ucla film video interview series on youtube

Very cool series of vids on YouTube from UCLA’s film school. Interviews with producers, directors, agents on how to pitch, what you get out of film school, and more… all good stuff, and always great to get it form the horse’s mouth.

Here’s their YOUTUBE CHANNEL.

Boxing Helena

Finally just watched this film, as I’m working on a script that (I was told) might bear some resemblance to it (not this one).

I’m happy to say that it doesn’t.

What a terrible film, in so many ways. I don’t like to go on and on, but just truly dreadful writing, the performances are ham-fisted (but perhaps only because the players had so little to work with), the editing is clumsy.

A representative example: The guy is obsessed with the girl. He is excruciatingly boring to her. The girl has left her address book at the guy’s house. The guy is driving her to his house so she can retrieve the book. The two pull into the driveway. We must show that the drive has been miserable for the girl, and heaven for the guy. So the guy says:

Here we are at the house, Helena. I’m so glad I got to tell you that story… in such depth and detail. I’m really sorry, Helena. We’ll find your book.

Really. He really says that. Oh my God.*

There is simply no trust that the audience will give enough of a shit to even remember from moment to moment what is going on in the story, or who these people even are. So her name (Helena) is repeated every few seconds; we are told that we are arriving at the house (even though we are seeing a shot of them pulling up to the house); rather than hear the tail end of the story and trust her expression, he exposes to us that he told a long story (and in excruciating detail); and then they remind us why we’re at the house at all (to find the book). It’s a fucking radio play for alzheimer’s patients.

It is a good example, I suppose, of what was probably a terrific idea on paper (and a terrific logline – “An obsessed surgeon kidnaps the woman of his dreams, removes her arms and legs, and makes her his prize possession”), and could have been a terrifically twisted film, but clearly needed a rewrite. Someone needed to say “Hey, this has promise. The story’s all there. Let’s get someone in to polish the dialogue so the characters don’t play like shallow schoolchildren and then let’s make us a movie!”

But alas.

Oh well. Now I’ve checked it off my to-do list.**

*Yes. Verbatim. Can you believe it?
**Late I know. The film’s been out a long time, and already been universally panned. This isn’t news. It’s just news to me.

Quentin Tarantino on American Idol?

Yeah, I said that with a question mark when I first heard it. Quentin Tarantino was the guest mentor on this week’s American Idol, as the category was “songs from movies”. Of course, since AI mentors are generally professionals in the music industry, I thought to myself “what’s QT going to offer these kids? He’s no singer, not a songwriter or musician (of any note). WTF?”

Q himself explained it thus: That he would be “directing” the singers as he would an actor. He listened to their performance, gave them notes, and then asked them to make adjustments.

Again, though, I thought “what kind of notes can you offer that will be relevant?” And again, I was surprised.

Just as an example, his advice to Danny Gokey, who was so emotionally invested in his song that he was gesturing intently with his hands: [paraphrasing] “When you’re so emotionally invested, performers find lots of ways to dissipate the energy they’re feeling… through their hands, for instance. Put your hands in your pockets, and try again… channel that energy you were losing through gesture into your voice and your eyes.”

I walked away feeling a little humbled. His direction was about dramatic performance, about channeling the emotional content of your song/story/script in ways that will optimize its communication. It was insightful, intuitive and on point, and it was cool to see him play to his own strengths to find a way to offer valuable notes to the kids.

I may not love all his work — his first two or three films are by far his best stuff (Reservoir Dogs is still brilliant), I nearly walked out of Kill Bill and had to fast forward most of Death Proof — but there’s no denying that he’s an immensely talented guy. Just an immensely talented guy whose tastes have unfortunately parted far from mine in recent years.

It was neat to watch, and I bet I’m a little bit better a director for having seen it.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Finally saw this movie… it’s one of those that’s such a “classic” and “groundbreaking” film that filmies love to talk about (and some growed up mens still say scares them), figured I’d better see it.

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it.

Lame.

Sorry. Poorly written, acted and directed. Yes, I get it, it created the genre. Yes, I get it, it had a black lead who didn’t traffic in his blackness. Yes, I get it, the flesh eating zombies were super graphic for their time.

It also had about four lines of dialogue simply repeated throughout the second act: “We should stay downstairs, we’ll be safer.” “We should stay upstairs, we’ll be safer.” “Why do you get to hold the gun?” “Shut up and help.”

And the lead (the black guy) pretty much just kills the whiny pudgy guy for no reason (other than he was just crazy irritating).

