Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Are Screenwriters the Easy Target for Internet Scams?

Because of previous Post this weekend, one could call this -- Looking Out for my Fellow Screenwriters Part 2

We all know there are scams baited everyday and sent out across the Internet.  
And I believe one of the groups most vulnerable to grabbing the bait are Fledging Screenwriters. 
It seems like everyone has a screenplay that they want to get produced. And I'm no longer talking about writers living just in the United States, but all over the world. So many people out there dream of writing a Screenplay that ends up being Produced that it must be a con artist's wet dream when he thinks of all the possible targets. 

A recent post on Linkedin (via a group I'm a member of - Film & TV Professionals) caught my eye and I checked it out:  



Barbara Akpa
CEO/Fashion Designer at CAB'S Couture


Hi Everyone, we are launching a new platform for undiscovered scriptwriters which will help movie producers and directors connect with them easily. Media coys are invited to partner with us. 


Honestly, I was shocked to see how many people responded to the original post by Barbara Akpa because the person who posted was a self-described Fashion Designer in Nigeria (and of course it didn't help that the poster was from Nigeria, which is the punchline to many jokes about Internet scams). Unfortunately, many of the people writing replies to BA's post included their email addresses and other personal info, which of course, is often the first step in any Internet scam. But perhaps even more troubling was the content and tone of those who replied to the "launching a new platform for undiscovered scriptwriters" bait.  Here's a small sample of the replies --

Please add me to your list.
Add me too, i am interested.
You Know i have a great idea for a documentary that I would love to share with someone who is willing to work with me to make it into an awesome two to three episode maybe 4 movie. Is there anyone on this team that is willing to hear me out and tell me if this will fly. I am tired of waiting for others to do what I should have done a while ago. So do I have any interested people who want to set up a conference call or meeting?
Add me too, i am interested
Sounds like something I'd be interested in. Starting a production company, and would love to meet line producers and investors.I am very interested in learning more about this platform. I am an avid writer, as most of my stories are within the horror and drama genres.
I want in on this! Can we post scripts?
Great job!
Have a number of projects to list when you are ready for data.
Where and when?
I would like to learn more as well.
I have just started writing something and would love to know more!
i am basically film director and i have written a script and dialogues in Hindi ,for low budget commercial film ,the story is based on awarded novel ,i need a producer / financier
I'd love to hear more about it! I have plenty of friends who fall under the "undiscovered writer" category.
Add me to notifications. I am interested. I have a heep of undiscovered scripts on my desk. This sounds great.

Finally, the long list of unquestioning replies was broken up by JACK FELSON who posts a single question -- A fashion designer getting involved in filmmaking?

Barbara Akpa doesn't respond to Jack Felson's single question post. And why should she? The replies coming from undiscovered screenwriters out there continues after Jack Felson's post as if there is no problem --  

Brilliant - help at last...
I would like to connect for few fiction and nonfiction series.
Sounds very interesting...would like to learn more
How When Where, etc.). I am very interested.
As everyone stated before me, please keep us informed. I'm definitely interested.
Where do I sign up. IMDB me, I've written and worked on a number of film projects.
I am a writer and editor and a member of the Writers Guild of America.

Three weeks after Barbara Akpa's original post, a David Vernon writes a reply -- The owner of this posting appears to be a false scam account. Not sure how group owner allowed member. Hopefully will delete post and member.


This time Barbara Akpa does respond -- Hi David Vernon, I think it's very disappointing when a fellow business person tries to talk down or lay accusations he can't prove.

Despite this on screen exchange between BA and David Vernon, group members continue to pursue the opportunity that Barbara Akpa dangled in front of them weeks ago -- 

If it's in my lane I have several ideas and some past stories on military; families and (G-PG-R) Rated material!
Great job!
That'sgreat. Love to hear more about it so I can pass it along. Keep me informed.
Sounds like something I'd be interested in. Starting a production company, and would love to meet line producers and investors.

The last quote I listed above was from a post someone put up about an hour before I wrote this piece. 

