Monday, October 12, 2009

London 10: Day 7 - Sex & Italian Films

The day began with one of the 5 (FIVE!) Free classes - on sex & violence. The other class I had scribbled notes for on the flight over. I had very little material on this one and would be winging the full 2 hour class. The problem with winging a class is jet lag, lack of sleep, and all of the various problems that I might have making stuff up off the top of my head when the top of my head isn’t working.

But the class went well, there were lots of questions about both sex and violence - and this is where I realized that it was a difficult subject for a class because answering questions was slightly embarrassing... and difficult to be precise as to how much sex or violence is too much. But the class went better than expected... and once again was sold out. The room was completely packed with people - around 150 or so.

And here’s the problem - Raindance has not printed brochures for my weekend class at all, but Elliot is passing out brochures for one of *his* upcoming classes in every sold out class that I do. Even though he mentions the weekend class in the intro, are the people just supposed to remember that after the class? They have no way of knowing *how* to sign up or where or how much the class costs... And my fear is that these free classes are completely undercutting my weekend class - it’s like getting 5 free servings of hors d’oeuvres and then the waiter asks what you would like to order for your meal... well, you’re really not hungry any more. In the past these classes had a nominal fee - 10 pounds (about $15) and there was only one of them... just to whet your appetite, but leave you hungry for more. This time, even though all of the classes are “selling out” there is no actual selling as they are free. There is standing room only, but not only does none of this translate into even a small amount of money per course, the audience is filling up on the free food and not hungry for the weekend class.

The Shooting People daily mailer has been promoting the 5 free classes, but not the weekend class. And Elliot wants to do a split of profits with me instead of the flat fee for teaching the class which we had done previously. Of course, in the past the weekend class has done well, so Raindance made a pile of money of giving me a flat fee. I suspect that no one is signing up, so they want to give me a % of what little money they make. I’m already wondering how I will handle this... but I have no idea how many people have signed up, so maybe I’m worrying overt nothing.

After the class I have several people come up to me with questions, and I answer a few then tell folks I must race to the cinemas to see films...

MOVIE: BREAKING ROCKS - A documentary about Billy Bragg’s program to buy guitars for prisons so that prisoners have a way to express themselves through music. They follow Bragg and others as they buy guitars, stencil them with the program logo (and other fun things) then deliver them to various prisons in the UK, and start guitar workshops. Prisoners learn how to play, learn how to write songs, and eventually perform at prison concerts... and when an inmate is released they perform at a charity concert to raise money to buy more guitars and keep the program going. The prison wardens and guards love the program because it keeps prisoners busy doing something constructive. One guy (outside) says - the problem with just punishing prisoners is that eventually they are released and may move into your neighborhood. It’s better to try to rehabilitate them and give them options in life for when they are released. This makes sense - and the idea behind this program is to teach prisoners to sing about their problems rather than let the anger bubble inside of them. The doc shows some success stories who have had music careers after release, but they stress the purpose of the program isn’t to teach prisoners to be folk musicians, but to find a safe way to vent their angers and problems through music. After the film, one of the prisoners (who has been paroled) played three songs he wrote in the cinema - and they were pretty good.

MOVIE: MIME-MIME - Okay, I have a problem. An Italian filmmaker who has attended a couple of my free classes told me that I *must* see his film today... and I do not remember the title. I bumped into him in the lobby and he said, “You are seeing my film today, right?” And I said, of course... but what is the title? I thought it began with the letter M, so I go to the screening of Mime-Mime... which is a Japanese film.

Story has a spoiled Japanese college girl who is having an affair with her (married) high school teacher while she tries to sort out her life. She ends up meeting a guy her age who she used to know when they were children, and this guy is a mess... a philosophy major who dropped out of college and seems to be drifting through life like she is. When he misses the last train after they have dinner together, he sleeps at her apartment... and this slowly blossoms into a romance, which means she must stop sleeping with her high school teacher as she decides to become exclusive with this guy. Kind of a quiet little story about 20 something Japanese kids trying to figure out what to do with their lives - every indie... but the problem for me? Every other scene was them having a meal! I have had nothing to eat, yet - and the film must contain 20 meal scenes where we focus on them eating. Even the scene where a friend eats a bowl of noodles while our gal takes a shower in the next room focuses on the noodles! There should be a warning before movies that are almost all meal scenes, so that you can make sure to have eaten first! The cinemas have popcorn and sweets but no *food*. I’m now very hungry... and still have to figure out which film is my Italian friend’s.

MOVIE: EMILIA GALOTTI - After Mime-Mime, I dash over to another cinema where the movie began 5 minutes ago. The problem with having 3 screens showing festival films is that the showing are often not in sync - and you must miss part of some movie in order to see another. I have now missed the first five minutes of this film... in *Italian*. Hey, is this the right movie?

After a few minutes, I hope not. This is the most arty and pretentious film I have ever seen. It reminds me of the Calvin Klien Obsession perfume commercials that Saturday Night Live did parodies of... except this is a movie like that! Characters spin and pose and speak as if what they say is the most important thing in the world - and the entire film is fake looking... there will be an over-the-top conversation in front of a background of ocean waves or something. And in almost every shot there are three models posing in the background or on the side of the screen. The story is some sort of rise and fall of a famous fashion model, and her wealthy patron and potential lover. Everyone poses with every sentence, and the sentences are big and flamboyant. And the backgrounds are arty as hell - often a spotlight on one person who speaks while the three models pose and someone else sits in a chair and speaks in strange cryptic slogans. As this thing goes on - and the models keep posing against false backgrounds of birds flying in slow motion or waterfalls or whatever, I wonder what I’m going to tell my Italian friend when he asks, “Did you like my movie?” This is the most pretentious piece of crap I’ve ever seen! At least the Obsession commercials are over in 30 seconds!

