Saturday

Everybody wants something...


I found this great diagram in the book 'On Film Making' by Alexander Mackendrick. Mackendrick was the writer and director of 'The Man in the White Suit' and 'The Sweet Smell of Success' as well as the director of 'The Lady Killers' (among others). This book is an absolute gem, brimming with great advice.

Through the diagram you can see how intricately Graham Greene had worked out all of his complex relationships. You also see how contradictions stand to create conflict and a help create a richness of character. In feature films it is difficult to create characters with any degree of depth and that is why Greene wrote his first draft as a novella and then transplanted it into a screenplay.

I was talking with a fellow screenwriter the other day and she was mentioning how novices were lacking a counter theme in their stories. That is to say that their antagonists and secondary characters are lacking a clearly defined goal. If you were to suddenly change the point of view to any of the characters you would see that the film would still work. If you made Anna's story in 'The Third Man' the central story (made her the protagonist) the story still works. It may not be the strongest point of view but in the end it is still functioning.

Thursday

The Lodger


I watched Alfred Hitchcock's "The Lodger" last night and was struck by the sophisticated visual style that he used in the film. Hitchcock borrows heavily from the German expressionists with regards to lighting and composition as well as using a tinting process, colouring the film in sepia and blue (depending on locations). The DVD release is from the newly released "Premiere Collection" and the film is accompanied by two modern scores. One is by Ashley Irwin and the other Paul Zaza. I preferred the Irwin score as it felt like an homage to Bernard Herrman's work with Hitchcock. At a few points I surfed between the scores to find some remarkably different choices and moods.

One of the things that made a huge impression on me was Hitchock's use of E. McKnight Kauffer as the title designer. I am very far from being an expert on silent pictures but I found that his title designs were incredibly evocative, dynamic and unique. Here are some of the images:









It shouldn't have surprised me as Hitchcock was famous for hiring the likes of Saul Bass and Salvador Dali to develop and produce titles or sequences in his films.

I really enjoyed this film although it does suffer from ending that is almost satisfying but ultimately disappointing and tacked on. Apparently Hitchcock would have preferred a much more sinister ending but was handcuffed by the producers to make it more uplifting due to the popularity of Ivor Novello, the actor playing the killer. Regardless I highly recommend this film and the Premiere Collection of discs. So often these old films are given poor releases by companies packaging public domain titles. Using dirty and damaged prints, the VHS tapes were recorded in extra long play modes and on DVD they are highly compressed in order to get two or more films on a single disc. Here they are presented with some love and extra features that make it much more enjoyable and enlightening.

A new version of "The Lodger" is due to arrive next year. The new film is written and directed by David Ondaatje, nephew of famous novelist Michael Ondaatje.

Tuesday

Criterion Online...


Rob sent me this link...

http://www.criterion.com/

In the early nineties Laserdisc emerged from the ashes and revitalized the hardcore film fans. Using an fm modulated picture (analogue) and a digital soundtrack, Laserdisc was the best image you could find on a home video format. Much superior to VHS. Films were available in letterbox format and in addition to the digital audio track, Laserdisc also contained an analogue track you could switch over to. This is where the 'audio commentary' originated. The film's soundtrack on the dolby digital stereo track, the commentary on right channel of the analogue track and a mono mix of the film on the left channel of the the analogue tracks. The mono channel was to ensure that those who didn't have the new digital systems would still be able to get the soundtrack in mono. Very clever.

On the pioneering edge of all this was the Criterion Collection. They sought out the best prints of films, made deals with the studios and rights holders and tried to bring cinephiles the most comprehensive version of classic and intriguing films of days gone by. They have come a long way.

Technology aside. Criterion has been the ultimate standard for the passionate lover of film. They cost more. What you pay for is the licensing of the films from the rights owners, the cost of finding and scanning the best prints available and the in house production of the special features (docs and commentaries). It seems to me that this business is in it for the love of movies more than the love of money and that is a refreshing change.

I am planning on buying their new release of "The Third Man" on Bluray. I own the Crition Laserdisc and the first release on DVD (I held back from the second release).

Poor Orson... never saw a dime. He took a salary to pay for his own film, "Othello". They offered him profits but he needed the cash... He lost A Lot of money...

Thanks Rob.

Sunday

Films about making Films...


Lately I've been exploring some films that deal with the art of filmmaking. The following is a small list of films are currently available.

1. Visions of Light - A film about cinematography that touches on the changes in the craft from the beginnings to the 1990's. Many great examples and many terrific cinematographers and their work. I would love to learn more about James Wong Howe... an immigrant Chinese photographer - a terrific artist and a wonderful story).

2. Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann - What a treasure this film is! It provides some biographical details of Herrmann's life but more importantly, it explores his indelible impact on film music. The film features interviews with the late David Raskin and Elmer Bernstein. There are great passages where Herrmann's scores are deconstructed giving the viewer a window into the composers methods.

This film also features a scene that Herrmann scored for Hitchcock's 'Torn Curtain'. They play it with and without the score...


As another part of the series, The Hollywood Sound explores the change in style from old Hollywood to the modern day and features a rerecording of Raskin's Academy Award winning score for "Laura".

3. The Cutting Edge - A film about the craft of film editing. It explores the craft of editing through many artisans including one of the greats, Walter Murch.



I have been working on film scripts with my writing students over the last few weeks and one of my biggest comments has been "write the edits". Think like the editor. Think in cuts. Think in the juxtaposition of words and images... images and images. That's how you write a film.

4. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse - Based on Eleanor Coppola's book 'Notes' and her documentary footage from the production, Hearts of Darkness is unparalleled in it's uncompromising view of the filmmaking process. Not to be missed.

5. Burden of Dreams - An account of the filming of Werner Herzog's 'Fitzcarraldo'. Herzog is one of the most engaging and talented artists working in film today. Uncompromising, daring and magnificent. I love his quote "I want viewers to be able to trust their eyes again"... He is a fearless artist.

Feel free to comment and add more to this list. I did watch 'Cinematography Style' in thinking of this post and I found it terribly ironic. It is a documentary about Cinematographers that, although beautifully shot, was just a series of quickly cut talking heads. Was there no room for a breath and an exploration of visuals? Sponsored by Kodak and Panavision, the film felt more like a public relations piece than a real exploration of the art and craft of cinema photography.

Friday

War of the Worlds

Millsworks has a good posting today on the 70th Anniversary of Orson Welles broadcast of 'War of the Worlds'.

Rob also mentions Elia Kazan's terrific picture, 'A Face in the Crowd'. This film is one of the prophetic movies that satirized the popular media and foreshadowed the modern media's love of spectacle (Joe the Plumber). Rob also points out another prophetic film, Network and I would like to add a third (always best to have a trilogy), Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole", also known as "The Big Carnival". Wilder's film is about a Chuck Tatum, a washed up newspaperman who exploits the story of a man trapped in a cave. Instead of helping the man out quickly, Tatum manipulates the situation and turns the site into a media circus. It foreshadows such news outlets like 'Fox News' which seeks to manufacture and manipulate the news it's covering as well as people's opinions of it.

'Ace in the Hole' didn't do well in it's day - it's dark and cynical and most audiences at the time felt it was over the top. Criterion released a great print of the film on dvd.

From IMDB:
When the film was released, it got bad reviews and lost money. The studio, without Billy Wilder's permission, changed the title to "The Big Carnival" to increase the box office take of the film. It didn't work. On top of that, Billy Wilder's next picture Stalag 17 (1953) was a hit and Billy Wilder expected a share of the Stalag 17 (1953)'s profits. Paramount accountants told him that since this picture lost money, the money it lost would be subtracted from the profits of Stalag 17 (1953).