There are many personal or emotional vulnerabilities con people look for when sizing up a potential mark. Greed is one of the obvious ones, but often times this isn't always the easiest one to exploit.  Not that greed isn't almost always in play, but a good con artist is usually looking for another trait to manipulate. Desperation, Naivete, and a victim's lack of Self-Awareness are all personality flaws that invite exploitation from those who have become experts at conning people out of their money. This is true regardless of where the trap is set -- in a boardroom... a dark alley... or at a dining room table where the con artist is surrounded by family and friends, who often turn out to be the con artist's first victims. 
But the best theatre of operation for grifters is the Internet. 
And right now I see a lot of vulnerable screenwriters who might as well be wearing tee shirts with painted targets. Why?
People who con others for a living know that the easiest marks are those who define themselves by the dreams that have not come true. 



UPDATE 08-23-16 6PM  I just checked the link to Barbara Akpa's original post. It has not been removed. It's still up in the Linkedin "Film and TV Professionals" group posting area, attracting more replies. 336 responses so far to the original post. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How "Experts" don't know the difference between Heroes and Villains in "The Shining"



A piece on The Shiningposted on the BlueCat Screenwriting site asks this question in the title - "Who is the Antagonist?" I'm sure the post by blucat was meant to be provacative, not only with the title, but in the content as well. The goal was to have the piece resonate with readers interested in the art and craft of screenwriting. However, the piece, apparently "staff" written by those who work at blucat, is wrong headed no matter who authored the post because of this premise -- In the Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation, Jack Torrance, is a protagonist who eventually becomes the antagonist as the story progresses. 
The above premise is supported by many objectionable passages including this one -- "The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view."  



None of the above is close to an accurate reading of Kubrick's movie.  
Why should I bother to respond? 
I believe that any company attempting to get fledging screenwriters to enter their contests (which is how blucat makes money - via the entrance fees and other add on purchases that contest entrants are offered during the online process) should at least demonstrate a basic understanding of the standard principles of screenwriting when they are judging screenwriters and their efforts. 
For the record, I have never entered any of my screenplays in a blucat contest, nor do I know any of the people who are, or in the past, have worked at the company.   



Let me begin my response to blucat's piece stating the obvious -- Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining was designed with the character of Jack Torrance as the Antagonist from the very beginning of the narrative. There are reasons that this might have proved to be a mystery to the staff at blucat, but anyone viewing the film for some pointers on screenwriting can proceed forward without any concern that this is an ambiguous issue.  

We'll start our support of this position by attacking the ridiculous statement in the blucat piece cited earlier — "The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view."  
Kubrick's film is definitely not shot with the P.O.V. of Jack Torrence. If the story was seen through his character's P.O.V, we would not be experiencing scenes separate from anything involving Jack, which are objectively shot to depict the real protagonists in the film - "Danny" and "Wendy". There are a lot of scenes spread throughout the three acts that don't include Jack's character (let's mention three, all in the first act -- Wendy's interview with the Social worker / Danny talking to Tony in the
bathroom before he faints / Danny talking to Hallorann about his gift). And every scene is treated as if Jack is not privy to how any of the content of those scenes affect his character or the overall narrative. The filmmaking also handles these scenes with an objective P.O.V., with every scene consistent in style, tone, and plot development with the rest of the film.


Indeed, the filmmaking ends up also being consistent with almost every other movie Stanley Kubrick shot in his career. Similar to the films "Barry Lyndon" and "2001," Kubrick utilized a narrative style that was essential and equal to the content of the material, a omniscient P.O.V. that almost seems to be looking down at the folly of humankind's existence in a cold, detached way. Take for example, the opening credit sequence of The Shining, shot from a helicopter, with Kubrick's camera tracking a small motor vehicle making its way on the long winding road toward a destination (which turns out to be the Overlook hotel), completely surrounded by an open expanse of nature, not just mountains and surrounding bodies of water, but as the car drives to a higher elevation, the sequence depicts a change in the surrounding environment, similar to seasonal changes - sunny turns to snow covered mountains. The entire credit sequence is show with an omniscient P.O.V. a technically flawless tracking shot that would end up being employeed by the director (in some form) again and again (think of Danny being followed by the camera as he drives his big wheel through the hotel hallways) throughout the rest of the film.  


