28 February 2007

coming soon...a series of reviews

Partly based on the dialogue that's been going on right here, and partly because it's an idea I've been toying with in relation to an article I'm going to write for Andy Horbal's zine he's planning, I'm going to start a new series of reviews (and, yes, I do plan on chipping away at the 100 films project as well) that I'm tentatively calling "the uber-indie beat" that you'll be able to read here and at Talking Moviezzz.com.

I've been trying to think of ways to make the no-budget filmmakers who, in my opinion, are an extremely important niche in the indie world, all that more viable to the larger film community. One method I've come up with is using the internets to write about them in much of the same way I'd write about the latest release from Focus Features. This serves two purposes: 1) it provides much needed exposure (even if it is only a little bit) for filmmakers who work very hard with little to no recognition, and 2) it's a critical voice by which they can get a sense of just how their film plays to someone who isn't inclined to dole out empty praise or criticize needlessly[1]. And being a no-budget filmmakers myself, I figure shining as much light on others as possible has to have some benefits, in terms of karma.

So here's how this is going to work. Unless by some miracle I get overwhelmed, I'll write up pretty much anything, feature-length or short, I can get my hands on. Already, I've lined up one filmmaker who's sending me a DVD of shorts. Anyone else who'd like to send me a DVD (I could also watch it on YouTube, I guess, but obviously isn't the greatest medium in terms of quality), shoot me an email.

[1] I may have a lot of faults as a cinephile and a person, but a lack of honesty and candor is not one of them.

25 February 2007

Oscar Predictions

Best Picture: Babel
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Original Screenplay: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
Adapted Screenplay: William Monahan, The Departed
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Animated Feature: Cars
Foreign Film: El Laberinto del Fauno
Cinematography: Children of Men
Art Direction: El Laberinto del Fauno
Visual Effects: Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Costume: Dreamgirls
Makeup: El Laberinto del Fauno
Editing: Babel
Score: Babel
Sound: Dreamgirls
Song: "Listen", Dreamgirls
Sound Editing: Letters From Iwo Jima
Documentary Short: The Blood Of Yingzhou District
Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth
Animated Short: The Little Matchgirl
Live Action Short: West Bank Story

22 February 2007

Random thoughts on no-budget filmmaking

Yesterday, while scouting a location with the producer of the short film I've been working on lately, we got to talking about the amount of money required to get a feature film made that has some amount of production value. Shooting on weekends and not paying everyone, he seemed to think you could get most films done for under $10k (assuming you aren't blowing things up, of course), with most of that $$ going toward feeding people and equipment rental.

Me, I think the number is probably a bit higher if you want actors who aren't your college roommate, but still I see little reason you couldn't make a lot of films for under $30-40k, less depending on what your film is about. (i.e. hand-held with minimal lighting is cheaper than something more composed, if for no other reason than the time required to set the shots up)

Still, that's not a lot money.

But what surprised me was that no one in the city seems to have a pretty solid idea of how to reliably raise that sort of money, other than out of the filmmaker's pocket.

Is it that hard to find 10 people with $3k to invest?

I can't imagine it is, but part of the problem seems to be that so few films have a reasonable expectation of ever making a dime of that money back. Sure, you can play some festivals and sell some DVDs, but you've got to end up with a really good film to get any sort of theatre release.

Or do you?

Over at this blog, Sujewa Ekanayake has been chronciling (sp?) the process of self-distributing his film Date Number One, which may or may not be good (I have no idea. I haven't seen it), but the fact remains that he's self-distributing it, and apparently to some success.

Probably at least enough success to recoup at least a portion of the investment.

It strikes me that we're about to see a lot more of this in the next 2-3 years, as the stigma of self-distribution fades (hey, even David Lynch is doing it) and HD becomes cheaper, meaning that the projected no-budget picture gets better, and internet makes self-promotion through YouTube and MySpace all that more viable. I've long thought that we're on the cusp of another French New Wave, only in the ultra-indie realm, and this could be a key component of that movement. If through self-distribution and other creative means those $30k films can start making even as little as, say, $60k, then that may open the door just enough.

Part of it, I think, is in how you "sell" your self-distribution. If you go with the whole "boo hoo, Hollywood doesn't love me" thing, that won't work. But, if you approach it as a "fuck Hollywood. this is how I'm distributing my film, even if they do want to buy it", that'll go a lot farther in people's eyes. It's all about perception.

