Friday, October 21, 2016

The Creative Blind Spot

Picture in your Mind Three Phrases if you want to Avoid 
the Creative Blind Spot

The Process of Creativity Often Leaves an Artist Blind when evaluating the Work. 
This is why so many who create develop methods of objectively gauging their effort so the work will end up becoming better as the creative process proceeds. 
Here are Three Phrases to Keep in Mind so You don’t experience a Creative Blind spot -- 

Slow is better than Fast 

When you conceive of an idea, take your time with it. 
There will be a burst of excitement about what you’ve come up and that energy is a great motivator to act. And I suggest you run with that energy for a bit and get the idea/inspiration out of your head and on to paper. 
But then you should take a breath. Actually, take more than a breath. Give yourself plenty of space before doing this next step – objectively evaluating the worth of your new idea. You’re looking for clarity and the best way to get that is with mental Separation and Space. 
Ideas often come with speed, but an artist who takes the time to evaluate objectively will be the one to figure out what is good and what is wrong.  

More is Better than Less 

If Captain Ahab had been a Writer or filmmaker; rather than a Whaler, he would still be making a huge mistake spending all his time Hunting One White Whale. 
Enhance your odds for success by increasing the volume of projects you create. 
Too many talented artists get bogged down obsessing over that one White Whale of a project they believe will be a game-changer for their career. If it pays off, the creative obsession with a lone project year after year after year can indeed change an artist’s life. 
But it rarely happens this way. And there’s a better path to take with the same goal in mind. 
In the More is Better than Less approach the prime directive is to work on your White Whale project for a set period of time, then move it aside no matter what stage you are in the process. Take the time to tackle a completely different project which you should promise yourself you will finish. Only then are you allowed to circle back to your White Whale for another round. This approach has at least two upsides going for it -- you’ll have more work to show when someone asks to see examples of your work; and working on other projects beyond the White Whale project will can't help but make you a better creator when you tackle more rather than less. The variety of experience will also enable you to have a clearer perspective when you turn your creative attention back to chasing the White Whale project.  

Shorter is better than Longer 

To be successful, an artist must often immerse themselves in the work, becoming obsessed with the world they are creating. 
But one can end up drilling too deep and along the way, lose their creative bearings. This can happen at many different stages during creative process. Some artists become blind while working on the development phase of a project. Some artists spend years and years of research on a project and never get to the point of turning the work into creativity. Others allow the research to “wag the creative tail” to the point that the work feels stuffed with details extracted from the research which ends up overshadowing the goal of telling a good story.  
Another Creative Blindspot can be summed up with one-word – indulgence. The creator becomes fixated on specific aspects of the creation -- style, themes, tones -- and the work suffers. Creative isolation can also lead to a blind spot when the time spent on a work without feedback can lead to a myopic process where the only person who ends up being gratified by the final effort will be the creator himself. 
Perhaps the most common hazard in working on a project for too long is the mental (and physical) exhaustion that will inevitably take its toll on the creator. When this occurs, the artist is often times blind to the finished effort coming off as overworked and/or creatively rushed, as if the goal at one point in the process was simply to finish the project, because the chance of achieving quality work had long ago been compromised.   

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Theatrical Movie Business is Courting Disaster. Where is the Intervention?

Here is the Variety Production Chart for the Week of October 1st. 

Clearly the Major Studios are counting on Big Budget SF / Horror-Paranormal / Comic Book Movies for another year to bring in audiences to theatres.
I love Genre Movies as much as the next movie fan, but...
This is the Theatrical Movie Business... 
In the rest of the world, any Other Business that relies on just one Type of Product to Bring in Sales courts disaster. Any business plan that invites the probability that their consumer base will become less and less diverse usually ends up with a smaller and smaller pool of people interested in their product.  

Do we need to see the "Domestic" Theatre Business hit rock bottom before the Voices Calling for an Intervention Grow... and become Louder? 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

How writing about the End Days can become Prophetic

Back in 2008 - 2009, I Co-Authored (with D.L. Snell) the DEMON DAYS Saga (Four Books / Over 1000 pages / 280,000 words). 
When I first wrote the books, I decided to set several chapters of Book Three in the city of Aleppo, Syria. When I made my choice, there was no hint of any future war. 
Now it's 2016 and the city of Aleppo has largely become decimated by a civil war. 
In re-reading the chapters from my book for the first time since publication, I was shocked by how much of what I originally wrote has ended up becoming sadly prophetic. 

I wanted to share an excerpt from the DEMON DAYS Saga that takes place in Aleppo. My hope in sharing this excerpt is that readers discover how sometimes fiction (even a Book Series written in the paranormal genre) can end up echoing current events.   

