Monday, November 25, 2013

Raindance Day 5 (part 1)

(which was September 29th)

No Class again today, so it’s all movies...

WEBFEST THRILLERS: Due to timing, again the obvious choice was the series on Webisodes, except today it was the *best* choice of the noon time period. I was genuinely interested and still scribbling ideas for *my* potential web series. And this block was on *thrillers*. Hey, how could I go wrong?

MALICE: Alice In Wonderland with the supernatural. Another CGI show, and I’m guessing the episode they showed was a “season end” because tough gal Alice (kind of Indiana Jonesish) and her family are down the rabbit hole into some version of hell. There’s a giant land octopus like creature attacking them, and the whole family (especially the little brother) have to band together to destroy it so that they can escape and get back home. One of the interesting lessons I learned from this show was the importance of strong attractive female characters. Yeah, yeah, I know. But I think the combination of the wild west of the web plus the video game culture audience plus the generally female oriented medium of television (even though you are watching these shows on your computer), seems to result in a TOMB RAIDER style of female lead. Many of these shows had the action female lead, and I suspect this character works for both men and women: women have a role model and men like the hot women. The women in these series seem to have some high concept element to their characters and a distinctive look. They are superheroes, whether they are super or not. This made me reconsider the characters in my web series.

BLOODY CUTS: This was an interesting one because it was the stand alone story... one of a 12 part anthology show by a dozen different directors. A way to turn a group of similar shorts into a series, the way THE ABCs OF DEATH turns 26 short films by different filmmakers into a feature. Again, this is an option for filmmakers who want to do a webseries... and with the internet, the different filmmakers can be from all over the world. As long as the different shorts share a theme or genre or basic subject matter and can be logically connected together into a series, everything is great.

THE SYNDICATE: There are always al couple of these that I don’t remember, and this was one of them. The description says it was about a family of serial killers who adopts a serial killer to become part of their tribe. You’d think I would have remembered that. I think I may know the director of this one.

CLUTCH: The other show I don’t remember, the description says it was about hookers vs. the mob. Also sounds interesting... Again, the strong female lead thing.

VAMPIRES: There were a couple of episodes of this documentary style show about people with odd businesses... that cater to the ultra goth crowd. One episode was on a guy in New Orleans who had a Voodoo shop, and really took us into the world of voodoo. It was interesting to see all of the things in the shop, the type of customers that shop there, the custom made gris gris and a little talk about voodoo dolls. I hadn’t really thought of documentary as a genre that would work in web series, but this show had a strong hook (all of the subjects were “vampires”) and material you wouldn’t find on TV. Totally a niche audience show, but also for people like me who might be curious about the niche audience. The show seems to globe trot to different interesting places, and I don’t know if it is all shot by the same crew of by various crews and then edited and voice overed at the main producer’s place.

LAB RATS: The first episode shows you how to establish your story and promise us interesting future episodes. On a college campus two guys bump into each other and talk about the attractive gal walking across campus. One of the guys decides to follow her, and ends up at the research facility where they are looking for college students to be part of their experiments... there is pay. Our protag signs up, and becomes a human lab rat. He’s interviewed, then sent into a strange room... and the fun begins. The lab has maze like hallways, and sinister things are happening there. Our protag is a curious guy, and goes places he is not allowed... This show manages to take practical locations like the college and marry them with some green screen locations like the sterile halls of the lab. A great concept drives the story, and we’ve all seen those adverts on TV looking for test subjects for some new medical treatment... which is not yet FDA approved and may have side effects.

RAGGED ISLE: A continuing conspiracy mystery show about a small town (in Northern Carolina?) where a murder uncovers a big government conspiracy. This show had some great cliff hangers, and opened with the resolution of one massive twist and ended with a new massive twist... all in maybe five minutes! There were a couple of episodes, which helped show how the twists worked in the series: set up at the end of one episode and that twist drives the next episode... until we get a new twist. The acting was a little iffy, as was some of the lighting. This made me think that this show may actually be a “back yard” show, created by some people in their little town far away from Hollywood and shot on their own equipment. You can do one of these *anywhere*. The production value on this show was great, because it *was* shot on location in this small waterfront town.

MIDNIGHT ARCHIVE: Another documentary show about peculiar people, this episode was about a guy who has a collection of human skulls and skeletons. He had a whole room in his house filled with human skeletons and actively collected them. Weird! Oh, and he was single and looking for love... and someone who understood his hobby. Good luck with that! These documentary shows were fascinating, and targeted the niche audience. If you have some odd hobby or interest, a show like this might be something for you to consider making. You can explore your interest... and connect with others who have the same interest. Though, human skull collecting is kinda weird.