Wednesday

Passchendaele

One of my favourite bloggers, Jim Henshaw, has once again lit up his flame thrower and let loose on the Canadian film industry and the critical establishment that seemingly supports it. This time he attacks our industry for it's inability to support films that might actually connect to an audience. We excuse our filmmakers and create some sort of 'artistic' rationale that allows failed writers and directors to make new films that don't represent the actual experiences/feelings of Canadians. And despite what our cultural institutions tell us, our experience isn't much different to the rest of the world. In some sort of bizarre cheer leading, the 'critics' are often pulling their punches and judging our home grown talent with kid gloves.

Jim's article is a frank critical look at Paul Gross's new film Passchendaele. I decided to avoid the film as I gave four hours of my life to the CBC mini-series 'The Trojan Horse', written and directed by Gross. This series, despite some good ideas, fell flat on cliches, absurd situations and lazy story telling. Jim was more adventurous and his article can be read here...

I've often complained that we export most of our great talent. It is exploited in Hollywood as our home grown filmmakers have contributed wonderful films to the canon of great movies. We need to get past the idea that 'entertaining = bad'. 'Citizen Kane' is entertaining. 'The Godfather' is wildly entertaining. We need to change the equation and realize that 'art' and 'entertainment' are not at odds.

Saturday

New Tools for the Indie Filmmaker


October 19, 2008 from angus giorgi on Vimeo.

Rob Mills sent me a link to the new Canon Digital SLR (EOS 5D Mark II) that is capable of 1080p video at 30 frames per second. What is amazing about this camera is that it uses a 21 megapixel sensor and it gives a filmmaker access to the entire lineup of Canon compatible lenses. The camera isn't perfect and there are complaints that the video runs at 30 fps instead of 24 and it writes the video with H.264 compression (it isn't uncompressed or Raw like the actual photographs). This may be so but many people don't understand the importance of the lens. If you have a cheap lens you'll get a cheap picture. Garbage in, garbage out.

Despite these 'flaws', this new leap forward in image gathering means that more independent filmmakers will have access to high end tools that will put them near equal footing with high end productions. This camera is being sold for $2700 dollars (body only)! Compare this to the 'affordable' Red One camera that sells for $17,500 for the body of the camera. All in on the Red camera, you're looking upwards of $25,000. Red is going to announce a new camera that will retail in the neighbourhood of the Canon price tag. Red One did something brilliant in their design. They decided to ignore the standard formats of video (HD, Ntsc, Pal) and brought out a camera that could capture the video raw and then allow the user to encode the video the way they want. This set them apart from the Hd and HDV cameras as well as the new Canon which does bring it's images in on that wonderfully big 21 megapixel sensor but has to write the video to a standard hd format.

Beyond all this geek talk, 2009 seems to be a year of change for the independent filmmaking community. I've met people that lament this as they like the elitist elements of making movies. What these folks don't really consider is story. No matter how wonderful the tool, the artist needs to have an idea. The pencil has been the most accessible tool for writing but few people are creating great novels or poetry. Still, it helps that the filmmakers have access to a tool that will allow them to create images that will be equal to their creative ideas.

Kudos to Cinematographer Alan Doyle and Editor Angus Giorgi for sharing their footage.

Tuesday

Apparently I'm Speechless...

Lately I've been guilty of excessive amounts of work. I've also been entertained, watching the world swing by.

The show's been good.

The biggest thing on my mind today has been what will happen to American satirical television if Obama wins? These satirists have gorged themselves on the presidency of George W. Bush. And just when you think you couldn't do any better for political humour, along comes Sarah Pailin! Ironically, it's in Jon Stewart's best interest for a McCain/Pailin presidency. As Kenny Banya would say - "it's gold Jerry, gold". Those pinko American liberals should think twice before casting their vote next month as they might be creating an undesirable void in American humour for the next four years...

Consider your vote carefully.

Wall Street


Has there been a more appropriate time to bring up Oliver Stone's 1987 film 'Wall Street'? I've wanted to write about this film for a few months now. More specifically, I wanted to write about the ironic impact the film had on the the financial centre of the United States.

"Wall Street" is the story of Bud Fox, a young broker who has grand ambitions of becoming a big time financial player. He ends up hooking a big time client, Gordon Gekko, a major market speculator and corporate "raider". Bud's father is a blue collar worker at a small airline company and inadvertently gives Bud some inside information regarding an upcoming court settlement. Desperate to bag Gekko, Bud gives him the inside information and kick starts his rise through the ranks. Bud's biggest problem is his lack of experience and the information he gets legitimately is weak and not worthy of Gekko's time. Gekko knows this and urges Bud to get the inside information that Gekko uses to make the big deals. As the story progresses, Bud is corrupted and begins to make himself in the image of the shrewd and successful Gekko.

"Wall Street" is both flawed and terrific. It features some great performances, great dialogue and strong characters. The major flaws come from a fairly contrived and earnest ending. I personally dislike the Stuart Copeland electronic score. Like most synthesizer scores of the 80's, I find the soundtrack rather empty and insipid. Daryl Hannah is an exception to the performances as many of her dialogue scenes were very obviously overdubbed (adr) and sound forced.

What I found to be even more interesting than the film itself is the 20th anniversary documentary on the dvd. What you discover in this footage is that Gekko, the films corrupt villain, has been worshipped by many in the Wall Street community. There are scores of interviews with brokers who talk about how Gekko inspired them. Most of these men criticized the end of the film as Gekko got his comeuppance. How wonderfully ironic this is in a fairly earnest film that attempts to expose the corruption of the financial system but ends up inspiring the real-life Gekko's who recite lines from the film like "greed is good", "lunch is for wimps" and "what's worth doing is worth doing for money". To take the irony a little further, Stone contends that Richard Nixon decided to invade Cambodia after watching Frank Shaffner's "Patton". If that film had a negative effect on the Vietnam war, certainly you could argue that Stone's "Wall Street" has had a negative effect on the current Wall Street. Greed is good and greed has borne much fruit in the current economic crisis in America.

As fun as it is to assert Stone's roll in the current economy, I don't actually put much stock in the idea. It is ironic but I wouldn't think of the world so simplistically. What "Wall Street" underlines is that colourful villains in films can upstage the heroes. Bud Fox has great character development but he is overshadowed by the rich and successful Gekko. Gekko is the in the exciting business of corporate warfare and, like Patton, there is much to admire about the way he slays his foes with such ingenuity, force and precision. Truffaut is famously quoted "there is no such thing as an antiwar film", war is exhilarating and exciting with the extreme drama of life and death. Gekko, in his metaphoric trench, is much more exciting to watch than young Bud fumbling his way through the story (I wonder if Stone named him Bud in a homage to that other great ladder climber CC "Bud" Baxter from Billy Wilder's "The Apartment"). Whether you agree with Truffaut or not is irrelevant, the idea is solid. "Raise the stakes" is one of the mantra's of feature filmmaking and some of the audience connected with Gekko and his obsession to win the battle by any means necessary.

In the end of "Wall Street" Gekko does get what is coming to him. There are consequences to devastating peoples lives for the sake of a buck. Yet, twenty years later, the mantra "greed is good" is as strong as ever. The price of gas is much higher than the worth of a barrel and most economists say it's because of the speculators, those Gekko types who love to put us all over the barrel so they can take as much as they can.

And do these wealthy men give anything back? In nature they call them parasites...