Me, I'm using this short film I'm doing as a little bit of practice as far as promotion for when I do make that feature I've been working on forever. One perception thing I'm doing is promoting the short by using my name as the draw, even if my name isn't a draw. My theory is that if you use the filmmaker's name (not just the "from the director of..." line, but "a [name] film") as if it's a name that's strong enough for audience recognition, then people will do one of 2 things: assume they should know who this director is, or make an effort to find out who it is. Because, why would they use a name no one recognizes? Call it 3rd level promotion.

13 February 2007

The Lovesick Blog-a-Thon Starts...Now


Ok, actually it starts tomorrow, but if you want, send it now (either email me the link or post it in the comments section) and I'll start the list. To remind you, here's the description I gave way back when:

As long as cinema has existed as an art form, filmmakers have been using it to figure out their love lives. Whether it's Charlie Chaplin or Jean-Pierre Léaud or Ethan Hawke, there's a long history of characters struggling in their pursuit of a romantic ideal. At times, it almost seems as if a film exists solely as a form of relationship therapy, as a futile attempt to figure out women.

Or, as Thom once wrote, "Maybe that's why we invented cinema: to share our complete lack of understanding with each other?"

Part of what makes the Blog-a-Thon interesting (at least to me), is the various odd turns a topic takes in the recesses of people's minds, but the general idea is how filmmakers use the medium to relate to their love lives (or, better yet, justify them), or even love in general. If that means a discourse on Tom Hanks romantic comedies sneaks in, so be it.

Keep checking back for a wealth of posts...

A Note: Some have mentioned concern for not getting a post done in time. I'll keep adding links as long as people keep writing them. Hell, if you send me a link in April, I'll add it.

Our Contributions So Far (updated 22 Feb, 11.39am)

++ First up, Dan Eisenberg at Cinemathematics takes a good look at Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) in a post titled Not Everybody Gets Corrupted, focusing on Woody’s dual love affair with both two women and the city he loves, with a few accolades for Gordon Willis thrown in for good effect. The film is likely based on Woody’s love life, meaning that Dan has gotten us off to a fantastic start.

++ Over at Edward Copeland on Film, the titular Edward weighs in with his post An unrequited love triangle. It turns out that James L. Brooks has been secretly writing about Edward’s love life, specifically in Broadcast News (1987), which he explains in a great post about what I imagine we’ll see a lot in this Blog-a-thon–the realization that somehow filmmakers are writing about us, about our lives, only sometimes our characters are more clever on screen than we are in real life.

++ Adam Ross at DVD Panache, home of the Friday Screen Tests, talks about that most romantic of films, Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971) in his post Peckinpah's Valentine. Like you I was intrigued and, well, a little bit skeptical at first, but Adam makes the connection. To quote Adam, "Peckinpah shows...that to co-exist for most of a lifetime, two people must sometimes treat each other like enemies." Works for me.

++ Can a "buddy film" contain a love story without being, you know, gay? I think so, as does pacheco over at Bohemian Cinema. His post buddy love takes a look at Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy (1997) and Clerks II (2007) and the two types of love stories contained within.

++ If a picture is worth a thousand words, than Peter Nellhaus from coffee, coffee...and more coffee has the longest post of anyone with Happy Valentine's Day - Ten Favorite Actresses!, photos of his ten favorite actresses. Kim Novak, Barbara Stanwyck, and Julie Christie...you can't go wrong with that.

++ Do you remember the love story in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)? Yeah, me either. But Damian from Windmills of My Mind does. His post The Rarest Love of All uses the film as sort of a starting point to discuss the role of deep, abiding friendships in society, and even gives us some C.S. Lewis. Good stuff.

++ I'll let That Little Round-Headed Boy hype his own post: "As we gather on Valentine's Day for the Lovesick Blog-A-Thon, TLRHB asks you to consider: What happens when we can only express our deepest feelings for the person we love when that person is dying a rapid, highly contagious death and is separated from us by a wall of glass?" What indeed? The post is titled Lovesick blog-a-thon: Kirk and Spock in 'Wrath of Khan', and if that isn't enough to get your attention, I don't know what will.

++ Noel Vera at Critic After Dark tackles Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, Mario O'Hara, 1976). I've not seen this film, but this quote makes me want to: "...if you can't betray your country, your friends, your own self for the sake of the one you love, then your love means nothing, your love is worthless."

++ I'd hoped Thom from the wonderful Film of the Year would join in, seeing as he's the one responsible for sparking this idea, and here he is with a Lovesick Cinema Sampler. He even talks about one of my favorite films, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois couleurs: Blanc (1994). Also, there's a love story about a car.