The original book by Stephen King depicted the character of Jack Torrance in a way that one could see him (when reading the novel before Kubrick's adaptation) as a "protagonist," along with the other protagonists clearly defined in the book, Wendy and Danny. The book's clear definition of these three protagonists is at the heart of the many problems King had with Kubrick's adaptation. From the beginning of the film's narrative "Jack" (played by Jack Nicholson) is clearly depicted as a man wearing a mask to hide the emotional desperation he's feeling in his life. Nicholson has a likable, charming persona on screen (one of the reasons he was cast), which can mislead viewers who might buy into the charming mask he is wearing like the hotel executives who hire him. However, this is all part of the film's creative construction (and another aspect of the adaptation that King believed was wrong with the film -- the way Nicholson plays Jack reveals he's a nut waiting to crack from the very beginning), that Kubrick wants audiences to witness -- how someone like Jack is given opportunities of responsibilities that count on his mental soundness to succeed. 
The character we watch at the beginning of the movie is not our "hero." He's the villain of the movie. Jack Torrance is a seriously flawed human being, with "pre-offense behavioral indicators," facing a "precipitating situation" (two phrases grabbed from the verbiage used by profilers to describe violent offenders) that will push the character from being someone who in the past has hurt the ones he loves to someone who will end up trying to kill his family.  

There is no doubt that the film has a completely different creative take than the original book. The changes Kubrick made in his adaptation of the two characters, Jack and Wendy, end up informing many of the other creative liberties he took with the source material. The book is essentially about three characters battling the supernatural forces haunting the hotel. Eventually the dark forces lure one of the characters to change sides. This is completely different than the movie adaptation which opens with Jack as the antagonist as he takes on a new job that he hopes will allow him a new start in life, but ends up being the final catalyst to a darker transformation. What is fascinating about watching Kubrick's take on the dynamics of a family unit is how a terrible member is excused time and time again for his behavior by his loved ones, until their is an finally escalation that threatens their lives. 



From the blucat piece -- "Kubrick chose to portray Wendy in the way her husband felt about her: disturbing, creepy, useless and annoying." This statement was written to support the wrongheaded opening premise ("The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view. "). Whatever audiences of the Kubrick film think of Wendy, her character (depicted objectively, not through Jack's P.O.V.) is one of two main protagonists in the film.  
Not that it really matters, but those who don't "like" Wendy as a protagonist should know the depiction of her character in the film actually is consistent with some traditional beats in the standard horror template (a "weak" protagonist who becomes stronger by the end of the movie and survives the ordeal and/or helps another protagonist to survive) which Kubrick was trying to immulate so he had some of the trappings of a typical horror genre film while at the same time expanding the creative scope in other ways. 
The character of Wendy couldn't be more different in Kubrick's movie when compared to King's book (where Wendy is depicted in a much stronger way regarding her self-esteem and personal attributes.) Kubrick chose to go with his creative take on Wendy's character because he believed that anyone who would stay with a husband like Jack was inherently weak in some crucial way, or she would have left the marriage when Jack had violently abused their son (an act of violence that is a back story element in both book and film adaptation). Perhaps Kubrick would portray "Wendy" differently if written today. We now know more about the dynamics of abuse between a husband and wife, and the more nuance view is that there are complicated reasons females stay with an abusive male spouse that might not have anything to do with a personality flaw that is broadly visible from anyone looking in from the outside.  


The other main protagonist in the film, Danny, is a character faced with a true protagonist challenge — how does he overcome the antagonist who threatens his life... and who also happens to be his father. This set up is the key to understanding how Kubrick's film continues to resonate over generations of new film watchers. Discovering that the bad guy who wants you dead is your own flesh and blood, family... a parent, is truly horrifying whether it is set at a resort hotel or in a suburban house, anywhere, USA.  And every new generation of young viewers who see the film tap into this fear. 