Dekalog

Having rented the Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog a few years ago I decided to pick up a copy and revisit them. If you don't know the series, Kieslowski and his writing partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz created a ten part television mini-series inspired by each of the ten commandments. What is astounding about the series is how it subtly explores the difficulties and complexities of human behaviour and morality. As simple as the commandments seem on paper, Kieslowski and Piesiewicz manage to delve into the grey areas and challenge our ideology of absolute morality. Life is difficult and the answers aren't always clear cut in simple rules.

Stanley Kubrick is said to have stated that the "Dekalog" was the only film masterpiece that he'd seen in his lifetime. After showing "Red", "White" and "Blue", one of my astute students suggested that Kubrick was heavily influenced by Kieslowski for his final film "Eyes Wide Shut" (an interesting proposition that I would love to see explored).

I highly recommend this series to all but particularly to film writers. Kieslowski's work is firmly planted in strong themes and ideas. I'll leave you with Stanley Kubrick's forward to the published screenplays of 'The Dekalog':

I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieslowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what's really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don't realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.

Stanley Kubrick
January 1991

Sunday

Art of Time



'Time' is a major part of the art of filmmaking. When I'm editing and directing I am always experimenting with the length of shots. Sometimes you want to cut quickly, sometimes you want to hold on a shot. You learn very quickly that time is elastic and you manipulate the audience and tone of the film with the cadence of the film.

Compare the rhythms of Sergio Leone and, let's say, Michael Bay. Each filmmaker is using the pace of the film to achieve their goals. With Leone, long shots are used to draw out the tension. For Bay, it is trying to speed up the hearts of the audience for a more visceral effect. Look at Ridley Scott's 'Alien' and James Cameron's 'Aliens'. Both are exceptional films but both use time in a very different way. Scott employs longer shots and a slower pace to increase the tension and suspense where Cameron's film, although equally intense, employs a much faster pace. Both films work on the audience but in different ways. I always loved Ebert's review of 'Aliens':

The movie is so intense that it creates a problem for me as a reviewer: Do I praise its craftsmanship, or do I tell you it left me feeling wrung out and unhappy? It has been a week since I saw it, so the emotions have faded a little, leaving with me an appreciation of the movie's technical qualities. But when I walked out of the theater, there were knots in my stomach from the film's roller-coaster ride of violence. This is not the kind of movie where it means anything to say you "enjoyed" it.

Here is an excerpt from his review of Aliens:

One of the great strengths of "Alien" is its pacing. It takes its time. It waits. It allows silences (the majestic opening shots are underscored by Jerry Goldsmith with scarcely audible, far-off metallic chatterings). It suggests the enormity of the crew's discovery by building up to it with small steps: The interception of a signal (is it a warning or an SOS?). The descent to the extraterrestrial surface. The bitching by Brett and Parker, who are concerned only about collecting their shares. The masterstroke of the surface murk through which the crew members move, their helmet lights hardly penetrating the soup. The shadowy outline of the alien ship. The sight of the alien pilot, frozen in his command chair. The enormity of the discovery inside the ship ("It's full of ... leathery eggs ...").

I showed my students a Kieslowski masterclass found on the DVD extras of Blue. My students laughed while Kieslowski described having his assistant spending the day finding a sugar cube that would absorb coffee in five seconds. Juliette Binoche's character is running from her past and Kieslowski wanted to show that she has absorbed herself in unimportant details in order to move on without dealing with the death of her husband and daughter as well as her own talent as the composer of her husbands music (for which he is heralded). The sugar cube represents her attempt to forget and repress. For Kielsowski, three seconds wouldn't allow for enough time to create significance to the representation and eight seconds would be too long and would bore the audience. For him, a five second shot made it important enough for the audience to 'read' it but not significant enough to take the audience out of the film if it were longer. Although my students initially found this extreme level of detail entertaining, they soon found out how important time was when they made their first films.



The aspect of time in the art of filmmaking is not only fun to experiment with but it seems that it does have a scientific base. Here is an excerpt from an article from Discover magazine:

Even in a healthy brain, time is elastic. Staring at an angry face for five seconds feels longer than staring at a neutral one. It may be no coincidence that the pulse-generating neurons are directly wired into regions of the brain that handle emotionally charged sights and sounds. And recent experiments by Amelia Hunt at Harvard University hint that we may actually backdate our mental time line every time we move our eyes.


This information is golden for filmmakers as it is one of the few arts that works in the realm of time. You can read the rest of the article here.

You can read the rest of Roger Ebert's reviews at www.rogerebert.com

Friday

Kubrick on Channel 4

This is a fun Kurbrick promo linked from my good friend Peter Pelisek:

Thursday

That'll learn ya...

And there's plenty to learn in this big wide world.

A musical mood...

Must be the cool air and warm sunshine.



The Constantines

Gritty and refined, the Constantines released their fourth album "Kensington Heights". If you haven't heard them, the band is one of the finest in Canada.



You should also visit the great indy music store zunior.com. Zunior sells albums as digital downloads for only $8.88 and are drm free. I get most of my music from them.

(I am not affiliated with either of these but wanted to share the news)

Monday

The Digital Void

"I wanted the audience to be able to trust their eyes again."
Werner Herzog


After waiting a few weeks, I finally made the trek to my local AMC to check out the latest Indiana Jones sequel. I, like most of you, have a personal history with Indiana Jones films. Having turned seven years old with the release of Star Wars, I was the perfect age to grow up on the imaginative adventures that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were cooking up. Arriving at the falling of the boulder, my brother Andrew and I were late for Raiders of the Lost Ark and missed most of the opening sequence. It became the perfect reason to return for another viewing although we had to lie to our Mother to cough up additional movie funds as she wouldn't give us the money to see the same film twice. My entire childhood, as sad as it might seem, was devoted to buying George Lucas his beloved Skywalker Ranch and whatever wonderful mansion he must live in today.

Despite this nostalgic and sentimental opening, I am going to digress from 'reviewing' the Crystal Skull. I can say that I did enjoy the film but did not love it. What the film did do was get me thinking about synthesizers. What about them, you ask? I have already confessed my age here so it is easy to deduce that my formative years took place during the 1980's. I might be biased but I don't hold much love or nostalgia for this period in time and it is synthesizers that seem to be the icon for how I feel about it. The synthesizer, particularly in the 80's, was used excessively despite the fact that the technology felt artificial and empty. The voice of the synthesizer is without depth or feeling. Not only did this abomination ruin popular music, it ruined film music as it replaced the power of the full orchestra and the emotive playing of it's talented members. Look at how the synthesizer scores damaged films like Wall Street and Witness. With proper film scores, these films would feel less dated and have a greater impact today (yes this just my opinion but I believe it to be true). Both are fine films but they suffer under the robotic scores.

Now, in 2008, I'm starting to feel like our excessive use of 3d animation in film is having a damaging impact. I might also back track to the synthesizer and it's place in the 1990's. Musicians had played enough with the machine, explored it's potential, then picked up some traditional instruments and began making music again. Music that came from real life instruments - the non perfect kind. The kind that bent the notes, played it slightly flat or sharp and had an organic feel where no two notes were played the same. The synthesizer was not thrown out and I don't suggest it needed to be. It became a texture and highlight in the music, finding it's place in colouring the songs.

While I sat in the new Indiana Jones and watched Shia LaBeouf straddle two cars while driving through the jungle or as Indy et al go over the massive water fall, I felt like I was listening to the synthesizer again. This moment of total physics defying action pulled me out of the film and reminded me that I was watching a movie. It got me thinking about that original Raiders film and what really made it work. Partly it's the plausibility of the action. Don't misunderstand my words here, I said plausibility, not possibility. There is a difference. The fact that Spielberg used stunt men on actual sets to accomplish his action, the audience is drawn further into the action and, more importantly, the plight of the hero. Since what we are seeing feels real, the audience is much more likely to sit on the edge of their seat and empathize with the hero. Spielberg learned this famous lesson in Jaws, to create fear and tension is to make the audience believe in the shark and to let their imaginations take them the rest of the way. Show the shark and people see that it isn't real and the gig is up.

