28 April 2009

27 April 2009

25 April 2009


And if this project wasn't hard enough, I'll be in the USVI for the
next week. I have no computer, but they tell me my iPhone will work

Oh, the plane's getting ready to leave....

24 April 2009

Introducing, the 2 week Twitter film

Wednesday--this Wednesday--what started as a joke between a couple of filmmakers on Twitter turned into a challenge: make a feature-length film in two weeks. Yes, two weeks. And I know what you're thinking, that's an insane idea. True, but that's exactly why it's a great one.

You spend two weeks in hell making a film that no one expects to be any good at all. And if you can clear that hurdle and make something people actually want to see, you've got a film that you can say, "We made this in two weeks on a Twitter challenge". That's a pretty good promotional hook, don't you think? There's festivals that would love to show a film like that.

And if it's terrible? Oh well. I doubt anyone will hold that against us.

The rules (such as they are): feature-length (60+ min), have 2 weeks from start of filming to fine cut (but not final cut, so we can color correct and whatever before sending to festivals), and it must be done by the end of May.

Reid Gershbein has put up a FAQ you can read.

I'll be posting updates on Twitter (@lmcnelly), and there's a Twitter tag (#2wkfilm), and I'll post longer updates on this blog. So far there's anywhere from 2-5 filmmakers from around the country (actually, one's in the UK) considering this, so it's not just me being crazy.

So we're going to give it a shot. Currently we have no script (but an interesting premise), and a handful of people have said they'll help, schedules permitting. Normally, I wouldn't tell you guys about a film this early in the process, as there's too many ways it could go wrong, but we're on such a tight schedule, that I feel like I kind of have to.

Let's say you want to help with this insanity. Here's what you can do: if you have any artistic ability you want to lend us, that'd be awesome. Currently I'm figuring out who's willing and able and what they can do and using that to decide what, exactly, we're going to do.

So I think that's it. I'm going to be in a US Territory next week, but AT&T tells me my phone will work just the same down there, so I should be sort of kind of reachable, maybe.

Get excited. Good or bad this will be fun.

23 April 2009

a self-distribution roundtable

Recently, I was invited via Twitter by Alejandro Adams to participate in a roundtable on the self-distribution problem. My contribution is at the bottom, but here's what I wrote:

If the current system was broken (and it is), then taking your film's destiny into your own hands makes a lot of sense, if for no other reason than the tangible satisfaction you'd get from being out there on the road, doing something.

But lately I'm wondering if that satisfaction is all you'd get. Honestly, how effective is it?

The thing is, we've already got a pretty extensive distribution model in place, one that can get your film in front of hundreds of people around the country passionate about indie film. But for all the benefits of the festival system, it doesn't do a whole hell of a lot for a film's bottom line. The average filmmaker will easily spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars simply getting into festivals and then make 0% of the festival box office. And while it's easy to say that perhaps festivals could kick a percentage back to the filmmakers, a lot of the small festivals are struggling to break even. The extra money is just going to come in the form of higher entry fees, which defeats the purpose.

The solution, I think, has to lie in finding a way to use the existing festival infrastructure in a way that can help filmmakers break even (and enable them to make another film) without canabalizing the festivals that do such a great job of introducing audiences to filmmakers. Festival directors have already connected with cinemas, so why not use that connection to bring films back for limited runs later in the year? Audiences in the city are already familiar with the film (and will hopefully tell their friends), and a screening in conjunction with the festival would also give the fest an excuse to promote itself apart from their normal window. If nothing else, it's a good starting point for your self-distribution, and those festival laurels can validate your film to an audience and convince them to open their wallets.

It's a pretty simple solution (and if it's already being done with any sort of scale, I haven't heard about it), but what I'd really like to see is those filmmakers using the sort of social networking that made this roundtable possible to promote fellow filmmakers. Say I'm doing a screening in Denver. I should be finding fellow artists I believe in and showing their shorts or trailers of their features in front of my own. It's as easy as a series of emails. And not just filmmakers, but musicians, and painters, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Plus, maybe you'll meet someone who can score your next film.

It's not the greatest, most revolutionary idea, but I think it's a pretty good one. More importantly, I think it's do-able.

Anyway, you should go and read the entire roundtable and follow the various contributors on Twitter, as they have lots of interesting things to say.

What's that? You aren't on Twitter yet? What the hell are you waiting for?

14 April 2009

The Notorious Newman Brothers

starring: Brett Butler, Jason Butler, and Ryan Noel
written by: Brett Butler & Jason Butler & Ryan Noel
directed by: Ryan Noel
NR, 85 min

The Notorious Newman Brothers is a new film from the Butler Brothers, but not by the Butler Brothers. This is an important distinction.

Their last film, Confusions of an Unmarried Couple, starred Brett Butler and was directed by him and Jason. Brett starred. Of his performance in that film, I said, "He speaks excitedly in a thick Canadian accent, rattling off profanities, and operates almost completely by his own single-minded ethos. As an actor, he's serviceable, but as a screen presence, as a character, he's a delight to watch." The film itself was flawed, but enjoyable, and considering they shot it in a weekend for $500 (Canadian), you can't really ask for much more than that.

Which brings us to The Notorious Newman Brothers. Here Brett stars as Thunderclap Newman and Jason as (naturally) his brother Paulie. They're mafia bigwigs, involved in all sorts of high-end mafia-type business, and have numerous expensive houses and cars and women, none of which are shown on-screen. Instead we see them in a house that I assume is where someone working on the film lives[1].