(Book Three)

Chapter 18

On the road out of the airport, Wolfenson’s team was delayed at a checkpoint. The Syrian military had formed an armed perimeter with roadblocks and hundreds of men. 
Luckily one of the guards recognized the envoy from his talk show appearances. “You were funny, sir,” the guard said in plain English.
“Shukran,” Wolfenson replied. He had rolled down his window so he could talk.
The guard gestured into the other back seat next to Wolfenson. “What is that?”
“It is bread.”
The guard nodded again, as if in perfect understanding. He pointed to the far fields, where hundreds of lights flickered and flagged. “Be careful out there. Some of them are dangerous.”
“Are they refugees?” Reitz asked.
Before the guard could answer, Wolfenson said, “If you don’t mind me asking, soldier, do you have a wife and children?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Excellent. Do you have a picture?”
The soldier paused, surprised by the question. He dug a photograph out of his wallet and handed it to Wolfenson, who studied the image thoughtfully.
“Your little one,” he said. “What’s her name?”
Wolfenson nodded. “And is she safe?”
“Her name means ‘alive and well,’ sir,” the guard said with proud relief. Wolfenson laughed, and the soldier smiled at having entertained a great man. “My wife says her name’s a sign from Allah.”
Wolfenson nodded and handed back the picture. “Your wife is right. Mashallah, soldier. She’s beautiful.”
“Mashallah,” the guard said. “Fe Aman Allah.” He let them pass, let them out toward the flickers in the field. 
Reitz’s vehicle, a Humvee, handled well over the roadway, which was as full of faults as the ancient earth.
“So, Reitz,” Fincher said as they travelled. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Carl—how is he doing?”
“He appears to be fine, sir.” 
“And his family?”
“I’m afraid I can’t say.” Ahead, road barrels reflected in Reitz’s headlights. 
“Yes, I understand. Your relationship is strictly professional.”
“Not exactly,” Reitz replied. “Mr. Saracen is a private man, so I don’t know much about his family. But we’ve been through a lot together and he’s more than earned my undying loyalty. So things are more than professional between us.” He squinted at the road barrels ahead. “Overpass is out.”

Guided by GPS, Reitz took an off-ramp, and then an on-ramp, bypassing the whole mess. In a minute they were back on the main road. “Eyes sharp,” he said, pointing at the flickers in the field, which were fires.
Immediately, a loose squad of men spilled out of the night, waving. Some could have been mistaken for Westerners by dress, while others, Muslims, wore red-and-white checkered headdresses. 
Reitz slowed and swerved around them, but Fincher told him to speed up. 
“Don’t give them a chance to get in front of us.” 
Reitz complied.
The men in the road had come from makeshift camps where children and women, veiled to the eyes, huddled around burning trashcans. Thousands of Syrians inhabited the dark farmland, naturally segregated by Muslims and minorities, like Christians, but also naturally brought together by the quake. They had migrated from the city knowing that aid would come by air. 
“So where are we headed, sir?” Reitz asked.
“To the trade market in Khan al-Shouneh.”
Reitz glanced at him in the rearview mirror. “Sir, surely you’ve seen the satellite pictures of that area. It’s devastated.”
“Sadly, that is the case. But it’s the survivors we need to speak to, not the dead.”
“And I must warn you,” Dr. Fincher said to Reitz. “These people we’re going to see, they’ll be spooked by a U.S. soldier carrying a weapon.”
“I haven’t been a soldier since my tour in Baghdad, sir. I’m a private employee now, have been for years.”
“Just the same, we’ll need you to hold your position outside. Can we count on you to make that happen?”
Reitz addressed Wolfenson in the rearview, as if the envoy had asked the question and not Dr. Fincher. “Sir, that request makes me very uncomfortable. I’ve never lost a client. I refuse to start with you.”
Wolfenson unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned forward to squeeze Reitz’s shoulder. “That’s very commendable, soldier. I can see why Carl holds you in such high esteem. But trust me, behaving rashly is the one thing that could get us killed.” 
Out of the darkness, a roadblock materialized, a building collapsed into the road. And in the desert directly before it, several eyes shined. 
“What in the hell?” Reitz slowed down and looked through a pair of night vision binoculars. “Canines of some sort. Three of them, just standing there by the side of the road.” He zoomed in and then lowered his binoculars as the beasts resolved in the headlights. “I think they might be coyotes.”
Wolfenson leaned forward again to stare out the windshield.
“Impossible,” Fincher said, squinting. “There are no coyotes in Syria.”
“They could have escaped from the zoo,” Reitz suggested.
“Aleppo doesn’t have a zoo.”
“And yet,” Wolfenson interjected, “Reitz is correct. They are coyotes.”
The animals weren’t moving, even as the Humvee roared near and spewed its exhaust. They stood as monuments unshaken, even by the faults of the land.
Since he was a boy, the hairs at the nape of Fincher’s neck had been sensitive. He had always thought of the hairs as an extrasensory organ, feelers that bristled cold against a very specific stimulus. Out here, at the edge of catastrophe, his hairs should have been on end—he knew that. But they weren’t.
“Pull over,” the envoy said to Reitz.
“Yes, sir.” Reitz parked on the shoulder of the road, but kept the engine running. Wolfenson threw open his door and got out. With the confidence of an accomplished man, he strode toward the feral trinity.
“Sir!” Reitz shouted, scrambling for his submachine gun, an HK MP 5. He turned to Dr. Fincher and said, “What’s he doing?!” 
Fincher, ignoring him, got out too. 
“Damn it!” Reitz jumped out of the driver’s side and chased after them, breathing in the smoke and the night. 
About two dozen yards from the canines, Wolfenson halted. Fincher and Reitz stopped with him. The coyotes’ six eyes shined like moons in the headlights, fixed solely on the envoy.
This close to the threat, Fincher still didn’t feel the chill down his neck, the one that told him which instinct to follow. 
Slowly, calmly, Wolfenson took another step forward. The coyotes crouched in unison, moving as one beast with three heads. It growled, six eyes flashing.
Reitz stepped between Wolfenson and the predators, aiming his weapon. The eyes looked right past him to the envoy. 
“Sir, if you would, please back up toward the Hummer. Slowly...”
“Yes,” Fincher said, and began to back up himself. “Excellent idea.”
A second later, Wolfenson backed up too, and the coyotes began to bark.
When they could talk privately near the rumble of the Humvee, Wolfenson leaned toward the doctor. “Where are we at with acquiring those pages?” 
Fincher hesitated, embarrassed. “We’re working on it.” 
The envoy didn’t react to the news. He was too fixated on the coyotes, which Reitz seemed to be holding back with his weapon. “Canis latrans,” Wolfenson finally remarked.
Fincher furrowed his brow. “Latin for... barking dog?”
“Yes, the coyote. They have a gift of making the howls of a few sound like the howls of the many.” He looked toward the roadblock of brick and mortar. “I believe that’s why the Landlord chose them as his messengers.” 
Fincher glanced at him and noticed that, for the first time, The Angel of Light’s look of fixed confidence had disappeared. 
The doctor opened his mouth to say something—but then Reitz fired his submachine gun into the air. The coyotes no longer barked at Wolfenson. They growled.
“Should I shoot them?” Reitz asked.
“No, let them be!” the envoy shouted over the sound of the Hummer. “Time to move out! We need to find a way around!” He and Dr. Fincher got into the vehicle, and Reitz started to retreat slowly from the beasts.
Taking advantage of the brief privacy, Fincher turned to the envoy, who sat beside the bread. “Messengers. For what?”
Wolfenson stared out at the roadblock, resting his elbow on the door rest, resting his hand over his mouth. “To issue a warning,” he said. “A final caveat about my plan.”
With that, Reitz opened his door and climbed in. Behind him, the coyotes howled, and the hairs on the back of Dr. Fincher’s neck finally shivered on end. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