We are at that point in films right now. We can all see the shark and it doesn't look real. We see the hero fall off the water falls and we are bored. Mind you, if Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid jump off the cliff, we feel it. We feel it because two stunt men jumped off a cliff.

This little rant does not suggest that we take the clock back. I am not nostalgic for old fashioned methods. I do think that us writers and filmmakers have to cut back on our synthesizers and make sure that we don't break the illusions we are creating. It damages our stories. Take a look at Peter Weir's Master and Commander as a superior example of using the technology as texture and a tool to achieve the unachievable. It's a wonderful picture, full of all sorts of visual effects but integrated with real ships, real waves and real people. Look at Ridley Scott's re release of Blade Runner to see how you can create a world of illusion with models and light. It looks better than most hundred million dollar films today. I do have to admit, however, that I've never been much of a fan of Vangelis' score in that picture. Synthesizers. I've learned to live with it over the years and rationalize it away as being futuristic... I'm only fooling myself.

------

For an excessive review of the Indy film, go to read the Mysteryman's Fifty Flaws of Indy IV!

Saturday

Sidney Pollack

This is an excerpt from Laurent Tirard's excellent book, "Moviemakers' Master Class":

Master Class with Sydney Pollack

I never chose to make films, really, and, in a way, it is only after I became a director that I started to learn filmmaking. So I did it backwards, in a way. I had been teaching acting for four years or so when somebody suggested that I become a director, and before I knew it, I was making films for TV, and then for the big screen. Given my background, I wasn't drawn to sweeping, visual films. To me, everything was in the performance, in the acting. The rest was just . . . photography. But then, over the years, I began to understand filmmaking as a syntax, as a vocabulary, as a language. And I discovered the satisfaction that could be drawn from giving the audience the right sequence of information through the way the shots were framed, or the way the camera movements were set up.

What I realized, in fact, is that filmmaking is essentially storytelling. I wouldn't say that I make films to tell stories, though. Not really. My principal interest is in relationships. To me, relationships are a metaphor for everything else in life: politics, morality . . . everything. So basically, I make films to learn more about relationships. But I don't make films to say anything, because I wouldn't know what to say. I think there are basically two kinds of filmmakers: those who know and understand a truth which they want to communicate to the world, and those who are not quite sure what the answer to something is and who make the film as a way to try and find out. That's what I do.

FINDING THE SPINE

It's important not to intellectualize the filmmaking process too much. And particularly not during the actual shooting. I might think a lot about the film before I make it, and certainly after, but I try not to think too much when I'm actually on the set. The way I work is that I try to determine as early as possible what the theme of the movie is, what central idea is being expressed through the story. Once I know that, once I have figured out a unifying principle, then any decision I make on the set will be influenced by that and will therefore fall into a certain logic. And to me, the success of a film depends on whether or not the choices you make on the set, as a director, remain true to the original idea.

For instance, Three Days of the Condor is a film about trust. Robert Redford plays a character who trusts people too easily and who will learn to be more suspicious. Faye Dunaway, on the other hand, plays a woman who trusts no one, and who, through this dramatic situation, will learn to open up. In Out of Africa, the central idea is about possession. It's about England trying to own Africa, and it's about Meryl Streep trying to own Redford. If you take both of these films and analyze them, sequence by sequence, then I should be able to justify every choice I've made, as a filmmaker, in regard to their respective themes.

It's a process I often compare to sculpture: you start with a sort of spine, like a skeleton, and then, little by little, you cover it with clay and give it a shape. Now, it's the spine that holds everything together. Without it, the sculpture would just collapse. But the spine must not be visible or it would ruin everything. And it's the same with a movie. If someone walks out of Three Days of the Condor and says, "Oh, it's a film about trust," then I have failed as a filmmaker. The audience must not be conscious of it. Ideally, they will understand it in an abstract way. But what's important is that every aspect of the film be coherent because it is motivated by that theme.

Even the set must reflect the central idea of the film. Which is why I used to love wide screen. Most of my early pictures were shot in wide screen because I feel that it allows you to use the background as a reflection—as a metaphor, I would even say—of what is going on in the foreground. When I made They Shoot Horses, Don't They? I insisted that it be shot in wide screen, and nobody understood why, because it takes place almost entirely indoors. But it's a mistake to think that the purpose of wide screen is to shoot big scenery. The real purpose of it is to compose frames that have enormous tension and movement in them, to shoot pictures that need a sense of place. Because even if you frame two people in close-up, you still have space to see the background behind them. If I had shot Horses with a flat frame, you would have seen two people dancing and nothing else. You would have lost sense of all the madness around.

Ironically, the first film I did not shoot in wide screen was Out of Africa. It may seem odd, because this is certainly a film that demanded as big a frame as possible, but by then, it was the mid-eighties, and I realized that most people were going to see the film on video. I didn't want it to be butchered on the small screen.

__

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Pollack and every screenwriter should take his advice on finding the spine. It unifies the work and gives the writer direction. It adds the layers and texture to your story. It's very easy to see why he and Minghella got along so well.

The book that this excerpt is taken from is quite informative and has these great little tidbits from filmmakers like Pollack as well as the likes of Martin Scorcese, Oliver Stone, Wim Wenders, David Cronenberg, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (and many many more).

Wednesday

Sidney Pollack

There isn't much I can say here that hasn't been said around the internet. Sidney Pollack was a great journeyman and multi talented filmmaker and he will be missed. He'll be missed in ways we won't ever know about as his company 'Mirage Enterprises' was the creative force behind more than just Pollack's films. He was in a partnership with Anthony Minghella who also died unexpectedly earlier this year. The Hollywood Reporter has an article on what was and is in the works at Mirage:

Mirage, which has offices in Los Angeles and London, has a first-look deal at the Weinstein Co., and the company has said that it is intent on moving forward on those projects, including "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," which is going ahead at HBO.

Mirage's docket at the Weinstein Co. also includes the high-profile remake of German Oscar-winner "The Lives of Others" as well as the adaptation of Allison Pearson's novel "I Don't Know How She Does It." The latter has David Frankel ("Marley & Me") attached to direct; it recently bought Aline Brosh McKenna on board to do a rewrite.

Other projects, most of which are book adaptations or international-flavored thrillers, include:

-- "The Ninth Life of Louis Drax," which Minghella adapted based on a novel by Liz Jensen.

-- "The Silver Lining Playbook" an adaptation of a Matthew M. Quick book that Pollack was producing with Michelle Raimo.

-- "Bartimaeus Trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand," an adaptation of a children's fantasy novel that sees the Weinstein Co. sharing the project with Miramax. Sources said "Bartimaeus" had been dormant for a while.

-- At Miramax, Mirage was working on "The Resurrectionists," based on the novel by Michael Collins. Minghella had been attached to direct; the project was put on hold when he died.

-- "Colombian Gold" is set up at Focus, with Mirage producing with Miguel Arteta's Flan de Coco Films shingle. Arteta also was attached to direct the murder mystery.

-- "Liberty," a thriller set in Haiti, is set up at Intermedia Films with Jez Butterworth directing.

-- Mirage also was producing "Turbulence" at Universal, home of Pollack's last big studio picture, "The Interpreter." Tom Pabst is writing the internationally set thriller.


__

Pollack and his company were passionate about creating great stories on film. It's rare that you have a champion with his clout and that is a great loss to an industry that needs more champions of human stories rather than bland spectacles.