RAFI PITTS: Every year Raindance has an Artist In Residence, and this year it was director Rafi Pitts. The afternoon program was going to show his film THE HUNTER and then a Q&A anoput the film and his work. Past Artist In Residence have featured Mike Figgis, Christopher Nolan, and Ken Loach. When Figgis was there, he and I were on a panel on indie filmmaking that was more of a debate between the two of us... and was a great experience for me. I didn’t know who Rafi Pitts was, but that’s the great part of a film festival: you get to learn about new filmmakers whose careers you may follow from that point on. Rafi introduced his film before the screening and gave us a little background, including the reason why he ended up playing a major role in the film. He began as an actor, turned to directing... and when an actor dropped out of the film at the last minute, he could either delay production to recast (which he feared might give the investors cold feet and have them pull out) or proceed with himself in that role.

The houselights dimmed, the film began... and it was a film titled THE HUNTER but not the one Rafi Pitts directed. Same year as his film, same title... different movie. A mix up at the film exchange. (If you want proof that coming up with an original title that is distinctive and hasn’t been used in at least a few decades is important, this mix up is it!) So Rafi ended up doing a 2 hour Q&A.... and it was *better* than seeing the movie. We could all Netflix the movie later (it’s in my queue) but we could never get a two hour discussion on making indie films. Rafi talked about everything from his introduction to film, to working with actors, to directing techniques, to finding the money and then finding distribution and getting his work out there. It was fascinating.

The great part of this is that in that two hours you really git to know him... to the extent that when I bumped into him a couple of days later at the festival we had a great conversation about the films we had seen. The wrong film mistake lead to one of the high points of the festival for me.

But after that, I was ready to see some movies...


Thursday, November 21, 2013


(which was September 28th)

And then, the day got better. Okay, the day was actually pretty good, but the *films* got better with a pair of films to top off day 4...

BLACK SQUARE (Japan): (odd/good). In a village in China, artist by night and bricklayer by day Zoping is walking down the road when he sees a strange object floating across the sky... a black square. He follows the black square as it floats across the sky and eventually lands in a big open field. Zoping cautiously approaches the giant black square (like the monolith from 2001) and examines it. Discovers that touching it is not recommended. Then, a naked Japanese man walks out of the black square. I say he’s Japanese, that is where the actor comes from... but he looks androgynous and alien to Zoping. Okay, not totally androgynous because he’s naked and his junk is on display to the world. And it’s freezing cold out. Zoping tries talking to him, but the Stranger doesn’t understand. He’s a blank slate. An alien, like E.T. Zoping takes of his warm winter jacket and gives it to the Stranger. Now the Stranger is covered and probably warm, but Zoping is freezing. The black square floats away... Zoping ends up taking the Stranger to the home he shares with his girlfriend, Hana, who is away for a few days.

Like E.T, the Strangers learns about Earth life from Zoping... and we learn about Zoping in the process. This is a great device for getting to know two characters... and eventually the girlfriend Hana and Zoping’s little sister Lihua who comes home from college. The Stranger is not a “traveling angel” or “traveling devil”, he’s a blank slate who absorbs the knowledge and feelings of others... and eventually learns to speak and becomes part of this family. Early on, the slacker rascal Zoping teaches him how to lay bricks and gives him a (no pay) job on one of his job sites. Zoping is obsessed with the black square, painting canvas after canvas of the object (reminded me of the mashed potatoes scene from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS). The Stranger has no bad habits, except for spending some of his days on the roof of a barn watching the field where the black square landed (E.T. phone home). Zoping’s sister Lihua develops a crush on the Stranger, and is often on the roof with him, talking about her life in college.

Though I keep comparing this to E.T. it is its own film and its own story. Zoping and Lihua have this feeling they have seen the Stranger before, that they *know him* from somewhere. But that’s impossible, isn’t it? The Stranger is now explained to others as a friend from the city, and becomes part of Zoping and Hana’s circle or artists and creative people. One member of the group has this great business idea and they go to the city with him to help him pitch his idea to investors... and the Stranger tags along. The idea, this supporting character’s dream, is crushed by the investors... but the group consoles him and they go to a comedy club to cheer him up. The Stranger wanders off, and they are afraid he may be lost in the city... so they search for him. Lihua finds him on a stoop, where he tells her that is time here is soon over... he’ll be going home.

