This is so crazy, it just might work."