As a side note: Cameron Crowe asked Billy Wilder about Pollack's remake of 'Sabrina' and one of the interesting comments that Wilder made was about the possible casting of Thandie Newton in the role of Sabrina... What a wonderful thought (and a shame it didn't happen).

Too many great losses this year.

Monday

Rule Breaking Films

Mr. Robert Mills sent me this link to a bloggers list of 'rule breaking' films. It's a fun read and sparks the imagination to add to the list (which the author declares is by no means definitive).

Here is an excerpt:

Review: 13 Rule-Breaking Films

For all the creativity and innovation that goes into making (some) Hollywood films, there are also a lot of ideas that get recycled time and time again. I’m not referring to stock characters or the sequalitis that hits multiplexes every summer. I’m talking about the basic building blocks of storytelling that are ingrained in the movie-going experience.

Every once in a while, though, a film comes along that takes an assumption about how American movies are supposed to be made and changes it, sometimes resulting in something truly memorable. Producers who want to make a film that breaks one of the unwritten rules of motion pictures risk a lot – studios might not want to fund the film, theaters might not show it, audiences might not respond to it. The reward for taking the chance, though, is recognition for being a really interesting experiment, or, in some cases, taking your place among the greatest films ever made.

___

Here is the link

Saturday

More insight from the Well

Mysterymanonfilm had a discussion recently questioning the rigid following of the so called 'rules' that the pundits like McKee preach so vehemently. I found this passage from Wells Root and thought it was a point very well made.

"Remember Shaw's unbreakable rule. For this and all following chapters there is no unbreakable rule.

This three-act design principle is never a rigid structure. It is a generalized framework, elastic and flexible. Almost every great story you can think of will reveal striking variations. Originality lies in creative distinctions. The beginning, the middle, and the end is a concept to start with. Where you go with it is a measure of your creative imagination.

In fact, a number of filmmakers, critics, and intellectuals reject the three-act design. Flatly. Indignantly. They say, among other things, that the tidy, packaged quality of the beginning, the middle, and the end is superficial. It is too patent a manufacture. In life things never happen that way.

Indeed they don't. "No one has ever seen," said Picasso, "a natural work of art." In any field of art, ancient or modern.

In films you start with a concept. You develop it in any manner within your reach and competence. No divine rulebook limits any writer, or director, or producer's game plan. Bergman, Resnais, Antonioni, Kubrick, Fellini, Altman, Cassavetes have as much right to freeborn story flights as Disney has to fantasyland.

The one thing the writer and director must do is to communicate with an audience. Without that audience to watch, listen, applaud, be inspired, or perhaps throw eggs, you have nothing but shadows dancing in an empty barn. How you communicate is nobody's business but your own. But you had damn well better do it in a fashion that will summon bodies to the barn.

Ultramodern, unstructured story design has an erratic record for bringing bodies to the barn. It is even condemned as nonstorytelling —aimless, confusing, and self-indulgent. Modern landmark films have emerged, nevertheless, such as Hiroshima Mon Amour, L'Avventura, Last Year at Marienbad, and 81/2, and many more.

For such films and their makers, there is a devoted audience. Perhaps not in the multimillions, but in loyal and sufficient numbers to sustain their dreams. With the vivid addition of a box-office smash now and then, like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Radical technique films are as essential to our industry's progress as research is to medicine. They represent the experimental labs where adventurous minds are seeking new dramatic dimension. Allow me to simplify it totally. D. W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation) was one of the earliest experimenters. In those bygone days, camera angles were almost exclusively medium or longer shots. Working with his cameraman, Billy Bitzer, Griffith, that wild-eyed radical, conventionalized a startling technique. He called it a close-up.

Techniques of today's modernists will seem equally commonplace fifty years from now. By 2030 new radicals will have appeared who will patronize Resnais, Fellini, and our avant-garde as stuffy conservatives.

In the long view, story structure has some kinship to building a house. Architectural inventions in this century have been wild and inspiring. But houses that people will pay for and inhabit still must provide shelter, light, privacy, and facilities for heat and water. The basics.

Worldwide audiences demand corresponding basics in storytelling. Since the craft arose thousands of years ago, listeners have been absorbed by a Prince and a dragon. The dragon captures the Princess. The Prince slays the dragon, and lays the Princess. The audience goes home enchanted.

If that be primitive, make the most of it. The structure of Star Wars and thousands of the favorite stories, plays, and films of the ages are —in their essentials —just that primitive. Often the primitive in an art becomes the perennial."

Three Acts

Here is Wells Root's version of throw a man in a tree and throw rocks at him. It's taken from his very practical book on screenwriting 'Writing the Script'.

Tuesday

Magnum PI - The Feature?

I was only kidding...

"The long rumored "Magnum P.I." movie adaptation is back in the gossip talk again after seemingly dying on the vine last year.

Teletext UK reports that "Dodgeball" director Rawson Marshall Thurber has finished his redraft of the script and in a surprise move has selected much of the cast already.

The report lists that Matthew McConaughey will play Magnum, Steve Zahn will be his friend Rick, Tyrese Gibson the chopper flying T.C., and William H. Macy as British landlord Higgins.

This is strange as all but Tyrese played somewhat similar roles in 2005's film adaptation of the Clive Cussler adventure novel "Sahara" - a good fun action film which sadly bombed at the box-office.

Also strange - a Magnum without chest hair, blasphemy!! - but at least anyone who has picked up a tabloid mag in the past twelve months has an idea of what McConaughey would look like dressed only in facial hair and running shorts.

The plan is to stick with the idea of Magnum and his friends being war veterans - though Iraq war rather than Vietnam."


And then there is this...

"Remaking horror classics is a bad idea, yet the studios keep doing them despite high profile failures like "Psycho" and "Halloween".

Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes is a leading culprit in this trend with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "The Amityville Horror" and "The Hitcher" already under their belt, whilst remakes of "The Birds," "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th" are in the works.

Now they've added another to their list - "Rosemary's Baby". Ira Levin's 1967 horror novel was turned into Roman Polanski's most famous film the following year and a true classic of the genre was born.

The original concerns a young couple - Guy and Rosemary (John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow) - living in Manhattan. Shortly after settling into their new apartment, she becomes pregnant and slowly falls very ill. Paranoia and suspicion of witchcraft at work ensues as she begins to uncover that she may give birth to the devil's son.

Now, Shock Til You Drop reports that Dunes is currently seeking writer's to adapt the project."


____

I found this info at http://www.darkhorizons.com.

Sunday

Anyone got any good ideas for re-treading old shows or movies?

This summer we are going to get smarter with a 'Get Smart' feature. 'Knight Rider' made it's way back to television this year, as did 'The Bionic Woman'. Apparently the 'A Team' is being helmed by John Singleton (?) and Keanu Reeves is going to star in a remake of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. Not to mention the impossible task of remaking Hitchcock's 'The Birds' (because the remake of Psycho was so good).

It seems that the pool is starting to run dry. Maybe we can help here and suggest a few other forgotten gems to make sure that none of those crappy original ideas get to the big screen.

I'll start. How about 'Magnum P.I.'? But now Magnum can be an Iraq war vet... Robin Masters is now Dan Brown... TC is Muslim and Rick is gay. Higgins? Former SAS Colonel in the Falkland Islands (or Diana's chauffeur, I can't decide). Repackaged and ready to go...

(Please don't get me wrong here - I actually like the original series).

John Huston Interview

I found this gem in a old book of interviews I bought second hand. It's John Huston talking about his writing methods and approaches to making films:

How does the script get written? Do you do it alone?
And how long does it take you?