007 Producers want Craig Back... after Considering another Actor for the Role

I’m a huge James Bond fan, so pardon me for writing such a gossipy post, but I couldn't resist.
Recently both Hollywood Reporter and Variety ran stories with news about the next actor to play James Bond. 
The producers of the James Bond movies, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson apparently want Daniel Craig to return as 007, according to a senior production executive on the franchise. 
Callum McDougall, executive producer on the last four Bond films, told the BBC Friday that Craig is the “first choice” of Broccoli and Wilson, who run Bond’s production company Eon Prods. 
McDougall, who has worked on nine 007 movies, was asked if Craig would be returning. “I wish I knew,” he said. “We love Daniel. We would love Daniel to return as Bond. Without any question he is absolutely Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli’s first choice. I know they’re hoping for him to come back.” He added that if Craig is willing to join the next Bond movie the role would “absolutely” be his. 
I believe this public campaign via the trades is an earnest effort by everyone involved to make a pivot backwards toward a goal that at one time did not seem even remotely possible. During the promotion of the last movie in the franchise, Spectre, Craig was asked if he would consider going for another round as 007, and his answer was unequivocal — 

“I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists.” 

So how did we get here? 
A few months ago, I was talking to someone connected with the Bond Franchise who assured me that it was all but a done deal that the next James Bond would be actor, Tom Hiddleston. For those who don’t live in London, each night when the Mini-series The Night Manager aired, the city became a ghost town because
everyone was home watching the show. 
So what happened? Apparently, everything changed once the actor started dating Taylor Swift. Even though Hiddleston and the pop singer are no longer together, the momentum to hire the actor as the next Bond got derailed as the romance played out. 
This is why we’re now seeing the push to get Daniel Craig back in the role for at least one more pic, with a huge buyout option if it ends up being his swan song.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

17 films in 32 Years. How the Coen Brothers Began their Filmmaking Career

One of the things I love about Ethan and Joel Coen is that they are prolific filmmakers. 
This has been a rarity in the Movie Business. Usually the more critically and/or financially successful a filmmaker becomes, the more likely it is to cause the film output to dwindle.  
Stanley Kubrick directed only 12 feature films in his entire career. 
Terrence Malick started his career directing two films in five years, but then did not shoot another movie for two decades. 
One of my favorite filmmakers working today, Paul Thomas Anderson, has only managed to shoot seven Feature Films in a career that goes back to 1988. 
The Coen Brothers have written/directed/and produced 17 feature films in 32 years. This works out to a pace of 1 film every 20 months. 
And they’ve managed to maintain this pace while working on other projects, including being credited with the writing of 5 Feature Films Directed/ Produced by other filmmakers. The only other major filmmaker that comes to mind who is working at the same pace is Woody Allen. 