The maze in the film's hotel is a swap for what King depicts in his novel as a park of hedge animals that come alive and chase after Danny at the climax of the book. The change for the movie adapatation was made for FX reasons (Kubrick was convinced the state of 1980's FX technology was not up to the task of rendering scary Hedge animals for the big screen). Regardless of the motivation behind the swap for Hedge animals for the maze, the change ended up being consistent with Kubrick's thematic take on the material he was creating. Danny is still running from a killer in the third act, but not hedge animal manifestations conjured up by the evil spirits haunting the hotel. The boy is trying to stay one step ahead of his own father who wants to kill him.  

Kubrick depicts Jack as the Antagonist from the very beginning of the film. But like any great writing, the best way for audiences to connect with the story is for the creator to depict the "human" side of both the protagonist and the antagonist. The Shining spends time with the antagonist in a way that we are entertained by his complete crossover to the dark side of his human personality... which allows us to fear for our protagonists and their prospects for survival. There is no "growth" in the way Jack proceeds through the narrative (one potential indicator of a true protagonist and his journey through the three acts of the story). On this one point, Wendy and Danny do change, both grow as the storyline plays out. They are different... smarter, by the conclusion of the story due to their ordeal. Their growth emerges from a fight with an enemy, not so much the hotel spirits, but a family member hell-bent on killing the ones he loves.   






Friday, August 12, 2016

How does the Indie Film Movement Strike Back?

This is the First of Many Future Posts about how Indie Theatrical Films can be revived in an Era where -- 

The Major Hollywood Studios have focused on Producing Big Budget Franchise Comic Book Movies 

And Audiences satisfy their entertainment needs by choosing from a slew of programming options during the 
Neo-Golden Age of TV





INDIE FILMMAKING TIP #1 
Cast a Legendary Actor in a Role Guaranteed not only to Showcase his Immense Talents...But is a Character the actor would never commit to if he were contractually obligated to play the same role for three to five years on a TV series.  

The Positive Reviews For the New Indie Film HELL OR HIGH WATER all mention the great performance by Jeff Bridges. The great notices help to make this indie release special. I'm opting to record the Olympics and catch the movie tonight in the Theatre. 


UPDATE TO THE ABOVE POST --


VARIETY Raves about how "HELL OR HIGH WATER" -- ...'The Best Movie of the Summer, But Is There an Audience for It?

I knew this would be one of the movies that will be discussed/used to illustrate how Indie Filmmakers can Strike Back in the theatrical marketplace. Check out Owen Gleiberman's piece because he understands some of the issues in play...  


Sunday, August 7, 2016

You can take the Boy out of the Newsroom, but you can't take the Newroom out of the Man...



I worked in TV News for Ten Years.  
I guess I will always care about good Journalism until the day I die. 
How else do I explain my thoughts, going out of my way to react to a piece written by a columinst, Steve Lopez, for the Los Angeles Times?


The Problem with Columnists who work for Major Daily Newspapers is that they write in a significantly different way than the rest of the journalists who also work at the same publication. However, regardless of the differences in their writing style, or their bylines, the standards of ethical conduct is the same. 

Here's what Steve Lopez writes in his piece – 

“I suggested the drama of the last eight months at the Coastal Commission could make for a juicy TV serial – the colliding forces of ego, money and power along California’s world-famous shoreline. She rolled her eyes.” 

How do we know that the above excerpt from the article originally had a different context?
How do we know that it wasn't Lopez pitching the subject (of his article) as a show idea? 
We don’t know. 
So when he writes the subject “rolled her eyes,” how do we as readers not know that the subject is reacting to the merits of an entertainment pitch?
How do we know if when Lopez failed with a real pitch for a TV show (to Dayna Bochco and her husband Steven Bochco, the producer of shows L.A. Law / NYPD Blue) , he turned his reporting coverage as something different – an entertaining bit of journalistic style, a sarcastic interview starter to get a rise from his interview subjects? 
Again, the answer is that we don’t know. 
We weren’t there. 
But we shouldn’t need to be there to trust the story we are reading from a reporter who is writing about a real issue, and who we are led to believe is approaching his subject with an unbiased viewpoint before writing. 
The quote from his article above could be construed by readers (and opponents of his reporting) as an attempt to pitch a show to established Hollywood entertainment producers as a quid pro quo proposition that failed, which prompted him to write about the incident in a way that he was able to spin the context and the content as a journalist without any bias.