++ Flickhead begs off a new contribution, due to his schedule, but that's ok, we'll take his reprint of his 2006 review of Lina Wertmüller's Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'agosto (1974), better known as Swept Away. Turns out we Always love the one that hurts you.

++ Emma from All About My Movies does the reprint thing as well, giving us Happy Valentines Day, Sweethearts!, a look at her two favorite romance films, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005). I wondered how long it would take us to get to "the gay cowboy movie" (and, for the record, I agree with Emma's feelings that it's a "horrendously cruel oversimplification", but it is easy to remember).

++ Bob Westal from Forward to Yesterday (great title, by the way) looks at a couple of different types of love in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) in his post What Keeps Mankind Alive?, using all sorts of Latin words I only vaguely remember from my school days. The noble self-sacrifice is indeed one of the greatest forms of love (I remember that from Sunday School).

++ Regular reader Johanna at The Lone Revue brings a female perspective to all this in her post Love & Loss, Jane Campion-Style. To quote Johanna's discussion of The Piano (1993), "...people who have no way of communicating and who may not even know about love from lack of experience can find true happiness under even the most grotesque or bizarre of circumstances." Indeed.

++ John Hughes alert!! Piper at LAZY EYE THEATRE looks at the man who's films defined so many of our formative years in Damn You John Hughes. Piper talks about his Hughes complex as it relates to his own love life, how the lack of Hollywood perfect moments doesn't mean his life doesn't have different, equally valid "perfect moments poorly lit and slightly botched by mediocre dialogue by a less than photogenic man who must be the nephew of the director because why the hell else would he be cast in this. But perfect moments, nonetheless."

++ About two weeks ago, I was going to watch Hsiao-hsien Hou's
Zui hao de shi guang
(2005) (a.k.a. Three Times) based largely on the recommendation of Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, home of some of the best film surveys on the entire internet. Alas, I didn't because I couldn't find time. Likewise, Dennis is snowed under at work (although, I suspect he's too busy dreaming of Jason Schmidt in Dodger Blue), but he offers the reprint Movie of the Moment: Three Times

++ Your humble host and narrator focuses on the relationship of cinema to real life. Also, I spill the beans on My Love Affair With Julie Delpy.

++ Matt Zoller Seitz of The House Next Door and, occasionally, The New York Times, devotes one of his recurring posts to the cause with 5 for the Day: Sensual Pleasures, devoted to "moments that are powerful, pleasurable and memorable regardless of the presence or absence of nudity and/or actual sex onscreen." Two of them involve Jimmy Stewart. Read it without feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, I dare you.

++ Introducing it as "the proper panacea for those feeling antagonistically unromantic while the rest of the world is sizzling with love.", law student Oggs Cruz of Oggs' Movie Thoughts asks us to spend a little time this Valentine's Day with Deliverance (1972). Yes, John Boorman's Deliverance. You remember, the one with Jon Voight, a film that, as Oggs says, "is totally devoid of any depiction of romantic love." A good remedy for those of us not under the spell of Hallmark.

++ Joseph from itsamadmadblog2 asks how many of us have seen a film by Julio Medem (oh, oh, I have. I have a copy of the wonderful Lucía y el sexo (2001) somewhere in my apartment). Joseph's post, The Most Romantic Film You've Never Seen raises the point that what's often most valuable about a blog-a-thon such as this is how it introduces us to films that might have otherwise gone ignored. This time we discover Medem's Los Amantes del Círculo Polar (1998)--the newest addition to my Netflix queue.

++ Simon Crowe from Mostly Movies divulges on his own romantic trepidations in Obstacles, by a Chicken and segues that into a discussion of the various obstacles a romantic comedy protagonist must overcome in films like Brad Anderson's Next Stop Wonderland (1998), another forgotten gem.

++ I was smitten with Barbara Stanwyck for a couple of days after I first saw Baby Face (1933). Turns out I wasn't alone. Jim Emerson of scanners has an entire shrine dedicated to the woman he's "long adored". And who can blame him? There's even a Foot Fetish Page. Jim's own Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon runs all weekend. Whatever you do, don't miss it.

++ Bradley Gardner from The Kingdom of Shadows: A Film Notebook treats us to not one, but two of his reprints. First, a love-death proposal in that quintisential romance, Karl Freund's The Mummy (1932). The other, more conventional one, concerns Michelangelo Antonioni's L'eclisse (1962). Bradley finishes the post with these wonderful words: "The end of the film merely shows you things that exist. Things that are beautiful because they exist. Things that exist for a short while, giving some sort of worth to the world. Things that exist, but will eventually pass away. Like the love affair of two people who don't really love each other."