There are no rules. I've written scripts and made
pictures out of them in two weeks. At other times I've
worked a year and a half just on a script. The Maltese
Falcon was done in a very short time, because it was
based on a very fine book and there was very little for me
to invent. It was a matter of sticking to the ideas of the
book, of making a film out of a book. On Treasure of
Sierra Madre, I wrote the script in about 3-4 months, but
I had had quite a long time to think about it before. The
actual making of the film didn't take very long, but I had
had the idea of making it since before the war. It was the
first film I made after the war.

You wrote that one alone, and got an Oscar for writing
it. But don't you sometimes write together with other people?
Or, when other people write for you, do you take a
very active part or do you leave them pretty much alone?


When I do not write alone—and of course you must re-
member that I began my film career as a writer, not as a
director—I work very closely with the writer. Almost al-
ways I share in the writing. The writer will do a scene and
then I'll work it over, or I'll write a scene and then the
other writer will make adjustments later. Often we trade
scenes back and forth until we're both satisfied.

You don't like to work with more than one other
writer?


Not really. But sometimes other people make additions.
For example, the writer of a play or a book on which I
am basing a film. Tennessee Williams, for example, came
and worked with Anthony Vay and myself on the script
for Night of the Iguana. He didn't come there to write,
but once he was there he did do some writing, and ac-
tually he did some rather important writing for the film.
But such cases are the exception.

Could you put into words some principles you employ
in order to put ideas into film form? Do you feel there are
any rules a writer for the cinema must follow?


Each idea calls for a different treatment, really. I am
not aware of any ready formula, except the obvious one
that films fall into a certain number of scenes, and that
you have to pay attention to certain limitations that have
to do with time, according to subject. Depending on what
you are writing about, you have to decide the time balance
between words and action. It seems to me, for example,
that the word contains as much action as a purely visual
scene, and that dialogue should have as much action in it
as physical motion. The sense of activity that your audi-
ence gets is derived equally from what they see and from
what they hear. The fascination, the attention of the man
who looks at what you have put together, must be for the
thoughts as much as for the happenings in your film. In
fact, when I write I can't really separate the words from
the actions. The final action—the combined activity of the
film, the sum of the words and the visuals—is really going
on only in the mind of the beholder. So in writing I have
to convey a sense of overall progression with all the means
at my command: words and images and sounds and every-
thing else that makes film.

This brings up one of the basic questions about films
that adapt literary works: in a book there are many things
that you can't see or hear, but which in reading you trans-
late directly into your own interior images and feelings.
Emotions that are created in you neither through dialogue
nornor action. How do you get these into film? The mono-
logues from Moby Dick, for example?


Well, first of all, I try to beware of literal transfers to
film of what a writer has created initially for a different
form. Instead I try to penetrate first to the basic idea of
the book or the play, and then work with those ideas in
cinematic terms. For example, to see what Melville wanted
to say in the dialogues, what emotions he wanted to convey
I always thought Moby Dick was a great blasphemy.
Here was a man who shook his fist at God. The thematic
line in Moby Dick seemed to me, always, to have been:
who's to judge when the judge himself is dragged before
the bar? Who's to condemn, but he, Ahab! This was, to
me, the point at which I tried to aim the whole picture,
because I think that's what Melville was essentially con-
cerned with, and this is, at the same time, the point that
makes Moby Dick so extremely timely in our age. And if
I may be allowed the side-observation: I don't think any
of the critics who wrote about the film ever mentioned
this.

I suppose you are speaking about the problem of taking
personal responsibility in an age where the group has
largely attempted to make decisions for the individual.
This is an interpretation of Melville, or perhaps I should
say ONE interpretation of Melville. And so in the attempt
to understand the basic idea of a work (in order to trans-
late those ideas into film) you are really doing more than
that: you add your own interpretation, you don't just put
into images what the original author wanted to say.


I don't think we can avoid interpretation. Even just
pointing a camera at a certain reality means an interpreta-
tion of that reality. By the same token, I don't seek to in-
terpret, to put my own stamp on the material. I try to be
as faithful to the original material as I can. This applies
equally to Melville as it applies to the Bible, for example.
In fact, it's the fascination that I feel for the original that
makes me want to make it into a film.

What about original material, where you are not adapt-
ing a play or a book? Are there any ideas of yours, basic
ideas, which you try to express in your work? Do you feel
that there is a continuity in your work in terms of a con-
sistent ideology? In short, do you feel you are trying to say
something coherent to mankind?


There probably is. I am not consciously aware of any-
thing. But even the choice of material indicates a preference,
a turn of mind. You could draw a portrait of a mind
through that mind's preferences.

Well, let me do that for a minute, and see if what I see
as a unifying idea in your work is indeed a coherent feel-
ing on your part. I see that in your films there is always a
man pitched against odds, an individual who seeks to re-
tain a sense of his own individuality in the face of a cul-
ture that surrounds and tends to submerge him. I would
call the style of your films the style of the frontier, or
what the frontier has come to symbolize in American
culture: a sense of rebellion against being put into a sys-
tem, into a form of life and into a mode of thinking rig-
idly decided by others.


Yes, I think there is something there. I do come from a
frontier background. My people were that. And I always
feel constrained in the presence of too many rules, severe
rules; they distress me. I like the sense of freedom. I don't
particularly seek that ultimate freedom of the anarchist,
but I'm impatient of rules that result from prejudice.

In any case, you believe that at the basis of every film
of yours there is a basic idea, whether an idea of yours or
one of another author. But how do you proceed to put
that idea into film form? In writing, what do you do first,
for example?


I don't envisage the whole thing at the beginning. I go a
little bit at a time, always asking myself whether I am on
the track of the basic thought. Within that, I try to make
each scene as good as I can. This applies both to the writ-
ing and to the directing—to the whole process of prepara-
tion and production, in fact—which are only extensions of
the process of writing. It's hard to break down into details.

Do you mean to say that you do not write the whole
script in the beginning?


Oh yes, oh sure. I am speaking about the making of the
film. I try to make it in sequence as much as possible, to
develop the making of the film along with the develop-
ment of the story within the film. I try, for example, to
give my actors a sense of development not only within the
troupe, but also a sense of development within the story of
the film. And I improvise if necessary. This is not a luxury;
when one shoots as much on location as I do, improvisa-
tion is a necessity. Everything that happens in the process
of making the film can contribute to the development of
that film's story. But of course one always tries to remain
within the bounds of the controllable as much as one can,
to stay within the bounds of the script. But one must be
open to take advantage of the terrain, of the things that the
setting can give you.

Do you write your scripts with the idea of change and
improvisation already in mind?


Improvisation is used more today than it used to be.
Partly this is caused by a new, less rigid approach to film-
making, and also partly by the decentralization of the pro-
duction process. Actors have become producers, they have
commitments of conflicting sorts, and it is no longer possi-
ble to prepare a script in great detail in a major studio
set-up, and then call in your contract actors, whose time
you control completely, and make the film in exact ac-
cordance to plan. It has simply become essential today to
be more flexible, to adjust to new conditions, both practi-
cal and aesthetic.

Do you see this as a positive or a negative development?

It has certainly helped some directors to come into their
own, people who could never have succeeded under the
old, less independent system. Some French and Italian di-
rectors—Fellini in the vanguard—have found it possible
to tell much more subjective stories, often their own, in a
valid cinematographic way. Like 81/2 for example.

What is the technical process of your scriptwriting?