The next day the black square floats over the countryside again, and the Stranger follows it. Zoping and the group say goodbye and he enters the black square and vanishes. Now, here’s where you think the film is over, and grab your coat... except this is just the end of act two. This film is 144 minutes long! (It should have ended here, but remember how Zoping and Lihua thought the Stranger looked familiar?)

We follow the Stranger *out* of the black square, in China during World War Two where the Japanese have invaded... and the Stranger is a private in the army whose job is to round up Chinese villagers and put them in prison camps. He comes to a house in the hills where Zoping and Lihua’s Great Grandfather and pregnant Great Grandmother (played by the same actors) are hiding. The Great Grandfather and the Japanese soldier call kind of a truce and help each other. The Japanese soldier protects the couple so that the Great Grandmother can give birth... but that means he must lie to his superiors in the military. He’s the man in the middle... and eventually the war catches up to all three. But by then, the Great Grandmother has given birth, which allows Zoping and Lihua to be alive decades later. Though I think this longish act 3 ending slows the momentum and removes some of the magic, it *does* create some wonderful post film conversation on whether the Stranger is a time traveler or a ghost or what. Now that we know his past relationship to this family, we see the first 3/4 of this film a little differently.

Hey, I should also note: like KU ON, it’s a a great high concept at a low cost. Except for a few shots of the black square floating in the sky or on that empty field (where it could be a painted piece of plywood for all we know), there are no special effects in this magical film. The *idea* of the Stranger from another world learning how our world works is amazing... and it’s just an actor! When people think that high concept means high cost, they *don’t* have a high concept. They have an idea that requires a bunch of special effects to prop it up. Find that great idea that stands on its own!

15 YEARS + 1 DAY (Spain): The winning streak continues with this family drama about a troubled 14 year old kid Jon who lives with his single mom Margo... and gets into big trouble for killing the neighbor’s dog as part of an escalating feud. We all know you can’t kill a dog in a movie, but this film shows the steps of the feud leading up to this shocking act... and there’s no way that we can forgive the act, but we understand it. Jon is trying to protect his mother, and does it in the wrong way. This leads his mother to ship Jon off to his *strict* ex military grandfather Max’s house for the summer. Job doesn’t want to go, but there is no choice.

Jon is a kid who has no structure in life, Max is all about structure and discipline. So there is no shortage of conflict here. The great thing about Max is that he’s a nice guy and really cares about his grandson, so even when things blow up... there’s still an undercurrent of love. Jon meets a girl at the internet cafĂ© that he has a crush on, and that relationship helps him find his way. But pulling at him from the other side is a group of kids he plays soccer with sometimes who are not about some petty theft and minor crimes. One of the kids this group often picks on is a piano prodigy they think is Gay. So Jon has to pick sides, and actually becomes friend with the piano prodigy. But one night there is a fight on the beach where a boy is *killed*, and Jon becomes number one suspect and ends up in big trouble with the police. Jon refuses to cooperate with the police, and now Max must decide who to side with. The cool part is there is a female detective involved, and Max develops a relationship with her, creating even more friction and conflict. All of the characters face really difficult choices, and where Jon learns from Max... Max also learns from Jon. Eventually the conflicts come to a head and we discover who the real killer is and why.

I think this is the second film from Spain that I liked, but also thought was too “small” for an American cinema. You can easily imagine this on television, and it would sweep the Emmy Awards. The characters and story and acting were all great, the beachside community was a great location (as was Max’s interesting house). This was a good solid drama about a kid dealing with all of the problems a 14 year old struggles with... but amplified for drama. Good acting all the way around, and a nice little twist at the end. A good film to close out the fourth day of the festival.

After the film I talked with some folks in the lobby, then raced to the Underground to catch my train back to my place, so I could catch a late night meal and hit the sheets. The next day was Sunday, and I would also have no class... so no need to cram for my exam.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


(which was September 28th)

WEBFEST: FUTURE OF WEB TV: The next segment of the webisode thread were shows that had moved up to the next level. These shows had picked up sponsors or were shown on a revenue sharing online channel. They were all a little slicker than the first batch, but still began with someone just doing it.

EVENT ZERO: Really slick webseries (with a moment or two of iffy CGI) about a subway derailment in Sydney Australia caused by a plague outbreak. Sort of OUTBREAK meets NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as the diseased who have escaped quarantine try to reunited with their loved ones who don’t particularly want to become infected... yet still want to be with the ones they love. The episode shown ended with a wife and husband separated by a door... as one of them dies. Powerful stuff.