I duck out and buy a popcorn, still hungry from the Japanese film, and when I sneak back in, the film is winding down... Well, I really have no idea if it is winding down or not, but the fashion model is posing against a strange background as she does drugs and ODs and ends up posed artfully on a morgue slab as the three models pose and wail in the corner and her wealthy benefactor and his assistant talk between wild poses.

When the film ends, my Italian friend enters the cinema... and I get really worried about what I’m going to say to him... when he thanks me for coming to see his film, takes a seat, and the *next* film begins...

MOVIE: MOTHS - Ah, *this* is the correct Italian film! To date, the most beautifully shot film I have seen at the festival. Amazing lighting that reminds me of Gordon Willis. After a festival filled with ragged indie cinematography or overly arty cinematography, this film just looks beautiful.

Film starts with a mid-40s man telling his mother and father he’s going out - and everyone is shot beautifully. You wonder what this guy is doing still living with his parents, but we’ll get to that... As he walks through the city - some Italian coastal town, I’m sorry I don’t know which one - we get all of these *mazing* post card shots. One great shot after another. Unlike the previous Italian film, these shots are of real places... but the cinematography makes them look like the most beautiful place on earth.

The guy gets to this alley by the sea where he meets his pal, and the story slowly unfolds. These two guys in their 40s are small time criminals - not members of some gang or mob, they are much much smaller than that. Two petty thieves, two failures, two dreamers whose dreams have never come true. They guy who still lives with his parents is the less talkative of the two... the other guy is the one with the schemes. They are waiting for some guy who will completely change their lives - allow their dreams to come true... and as they wait, they talk about their dreams and schemes and lives. It’s good that we have had those post card shots of the city, because much of the rest of the film is these two guys standing in the alley talking as they wait. Still beautifully shot - but two guys talking. This might seem like some film I would not like - two guys just standing there talking - but what they say is constantly funny and the scheme is slowly revealed.

Though this is not Jules and Vincent from PULP FICTION, these guys have the same kind of clever dialogue that reveals them as dreamers and losers - the schemer has convinced a guy to sell him a Ferrari, and they will meet in this alley. But the plan is to knock the guy out with a baseball bat, steal his car, and drive to Paris where every woman is beautiful and easy to seduce. Once they have that car, every door that has ever been closed to them will instantly open! As they discuss their futures and pasts, love in the heart versus physical love, friends of theirs who were not as lucky as they are (a cab driver who was robbed and beaten and is now confined to a wheelchair) and what kind of yacht they will buy when they get to Paris; bits and pieces of their personal lives come out, and we really get to know these guys (as we laugh at the outrageous things they say). The schemer’s plans to live in Paris are shown in a collage fantasy sequence with the two of them driving their stolen Ferrari in post card photos... great, because it is *not* real. Eventually the schemer admits he has never been to Paris, but has seen pictures of it, you know, on the internet. Even though it is two guys talking, it never gets boring (I laughed the whole time) and eventually the Ferrari actually does show up...

And that is when things go really wrong, and we get away from the alley to a sea-side stairway where the end of the film takes place... and secrets are revealed and more plot twists occur. Oh, and this is more beautiful cinematography that makes you want to hop a plane for Italy.

After the film, my Italian friend (the producer) does a Q&A along with the director and one of the two stars (the guy who lived with his parents). This beautiful film was shot in 5 days. Based on a stage play, the two stars had played these roles on stage, knew the dialogue, and they basically did the play in front of the camera (variety of angles) in the alley again and again. Made on a shoe-string, though you would never guess by looking at it. Though the conversations are shot from several angles and look great, and we often see the ships at the dock near the alley as they wonder what the people are doing on those ships and where those ships may be going, it was shot very quickly. My producer friend they shot as much as 40 minutes one day! A great little movie, dialogue driven, and a nice actor’s showcase.... plus is looks great! Tarantino should bring this one to America on his Rolling Thunder label.

I'm so glad this was my Italian friend's film and not the other one!

- Bill


Martin_B said...

I hope this story has a happy ending and you leave London with a wad of dollars. You deserve it -- you've probably taught an entire generation of script writers, what with your Script Tips and all.

Regarding the movies, you've made them all sound interesting, even the ones you don't like!

I was intrigued by the 'guitars in prisons' doccie. There was a similar scheme here, only with breeding cage birds which apparently are very demanding to raise as chicks. Once they are grown up they can be sold for quite a bit of money. The problem is the prisoners get attached to their birds and don't want to sell them, and also people from outside lost interest in the program and it died out. I wonder how the guitar program fared long term.

Rusty James said...

Elliot sounds like a dick. lol.
You should tell them you want your Flat Fee *and* a percentage of the weekend ticket sales.

See how they swallow *that* pill.

Great reading about your time in London - An American Writer in London, eh?

Whatta horror story.

wcmartell said...

Elliot isn't a dick... and neither is Jim Wynorski - they just are who they are.

The thing with Elliot is that he is all about Elliot.

I am back in (rainy) Los Angeles now (literally just got home after close to 24 hours of travel) and can tell you that things didn't go great, but they went okay.

The prison guitar thing is still going on, because some old rock guys are getting involved and keeping it going. The funny part about the guy who played songs after the film - he has a hot girlfriend... he's a bad boy *and* a rocker!

Xaero said...

Hehe, nice story :)
I liked it .
Plus we have quite similar blogs.
My blog is

Unknown said...

Hi William
I'm Maura the cinematographer of "Moths", i would love to get in contact with you. where can i write you a mail?

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