I believe the L.A. Times’ legal department, the editors, or anyone who might be paying attention to internal journalistic ethics (which, back in the day, was written brilliantly by David Shaw * who examined journalistic ethics, including the ethics regarding the newspaper who employed him - the Los Angeles Times. Yeah, I feel like a museum curator invoking his name) should be all over Lopez’s piece and asking questions. I mean, its not as if the paper wasn’t recently involved in a multi-million-dollar law suit against an ex-employee, a sports columnist, who sued the paper for wrongful termination. The L.A. Times legal department, in my opinion, clearly showed that the sports columnist used his position as a “journalist” in an attempt to secure work in the entertainment business, a clear conflict of interests. So the decision in court didn’t go the Times way, all the more reason to see Lopez’ reporting on this story as a similar lapse… or the appearance of an ethical lapse. 
Right? 
For the record, I don’t know either of the Bochcos who are the focus of the article. Nor have I ever been affiliated with their cause or people who may be supporting their agenda. I have no personal stake in the issue written about by Lopez. In fact, until I read the story, I had no idea about anything regarding the fight to preserve coastal land from private exploitation. This is, of course, the purpose of a major newspaper -- to have their reporters draw attention to what should matter to the public at large. But I think its important, more than ever before, that we trust the journalists who we hope will be our eyes and ears in places we can't be.



* I do not invoke his name haphazardly, but out of design. I think of him whenever I think of journalism ethics. In college, one of the text books I had in my journalism class was a collection of articles by David Shaw, which obviously influenced my thoughts on this subject. But know that like any profession -- it's complicated when it comes to a profession and self-examination - 

He became the first media reporter at a U.S. newspaper given the independence to write about his own paper, and he often critically dissected the Times coverage. It cost him some friends in the newsroom, and Thurber's obit candidly notes that when Shaw won the Pulitzer in 1991, the crowd that gathered to celebrate was smaller than usual and many bottles of champagne were "returned to the kitchen unopened.



Sunday, July 31, 2016

Terrence Malick - Where does he Stand as a Filmmaker?



Is Terrence Malick a Great Filmmaker? 
At the beginning of the Excerpt from the August DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter, Critic Doug Pratt provides his answer to that question.  I’m curious about how many film ethusiasts, aware of Malick’s work, will agree with Mr. Pratt. 
Terrence Malick began his career as part of the New Hollywood Film-making wave which tore down the creative walls at the major studios in the late 60s/early 70s. However, Malik had a different creative sensibility than most of the other filmmakers involved in the revolution. Filmmakers like Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, and Lucas all had a love for genre movies from the past – specifically Film Noir and the Cheesy, Cheaply shot Action/Cliffhanging Serials. These artists believed genre movies from the past were an unrecognized “art form,” a style of filmmaking that should not only be respected, but resurrected (of course with an updated approach) for modern theatrical movie audiences. And this is largely what these filmmakers created during the early part of their careers – “Raiders of the Lost Art,” “Mean Streets,” “The Godfather,” and “Star Wars.” 
Malick had an Ivy League education with an A.B. in Philosophy from Harvard. His thesis as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford was "The Concept of the World in the works of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein." Before shooting his first film, Malick was teaching philosophy at M.I.T. 
I believe this background explains why Malick's career as a filmmaker began with more lofty intellectual pretensions than his contemporaries. He believed that an artist could make a movie with a high-minded purpose and if successful, there would be an educated audience out there ready to treat the effort with the same deep level of appreciation previously reserved for Renaissance painters, or authors whose work was routinely taught in college, such as Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. 
Jumping forward, almost 50 years later, to 2016, one of the few filmmakers from the New Hollywood revolution still making relevant movies is... Terrence Malick.  
Why? Perhaps an answer to that question can also be gleaned from Doug Pratt's thoughts on three films newly released on Home Video from a highly acclaimed artist.    






There never was a perfect person.  

