the auto-chronicled narrative conceit

The following is excerpted from my Paranormal Activity review… it’s a portion of the post that I find myself referring to and wanted the passage in its own post for reference.

video camera guyTHE LIMITATIONS OF AUTO-CHRONICLING

The “auto-chronicled narrative conceit” has its innate issues. It creates a single camera situation shooting in real time (Blair Witch circumvented this by having two cameras available, but didn’t really leverage it), with one character nearly always off screen, that does away with (or severely hampers) all the established film vocabulary tools… the wides, the two-shots, the over-the-shoulders, the singles, the cutaways, the inserts. All the film tricks that directors and editors use to subconsciously establish relationships between characters, to control tension and mood in dialogue exchanges, to communicate unspoken subtext, to control and structure our experience of the story into a narrative that works, are suddenly wildly restricted if not impossible to leverage. Continue reading the auto-chronicled narrative conceit

Paranormal Activity: the review

paranormal-activity-movie-poster1Paranormal Activity horror film review

“Once every five years, a guy makes a movie for a nickel that can cross over to a broad audience,” says “Paranormal Activity” producer Jason Blum, who, as a senior executive at Miramax Films, had a producing credit on “The Reader” and acquired the supernatural thriller “The Others.” “And there are about 3,000 of these movies made every year, so this film is about one in 15,000.”

THE BUZZ

You’ve heard the buzz. Paranormal Activity, “the little indie horror film that could” about a couple who videotapes a demon haunting them in their home, made in a week for $11,000 by a guy with no filmmaking experience (Oren Peli, a video game programmer) gets seen at a horror fest (Screamfest), scares Spielberg so bad he won’t keep the DVD in his house (marketing hype, anyone?), and gets picked up by DreamWorks for the full court press. (LATimes story here) Continue reading Paranormal Activity: the review

Shriekfest Film Festival announces 2009 Schedule

shriekfest-postersShriekfest Film Festival announces 2009 Schedule:

40 FILMS *  4 NIGHTS * 3 THEATRES!

OCTOBER 1-4, 2009
(Los Angeles, CA) SHRIEKFEST INTERNATIONAL HORROR FILM FESTIVAL is thrilled to announce the full, expanded schedule for the ninth annual horror film festival, returning to Raleigh Studios Chaplin/Pickford/Fairbanks theatres, October 1-4, 2009.

Festival goers will once again enjoy the finest in independent cinema from around the globe, selected from hundreds of submissions that came in everywhere from London to New York; from Utah to Spain. From our opening night screening of the never before seen MANEATER starring Dean Cain, to the shorts from Spain, United Kingdom, Canada,  and finally to the World Premiere of Darin Scott’s “Dark House”.  The 9th Annual Shriekfest International Horror Film Festival has worked hard to present a festival as diverse as the fans of the Los Angeles city itself.

Shriekfest Screenplay Competition finalists include "Faeries" by Chip Street and Sean Meehan.
Shriekfest Screenplay Competition Finalists include "Faeries" by Chip Street and Sean Meehan

American independent films are also well represented this year, on Friday, October 2nd – HOW TO BE A SERIAL KILLER, as well as SHELLTER and DAWNING, both of which are screening on Saturday, October 3rd.  We can’t leave out SURVIVING EVIL starring Billy Zane, Evilution, and Evil Angel starring Ving Rhames.

Not to leave out our fabulous selection of short films. Movies like HOWLING BRAT, MAROONED?, 2095, DEATH IN CHARGE, THE HORRIBLY SLOW MURDERER…,DARK ROOM THEATER, REKINDLED, AND FANTASY and the stunning RIFT challenge the viewers with provocative, well crafted original stories.

We have an amazing documentary, NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE that examines the idea that horror films reflect the times and places in which they are made…narrated by horror icon Lance Henriksen and features exclusive interviews with legendary auteurs like John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, and Roger Corman, as well as film historian John Kenneth Muir and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone.

Once again SHRIEKFEST Film Festival exceeds at challenging the idea of what a horror film festival should screen, with eclectic selections (NO-DO: THE BECKONING), to science fiction (ENIGMA), comedy (COLD CALLS), Gothic Fairytale (SPIKE),  and even the bizarre (LO).

Entrance to SHRIEKFEST Film Festival 2009 is $8.00 per block, an All-Fest Pass, good for all four days of the festival, is now available on our  website, for just $90.00, this pass includes the opening night party.

