Thursday, October 22, 2009

LONDON 12: Day 9 - Large Breasts Are Best

I have no idea why coffee shop people remember me. This is my third time stopping at the Starbucks across from the British Museum (mummies!) and the guy behind the counter is joking with me. He has a German accent and a British accent, and I *can* understand what he is saying. He also speaks clearly, and that helps. I have a pretty good ear (ask me to do voices next time you see me) but when someone has *three* accents, one on top of another, I have trouble understanding what they are saying. Also, if they have two accents and mumble. When you are in a cultural hub like London, there are people from all over the world... and often people who are from several different places. Add up all of those accents and I often have no idea what the person is saying. I remember one time when I was here there was a Café Nero employee with one accent too many and they might as well have been speaking in their native language.

But this guy is easy to understand (and I’ve made sure I enunciate, so that everyone can understand my American accent) and I get my mocha and head downstairs for my free wifi to check e-mail and post blog updates before heading to my lunchtime class - Structural Freaks.

I get to the Raindance Café (the block-long basement) where I was drinking beer only a few hours ago, set up my materials on the stage and look around for the cute tall American girl (probably half my age) who has been videotaping these things (after a suggestion from a blog reader - thanks), but she isn’t there this morning. No equipment, either. So this one won’t end up on YouTube cut into 5 minute segments... and I won’t be able to flirt with the cute tall girl. This is the last of the 5 (FIVE!) Free classes... and like the others it is standing room only. There are probably close to 200 people here. It seems like every day there are more. One reason for that is that the free classes are getting a plug in the Shooting People daily newsletter, another is word of mouth. I’m sure the *main* reason is the price.

The class goes well - lots of questions and interaction - and afterwards I have people who want to hang around and ask questions - but I have some movies to see! I feel like a complete slacker because I have seen so few films this year - usually I’m seeing movies all day - but the combination of lost luggage and jet lag and these 5 (FIVE!) Free classes and the movies playing on 3 screens (with no late night or morning screenings) means I have fewer hours to watch movies. Today kicks off with a series of creepy short films I marked in my program...


ROAR: One of the creepiest films I’ve ever seen! Woman goes to one of those places that makes spare keys, young guy behind the counter (with *huge* ears) tries to flirt with her a little about why she needs the extra key, and she shoots him down. We feel sorry for the guy... until he enters an apartment, plays the answering machine message - a friend’s consolation for the end of a relationship - then grabs a drink from the fridge and pokes around... and we realize it’s *her* apartment! He has made himself a key! After touching all of her things (creepy!) she comes home. He grabs her, murders her, cleans up afterwards, and leaves. Back to the key shop, as another woman enters... and he turns and smiles. Running time: 16 minutes. Scare time: 16 minutes!

INFIDEL: Pardon the flash forward, but this film won the Best Short Award... A suburban British couple go to a co-worker’s house for dinner for the first time - another typical suburban couple. Dinner is great, the two couples get along well, and after dinner the host’s wife suggest the host show the visiting guy his stereo system. They go into the host’s den, where he has an elaborate stereo complete with turntable. He puts on a record and demonstrates how the stereo is set up to play in every room - including the bathroom - and you can control which rooms hear the album and which do not from this control center... The strange thing is that the record the host is playing is of Hitler’s greatest speeches! As the shocked guest asks the host why this particular record, the host becomes angry - this is *Hitler*, the greatest man to ever live! The guest becomes more and more uncomfortable as the evening goes on. And, there’s a nice little twist end when the guest goes home. Though this wasn’t my favorite short at Raindance, it was provocative and funny in that uncomfortable way.

SCREAMING SKULL: Um, I did not like this one, even though it was interesting to watch. Though computers may have been involved, it looked like a stop motion collage of photographs of a man entering a really creepy country estate haunted by a screaming skull, which I don’t remember actually screaming in the short. Eventually some stop motion stuff happens and no matter what the man does, he can not get rid of the skull. The skull ends up getting rid of him, the end. Had a distinctive look, but not much story, and what story it had was difficult to follow. Seemed as if it was trying to get mostly on mood (which it had plenty of) but mood is not a replacement for a coherent story. And I say that as a fan of REPULSION and THE TENANT.

JERICHO: This was a fun one! A depressed man who wants to kill himself discovers all of his childhood stuffed animals, and they basically kidnap him and force him to have fun. The great thing is - this guy is on the edge of insanity to begin with, so you wonder if this is all in his mind or not. The film goes *outdoors* with the living stuffed animals - including a massive stuffed ape. The animals dance and play with him... and no one seems to notice. I laughed all the way through - and then realized I was probably laughing at a man with a serious mental illness. Oh, well... he was laughing, too.

WAKE: You know, I don’t remember a thing about this film! I think it may have taken place in a hospital where a man wakes up after an accident, but I’m not sure. Strange, because the other films I remember vividly.