Usually I write in longhand first, and then dictate a
later version. I use a standard script form: action on the
left and dialogue on the right. When it's finished it's mim-
eographed and distributed to the people who need to see
it. I often change again later. Sometimes I finish the final
version on the set itself, or change again something I've
written as a final version the day before. Mostly these
changes come to me when I hear the words first spoken by
an actor. It's always different once it comes out of a living
person's mouth. By this I do not mean that I try to adjust
to an actor's personality—I try to do that as little as possi-
ble. When I write, I don't have in mind an actor, but a
character. I don't conceive this character with a specific
star in my mind. I guess what I am trying to do with this
constant changing, is to try to put to work more than my
own imagination, or at least allow my imagination the lib-
erty of play, the liberty of coming out of its cage—which
is me, my body, when I am alone and writing—and in this
Way it begins to live and to flower and gives me better ser-
vice than when I put it to work abstractly, alone, in a
room with paper and pencil, without the living presence of
the material. Then, when the character has been born out
of this extended imagination, I have to look for someone
to play the role, and this someone isn't always necessarily
the person who I thought could play it originally, because
often it no longer is the same character. In fact, I've often
—at least, sometimes—delayed the making of a film because I
couldn't find anybody to play the new and adjusted
character that I had finally arrived at construing. Although
in my experience you usually find someone; there are
enough good actors if you are willing to wait a little.

Is it possible for you to tell how much of your writing
comes from inside you, at the start, and how much is writ-
ten in adjustment to a situation or to hearing your words
spoken? And do you also adjust to location, for example?
I mean, when you write about Sodom, do you write for
Vesuvius, for the landscape where you decided to shoot
those sequences?


It's the same thing as trying to interpret Melville. You
write for an ideal. Then when you make the film, you try
to live up to that ideal. Casting, locating, shooting: you try
to stick to what you start with. Sometimes there are prob-
lems when the material changes in my hands, sometimes I
have even miscast my own films. But generally these ad-
justment problems can be overcome. I've been pretty lucky
that way. In fact, I can usually do pretty much exactly
what I set out to do. I've been lucky.

Is that what gives you this tremendous peace that you
seem to have on the set? I have watched perhaps a hun-
dred directors shooting, and nobody is as calm. And you
have this kooky set: this silly ark with all these animals,
peacocks flying among the long necks of giraffe, hippos
who refuse to act the scenes written for them, a hundred
breakdowns a day with technical things caused by the ani-
mals, and you just stride through the whole thing in your
Noah costume, feeding the giraffes, smiling and taking it
easy...


I am astonished myself. And I marvel at the patience of
everybody, especially the animals, who are among the best
actors I've ever worked with .. .
All typecast, too. . . . But, is that an answer?
In a way, yes. You see, in working with actors, I try to
direct as little as possible. The more one directs, the more
there is a tendency to monotony. If one is telling each per-
son what to do, one ends up with a host of little replicas
of oneself. So, when I start a scene, I always let the actor
show me for the start how he imagines the scene himself.
This applies not only to actors; as I tried to indicate be-
fore, I try to let the whole thing work on me, show me.
The actors, the set, the location, the sounds, all help to
show me what the correct movement could be. So what I
said about the animals wasn't only a joke. Because, you
see, the animals have one great advantage as actors; they
know exactly what they want to do, no self-doubts, no hes-
itations. If you watch them, quite extraordinary opportuni-
ties present themselves, but you must see them. Here in
the Noah's Ark sequence of The Bible this has happened a
number of times. Animals do remarkable things. The
hippo opened his mouth and let me pet him inside.

Is that when you wrote the line, which you say to
Noah's wife at that point: "There is no evil in him, wife.
Do not fear him!"


Exactly. And very fine actors are as much themselves as
animals are. I would rather have someone whose personal-
ity lends itself to the role than a good actor who can simu-
late the illusion of being the character. I do not like to see
the mechanics of acting. The best you can get, of course,
is when the personality lends itself exquisitely to the part
and when that personality has the added attribute of being
technically a fine actor so he can control his performance.
That is the ideal.

What do you consider to be the attributes of a fine
actor?


The shading he can give a line, his timing, his control,
his knowledge of the camera, his relationship to the cam-
era—of course, I'm talking about film acting.
What should an actor's relationship to the camera be?
He must have an awareness of the size of his gesture,
his motion, in relation to the size that his image will be on
the screen. It isn't absolutely an essential quality, but it is
very useful. I don't mean that I tell him the focal length of
the lens I'm using and expect him to adapt himself accord-
ingly, but a good actor has an almost instinctual awareness
of these things. When an actor comes from the stage, he
usually has to make adjustments of this kind. He doesn't
need to project, he doesn't need to make his voice heard
over a distance. He can speak very quietly. He can be
more economical in every way before the camera than he
could be on the stage. And he can work with the small
details of his face.

Saturday

Frank Meschkuleit

Wandering about the youtube landfill I found this vhs rip of my buddy Frank Meschkuleit's infamous puppet show, 'The Left Hand of Frank'.

Enjoy.

Tuesday

Anthony Minghella


Such sad news today, Anthony Minghella passed away at the very young age of 54.

When 'The English Patient' came out I remember being turned off by Miramax's marketing which painted the film as an epic romance. Then, after a few weeks in release, the marketers created a second tier of ads that painted a much wider picture - war, spy intrigue, romance, betrayal and deception. I had the flu and one afternoon in recovery, I dragged myself to the theatre to check it out. My sickness was soon forgotten and I found myself totally engrossed. I went another three times after that. I've been blogging about theatrical experiences and it was one of my favourites - the score by Gabriel Yared, the John Seale photography, the Walter Murch sound mix (and edit and sound design), the specatular locations and performances and one of the most ambitious and complex film stories I had ever seen.

Anthony Minghella became my favourite filmmaker of the current age.

Whereas my film school mates and other friends were in love with Tarantino, Fincher, Rodriguez and Smith I was inspired by Anthony Minghella. Here was a modern filmmaker who elevated film storytelling to the breadth and depth found in literature. His films went beyond character and plot and delved into bigger questions. Questions of morality, life, love, death and identity. He left us with a precious few feature films: 'Truly, Madly, Deeply', 'The English Patient', 'The Talented Mr Ripley', 'Cold Mountain', and 'Breaking and Entering'. All of which I love dearly.

Minghella had a rich life in the arts outside of the film world and this is one of the reasons he was so artistically successful. He wrote for television, the theatre and radio. His love of music, literature and poetry was plainly evident in his works. I had been kicking around the idea of writing about 'Breaking and Entering' and Minghella's unabashed and enthusiastic love of the metaphor. As a writer he was working far beyond what we normally get in the realm of the movies and I am going to miss him. As a director he was a generous master of the craft, surrounding himself with great artists and giving them a voice and due credit.

What more can I say about it? It's death and we're all heading for its inevitable grasp. What we can do is find comfort in those extraordinary moments of beauty in life and in art. I'm thankful that Anthony Minghella shared so many great moments with us.

Monday

The Theatrical Experience Part 3

The following is an excerpt from an Andre Bazin interview with Orson Welles in Cahiers du Cinema:

What is your position vis-à-vis large screen or colour? Do you think that it is better to orient oneself towards the small screen and the poverty of television?

I am convinced that when the screen is big enough, as in the case of Cinemiracle or Cinerama, it is also a poverty, and I love it: I would love to do a film with one of these two processes. But between the Cinemiracle and the normal screen, there is nothing that interests me. The poverty of television is a marvellous thing. The big classical film is of course bad on the small screen, because television is the enemy of classic cinematographic values, but not of cinema. It is a marvellous form, where the spectator is only a metre and half away from the screen, but it is not a dramatic form, it is a narrative form, so much so that television is the ideal means of expression for the storyteller. And the gigantic screen is also a marvellous form because like television it is a limitation, and one cannot hope to reach poetry only in composing with limitations, it’s clear. I also like television a lot because it gives me my only chance to work; I don’t know what I would say about it if I also had the opportunity to make films. But when you work for something, you must be enthusiastic!