All films are un-rated, and unless specifically noted no one under 17 will be admitted without a parent or guardian’s accompaniment or permission. For more information on THE 2009 SHRIEKFEST FILM FESTIVAL, as well as news about other related events, including the Opening Night Party and the monthly networking events, please visit our website: www.shriekfest.com

Grave Dawn: WWII indie movie

gravedawn

Charlie Hofheimer (Father’s Day, Black Hawk Down, The Village, Blur) co-producing WWII indie film based on a true story.

A few years ago I worked on a film project titled “BLUR“. It was a challenging experience, but through it I met a lot of people, many of whom I still work with when I can, and some of whom continue to work in the field in LA or elsewhere.

Among those are Charlie Hofhemier, R. Alan Shoef and D.J. Turner. Along with their colleague Shannon Lucio they’ve continued their creative collaboration, and are hard at work on a WWII project titled “Grave Dawn” under the banner of the start-up independent production company Filament Features, in association with Kindest Cut, LLC.

They’ve started with a 25 minute short, shot on the RED at 4K (making a high quality film-out possible). They’re seeking finishing funds for the short, and hope to use that to raise capital for the feature-length version. Smart business people that they are, they’ve shot it in such a way that all the footage used in the short can be integrated into the feature, so they only need to shoot another 65 minutes or so to complete the full length version. And, they’ve left room for as-yet-unshot significant roles that will interest a “name” performer to add to the distribution value.

I had a chance to catch up with Alan and find out more about the project.

CS – So tell me, what brought you guys together on this film?

RAS – We all met up during production on BLUR. We got along well and decided to work together on projects that mattered to us and demonstrated our skill at producing projects on time and within budget.

CS – And this is a project that matters. What’s the story behind it?

RAS – It’s based on the true story of a German Soldier in WWII, who is over-heard by his commanders making defeatist remarks about the German war effort in 1945. The soldier, named Erwin Bucholtz, is then re-located to the Eastern Front of Austria so that he may die at the hands of the Russians. Only when he arrives at his new camp does he realize his incredible luck, for he just missed the German offensive in Vienna. Erwin is instead put on guard duty of a group of starving and injured Russian POW’s. It’s at this moment he has a revelation in this story about karma and humanity in the middle of horror.

CS – The trailer looks fantastic. High production values, great performances, good sound… Where’d you shoot? What was the production like?

RAS – Grave Dawn was shot in Petaluma, California in the beginning of April 2009. This was because the equipment we wanted to use was based there, plus it turned out that the location stood in well for Austria in the Spring. Production lasted 5 days starting on a Wednesday on through Sunday. We shot the project on 2 RED One cameras. And used Jack Morocco Pyrotechnics for our explosions.

CS – And not just explosions, but you’ve got tanks, and artillery, and piles of guns. That’s serious shit.

RAS – Some of the equipment we used on this project was a German 88 — one of less than half a dozen in North America — a Russian T-38 battle tank, all kinds of other German artillery pieces, authentic 1930’s truck, Willie’s Jeep, too many rifles and machine guns to really keep track of… besides the MG-42. That thing shot something like 1500 rounds per minute! I’m proud to say that we were fully insured – thanks to the hard work of Charlie. It ended up being just over a 5th of our total budget – which wasn’t much to start with!! However it was well worth it. Most of our valuable resources wouldn’t even work with us with out it.

CS – It’s all in German, with English subtitles. Why is that?

RAS – We shot the project in German and Russian as we thought our markets would be larger in Europe.

CS – I hope that works out… and it shouldn’t exclude domestic distribution. The recent success of Inglourious Basterds shows that movie goers have an appetite for both WWII flicks and extensive subtitles [as further discussed at JohnAugust.com]. So it’s in the can, you’re well into post. What’s the status? What’s next?

RAS – At this point we’re finishing up Post Production, having just finished our first official trailer. It runs at 2 minutes and looks killer – IMO. Couldn’t be happier with it. We’re going to post it to our official site in the next couple of weeks. (www.filamentfeatures.com). We’re currently looking for After Effects artists for a few elements that we want to add in. Looking to finish the full short project by November 2009. Our goal is to use it to attract distributers and other financing elements to a feature length version.

CS – Well, I’m impressed. I’ve worked with you guys, and you’re a bunch of tireless, dedicated sons of bitches with that hard-to-find balance of commitment to creative integrity and business acumen… I know you’ll finish what you start. I’d work with you again in a heartbeat, and if anybody out there has the resources to help see this sucker to completion, they should want to jump in with both feet. Good luck! Pass my regards on to DJ and Charlie.

RAS – Much Thanks!!