CONTINUUM: Another slick “green screen” show where a woman wakes up on a space ship with a computer companion. Really well made, and this may have been the one where I realized how genre driven the successful shows were.

There were a few other shows, one with a group of survivors of the Apocalypse who wake up in a fog surrounded house... and have to figure out who each other are, what happened, and how to survive. Some other shows I don’t remember at this time.

The great part of this segment was the panel afterwards, because it was all about the distribution of webseries. At least in the UK it seems there are web channels that program shows the same way a TV network does. When I was at Portland Film Festival a month earlier there was an afternoon panel on webisodes with a skit comedy team who had managed to get so many hits that YouTube partnered with them and gave them a channel and studio space and equipment to shoot their show. Some of the shows on the Raindance panel had found producers who funded their shows (or co funded) in exchange for advertizing and sponsor income from the show.

These shows were all around 10 minutes or less, some were really short and to the point, others had more story and plot information. I was surprised by the quality level of all of the shows in this segment, on the big screen they looked pretty good... considering they were made to be shown on your laptop screen. The skill here seems to be to write something short and to the point that packs an emotional punch. The EVENT ZERO episode was brief, but action packed and had a big gasp moment at the end. So I think the real skill is in the writing. Being able to get in and get out and keep it exciting and emotional.

Here’s the thing: after seeing the Portland Film Fest panel I was interested in webisodes, but after these two segments I was hot to do one. The great thing about the shows that I’d seen at Raindance is that they were varying in quality, some looking like the stuff I was shooting on Super 8mm when I was in my 20s. So there’s no reason to fear I don’t have the equipment or a pro crew or any of the things that might make me think twice about making a *movie*. Not that making a crappy looking show will get me anywhere, more that imperfections are more easily forgiven on a small screen than a huge one. So I began coming up with webseries ideas that I might do... and actually came up with a pretty good one, and managed to jot down about twenty five episode ideas and some cool character ideas. Over the holidays I plan to talk to my peeps and maybe put this together. My plan is to do a handful of episodes out of pocket and then Kickstarter funding for the rest of the season. That way people can see what the show will be. And that’s one of the interesting things about webisodes: if we do five or six episodes and nobody likes the show? We just trash it and come up with something else. Because these can be shot with skeleton crews (like DAVE GRANGER’s writer director and star and one crew member in the car driving to the location) and digitally, there’s not much to lose if the show is a flop (okay, your time and effort... but as screenwriters we write a bunch of screenplays that will never sell, so we’re used to that.) I was interested enough to catch the morning session of the webisode weekend tomorrow.

After this program the movie showings were coming into sync, so I ditched the rest of the webisode series and ventured out into the lobby to look for my friend Janet. Found her, and we *didn’t* have enough time to eat dinner but *did* have enough time to grab a coffee and buy a sandwich at Costa to smuggle into the movie later. The sync problems did continue, because we’d missed the start of the next movie but had perfect timing for a trio of half hour shorts from the same film maker... which we would see only two of, then ditch the third to see a feature which started about a half hour before the shorts ended.

SATOKO YOKOHAMA SHORTS: These were three longish shorts made by a female Japanese filmmaker. Japanese films are often odd, and the feature we were going to ditch the last short to see was also from Japan. They can be odd/good and odd/odd and odd/bad. Yesterday’s film about the girl who watched misanthropes was odd/good.. The thought process in picking these shorts was that an entire program devoted to one filmmaker meant this was an important filmmaker with interesting films... and a woman, when there are few women filmmakers out there. I was interested in seeing the cream of Japanese female filmmakers (say that three times fast).

GRANNY GIRL: Odd/Odd. A pregnant woman and her husband deal with issues associated with a mother in law’s mailed fish dinner. What’s amusing about this film is that it’s only 13 minutes long but seems to go on for *days*. It doesn’t communicate at all with the audience, so we just watch it instead of experience it. The key to filmmaking is to use cinema to communicate story and emotions to the audience. This film didn’t communicate anything. The Husband tells the pregnant Wife that his mother is mailing some fish, and she needs to be home to accept the delivery, then he leaves for the day. The Wife then does a bunch of really crazy things, wandering around the neighborhood and climbing fences and trying to climb to the top of a water tower and wailing like crazy and talking strangely to strangers and other things for no reason we can understand. At first I thought it might tie into her pregnancy... but it was never tied in. And there’s a little girl who calls her “granny” for no reason. WTF? The fish get delivered and are rotten but they eat them anyway. None of this made sense and there was no effort on the part of the filmmaker to make it make sense. I thought maybe I was not understanding this film because I have a penis, but I talked to Janet afterwards (she does not have a penis) and she didn’t get it either. The other problem with this film is that it was amateurly shot. Yesterday’s Japanese movie was technically well made and had a bunch of great shots and angles... but this short was a technical mess (though the moment where she’s walking around on the water tower and talking to herself was well lighted considering the issues). I’ve seen some technically great films that didn’t make a lot of sense, but were beautiful to look at. Kind of visual poems. Like I said about the webisodes, you can have a technically great film with an okay story or a great story that’s just okay technically... but here we have a film that doesn’t do either. Hey, maybe the next one is better?