What is probably even more incredible is the track record of creative quality that the Brothers have been able to 
maintain throughout their career. Not every movie they’ve shot is a masterpiece, but each one has its fair share of fans. And there’s not one out right bad movie in the entire bunch. 
Aspiring professional filmmakers can learn a lot from the Coen Brothers and their work. Maybe the best place to start is at the beginning. And there's no better guide
than critic Doug Pratt. In this month’s excerpt from The DVD Laser Disc Newsletter, Mr. Pratt examines the Coen Brothers’ first feature film - BLOOD SIMPLE

But that's not all!
We also have a treat for those who need to brush up on the work of the Coen Brothers. Following the excerpt is a compilation of Mr. Pratt’s thoughts on the Essential Films written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan. 
My advice is to use the compilation to catch up fast. 
You don’t want to take the chance of falling further behind. Before you know it, there will be a couple more Coen Brothers movies released demanding to be seen.   

Simple Blu-Ray                                   DOUG PRATT

It can be instructive to revisit Joel and Ethan Coen’s engaging debut feature, BLOOD SIMPLE, especially now that it has been released on Blu-ray (the period that appears in the film’s title card does not appear on the jacket cover) by The Criterion Collection (UPC#715515186216, $40).  While it is generally and famously impossible to pin down the Coen Bros.’ output to a specific type of film, and while quirky comedies have made up a good portion of their filmography, their foundation has been and always will be crime thrillers.  The humor grows out of that.  Revisiting the 1984 feature, there are plainly moments that would probably not have made it into their later works, where the proverbial hammer hits the nail a bit too directly, particularly a dream sequence that should have been a little funkier.  But there are also twists and turns in the story that are unique to the Coen style, such as a cigarette lighter that plays a key part in moving the story forward, but is never noticed by anyone but the camera after it is misplaced.  Dan Hedaya is a bar owner who hires a private
detective, played by M. Emmet Walsh, to kill his wife and her lover, played by Frances McDormand and John Getz. Nothing works out quite the way it was planned, and more importantly, nobody but the viewer really knows what has happened.  Running 95 minutes, the film isn’t so much about the crimes or the passion as it is about the miscommunications, and the giddy black humor that arises from everyone’s mistakes.  In fact, if there is one theme that comes the closest to running through all of the Coen Bros. movies, it is miscommunication and the humor, irony, suspense or awkward pathos that manifests when one character does not know what another character is doing, or why.
The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1.  The image transfer looks fantastic, with rich pools of color and crisply defined fleshtones.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound—the film’s original pop singles were restored a while ago after they were altered for the first home video releases—has a few cute directional effects and a steady dimensionality, along with gunshots that blow you backwards. There are optional English subtitles and three trailers, including one that was conceived on spec, before the film was produced, to attract investors.  To capitalize on the horror craze, the trailer emphasizes the movie’s suspense and violent thrills, which was an important aspect of the film’s design.
The supplements are basically just interviews with the cast and the filmmakers, but they are as captivating and entertaining as the film itself (not to mention running longer), primarily because of the thoughtful manner in which each interviewee approaches memories of the production and how it has affected subsequent works.  The centerpiece is a 70-minute talk by the Coen Bros. and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who work their way through the entire film, using the kind of illustrating markings over clips of the movie that football commentators use to explain plays, talking about their budget-motivated shooting strategies, laughing over
their naiveté and rookie errors, and deconstructing their thought process at every step.  Sonnenfeld used an old-fashioned method to get what he wanted from the two brothers.  “Here’s something I learned, working with Joel and Ethan.  I was thinking of a setup.  If I wanted it to be [medium] or tighter, I would show it to Joel, and if I wanted it to be wider, I’d show it to Ethan.  Ethan always preferred things slightly wider, and Joel always preferred things slightly tighter.”
The other interviews may not be quite as lengthy, but they are just as rewarding.  There is another specific interview with the Coen Bros. conducted by author Dave Eggers, running 35 minutes, in which they talk about other aspects of the production besides the actual shoot, going over how the feature came to be their debut, how the script was developed, how the cast was chosen, the logistics of the shoot, and so on.  While not as showy as the other talk, and not quite as amusing without Sonnenfeld’s quips, it is still an insightful and revelatory discussion.
McDormand, talking for 25 minutes, explains that she got the part—her debut also—because her friend, Holly Hunter, couldn’t fit the production into her schedule. She talks about being petrified on the set and doing as little as possible so as not to make a mistake, only to discover somewhat inadvertently that doing as little as possible is what makes great screen actors.  “I thought that because I had no training in film, I just thought, ‘keep it immobile, and listen,’ which, in fact, keeping your face immobile is not the right way to think about it, but listening to your fellow actor on film is still the best advice for any film actor, if you really listen, and you’re listening to someone who is interesting to listen to, that’s all you have to do. Of course, since it was the Coens’ first movie, too, they had no idea how to work with actors, either, so they would accept any crazy thing she did to get herself into character, and it became a strategy that continued to be effective over their many collaborations.  She also speaks frankly about her marriage to Joel, and how that has been effectively integrated with their successful careers. 
Now who can resist sitting back in rapt attention and listening to the eighty-year old Walsh for 17 minutes? He talks about the early part of his career and how initially dubious he was of the two kids—he made them pay him in cash on a week-by-week basis, to the point where his pockets were loaded with $100 bills—but he also explains how he managed his accent and how the persona he established in the film rocketed his career to another level.
Finally, composer Carter Burwell and sound editor Skip Lievsay sit together for 25 minutes and discuss their experiences working in the movies for the first time on Blood Simple, coming up with various innovations because they didn’t know any better and they didn’t have any money to do better, anyway.  Burwell used many unusual pieces in the film, but his primary piano theme is haunting. “We began to realize, while we were recording the score, that the piano brought the characters together in a way, created human relationships in a way that I don’t think any of us actually anticipated.  What’s unusual about it isn’t the instrumentation. Pianos are a perfectly traditional instrument.  It’s the use of piano against scenes that are dark and are edgy and tense, and that became what was non-traditional in the score.”