We’ve watched Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE Blu-ray several times since we first reviewed it and we have found the movie to be more captivating and more profound every time we see it.  The film he made next, TO THE WONDER  was not as sublime, but it was a dazzling work of cinematic artistry and a stimulating exploration of the human condition, a further affirmation that Malick is one of the greatest living artists of the cinema.  



But now, alas, Malick has created a true turkey. His 2015 KNIGHT of CUPS, released on Blu-ray by Broadgreen Pictures (UPC#025192357954, $30), is the ultimate Terrence Malick cliché.  Think of how the performers in his movies often walk aimlessly, kind of swaying back and forth, as they stare without emotion at their surroundings.  Think about the montages that overstay their welcome and don’t seem to be about anything in particular.  Think about the vagueness of narrative.  The overabundant voiceovers.  What is worse, the film is set in Hollywood, and anytime a filmmaker makes a movie set in Hollywood, it inevitably has an air of autobiography to it, which, given that the protagonist, played by Christian Bale, feels sorry for himself a lot, immediately suggests that the filmmaker himself is having a multi-million dollar sulk.  
Running 118 minutes, the film has no real plot, it is just a string of acting exercises (‘Okay, you’re telling your boyfriend that you’re pregnant and you don’t know who the father is.’) strung together as scenes.  Bale plays some kind of rich guy who just hangs out a lot and goes to parties (interestingly, Antonio Banderas has an extended role as another partygoer, and magnetizes the film in every scene he appears—you kind of wish the movie had been about him and maybe it would have been better).  Bale’s character has several different women in his life—Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman co-star—but since time in the film is sort of randomly pulled out of a hat, it is difficult to discern the order in which they have relations with him.  He also lives in a number of different
places—the film is very much like flipping through Architectural Digest, and that is one of its genuine strong points—he has a volatilely bitter father played by Brian Dennehy, and he has a brother, played by Wes Bentley, who appears to have substance abuse problems and difficulty connecting with the father.  And since everything being depicted is superficial and material, the Buddhist references that seep into the endless voiceovers feel like they came straight from the fortune cookie factory.  “So much love inside of us never gets out.”  Says who?


The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1.  No one ever said that turkeys have to be inept in every way.  The cinematography, music and sound mix in Heaven’s Gate were magnificent, and they are all just as impressive here.  The image transfer is meticulous, which adds to the appeal of the nudity and fashions on display.  The DTS sound has a solid dimensionality and a great amount of detail.  There is an alternate Spanish audio track, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and a 16-minute promotional featurette about how much the actors enjoyed not having a script and getting to do whatever they wanted.  “I can’t believe I’m here doing this, and I’m in the ocean with Batman with a GoPro, and we’re like filming ourselves for a Terrence Malick movie. Could my life be any better right now?”