JUMP FROM MIDNIGHT: Odd/Bad. You know, I cut the first short a break... but when you get two short films from the same filmmaker and there is no real improvement between them? You start to wonder why there is a program devoted to this filmmaker. This short was also *way* too long at 31 minutes, and again did not seem concerned with communicating the story to the audience. A mock silent film about a girl who steals a kinescope from an old guy who shows movies to working class people and he chases her for the rest of the movie. She swipes some money from folks who pay her to watch the movie and they chase her, too. That’s about it for 31 minutes. The biggest problem is that it has almost no story and characters you don’t understand... and as a silent film does not compare favorably to all of those silent films you have seen from the silent era. Those films are all there to study, so it’s hard to imagine that someone would make a silent film with this extremely low level of visual storytelling in 2013. Again, I thought maybe I just wasn’t getting it and talked to janet afterwards... and she may have liked it less than I did. Part of the problem with both of these films is that they seemed to go on forever. If you aren’t getting the story and the film isn’t well made, you want it to at least be quick. But both of these films had very little story and a very long running time. Years ago at Raindance I complained that a movie was too long... when it was only 3 minutes. One of the staff people chided me on this, but a film needs to be only as long as the story and not a second longer. Better to be brief than overstay your welcome. A 3 minute film can bee too long. The Nokia shorts they used to have at Raindance were *fifteen seconds* long, and some were amazing and some were too long... at fifteen seconds! So get to the danged point! The problem with both of these films is that I could never figure out what the point *was*, and I don’t think the filmmaker knew either. They wandered around. Adding to that, we could never get into the story and they technical aspects didn’t blow me away (which might make me forgive the other stuff).

The next short was *42 minutes long*, and Janet and I skipped it to see a Japanese feature... which we both liked. So it wasn’t a cultural thing, it was a competency thing. I wonder if this filmmaker wasn’t included in the program because she was a female Japanese director (and maybe the only one)? There’s a strange thing that happens in film fests where a film may catch a break because the filmmaker has an inspiring story and overcame some odds... last year at Raindance there was a feature film made by an 18 year old kid. Amazing! A kid that age makes a *feature*! But the problem was that the feature wasn’t very good (again, no ability to communicate using the medium). After that film a group of us talked about how unfair it was to the young filmmaker to have this success, since it was like getting an “A for Effort” instead of an A for quality. In the real world, no one is going to cut you any slack. When you get your break, you have to be ready for it. I thought this kid last year got a lot of big exposure for his film... but I couldn’t really see a distrib giving him the money to make his next film after seeing this one. And I think the same is true here. I wanted to like this Japanese woman’s movies, but the stories didn’t work, they were technically crude, and at the end of the day I had no idea what they were about.

Because I come from the writing side, I always focus more on the story. Like with the webisodes, you can just be technically adequate if the writing is great... that’s why Kevin Smith is a director. He writes clever dialogue and outrageous stories and gets them on film. As writers we may have the writing part down, but we may not have the technical chops. Hey, we live in a digital age where we can practice just about for free. As I said in one of my classes, I bought a close out HD digital home movie camera at Big Lots for under $100, not something you can shoot a feature with... but something you can practice with. Then, *study* films to learn the language of cinema. A friend of mine was getting ready to direct his first no budget feature and I gave him a stack of DVDs to watch. All of them selected because they had different visual storytelling techniques or were great editing lessons to show you what shots you *needed* in order to put together a sequence. He watched them but completely missed the point, tearing apart the acting in each film (he’s an actor). He wasn’t paying attention to the *filmmaking* part of each film, when that’s what he most needed to learn. He knew how to act already (and direct actors), but had no idea how to shoot a movie. Hey, nobody cares what you think of Buster Keaton’s acting style... that’s not going to help you.I think this is a common problem. It’s pretty easy to miss the lessons we need to learn because we’re too busy spotting the lessons we already know. Break that cycle! If you know the emotional part and story part of filmmaking and aren’t great at the technical stuff, really focus on learning the technical stuff. When you are studying a film, *focus* on the technical stuff. Why this shot? Why this focus distance from the subject? Why this angle? Why this camera move? Why this particular lighti8ng scheme? Practice shooting and editing. Figure out *why* one angle or camera move is better than another. Remember that you are using the camera to communicate with the audience: what do you want them to know and feel and how is this shot or combination of shots giving the audience that information? It’s not just about the story, it’s about *telling* the story. If the audience doesn’t get it, the film doesn’t work. Hey, if it’s still pretty pictures, at least you have that. But it’s always best to try to get everything right. To have a great story, well told, and technically great.