The film is loaded with marvelous slapstick sequences and quirky character humor.  While some viewers may find it too eccentric or too ready to make fun of blue collar America, most will find its comic surprises and unpredictable narrative to be most fulfilling, and to sustain its pleasures on multiple viewings. 

Although the movie has mobsters in it, it is not really a mobster movie.  It is, instead, a clever tale about a double-cross, supported by some very witty performances and exquisitely honed dialog.  The period detail and oddball slang are engaging, and the story is complicated but gratifying.  A barometer we keep in our head as we talk to everybody in the world about movies tells us that Joel and Ethan Coen's Miller's Crossing has staying power.

The 1994 film by Joel and Ethan Coen, with the collaboration of Sam Raimi, is a highly appealing and very funny original work, but it seems that there was just no way, short of giving out free tickets, the film’s backers could describe its pleasures well enough to get audiences to see it. 
The film begins as a cross between "The Producers" and "Brazil," with a touch of "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" thrown in, but is ultimately so unique and fresh it can’t even be compared to the Coens’ other movies, or Raimi’s. 

The critical consensus seems to be gathering that the 1996 Joel and Ethan Coen feature may be their masterpiece and one of the finest American films ever.  It is a highly enjoyable concoction, so 
rich with character that you can watch it many times and still look forward to seeing it again.  It seems to capture with perfection the rhythms and inanities of real life, managing almost magically to bend them into a coherent crime drama.

The Joel Coen and Ethan Coen comedy is about a playwright's experiences in Hollywood in the forties. Ostensibly about writer's block, the movie contains some marvelously sophisticated humor about Hollywood which alone is enough to justify multiple viewings. 

Sheer American poetry, the Joel and Ethan Coens’ 2000 comedy alludes to a dozen or more films,from "Bonnie and Clyde" to "The Wizard of Oz," and includes scenes and an overall structure specifically inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, but it nevertheless seems totally original and unique, and delightful.  

Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 feature almost seems like self-parody. It has a funny, eclectic humor, but the narrative is more abstract than the narratives in the Coens’ best films. There is a dream sequence staged as a Hollywood musical number and similar delights, but the characters with bizarre European accents, iron lung patients and other forced eccentricities call attention to themselves in too great abundance. It’s amusing, but artificial.

The ultimate Sun Belt thriller, i.e., the only Sun Belt thriller that ever won an Oscar for Best Picture, it opens with a transcendent montage of Southwest vistas, and sustains its feel for the heat and grit of its setting as its characters succumb to the inevitability of greed and violence that is as common to such films as caked mud and cactus scrub.  

Friday, September 30, 2016

How Indie Filmmaking Can Become Vital Again

In a World Where Indie Theatrical Filmmaking Went Extinct... 

Would ex machina Exist?


Conceive and Shoot Theatrical Movies with a Deeper Focus on Artistic Style 

For a few years now, many Indie movies look just like TV shows… only with smaller budgets. 