Malick’s 2005 neo-romantic depiction of the founding of Jamestown and the cultural shock felt by the indigenous natives when they come to realize how large the invasion is going to be, The New World, has been released in a terrific three-platter set by The Criterion Collection (UPC#715515182119, $50).  We reviewed the original 135-minute theatrical release, which was a fine, functional movie,
and the 172-minute Extended Cut, which expanded the film richly.   Being released on home video the first time, Criterion has also included Malick’s original 150-minute version, which
was subsequently trimmed for the general release theatrical version.  Each of those versions appears on a separate platter, with the primary presentation being the 172-minute version, which has undergone an extensive remastering.  Colors are slightly richer and fresher, and the sound is a little more detailed than on the other two versions.  Otherwise, the basic strengths of the Blu-ray format are carried over to all three movies, providing improvements, especially on the delicate multiple-channel surround soundtrack, in comparison to the DVDs.
Opening on three Rhine maidens (given the use of Richard Wagner on the musical score, that is the only way you can describe them) cavorting naked in the James River, the Extended Cut divides fairly evenly into three hour-long segments, the first being the arrival of the initial settlers, their first attempts to interact with the natives, and the capture of Colin Farrell’s character who ends up living for an extended period of time with the natives.  The second segment depicts his return to the encampment, as the conflicts with the natives devolve into violence until the British reinforcements arrive.  In the final hour, Farrell’s character departs and the native princess that Farrell’s character got to know during his captivity, played by Q’orianka Kilcher, goes to live with the settlers, eventually marrying a wealthy farmer, played by Bale, and moving to England.  The movie is still a stylized depiction of what was, at best, a very ambiguous historical relationship (‘Captain
James Smith and Pocahontas’), but it is not Euro-centered storytelling, by any matter of means.  The title refers as much or more to the world the natives are being exposed to, not the world the British are invading, and, ultimately, it represents the synthesis of both those worlds (thus leading inevitably to the freeways and otherworldly buildings of Knight of Cups).  In comparison to a couple of recent films that explore the same basic environment—The VVitch (a generation later) and THE REVENANT (2 centuries later, but further west)—the narrative momentum is more lethargic, but the film takes a wider view of history and is a greater poetic expression of modern America’s birth. Speaking of THE REVENANT, that film has the advantage of another decade’s worth of audio design advancements, but the DTS sound on The New World is still highly satisfying, with a constant and vivid environmental presence.
The first two cuts are more narrative oriented, and there is sort of a demarcation between ‘old Malick’ and ‘new Malick’ when they are compared to Extended Cut.  What is nice about the new First Cut is that it remains focussed on the narrative, but has a little more lyricism and breathing room than the theatrical version has.  A 17-minute featurette included on the First Cut platter delineates the differences between all three versions, what the motivations were for each, and how other components, such as the voiceover narration, also grew as the film got longer.  Before you watch that featurette, however, you must take in the 41-minute piece on the same platter in which three of the film’s editors explain in detail how the film’s editing proceeded, and how Malick used the different editors themselves like keys on a keyboard to capture the emotions he wanted in different scenes.  The editing became so involved that there was no longer any room for a composer to step in and reconfigure the temp tracks.  Hence, the Wagner.  Additionally, Malick was drawn to the expansive possibilities that modern editing provides. 
“I’ll never forget, I was cutting a scene.  [Malick] just looks ruefully at the screen, and says, ‘This is the last time I do a film with a plot.’”
The Theatrical Cut comes with two collections of retrospective interviews running a total of 67 minutes, one featuring Farrell and Q’orianka and one with various members of the crew.  Both are terrific.  The actors talk about the loose way that Malick worked with them and what it meant to embody their characters, while the crewmembers speak of the film’s historical foundations (some of their inspirations led archeologists to discover new sites) and Malick’s equally loose instructions to the film’s technical personnel.  They did not use electric light sources, and a scene would often end only because a camera ran out of film—if there was more than one camera, not even then.  
Extended Cut is accompanied by a teaser trailer and standard trailer that, as is explained in the editing documentary, contain an iconic image of the first Englishman’s footprint on the shore, which Malick did not include in the film itself, along with an excellent 82-minute production featurette, loaded with behind-the-scenes footage that show the preparation for the film and its staging.  They insist that the corn was grown from seeds that are similar to those used 400 years ago, although the cobs that were produced look rather modern to us.  Otherwise, however, the production team was meticulous in achieving a historical verisimilitude that effectively reinforces the movie’s dreamlike depiction of two cultures whose merging reshaped the world.