But, on to the (odd Japanese) feature...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

RAINDANCE DAY 4 (part 1)

(which was September 28th)

No Class today, so it’s all movies...

Except for one small problem. The Festival has films on five screens, and in the past the starting times for the movies have been in some sort of sync, so you can see a movie on screen 1 and then see the next film on screen 2 and after that see what’s on screen 3, etc. But this year the start times are not in sync, so if you get on one track you may be stuck for the rest of the day. My plan was to see *movies* but I missed the noon movie by minutes and the next film began in an hour, so I got a ticket for what I thought were a program of shorts...

Webfest: UK Series: This year Raindance was ahead of the curve with a weekend series focusing on Web Series. What I thought was a program of shorts ended up being a program of webisodes followed by panels with the filmmakers. And because this thread was out of sync with all of the other films, I was stuck there until the evening...

And it was the greatest accidental choice I made at the fest. The webisodes were a mixed bag, but the panels were fascinating. These people had ideas for an online series... and then just did it. Some of the series were well written and crudely made, others were beautifully made and needed some script work... and some were just right. But all of them were inspiring because these folks didn’t wait for someone to hire them or give them permission, they just did it.

I AM TIM: A reality show about a slacker demon hunter, it was a little ragged in places but fun. There were several short episodes, some good and some okay.

DONALD NEWMAN: UNDERACHIEVER: In a post apocalyptic world where everyone wears period costumes and hangs out in a church, Donald Newman is the chosen one to save mankind. This had one longish episode with lots of great production value but a sketchy story. Maybe later episodes are more story oriented.

GRAVE DANGER WITH DAVE GRANGER: This was my favorite of the lot, and all of the episodes they showed plus the ones I later watched online were great. Dave Granger is an ultra macho thrill seeker survivalist type who has lessons in how to live off the land and defend yourself in case of bear attack or some other disaster. Of course, everything always seems to backfire on camera... and add to this that Dave has recently gone through a bad break up and sometimes bursts into very unmacho tears. Though the episodes follow a certain formula: Dave attempts something amazing and then things go wrong; watching them one a week would make the formula work to advantage.

3SOME: If only this had lived up to its title! But basically a soap about three twentysomething in London, kind of a FRIENDS sort of thing. The episodes shown were kind of talkie.

THE ART OF AWKWARD CONVERSATION: I have no memory of this one.

ALL IN THE METHOD: A pair of struggling actors try to land roles. I recently posted that I’m tired of screenplays about screenwriters or novelists... because they’re kind of incestuous. Instead of looking out at the world, they focus on a very narrow *mirror* reflection of the writer. And the same goes for stories of struggling actors. Instead of playing a character, they play themselves with a bit of fantasy success added. Kind of my pet peeve. The episode was all about auditions, etc. I could sit in my local Starbucks and watch this for real.

BLOODY MARY SHOW: Though supposed to be one of the most popular, I didn’t get it. The story takes place at a bar where vampires and witches and other mythical folks hang out and talk. Amazing make up and costumes, but people standing around talking. Many of the jokes were stale or just fell flat. I think the appeal may be a haven for nonconformists where they are not seen as freaks.

The panel after the webisodes was great. Whether I liked their shows or not, the creators were all clever people who had taken their fates in their own hands and made a show. The creator of I AM TIM talked about changing leads midstream, and the creator of DAVE GRANGER talked about writing several episodes, rehearsing in the car on the way to the location and shooting them one after another until they ran out of daylight. All of this reminded me of my days shooting Super 8mm shorts... and got me thinking about webisodes as the new do it yourself method to get something out there.