And once again, the film is carried by Brett Butler's performance. His Thunderclap Newman is a deluded, wickedly funny, force of nature. More than ever I'm convinced that Butler, given the right opportunity, is a star just waiting to happen. He's rough around the edges, sure, but he's a gem. I'd love to see what an accomplished comedic director could turn him into, given the right supporting role. If he were in the next Judd Apatow film, I'd camp out for tickets. I don't see why he couldn't have Judah Friedlander's career.

The premise is this: mafia kingpins Thunderclap and Paulie have hired filmmaker Max Chaplin (Ryan Noel) to follow them around and document their lifestyle for reasons I've forgotten, but aren't all that important anyway. Max, who under the pretense of being undercover[2] wears a obviously fake mustache, is to our eyes as much a filmmaker as the Newman Brothers are mafia bosses. There's pretty much zero evidence that Max knows what he's doing as a filmmaker. I think this is on purpose.

What Ryan Noel (who also directed) attempts to do here is make the film look like it's being made by a bad documentary filmmaker, but there's a couple of missteps. First, he's got a crew following him, but there isn't really a point where the crew (especially the camera operator) is as inept as Max is. And second, there's two ways to make a bad documentary. You either don't know what the hell you're doing and the film is nearly impossible to watch for technical reasons or you make it look like you don't know what the hell your doing while covering up all the technical problems that most audience members won't notice anyway. I think Noel is trying to walk a line here between the two methods, but too often he ends up in the former. The most egregious example being a long, long scene in a kitchen where an entire white wall is being blown out by the sun coming through a window. It's painful to watch. Add to the fact that Noel's Max Chaplin speaks in a whiny, high-pitched voice[3] that makes him more annoying than pathetic. You're glad when he's not in a scene.

All of which makes me wonder, what exactly does Noel bring to this equation? I've seen what the Butler Brothers can do as writer/director/actors and I don't see where Noel's doing anything they can't do better themselves.

As for the film itself, it veers pretty wildly between being hilarious and painful. It's not as good as Confusions, but there are moments that are very good, moments inspired enough that you're excited by what might come next. Think of this as one step forward and two steps back. But when the film is clicking, when everything is working, it has the potential to be one of the funniest things you'll see all year. But when it's not, when the jokes aren't working, you'll wonder what else is on. For me, the best parts are most inappropriate. They're at their best when they push the limits of R-rated humor.

The version of the film I saw is six minutes longer than the version currently showing at festivals, so I hesitate to talk about the script, which I felt needed some tightening. It's entirely possible that's been addressed. But without getting into details, one thing I found interesting about the script is how the third act retroactively fixes the first two. There's things throughout the film where I'm just sitting there going, "But...um...", things that don't work at all, that fall completely flat. Then, after the reveal, they make a lot more sense. Do they all work retroactively? No. But a lot of them do. It's an interesting approach, and surely risky, something I bet they don't recommend in the screenwriting books.

And that's one of the things I really like about the Butler Brothers, how they're able to approach their films from a different angle than you'd expect. They work on the thinnest budget imaginable[4], and while that costs them a lot of polish and finesse, they more than make up for it in creativity. Take Thunderclap and Paulie. Most low-budget filmmakers, when trying to show mobsters, make the mistake of trying to hide the fact that they don't have a proper budget to do a mob movie, but the Butler Brothers flaunt the fact that they don't have a budget and thereby turn a liability into an asset.

That's harder than it sounds.

[1] I don't know much, but I know the house of an indie filmmaker when I see one.

[2] Why is he undercover? Beats the hell out of me. The subplot is pretty much dropped, but the mustache isn't.

[3] I assume this is not Noel's actual voice. If it is, apologies.

[4] This cost $500 Canadian. Depending on when they shot it, that equates to anywhere from $500 to $500,000 American.

08 April 2009

04 April 2009

Wes & Matt

If anyone isn't already aware, Matt Zoller Seitz (of The House Next Door and Home) is running a great series on Wes Anderson over at the Museum of the Moving Image. I'll let Matt set it up:

With just five features in 13 years, Wes Anderson has established himself as the most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation. Supremely confident in his knowledge of film history and technique, he's a classic example of the sort of filmmaker that the Cahiers du cinéma critics labeled an auteur—an artist who imprints his personality and preoccupations on each work so strongly that, whatever the contributions of his collaborators, he deserves to be considered the primary author of the film. This series examines some of Anderson's many cinematic influences and his attempt to meld them into a striking, uniquely personal sensibility.

more from Matt:

Part I "examines what Anderson learned from (and took from) Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut and "Peanuts" animator Bill Melendez.

Part 2, which will go up Friday, April 3, looks at what Anderson borrowed from Martin Scorsese (his mentor), Richard Lester ("A Hard Day's Night") and Mike Nichols ("The Graduate").

Part 3, which will debut Monday, April 6, compares Anderson and Hal Ashby ("Harold and Maude," "Shampoo," "Being There").

Part 4, which debuts Wednesday, April 8, studies the impact of J.D. Salinger's fiction on Anderson's movies.

Part 5, which premieres Friday, April 10, runs the seven-minute prologue of "The Royal Tenenbaums" with onscreen text and graphics and screens-within-screens -- sort of a pop-up video approach to picking apart the director's style."

I've always been a big fan of Wes Anderson (which will surprise no one, especially anyone who's seen the photo of my past Halloween costume). I'm especially excited to see what Matt does with part 5. That should be very cool.

03 April 2009

Directo....something or other

From Peet Gelderblom, creator of the wonderful Directorama (hey, when's Kieslowski joining the strip?), comes this commercial he shot recently on the RED camera. I don't know what they're saying, but it's kind of cool.

01 April 2009