This is not good if the goal of a Theatrical Film release is to lure a potential audience away from their home and TV (or iPad, mobile phone, laptop/desktop computer). 
One of the ingredients that led to the Neo Golden Age of TV is that the production quality of cable and Network shows achieved another level of quality using the theatrical filmmaking bag of tricks. The look of so many TV Shows now exceeds the look and style of many Indie films that were shot just a few years ago. 

This is why I believe one of the most important ways for Indie filmmakers to make the Theatrical marketplace viable again is to raise their game artistically. The Theatrical film format has advantages for Indie filmmakers over creating for TV, but perhaps the biggest one requires an artistic vision that will result in a finished film that is stylistically distinct and memorable. Something that a commerical audience will go to the trouble of seeing in a theatre. 
Just so I'm not speaking only in generalities, I will cite one recent Indie Film that perfectly illustrates what the future needs to be about — 

For me, this was the Best Film released theatrically in 2015. It's also the movie I would point to first in support of the premise that Indie theatrical filmmaking deserves a futureI examine ex machina in depth for an upcoming book on Professional Screenwriting/Filmmaking. For this post, I will simply point out that the filmmakers behind ex machina draw on every aspect of the craft of professional filmmaking to present a story that was best told with a three-act structure, and a 90-minute screenplay format. And their achievement made the experience of seeing the movie in the theatre special. 

After ex machina was over, I asked myself — would this film have been made if Indie Theatrical Filmmaking was to go extinct?   

Sunday, September 25, 2016

His Final Words Broadcast from Dodger Stadium...

After 67 Years in Broadcasting... Vin Scully just called his last game at Dodger Stadium.

Yes it did! The above were some of the last words from Vin Scully calling his final game at Dodger stadium.

In the First Inning of today's game, Scully saw Justin Turner (the second batter to come up for the Dodgers) motioned upwards... and Scully realized something -- "Are they waving up here? Oh, that's terrific. Holy, Mackrel. I saw Justin and I thought, 'oh he's waving up to a fan and then I realized that Kendrick did the same thing.' Seconds later Vin said -- 
"No Score, First Inning. And this is not about me. This is a big day, the Dodgers with a chance to clinch to the Western Division."

When I think about the word 'Modesty,' I always see Vin Scully first in my mind. 
Everything about his career as a sports announcer has always been about modesty. 
As a "journalist" - which Scully always considered the foundation guiding the way he approached his coverage of Baseball - the game was first... he was a distant second. His words were simily the connection that enabled the fans to enjoy the sport they loved. 
I have been a die-hard Dodger fan for four decades, and over the years probably heard more words spoken over the radio/TV by Vin Scully than I ever heard from my own father and mother combined. 
So, yeah, he feels like family. 
I'll miss him. Just like everyone else who has made the love of baseball a major part of their life. 

One Final Note on Vin Scully in the Addendum page.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Behind the Curtain is often times a Talented and Brilliant Creator… who is probably physically Out of Shape and most likely… Unhappy.

At a recent party I ran into a Show Runner of a Network TV Series I’ve known for a while.  And he looked like Shit.  
No surprise. I’ve known him for two decades and during that time he always looked like shit. He’s been the Executive Producer on three TV series — one show running for three years; the other two for five years.  
His physical health was no different than almost all the TV show runners I’ve known over the years — most look like shit as well. 
Being Creative and working that creativity for a multi-million-dollar entertainment franchise takes its toll, whether you're a show runner on a TV series... 
Or being the main brain behind a brilliant Video game franchise, like one of my favorites, “BioShock.”  

Recently, the Franchise Game’s Designer, Ken Levine, closed down the company that had been producing the game. He told the people who had been financing the successful game franchise that he had enough, and was going to start working on “smaller, more entrepreneur driven games.”  
Because the process of working on every new incarnation of the Video game had taken its toll. 

“I saw a picture of me when we first announced it (the development of the latest BioShock video game). That was 2010. And then I saw a picture of me after I did an interview on NPR when we shipped it… in 2013. And I look 10 years older. It changed my life in terms of what it did to my health, and what it did to my view of making games, and my relationships with people. I'm not a happy person. I have crushing anxiety all the time. Which is crazy, because I wake up and I look at my beautiful wife and my beautiful dog and my beautiful home and the beautiful people I work with and these things I've created and these fans, and I say, 'How the fuck can you be unhappy?'" 

In the Entertainment Business, despite what you may have heard, when the Devil wants to make a Deal, he seldom negotiates for the rights to your soul. Actually, the Prince of Darkness usually ends up focusing on the terms of the contract that bind creative people to sacrificing their good physical and mental health in exchange for career success. Satan’s lawyers refer to these sections of the agreement as Standard, Reasonable and Customary terms of any Entertainment deal.   

Monday, September 19, 2016

Another SCREENWRITING "EXPERT" attempts to Share some Wisdom... and FAILS

Creative Screenwriting Magazine just posted a two-part interview with an author of two books who claims to know something about writing. 