The quality issues: those shows with great production value and just okay writing and those with great writing and just okay production value is pretty much the norm in Indie filmmaking. Kevin Smith can write, but his films are crudely made. So this isn’t really much of an issue for material made outside a studio. And though *I* didn’t get BLOODY MARY, the filmmaker had obviously found a niche audience that couldn’t wait to see the next episode. The great part of a webseries is that it didn’t have to appeal to a mass audience, it could *really* narrowcast to a very small audience.

We no longer live in a world of Indie Films that get picked up by Miramax and given a wide release across the world... now we live in a world of Netflix streaming. Where only a couple of years ago, a show online would sound silly and amateur, today we watch movies and TV shows from big studios online... which means a webseries is no longer silly and amateur. I know some people here in the USA who make webseries that are like little movies: really well made with the production value you’d expect from a summer tentpole. And these folks at Raindance had just grabbed a camera and made their show. No one gave them permission.

Because I was still interested in the form, and because I was completely out of sync to see any movies, I stuck around for the next group of shows...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Raindance Day 3

(which was September 27th)

Because I stumbled and fell on this before, I'm going to try to get at least *one* film review up every day. May fail at that, too... but at least it sounds possible while doing all of this other stuff. But first, here is the expanded version of my Day 3 post.

The pattern is: catch the Bakerloo subway train to Piccadilly, sit in Costa Coffee going over notes, get to the cinema early enough to make sure they get my podium and table set up right (they never do - I have to adjust it every morning), and then sit in the cinema lobby reading the program to see what movies might interest me. Since I usually see movies with Janet - she tells me what she wants to see and we figure out what it’s going to be, or if we will be in two different cinemas.

CLASS: Today was structure - but focusing on alternative structures (since this is an indie fest in the UK). Again, not a full house... but about 2/3rds full. Last year people were sitting in the aisles! Class went well, again ran right up to the 2 hour mark. It’s funny, I’d stop at 90 minutes and ask for questions... when no one had any I’d do some more class and stop about 10 minutes to... and ask for questions again and a dozen hands shoot up!

Questions get answered and they come in to tell me to get the hell out of the cinema so they can start movies... and *I* want to see movies as well! That’s what I’m here for!

GREATFUL DEAD (Japan) - no Jerry Garcia, this is a strange Japanese comedy about an unusual young woman whose hobby is watching and tracking misanthropes and people who have accepted their loneliness. It opens with her as a child in a dysfunctional family watching infomercials and ordering some of the crazy products, while her divorced dad has sex with slutty step mom... and she learns to live alone. Later, after her father has died and left her all of his money, she starts this odd hobby of spying on people who are either ostracized by society or have decided that society is just too much trouble. Lonely people. But when some religious missionaries give some of her subjects hope to reenter society... she connects with a crazy misanthrope and, well, kills them. Beginning a crazy war with an old infomercial king. *DARK* comedy, really well done.

One of the great things about this film is how *happy* she is when the war begins. She is *dancing* in a store as she buys the tools required to dispose of a body. There’s a nice subplot with her older sister who is married with a kid and *didn’t* inherit anything... but wants her little sister to settle down and live a normal life. But, some people were never meant to be part of society... this misanthropes and little sister.

This is the kind of weird ass film that will play at film fests but will probably never surface in the USA. The audience is so small (me, maybe some of you reading this) that it doesn’t make financial sense to release it... even on DVD. That’s too bad. Maybe our new world of streaming will allow weird ass films like this to find their audience.

OUTPOST 11 - UK contained weird sci-fi film about three soldiers in a remote outpost in the Arctic during WW3 who each begin to go mad. Made on "a small bag of cash" (according to the director) it has some nice stop motion, some okay CGI effects... and a story that's a bit slow for a contained thriller with 3 characters. One of the things that might have helped - near the end one of the soldiers goes to another outpost and discovers that something has driven them all violent crazy - and everyone is dead. Had this been the first scene, the slow parts of the rest of the film would have been filled with suspense because we would know what *might* happen to them. Lots of steampunkish stuff, too - and some non-science sci-fi stuff that we weren't really sold on.