Disney made one movie and then just traced, and traced, and traced…

Unreal. This is really amazing… I know that much of the early Disney work was in fact rotoscoped (they shot real actors then animated over them to get the movements right) so maybe it’s true? They had a library of stock footage that they could pull out for any given scene?

I’m just a little disillusioned…

paying to pitch

There are lots of sites and services that charge writers or filmmakers for the opportunity to “pitch” their projects. And there are just as many filmmakers and writers who decry the practice as an outright scam focused on simply taking the money of starry-eyed newbies with no intention of ever really making their movie (see the recent Nehst Studios post).

Sometimes those same writers and filmmakers pay for pitch sessions as adjuncts to seminars, festivals and etc, like the Great American Pitchfest. Unknown writers put out hundreds of dollars, maybe a couple thousand when you include travel lodging and food, to go to the Pitchfest in LA. They get to pitch their unknown project(s) to a bunch of “producers”, some of whom are legit, some of whom possibly are not, none of whom have ever heard of said writer, or have ever shown any interest in his work. They only agree to hear his pitch because he PAID. And many such writers seem to think this is a great opportunity, completely legitimate, money well spent, an investment in their careers, etc.

I still don’t understand why some folks insist that a Pitchfest makes sense, but when ONE producer or website makes the same offer, it’s a scam. It may be a scam, if that particular producer is a thief. But why is it by definition a “scam”, when a Pitchfest is a legitimate “opportunity”?

I’d love to hear examples and experiences about Pitchfest-esque events, individual producers/agents/managers who charge for pitch sessions, and online sites that charge to connect you with pitching opportunities.

And I’ll be writing a comparative blog soon on sites like VirtualPitchFest.com, GreenWriter.org, InkTip.com and ScriptStork.com, who charge (or not) to host your projects in the hopes of connecting you with a legitimate producer.

Sling Blade producer Larry Meistrich sued for fraud

Larry Meistrich
Larry Meistrich

In 1991 Producer Larry Meistrich launched The Shooting Gallery on the momentum of Laws Of Gravity, stumbled along for the next few years with a slate of art house films, caught lightning in a bottle with Sling Blade… and then the train ground to a painful stop in 2001.

From 2001 The Village Voice:

On the seventh floor of 609 Greenwich Street in Manhattan, a movie poster of You Can Count On Me lies on the floor. Chairs, desks, and office supplies are strewn about as if a hurricane had blown through the building. Two guys in jeans and T-shirts edge through the clutter, wheeling a cabinet toward the elevator. When asked if they’re working for the Shooting Gallery, the 10-year-old entertainment production company that operated here until late June, one of them replies, “We’re not getting paid; we’re just picking some stuff up for Larry.” (…more)

More recently, Meistrich has launched his new Nehst Studios (pronounces “Next”). The studio was announcing back in 2007 on various filmmaking boards that it had funding for a slate of new films ranging from 2MM to 50MM “to shoot within the next two years”. In addition they spun off two other services, PitchNehst.com (where you can pay $10 to pitch to Larry) and Screentest.biz, where actors can pay to upload photos and videos in the hopes of being cast in a project. Screentest.biz assures it will only allow funded, greenlit projects to access actors’ profiles. (Interestingly, the only TV project listed is Nehst’s own Dribble Kick Throw, which it first announced casting for in 2007. On Screentest.biz, the project lists a 2008 release date.)

The only two projects listed to date on the Nehst site are 2008’s Running The Sahara and the upcoming Article 32, both quiet documentaries. Not exactly the slate of multi-million dollar blockbusters Nehst seemed to be promising.

Larry and Nehst have been met with rabid cynicism from many indie and wannabe filmmakers, who view the charging of fees for the opportunity to pitch as simple scammism. Larry’s been called a “friggen parasite … [who is] not into making movies, but instead … into getting the money out of everyone’s wallet” by filmmakers who resent the pay to pitch concept.

I have been more tempered in my response, saying that to me he seems like a guy who’s using some admittedly kind of crass methods to develop his studio, but whose pedigree is legitimate… and that I’d rather find ways to work with people who are in a position to be valuable to me than call them names and question their ethics. Although I’ve never paid to pitch myself, I wonder why some pay-to-pitch formats are acceptable and some are not. [more on that here]

Recently, Nehst has been reamed by bloggers for their questionable methods and motives in pursuing tax incentives, grants and a convention center in Ohio. Says James Renner of ClevelandIndependent.com:

It sure sounded cool, didn’t it?

Last year, the Plain Dealer trumpeted the arrival of “Nehst Studios” to Cleveland. Star-struck North-Coasters wondered when we might begin seeing Tom Hanks strolling through Public Square. Nehst Studios. You know, like Paramount Studios. Warner Bros. Studios.