Both parts of the interview revealed that the Writer had no idea what the hell she was talking about. She certainly would be no help to Screenwriters who want to break into the Entertainment Industry and become Professionals.  
Regular Readers of this blog will either find this latest post interesting...
Or be BORED with my latest attempt to call out "so-called experts" who attempt to make a buck on those who want to break into the Industry.
For those who are interested, you can check out the post on the PS Page of this Blog.
And everyone else who comes to read about other topics... 
We're moving on! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

In the Midnight Hour

This month the DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter celebrates its 32nd year as a publication. 
For the last two years, we've featured monthly excerpts written by the newsletter’s critic Doug Pratt. His insights into the latest offerings in the home-video marketplace have become one of our most popular features. And rightfully so. Whether you are a filmmaker or someone who appreciates a good film or TV series, Pratt has been writing his impressions on a wide assortment of offerings across the entertainment spectrum every month for over three decades. He's somehow delivered to his readership something that is not easily obtained today — clarity. 
Don’t mistake my appreciation for Pratt’s longevity as a fine writer on the arts as a superficial compliment, a blurb written out of professional courtesy. I actually believe success and longevity in the visual arts is typically rare. A TV show that once captured the attention and devotion of mass audiences in the 1970s is most likely unwatchable today. And one of the biggest problems the major studios have been encountering in the last decade is in realizing a respectable financial return to the movies they shot and released during the 1980s. It appears no one is much interested in revisiting this lost decade of movies, including the newest generation of film fans. 

So, when it comes to the shelf life of any artist who plies his trade (and art) in movies or TV, longevity can be considered an accomplishment if his work is still recognized today. Especially if one of his original creations was largely dismissed when it was first received by audiences. 

In 1965, a desperate filmmaker, Orson Welles, was finally able to get CHIMES at MIDNIGHTreleased to theatres. It took him years to cobble together the financing for the production, and even longer in the creation of the finished movie. Unfortunately, the distribution was a disaster. His film was largely unseen by U.S. audiences and dismissed by reviewers who did see the movie. 

The negative reaction pretty much sealed Welles’ fate as a washed-up filmmaker. He would never direct another theatrical movie again. His principal occupation afterwards was as a habitual guest on numerous TV talk shows; and as a commercial spokesman who specialized in touting
upscale products for consumers, like wine. Indeed, Welles was the original “Most Interesting Man in the World,” decades before any of the ad executives who created the “Dos Equis” commercials were probably born. 

And yet, here we are, fifty-plus years later, and Welles’ 1965 box office/critical disaster is now
considered a classic movie, possibly the best film adaptation of Shakespeare, and a relevant work that even modern audiences will appreciate. The passage of time withers and decays almost everything, especially pop culture. But sometimes it takes years, decades, for a work of art to become ageless.   

 Glory                                               DOUG PRATT

First, there is the poetry, William Shakespeare’s so brilliant ordering of words and their ideas that the listener is ashamed to share the same language and have not even a fraction of a fraction of the same skill in expressing it.  Then, there is Orson Welles’ cinema, which visually in its design, construction and rhythm is the equal to Shakespeare’s poetry. And finally, there is the drama, that exciting combustion of Shakespeare and Welles, which brings together the abstract elements of image and sound to manifest a human narrative so comprehensive that it drenches the viewer in every level of emotion and interaction, from the basest squabbling of peasants and thieves to the loftiest conflicts of governments and kings, while wickedly demonstrating that there really is no difference between the two, beyond costume and manner.
Welles’ masterwork, CHIMES at MIDNIGHT, is a jewel so radiant in cinematic expression that it stands as both the equal and opposite at the conclusion of Welles’ film career to the masterwork that began it, Citizen Kane. Released at long last on home video in America, and more thrillingly, on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection (UPC#715515184311, $40), the 1966 feature is an adaptation
mostly of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I and Part II, with a few references to the characters from other Shakespeare works slipped in.  
What grabs you the instant the film begins is its momentum. Despite being based upon texts that were nearly 400 years old, the film was so far ahead of its time that almost no one noticed how groundbreaking it truly was when it first appeared. 
Its MTV editing has only now come to be accepted, but the movie’s pace never falters, as one stunning shot flicks by after another, each so exciting that your anticipation quickens with intensity at every cut.  Welles’ rich experience in stagecraft, which vastly outweighed his experience in motion picture making, is so astutely integrated with that motion picture making that the one is wholly incorporated by the other. Characters constantly circle one another.  If a character in the foreground is stationary, there is business going on in the background, but that business is never distracting.  Instead, it colors or reinforces the business in front.  So everything is constantly moving, constantly progressing and constantly pushing the narrative along, as the dialog flows like a determined river, unimpeded by any change or edit in the images.
Knowledge of the film’s production history is not required to observe that it was shot in a piecemeal fashion, intermittently, over a lengthy period of time.  While some of the settings and some of the crowd sequences are very impressive, the budget was obviously thinner than Falstaff’s purse.  There are shots where characters freeze or move in a jumpy fashion because Welles is duplicating frames to maintain the pace he wants.  The dialog, at times, does not match the lip movements, and you can hear Welles’ voice coming out of more than just Welles’ character.  In this, it is the opposite of the studio production, Kane.  But like Kane, every sequence and every moment is a film experience so invigorating that it teaches you how to appreciate the world around you.
In addition to directing, Welles plays the rotund Falstaff as a jolly old elf, but shifts effortlessly to serious introspection when the dialog takes him in that direction.  One of his greatest and most meticulous performances, he cuts an indelible figure, even when he is entirely hidden beneath a comical shield of armor.  Keith Baxter has the central role as the prince torn between his love of the environment around Falstaff and his responsibility to his father, the king, played to gripping textual perfection by John Gielgud. Margaret Rutherford is also nicely cast as the innkeeper, and Jean Moreau and Fernando Rey appear, as well, with a historical narration delivered in voiceover by Ralph Richardson.  It is also worth noting that the film has a battle sequence at its halfway point that is remarkable for both its economy and its realistic depiction of the messy horror of war, all the while being as exciting as all get out. 