But mostly, and it bears repeating here, badly written, acted and directed. And really, since we’re talking about movies, not about good intentions or accidental historical being-in-the-right-place-ness, those are the things a “movie” needs to do right to be simply “competent,” and needs to do expertly and artistically to be “great”.

So yeah. Whatever. I laughed, and barely made it through. I’m glad it opened doors in a variety of ways, but let’s be honest. It’s not a good movie.

It’s not.

Raiders of the Lost Ark story conference released!

Geek alert! The transcripts from the early “Raiders of the Lost Ark” story meetings between Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan have been released. For fans of the film, it offers great insight into how the story and the characters evolved in their minds, why they made the decisions they made, and how their collaboration resulted in a project greater than the sum of its parts.

And for writers and filmmakers, it’s a prime example of the process you might want to go through in developing your next property.

Here’s the direct download link. (PDF)

Here’s an HTML version courtesy of Moedred’s Journal.

I found this first on the Mystery Man On Film blog… there’s some valuable commentary there as well. Check it out.

How To Brew Chai

Okay, not the most compelling of subjects, but better than the “how to potty train your kid” video I did last year. This was shot for a local Chai manufacturer for use as a promotional tool. It’ll be used at trade shows and embedded at their site. I produced and directed. The client wrote it, though also I helped them refine the script.

Arrangements Premiere and Trailer

“Arrangements” will premiere Mother’s Day, Sunday May 11th at the Santa Cruz Film Festival.

Here’s the trailer!

Making Arrangements – Day Six Plus

So it’s all in the can.

The rest is all about editing, sound and music.

Jay Kensinger is our editor. He did a manly job juggling this project, prepping for another film (he’s got one of his own in prepro right now) and launching his new band “Isadora’s Scarf”. Consequently, getting to a final edit was a challenge and took longer in calendar days than we’d hoped, but eventually we got it locked.

Jay’s work on the composited shot of Gina getting hit by the truck is perfect… still makes people jump.

The sound we got on location was great… some balancing of course, but we didn’t have to loop anything, so that’s good.

And the music! Man, did we score on that account. Jay himself is a musician, and created an couple of instrumental themes. Plus, as I’ve mentioned one of our stars Gina Marie is a musician herself, and is married to Greg Camp of Smashmouth fame (All Star and Walkin’ on the Sun, anyone?). Greg is newly solo, and was readying a new album for release, but was able to allow us rights to some of his work, as well as some of Gina’s.

  • Wrong
  • Down With You
  • Right Side, Wrong Bed
  • Pucker

So we’ve got a world class soundtrack for our little film.

Nice work, everyone! It was a great experience. A great crew. We finished on time or early every day. And nobody had a tantrum! The writer is happy, the actors are happy, I’m happy. Wish they all went this way.

EPILOGUE

Arrangements” was accepted to, and premiered at, the Santa Cruz Film Festival in 2008. Since then its “ownership” is a little shaky as the organization that produced it, Cinemar, has kind of folded its tent. But the film’s been submitted to a few other fests, and we have hopes that it’ll get seen again.

The trailer was completed and is posted on the site. It’s not the trailer I’d outlined, but it works okay. Someday, in all our spare time, maybe we’ll cut a new one.

Making Arrangements – Day Five

Time for pickups. All shot MOS, just a few of us required… here’s what we needed.

It’s important to me to establish “Bill” and “Cassie”‘s marriage as a healthy one… Bill makes some questionable ethical decisions, and it’s important that those are weighed against a good relationship, not mitigated by a troubled one. No time to add more scenes to the story, so I wanted some shots for the opening title sequence… kind of “home movie” looking shots of them walking around a pond, feeding ducks, chatting and laughing. We shot around a local pond, and along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz… ending on a nice shot of them looking off into the sunset.

Also needed a shot of Kayla’s purse flying into the air, to cut into the car hit shot. Really wanted a close shot, SLOMO, against blue sky… keys and cards flying out. It’s both a stylish impact shot, and a plot point shot… we’ve got a shot of her “organ donor card” lying on the ground splattered with blood. I wanted to see it fly out of the purse to set that up. We stood in the park, surrounded by onlookers, as I threw the purse into the air repeatedly while Matthew hand-held the shot. Took quite a few tries to keep it in frame, but we finally got a usable shot. Not exactly what I wanted, but close enough to work. Next time I’ll put it on a lazy susan against a green screen or something.