Malick’s outstanding debut feature, BADLANDS, has also been released on Blu-ray by Criterion (UPC#715515104210, $40).  Martin Sheen plays a young murderer and Sissy Spacek is his even younger teenaged friend who tags along, as they avoid authorities in a section of America where it was still possible to do that for an extended length of time in 1959.  Running 94 minutes, the 1973 feature is a delightful, deadpan portrait of social disconnection, enhanced by Malick’s unfailing eye for the beauty of the American landscape.
The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1.  The image is much smoother than the DVD presentation, which looks very grainy in comparison, with slightly weaker colors.  The monophonic sound is also stronger.  There are optional English subtitles, and a trailer. 
A great 41-minute retrospective interview with Sheen, Spacek and production designer Jack Fisk (the latter two met on the set and have been a couple ever since) is included.  The film was an important early milestone in the careers of everyone involved, and they talk about where their heads were at the time, what it was like working for Malick, who operated like no one else, and how rich the characters were—even Fisk was knowledgeable about the characters, because it was up to him to choose the items they would latch onto.  Additionally,
there is a fine 13-minute interview with producer Edward Pressman, who was also getting started with his career, and talks about the tightrope he had to walk not just to bring the film to fruition, but then to market it successfully; and a very good 22-minute interview with editor Billy Weber, who shares all sorts of details about the film (some of the animal inserts were of stuffed animals, but one bird was live and flew away, and that was enough to sell the others), including how the ‘true romance’ voiceover narration was developed (and how narration became an integral part of Malick’s storytelling), and what problems endemic to a low budget operation had to be surmounted.  
Finally, Badlands is based upon a media event from 1958—Webber says that as a child, he was afraid the couple were going to come to his home town and shoot him—which is summarized effectively in a 1993 episode of American Justice, running 21 minutes.  The actual crime spree was much more violent than how it is depicted in the film. Children were murdered, and characters that Malick lets live in the movie were killed in cold blood.  Nevertheless, just having the juxtaposition of the two tales is an outstanding enhancement to one’s understanding of both, from the psychology of the characters and the impact they had on the country, to the choices Malick made in the expression of his prodigious artistry.



Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Star Trek Franchise -- Movie or TV show - Which is best to tell Stories in the Existential Future?


Great Storytelling leads an audience to emotionally invest in the Narrative. The story being told can last 60 seconds... 120 minutes… or 1200 minutes.  
But to be successful, the Storyteller must tell his tale in a way that not only captures the audience’s attention, but keeps everyone engaged until the end of the story. 
In the modern world, it also helps if the story being told gets the audience to share their experience with others.  

Right now, the best Stories being told are on TV. 
It’s likely that this is also the medium where the best storytellers currently ply their trade.  
I’m excited to see the new Star Trek Beyond theatrical movie, but perhaps the most important development in the Star Trek franchise occurred in San Diego at Comic Con... which was all about the new Star Trek... TV Series.


Fans of the Franchise got a chance to hear from Bryan Fuller, the filmmaker who will have the burden of creating the new Star Trek TV series scheduled to debut on the new CBS streaming network in 2017.  I’m very optimistic that Fuller is the right man for the job. 
My optimism is largely based on the fact that he’s already faced the intimidation of making his creative mark in the shadow of another iconic Franchise – the series of books and movies based on the serial killing adventures of Hannibal Lector.   
Fuller was the creative brain that guided the innovative TV series “Hannibal” that aired on the NBC network  for three seasons. Fuller's effort on "Hannibal" ended up being both creatively daring and reverent, a yin and yang approach that any filmmaker must adhere to when dealing with a popular entertainment franchise.  



The big reveal coming out of San Diego is Fuller’s intention to break from the tradition of past Star Trek TV series –  

“It’s not going to be episodic. We’re going to be telling stories like a novel.” 
His vision to go deeper rather than episodic is probably one of the reasons he was chosen as the show runner. Deeper is better for modern audiences. Even with a series set in space. The second
incarnation of "Battlestar Gallatica" on Syfy proved this to be true. And there shouldn't be a rough transition for the hardcore fan base because the previous incarnations of Star Trek on TV always nibbled at the edges of continuity regarding the interactions of the main characters. Yes, Fuller totally looks like the smart choice as the next caretaker of the Franchise, the one bold enough to update the Star Trek storytelling to the 21st century. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Seeing the Future without 3-D Glasses

Years ago, just when 3-D films were taking off, there was an Industry Professional that wanted me to invest in the technology that retroactively converted Non-3-D shot films into movies that could be released theatrically as 3-D films. 
I ended up passing on the investment opportunity the Industry Professional offered. 
Now, in 2016, I can safely proclaim that my decision ended up being the right call.  
Let Jeffery Katzenberg  (in an article from Variety) explain why --

“It was a game-changing opportunity for the industry. When you gave them an exceptional film that artistically, creativity embraced and celebrated the uniqueness of that experience, people were happy to pay the premium,” he recalled with a note of sadness, citing “Avatar,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” and “Life of Pi.” But other producers had “taken the low-road and gimmicked it. Instantly, we lost good will.”