The black-and-white picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.66:1 and it looks beautiful.  The close-ups are incredibly detailed and textured, and the backgrounds are vivid.  The monophonic sound is very clear, but most effectively smoothed over, as well, so that Welles’ post-dubbing and other trickery rarely calls attention to itself.  The musical score, by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, is as clear as it comes across on the soundtrack LP. There are optional English subtitles, and a trailer. 

The supplements are worthy of the film, and systematically insightful, beginning with a spellbinding 30 minute interview with Keith Baxter, who talks about being blown away when he saw Gielgud on stage while a teenager, and the brilliant advice he received later on from Gielgud when they shared a scene in the film.  “‘You’re not observing the iambic pentameter.  You must breathe.  Shakespeare gives the actor time to breathe at the end of every line.  You must always breathe at the end of the line or at the punctuation.  If you break it up, it’s not Shakespeare, and what is the point?  We’re doing Shakespeare.  You see, Keith, if you do that, when you’re speaking Shakespeare, you’ll find it’s like being on a surfboard and it carries you.  Shakespeare’s genius will carry you.’”  (He does a wicked imitation of Gielgud within the film, too.)  He explains that he originally did the same basic show on the stage in Ireland with Welles, and then was summoned to Spain for the film, which Welles connived by pretending that they were going to shoot Treasure Island.  He compares Welles to Falstaff, not just because of his rotund stature and gregarious personality, but because, “He was always looking for a buck.”
Welles’ daughter, Beatrice, played a young page in the film, with a few lines that were dubbed by a boy (her presence also gives the film a compelling metaphysical perspective, a reminder, as it were, of the film’s creator), and talks about her life with her father in a fascinating 15-minute interview.  He introduced her to many of the joys in his life, from caviar to bullfights, and he let her hang out in the editing room as he worked his magic on the Movieola, such as his ingenious construction of the battle scene.  
“I was there, when we were shooting the battle scene, and it was, you know, three men and a dog, and a couple of spears.  It was amazing.” 

Biographer Simon Callow, speaking with heartfelt emotion for 30 minutes, provides a history of Welles’ interest in the material, which extended back to when Welles was in his teens, and he discusses quite insightfully the different components of Welles’ brilliant artistry, be it the film’s design, or the performances.  “What is so apparent on the screen is that Baxter adores acting with Welles, Welles adores acting with Baxter.  There’s a great complicity between them, which is palpable and which is a wonderful thing to see.  He was very isolated as an actor.  His performances are hermetic, they’re self-contained, they’re worked out, cleverly, and very forcefully executed.  You see the character; whereas, here, you see the relationship.  You see the electrical impulses passing between the two men.  It’s fantastic.” 
Another biographer, Joseph McBride, talks for 27 minutes about his conversations with Welles and his own experiences with the film’s exhibition.  Like Callow, he summarizes Welles’ lifelong history with the material, discusses the influence of Welles’ own father on his interpretation of the Fallstaff character, and other details.  Additionally, he talks about Welles’ filmmaking skills, and cites examples in Welles’ other films of technical approaches to filmmaking that he then utilized in CHIMES at MIDNIGHTIn 1965 Merv Griffin caught up with Welles while Welles was editing the film, and the result is an 11-minute interview that was broadcast on his talk show.  Oddly, Welles cites every major performer in the cast except for Baxter, but otherwise gives a pretty good spiel, promoting the film and showcasing the battle sequence.  He also chaffs a little bit when Griffin tries to turn the conversation to Citizen Kane.
Finally, there is a commentary track with yet another biographer, James Naremore, who deconstructs the film efficiently if somewhat superficially, explaining the visual dynamics of each scene, the character relationships, and an overview of how the scene was staged.  He also supplies a quick history of the kings, and talks about a few of the outside cinematic influences that inspired Welles and guided his hand.