The sets were nice, and they shot in the snow somewhere (was it Scotland?). Obviously influenced by Carpenter’s THE THING, it deals with the pressure of boredom during the war. I loved the stop motion spiders, and there’s this cool shot where two people are having a conversation where a *giant* spider walks past the window in the background. I thought it needed more story and more tension, and the actor playing the old soldier looked too scruffy for his dialogue. Maybe things are different in the UK, but I expect a career soldier to be very regimented and disciplined... someone who can only live in an environment where his clothes are perfectly pressed and his movements stiff and measured. This character’s dialogue was all about the Private (our protag) being a slacker, but it was this lifer guy who seemed the slacker. Maybe that was on purpose, but that didn’t come across. The science stuff that didn’t work well had to do with the Act 3 conflict of a boiler gizmo overheating. It seemed like there was no actual research on this, so the “science” of the device didn’t make sense. The weird thing with science fiction is that you have to sell us on anything weird. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a pile of exposition to tell us how something works, but you need to show us how it works and why it’s important to keep it operational. Though this boiler gizmo was mentioned, we never really understood what it did. Compare that to all of the Act 3 conflict elements in ANDROMEDA STRAIN, many of which we see when the crew goes down into the lab... so we get a bit of invisible exposition. And the other things are introduced early and they make complete sense to us: you need those darts and the gas and the lasers to stop a contaminated lab animal from escaping into the real world. Even if you are dealing with a science fiction world, you need to do some research and make us believe that these things exist (and for a logical reason). I believed trhe giant spiders more than I believed the boiler gizmo! Still, for a movie made with just a small bag of cash, nice.

TWO JACKS - Based on a Tolstoy novel, directed by Bernard Rose (CANDYMAN) and starring Danny Huston, this tells the story of a legendary film director who returns to Los Angeles flat broke and owing everyone money or favors... who continues to screw up big time! But somehow manages to screw all the wrong women and still land on his feet, and gets a film deal. 20 years later, his son comes to Los Angeles to direct his first film... and encounters the *daughter* of one of the women his father screwed and dumped... and many other people who are part of the ghost of his father. He is his father's son - and soon is making love with the daughter and promising her a role in his film... plus screwing the producer's mistress while drunk in a moving car. Where the father managed to land on his feet, the son lands on his ass... and is banished from Hollywood.

This was another bag of cash movie, despite the cast. Rose owns some equipment and likes to make movies with his friends. There was some great production value, here: real luxury hotels, a Hollywood Hills home that only a movie star (or the guy who wrote CANDYMAN) could afford to live in, a weird masquerade ball where everyone was dressed in 1920s costumes. Cameos from Sienna Miller and Billy Zane and many others that Rose could get for free (or SAG minimum). The film was impressive for having a small budget. The issue was the script. Rose introduced the film and said that it was based on a Tolstoy story, “The Two Hussars”... and that one of the thing that drew him to the story was how the world can change in 20 years. I thought that was a great idea... but you don’t really see that in the film. Though Rose mentioned the massive changes in technology over the past 20 years, none of that was on display in this film. Also, none of the changes in Hollywood in the last 20 years (and there have been many). You know, the idea of a screenplay on paper is something of the past, everything is a pdf that is emailed to someone, now. And, as I like to say: the suits have gotten suitier. Twenty years ago studios were not some offshoot of a conglomerate that was more interested in the ancillary business than the film itself. And twenty years ago there was a mid range movie... the kind the father would make. The son would face a Hollywood where everything is a huge event movie (superhero or not) or some very small genre film. Both father and son end up making a deal with the same producer, for the same kind of movie... and no one talks to the son about all of the business aspects that he has to make sure are covered (videogame, Happy Meal, music tie in, foreign incentives and coproduction and cast requirements, etc). It’s as if this film which is *about* a father and son’s different experiences in the film business didn’t want to deal with the film business part. The movie never takes us into that world. Never shows us the interesting parts of that world. So it comes off as a trifle.

Here's the thing: when you have a small (or nonexistent) budget the weight of the film ends up on the script. That's also the element that is the least expensive to work on until you get it right. Even shooting digitally, if you do 100 takes of the same shot, you're burning up the crew and cast's time... and they're probably being paid and being fed. But rewriting a scene 100 times until you get it right is just you and the computer. Yeah, you also have to feed yourself, but that's cheaper than a full cast and crew! So indie people: spend the time to get the script perfect, *then* go to film. TWO JACKS has everything going for it... but the script. It's not a bad script, it just isn't the best version of this story.

But here's the great thing about Raindance and film fests in general, and why you should go. All three films had Q&As with the directors... and often the stars and key creatives. The Japanese director was there for a (translated) Q&A, the UK director was there with the entire cast and the producers and editor and pretty much everyone else who worked on the film for a great Q&A, and Bernard Rose and Danny Huston and the producer and actress Rosie Fellner were there for a great Q&A afterwards. At a fest, you get this kind of access to the talent that made the film.

- Bill

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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