We’ve got the party scene in the can: Bill throws himself a “goodbye” party once he gets the news. We had two huge banners that read “SO LONG BILL” but for various reasons they didn’t really read in the wide shots, and we didn’t get inserts. So I wanted a “collage” poster, a “BON VOYAGE BILL” sign with old photos of him through childhood and adulthood. We set it up on a tripod at the park against a backdrop of bushes, and it’ll cut in fine with the party footage.

That was all we needed, I think (as memory serves). That’s it for shooting. Now it’s on to editing. You’ve got the ball, Jay. 🙂

Making Arrangements – Day Four

Okay, I’m writing this long after the fact, but I’ll try to remember as much as I can…

We’re shooting all the outdoor stuff today, on a cul-de-sac in Live Oak, in front of my friends Brian and Adriana’s place. (Brian is the Production Designer that got me my first real gig, on Fat Rose and Squeaky. They’re wicked cool, as the kids used to say)

We have a long “walking along the sidewalk” conversation between Chad and Gina, and no tracks… just a steadicam. Matthew is pretty adept at the steadicam (he used it at the party scene) but now he’s gotta walk backwards with it, and that’s tough. Nevertheless, we get the shot off in a master, then some OTS singles. Looks pretty good, and we got a couple alternate reads too. I’m happy.

Next is the “accident” scene. Here’s where Gina gets hit by a pickup truck… she steps off the curb, in front of a speeding truck. It’s for the fantasy sequence (oops, spoiler) and needs to be good. We’re not really putting Gina in harm’s way… we’re doing it with a cutaway and some After Effects magic. So she steps out, screams and throws up her hands, then calmly steps out of the road. We leave the camera locked, then cue the truck to roar past. Simple, right? This is where it’s great to have your editor/fx guy on set… Jay Kensinger directed these shots himself, so the editing ended up going great. It’s a shot that still makes people jump when the see it, even if they’ve seen it before.

Next up? The INTERIOR truck shots… Gina and Chad talking in the old panel truck. We had rented a car dolly to tow the panel truck behind my pickup, so we loaded everything up and (given that we were on a cul-de-sac with no traffic) proceeded to stack the camera, DP, Scripty, and reflector grips into the pickup bed. Another reflector grip literally hanging off the fender of the hero truck, and a mic inside the hero truck and wired to the camera in the tow vehicle. Easy Peasy, right?

So we tow the truck down the long block, get two or three takes straight through the windshield (we’re moving slow) and then go for the turnaround at the end of the block. Except there’s not enough room, and the car dolly starts to fold up on us. We can’t damage the panel truck (dammit) so we unload and rethink. Time is flying. Wot to do?

We’ve got six people… how hard can pushing the panel truck be? So Matthew hangs on the open driver’s door with the camera, framed for the single on Chad, and we PUSH that sucker for a hundred yards. No, it ain’t easy. Those old trucks are friggin’ heavy! Then, once more back again to get the shot from the passenger side. We’ve got some stills and video of this whole thing… I’ll get it posted one day. Suffice it to say everybody pulled their weight, and we got what we needed… ultimately some of the best looking shots in the film. Something about getting moving car shots makes your movie look so much more professional!

But we’re not done.

Still need an exterior of the Funeral Home. We’re lucky to have gotten permission from a local funeral home to shoot out front — since it’s a weekend, they’re pretty dead (pun intended). It needn’t have been a funeral home, of course, any practical location could have doubled, but the building looks perfect, and it’s only a ten minute drive away.

But the SUN is SETTING.

So a skeleton location crew takes off. I ask Matthew to ride along in the panel truck, get some traveling interior shots and some engine noise (since we were towing/pushing the truck, we’ve got none) and we all meet at the second location. The sun is setting, we’re scrambling to set up the crane (I want a nice crane establishing shot — it ends up looking great). Then, a two and some singles as they converse under the portico (only a few lines… it goes well) and we’re nearly done.

As the sun is setting, we need a few shots of Gina getting zipped into a body bag (again, a fantasy sequence). We’ve got a black vinyl zippable wardrobe bag which we slit open across the bottom… Gina slips it over her head and lies down, we splatter her with some blood (and Turbo pales her up) and then we zip it shut over her face. Looks outstanding. Then we realize the hands zipping shut need to have rubber gloves on, and we don’t have any… they’re back at the first location. However, there is a tattoo parlor a few doors down, and they’re happy to give us a pair, so we’re golden.

A few other little inserts, and NOW we’re done.

Man. What a day. But that’s pretty much the whole shoot. We have a few pickups that a crew of four can get next weekend, but essentially we’re wrapped.

Congratulations, everyone!

Now for some sleep.