WHERE THE MONSTERS GO: You know that creepy old house at the end of the street that your friends used to dare you to run up to and touch the door? We had one in our neighborhood. This film is about two boys who dare each other to go through a vent into the basement of a house like that. They get inside... and there *are* monsters down there! And both boys are probably eaten. Then we see the caretaker finding all of the items the boys have dropped on the ground before entering the basement and destroying them... everything except a candy bar wrapper that blows away in the wind. Haunting and spooky and filled with authentic childhood memories.

MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME: Okay, this film was most like a Roman Polanski movie of any at the fest... A guy has a party at his apartment, lots of people. Eventually it thins out to three guests, and he doesn’t seem to know them. He tells them it’s late, he has to go to work the next morning, so if they make sure the door is locked when they leave they are free to finish their drinks and conversations. Next morning - they are *still there*! As the film goes on, days pass and they *will not leave*. He calls all of his friends trying to figure out who they are and who they came with... and nobody knows them! They are party crashers who have now become roommates. Two men and a woman. He tries being polite. He tries hinting. He tries just telling them it’s time to go - but they don’t seem to get it (or pretend not to get it). They get into arguments, they roughhouse in his apartment at all hours keeping him awake. Finally he just explodes with rage and tells them to get out - and they get offended and leave. Probably crashing someone else’s party.

Next up is the potentially sexy British film... about a screenwriter. Um, as a screenwriter, there isn’t much sexy about my life. But here’s the thing that gets me - a large number of films at the festival were about screenwriters or directors or actors, and that strikes me as lazy and completely unimaginative. As a screenwriter, I do not want to watch screenwriters on screen. Sure, there are some great movies about screenwriters like SUNSET BLVD and IN A LONELY PLACE and BAD & THE BEAUTIFUL and BARTON FINK, but for the most part screenwriters are boring people living boring lives. One of the things we did in the idea generation class was to look at interesting occupations we could take an audience into. A movie like HURT LOCKER is fascinating because we get to live in the world of bomb disposal experts for a couple of hours. In the class we tried to find some interesting and unusual jobs (I once dated a woman who was a professional horse masturbator) - and think of all of those films like TOP GUN that bring us into an interesting world through the occupation of the protagonist. Part of our job as screenwriters is to find that interesting world and fascinating job. And “screenwriter” is not it. Booooooooring! So, I was worried about this film just by the synopsis in the program... but that synopsis also said sexy and provocative, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Before the film, a short by one of those “You have to see my film!” people, called LUCKY QUID... and it was brilliant. A nice little song/poem about a homeless kid who finds a lucky gold coin on the street. Spend it on candy? He’d love to do that! Spend it to look up a hooker’s skirt? Spend it on food? On a blanket? No - he does the smart thing and buys a brush and cleaning supplies and begins his own business, and the money comes rolling in... and soon he is an old man, still homeless, but happy... and able to afford more candy than you can imagine! The candy is the punchline - and this short is fast and funny and seems like a whole life in a few minutes of screen time.

DESIRE: as opposed to the feature, that seemed like it was taking most of my life for the first ten minutes! Arty, pretentious, heavy voice over narration... and we get to *watch this guy write*! Story has a new nanny almost magically appearing in his home, and teasing us with shots of him caressing her - fantasy sequence? Flash forward? I actually didn’t stick around long enough to find out, as Janet looked at me from a couple of seats over to gauge my boredom, and whispered that maybe we should grab dinner before POPATOPOLIS. I was already heading to the door...

DINNER: So, the question was - what should we eat? We had already had Chinese food once (Chinatown being a short walk from the cinema), but I said I hadn’t had any pub food... and Janet knew of a new fish & chips place that was either on Poland Street (where the Raindance Café Basement Dungeon was) or a street over. We went there... and it was *excellent*. Absolutely massive portions, and delicious. I ordered the homemade tartar sauce (fresh from someone’s teeth) and it was amazing. Had a beer, I think a London Pride, not sure right now. It was a really good meal. The waitress was cute and attentive and the food came fairly fast. I liked the place, and decided to try to get back there if I had the chance.

After dinner we walked back down to the cinemas to see POPATOPOLIS...

POPATOPLIS: Okay, I think I mentioned that director Jim Wynorski screwed up my VICTIM OF DIRECTOR... er, I mean DESIRE, movie. The script was SEA OF LOVE meets STAKE OUT, about an SEC investigator tracking down a CEO who embezzled $72 million from his company, and then gets murdered about ten minutes into the film and the money has vanished. Did the CEO’s trophy wife do it? Our hero does some “undercover” investigating and finds all kinds of clues... while trying not to get caught sleeping with the #1 suspect by his Homicide Detective stake out partner. The film was produced by the guy who produced last year’s PUSH, with MGM releasing in the USA. Well, releasing on video by the time the film was finished. Anyway, it’s a mess. And POPATOPOLIS is a documentary on the director... as he attempts to shoot an entire feature film in 3 days. You read that right! THREE DAYS!