++ Oggs Cruz from Oggs' Movie Thoughts felt bad about "ruining the romantic mood" with his first post, so he digs into his archives for this review of John Torres' Todo Todo Teros (2006).

++ Fellow Muriel Award voter Steven Carlson from the aptly-named The Ongoing Cinematic Education of Steven Carlson joins in (albeit a bit late) with a look at Gabrielle (2006), which he starts by calling it "the latest in my line of perverse Valentine's Day viewing picks -- on a day set aside to celebrate love in all its forms, there's something delightful about taking a look at a film that orbits around the absence of love."

12 February 2007

My Love Affair With Julie Delpy

This is my entry for the Lovesick Blog-a-Thon, hosted right here at 100 films. It's pre-dated so as not to bump the full list down


My first film was a student film, made without the benefit of a film production class[1]. It wasn't even remotely good, and I don't let anyone watch it anymore, but that's not why I mention it. That was the film I did what all filmmakers do at some point in their lives--I fell for the lead actress. She was a last minute addition to the film and the performance, by her admission, wasn't very good, but that didn't really matter.

She used to visit me late at night while I edited, bringing coffee to help keep me awake, but just the promise of her arrival would keep me wired until 7am.

But graduation was two months away, and when I moved home, the love affair fizzled out. To this day, I consider it one of my biggest mistakes.

I moved to Chattanooga for two years and one day, in the bargin bin at Wal-Mart, was Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995). Everything about it felt like my relationship with that girl, from the long, late-night sessions to the vague ending. For one of the first times in my life, I felt like a filmmaker was telling my story, but not only the story of that night, but the knowledge that unless something remarkable were to happen, I may never see her again. Word on the rumour mill was that she was engaged and I, as far as I knew, had moved on.

Then, my job got outsourced, I moved back to Pittsburgh, and in the process of editing a documentary, she started visiting me again. All those old feelings were rekindled and before I really knew what was happening, her engagement was over and Before Sunset (2004) was nearing a release date. It all seemed perfect, storybook, like somehow a love story on film was mimicing my own life, like they were somehow operating in tandem, destined for something profound.

We saw it together. She loved it nearly as much as I did. She even spent the weekend at my apartment. And then it all went wrong. Quickly.

But that wasn't what bothered me. What really bothered me, what fucked me up for a long time, was the idea that what felt so perfect, so filmic, not only didn't have a happy ending, but didn't even last long enough to seem like it would have a happy ending. There was no reason for the demise, no moment where I made the classic protagonist mistake, no grand misunderstanding. If my life were a film, the critics would have complained that the disintegration of the romance didn't make sense, that it didn't pass the suspension of disbelief test. I couldn't comprehend her character's motivations.

It took me a long time to get past that.

Eventually I realized that life wasn't always like a movie, that sometimes characters did things that didn't make any sense, that there wasn't always foreshadowing, that while happy endings were possible, they didn't always come in the way you expect, and sometimes they didn't come at all. That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep looking for them. And that doesn't mean I can't appreciate it when Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy find their perfect ending, just because I didn't find mine.

[1] Although I had taken Cinema 101, the class where you watch Citizen Kane (1941) and other such essentials.

08 February 2007

The Muriel Awards

As described by Paul Clark here, the Muriel Awards are now in full swing, the votes tallied, and the winners announced. The main page will be tracking the full results, but I'll update them as they're announced here, only with a bit of a delay, mostly because I'm really busy. The names after the winners are what you would have found on my ballot.

Breakthrough Performance of the Year
  • Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls, full
    • (1. Al Gore, 2. Rob Brydon, 3. Abigail Breslin)

Hudson, huh? I can see that, I guess, but the fact that she was only named on 4 of the 14 ballots may say more than the fact that she won. There were such a broad range of names submitted that it was going to be hard for them to not cancel each other out. Personally, I'm convinced my vote for Al Gore was a good one. Honestly, how many people thought he'd be the only person in the highest-grossing documentary of the year? How many thought a slideshow on global warming would revive his career (and maybe even his political career)? Here's my theory: he actually won, but some people had trouble with the ballot and their votes were counted for the wrong people. (boy, that joke's gonna have a long shelf life, eh?)

Best First Feature
  • Rian Johnson, Brick, full
    • (1. Géla Babluani, 2. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 3. Jason Reitman)