They promised jobs. They promised to bring in $125 million a year in new business; show business. In a region where $5 and a sandwich buys you a home these days, that sounded swell. We wanted to believe.

But we knew it couldn’t be true, didn’t we? We’re from NE Ohio, after all. Disappointment is our reliable friend.

Well, yeah, turns out our hunch was right.

Nehst is as much a studio as my dick is a muffin. Their CEO is a renowned swindler. Their principal investor? Bernie Madoff’s family. Yes. That Bernie Madoff. Their good friend: Al Ratner. Yes. That Al Ratner.

And when they tried to swindle $300,000 from Ohio taxpayers, the only public servant asking questions was handed a pink slip.

What’s going on? And why did Frank Jackson just give them the Convention Center?

Let me explain: (…more)

So Nehst’s principle investor is Andrew Madoff, the son of Bernard Madoff, who is serving a 150-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Not exactly the pedigree one looks for in a startup business ostensibly managing tens of millions of dollars.

Now, Meistrich, Nehst Studios and Madoff are being sued by Dana Offenbach, former President of Production at Nehst Studios, for fraud, for a minimum of $300,000 in damages plus $5 million in punitive damages.

You’ll notice that Dana Offenbach is the same person who in 2007 was posting on filmmaking boards on behalf of Nehst.

I’m still not drawing any premature conclusions, as I’m a firm supporter of Due Process (and I’m sure to be vilified by one or two Meistrich hating filmmakers who will conclude I want Larry to steal their money because of it). Nobody’s been found guilty of anything, disgruntled employees sue their ex-bosses all the time, pay-to-pitch hasn’t been proven to be a “scam”, lots of websites charge actors to post their pictures, and movies/tv shows/web series all can take years and years to get through production if they make it through at all. And lots of people get funding, lose funding, and get it back again. That’s Hollywood.

But I find this whole slow spiral fascinating, having lived through the dotcom bubble (which The Shooting Gallery certainly emulated), being a fan of Meistrich’s best credit (Sling Blade) and doing my level best to understand what’s legitimate and what’s not as I try so desperately to trip over the threshold of the secret door into Hollywood myself.

Maybe Nehst Studios (and its subsidiaries) are a scam designed to milk wannabe filmmakers, actors and writers, as well as taxpayers, out of their hard earned money by selling pie-in-the-sky Hollywood dreams. Or maybe they’re just really shitty business people who’ve chosen two bad historical moments (the crashes of 01 and 08/9) to try to launch one of the hardest kinds of businesses there is to launch, and are misunderstood by bitter Hollywood-hating uber-indies and average Joe’s who don’t understand how volatile (financially and professionally) the industry is.

Maybe.

We should all watch this one closely.

LINKS OF INTEREST:

A pdf of the complaint can be found here. [PDF]

And if that link stops working, go to the NY state courts website here, and run a search on Larry Meistrich. The court docs can be found there.

Here’s a Fox Searchlight Searchlab video with Larry talking about making movies.

the rise of the unsuperhero.

greatest american heroSure, superheroes are all over the silver screen. And that’s great for the comics publishers (who get to license the rights to their IP) and great for producers and studios (cuz it’s easier to sell a movie that’s based on an existing brand). But it sucks for the spec screenwriter who doesn’t have said rights (and thus would be wasting his/her time writing an adaptation of, say, The Tick) and still wants to write a superhero movie.

So what’s a spec screenwriter who wants to put their stamp on the superhero genre to do?

Is there room for a nonbranded, unknown superhero at the box office? Well sure. There’s a legacy of unknown heroes, from Cannell’s Greatest American Hero TV series to Wayans’ Blankman, from the borderline brilliant Unbreakable through the very cute Sky High, from the wonderful The Incredibles to the watchable but forgettable My Super Ex-Girlfriend and lastly the simply unwatchable Zoom (somebody needs to apologize for this movie). And need we even mention TV’s Heroes? Continue reading the rise of the unsuperhero.

birdemic – loosely inspired by hitchcock… loosely

Erm… ‘kay. Not sure what to say. But it does have Tippi Hedren in it… destined for SyFy, I’d say.

Faeries is a finalist at Shriekfest

faeries-posterWell, I told you just days ago that our horror screenplay Faeries had made it to the semi-finals of the 2009 Shriekfest screenplay competition.

The news just got better.

Faeries has now advanced to the finals, baby! Looks like we’ll be heading down to Hollywood again next month, to attend the fest. We will, of course, keep you all posted on the final results, about the trip, and about the fest itself.