The film is a hoot - Jim is a character, he yells at everyone, he swears like crazy, he has all of these funny pet phrases that he says again and again... and he wants to make this silly T&A film called WITCHES OF BREASTWICK in 3 days in a remote mountain cabin, seemingly for no money... starring a bunch of *very* top heavy women. Um, you wonder how some of these women stand upright. Though I am a “breast man” and when I hear the phrase “more than a mouthful is a waste” I usually say that I have a very big mouth (I know - too much information), but Jim seems to be interested in freaks of nature. Women with breasts that Godzilla would think is more than a mouthful. You are probably thinking of really big breasts right now - but *double* whatever you are thinking and you still may be a cup size smaller than all of these women. These gals are structural freaks!

You may not know how impossible it is to shoot a movie in 3 days, so let me explain that a studio film will shoot for a few *months* and when I first got into the biz a movie of the week usually shot for 4 weeks, then they began to go to 3 weeks... and my super cheapo super-fast Roger Corman movie about robot hookers from outer space shot in an impossible 9 days... so this is a third of *that* impossible schedule! Usually with fewer days of shooting, you have a larger crew - but Jim has *2* crew members total - a cameraman and a soundman. Usually on a film, there are 2 guys doing sound: one checking the recording levels and one with the boom mike (holding it just off camera over the actor’s heads). Here - one guy has to do both. Also, one guy has to hold the camera, change the focus as people move, and slate the shot (though - not much of that). No costumer, no costumes - the actors bring their own clothes and do their own make up... and later discover they should have brought their own food, since there isn’t any. After buying food, the stars have to cook their own meals! Talk about a powderkeg waiting for someone to drop a match!

And Jim is that match! After a while you get used to Jim, and just understand that he’s got an abrasive personality. Jim is Jim. He’s really a nice guy. The first or second time I went to AFM, he gave me a ride to his screening of SWAMP THING 2 so I wouldn’t have to lose my parking space and then pay for parking at the cinema. He didn’t even know me. So, he’s a nice guy - who screams at everyone. Watching him make his movie in 3 days, you couldn’t help but think of Ed Wood (played by Johnny Depp) saying “Perfect!” after a not-so-perfect shot.

When you do a nude scene in a movie, you are not actually nude. Women wear a patch - thong sized - over their private parts, and men wear a sock-like thing over their private parts. Neither has straps, so it appears as if they are nude from almost every angle. Though something like the "sock" and the "patch" may seem weird to you, they are a normal part of filming nude scenes - every time you see someone naked on camera in a movie they are wearing one of these things. They sell them in costume and prop and equipment stores. The production company buys several of these, as they are not exactly reusable. Jim didn’t buy any for this 3 day film. So, there’s a scene where an actor asks where “the sock” is, Jim says “take off a sock and use it”, and the slightly confused actor takes a sock off his foot and puts it on his other part... and then the actress gets grossed out because it was on his stinky foot. And we are even more grossed out... but laugh.

The film is really funny, and Jim is a good sport for allowing the on set tensions (which blow up real good) to be shown on film. But it’s Jim’s mom who steals the show - she’s this sweet little old lady who doesn’t like swearing or nudity or sex on screen... and Jim has done everything possible to make sure that his mom doesn’t see any of his films. She wants Jim to meet a nice girl and settle down... and then we see Jim on set with these unbelievable top heavy actresses disrobing for a scene and it’s just funny. Film has great interviews with everyone from Roger Corman (who gave Jim his start writing publicity materials), to Andy Sidaris who made a living making T&A action films, to my friend Penthouse Pet of the Year Julie Strain who talks about Jim and how the B movie business has changed over the years - from a place where a guy like James Cameron could get a start making a film like PIRANHA 2 before moving on to bigger and better things, to where it is now - movies made in 3 days with no money or made by amateurs in their backyard on video. When she was doing B films (including VICTIM OF DIRECTOR) they were shot on 35mm film with a real crew and TV stars or supporting actors from A movies and there were either studios involved in the distribution or some indie distrib that might get the film a limited theatrical run somewhere. All of that is gone, now, since the middle fell out of the indie genre business. Julie is smart and beautiful and quit the business before the business quit her. She also went to high school with my sister, and we had many of the same teachers. Small world.

POPATOPOLIS is a fun documentary about a fringe filmmaker who has made some films you’ve probably seen. If not - check out SWAMP THING 2 and CHOPPING MALL and 976 EVIL 2 (for my favorite mash-up: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE - every time you hear a bell, another zombie rises from hell). The POPATOPOLIS crew was there in London, answered questions after the film, and terrorized the population with their little robot.

After the film, we all went to the Phoenix Club for some drinks... which was a mistake.

- Bill

Popatopolis "Killbot" invades London:

Chopping Mall trailer:


Laszlo Brown said...

I went to Raindance quite a few years ago. Saw "Personal Velocity" by Rebecca Miller. I tried for a while to work outside the British Museum while I was living there, but the tepid cold just depressed my creativity. That's good you can pull it off.

Anonymous said...

love the way you have presented the post with us.

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