Working in television, does that imply a particular point of view in communication?

And also a certain richness, not a plastic richness but a richness of ideas. In television, you can say ten times more in ten times less time, because you are not addressing only two or three persons. And, above all, you are speaking to the ear. For the first time, in television, the cinema takes on a real value, finds its real function, because it talks, because the most important is what is said and not what is shown. Words are thus no longer the enemies of the film: the film only helps the words, because television is in fact only illustrated radio.

Television would be a kind of way of bringing the cinema back to your beginnings in the radio?

Above all a means of satisfying my fondness for telling stories, like the Arab storytellers on the marketplace. For my part, I love that: I will never grow tired of hearing stories told; you know I make the mistake of thinking that everyone has the same enthusiasm! I prefer stories to tragedies, to theatrical plays, to novels: it is an important characteristic of my taste. I read with a great effort the “great” novels: I love stories.

Isn’t the public less attentive to television than to cinema?

More attentive, because it listens rather than looks. Television viewers listen or don’t listen, but no matter how little they listen they are more attentive than in the cinema, because the brain is more engaged by hearing than by seeing. To listen, you need to think; looking is a sensory experience, more beautiful and more poetic, but where attention plays a smaller part.

For you, television is thus a synthesis between the cinema and the radio?

I am always looking for synthesis: it is a work that fascinates me, because I must be sincere towards what I am, and I am only an experimenter; experimenting is the only thing that fills me with enthusiasm. I am not interested in works of art, in posterity, in fame, only in the pleasure of experimentation itself: it is the only sphere where I feel really honest and sincere. I have no devotion for what I’ve done: it is really without value in my opinion. I am profoundly cynical towards my work and towards the majority of works I see in the world: but I am not cynical towards the act of working on a material. It is difficult to make this understood. We who declare ourselves experimenters have inherited an old tradition: some among us have been the greatest artists, but we have never made muses our mistresses. For example, Leonardo liked to think of himself as a scholar who painted and not as a painter who could have been a scholar. It’s not that I want to compare myself to Leonardo but that I want to explain that there is a long lineage of people who appreciate their works according to a different hierarchy of values, almost moral values. I am not thus in ecstasy in front of art: I am in ecstasy before the human necessity, which implies all that we do with our hands, our senses, etc. … Our work once finished has not so much importance in my opinion as that of the most √¶sthetes: it is the act that interests me, not the result, and I am taken with the result only when there is the smell of human sweat, or a thought.

Saturday

The Legion of Decency

There is a great quote on the back of David Mamet's critical book about the nature of the film business, 'Bambi vs Godzilla'.

“David Mamet is supremely talented. He is a gifted writer and observer of society and its characters. I’m sure he will be able to find work somewhere, somehow, just no longer in the movie business.”
–Steve Martin

Jim Henshaw is continuing his 'airing of the grievances' over at The Legion of Decency.

Last year I was working at a company when one of the fellows I was working near got up, went to the head of his department and quit. As I watched him walk out I asked his friend what had just happened. He told me that the guy had had enough and was going to become an electrician! Just like that. He quit the business in a single moment of clarity. Jim's blog might make a few more electricians...

Friday

Herzog

"I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony but chaos, hostility and murder".

My friend Pete Pelisek and I have an admiration for the filmmaker Werner Herzog. This is a BBC interview where Herzog is shot by a sniper with an air rifle. Make sure to watch the entire clip. He may have added the word 'ironic' to the quote above.



And this tidbit from IMDB:

"Joaquin Phoenix was in a car accident on a winding canyon road that flipped his car over. Shaken and confused, Phoenix heard a tapping on his window and a voice say, "Just relax." Unable to see the man, Phoenix replied, "I'm fine. I am relaxed." Then managed to see that the man was Werner Herzog, and Herzog replied, "No, you're not." After helping Phoenix out of the wreckage, Herzog phoned for an ambulance and vanished."

Thursday

The Theatrical Experience pt 2

Scott from Three Fingers Hold the Pen commented on my post about experiencing movies on the Big screen. Here's what he had to say:

Well,duh!
Been preaching this for years.
These things are MEANT to be seen big.
I caught the Director's cut of Das Boot in LA that same year while working for Disney. Un-believable.
How did they get those dolly shots of the guys running down the length of the sub?
Went to every screening I could manage.
Saw Ben Hur one night at the Egyptian. Twenty Thousand Leagues at the El Capitan.
Actual Technicolor prints!
Lawrence of Arabia at the Cinerama Dome.
But the best was 25 years ago - a superb print of Midsummer Night's Dream, the old 39 version from Warner Bros, in one of the great grand old movie palaces...suddenly understood what it must have been like to go to the movies back then and why it was such a big deal and why The Movies became the Thing we revere today.
It is interesting how apple etc. can make a big sell out of movies that are meant to be seen big, on tiny screens( ipod, iphone, etc.) What is the attraction of Youtube? We (or rather those who don't know better) are being sold a bill of goods!


The problem with television and more so with video on Ipod and youtube is that we've altered the visual style of filmmaking to accommodate the smaller screen. If you look at the change in films in the last thirty years you'll notice that we've gotten closer and closer to the face. Scenes are designed more and more where we cut between closeups. Establishing shots have been truncated and the camera has studied the actors faces at close range. The size of the television and the advent of home video made filmmakers reconsider their visual style so it would have impact on the smaller, lower resolution screen. The internet compounds this with low resolution images that are often less than four inches wide.

What this amounts to is removing cinematic storytelling and makes us rely even more on talking heads. A contrasting example of this is the popular 1988 action classic 'Die Hard'. Pay attention to the lack of closeups in the film - it was designed for the theatre. The majority of the close ups in the film are from stomach to head where now we see the top of shoulders to the top of the head or closer. This is also due to the modern editing equipment where editors got used to looking at the images on small broadcast monitors which fool you into feeling that there isn't enough detail. With digital editing, you are much less inclined to take your workprint and project it in a theatre. Walter Murch understood this and he would place a size comparison by his monitor so he would always be aware of the theatrical exhibition.

High definition television has been a terrific invention and is starting to reverse some of these visual trends. With its much higher resolution it has allowed television filmmakers to think more cinematically. Just look at many of these new shows that look and feel much more like movies than traditional television - '24', 'Lost', 'Breaking Bad', 'Deadwood', etc. Even situation comedies like 'Malcolm in the Middle' got rid of the staged, three camera setup and replaced it with a single camera, four wall design.

Still, theatrical exhibition is the most powerful way to see a motion picture. It's too bad that the theatre exhibitors and studios are so paranoid about losing the market they are pushing carnival tricks like 3D movies. The filmmakers need to worry less about these quaint technical solutions and focus more on getting back to more cinemactic visual design - to experiment more and most of all, tell great stories.

Tuesday

Canadian Film Idea #22


Premise: The 'Marijuana Party of Canada' accidentally wins the election. Beating all odds, The Marijuana Party members remembered to vote and not only that, actually got off of the couch to go out to the polls.

**note to self** We don't have chads but we could find some similar hiccup in the election to make it legal (at least for a while).

Required Canadiana: Munchies... Lots of Canadian munchies - Old Dutch Potato Chips, timbits, beaver tails, french fries with vinegar (not freedom fries), poutine, smarties (etc)

**note to self** Lots of opportunities for sponsorship financing...

Possible Soundtrack: Stompin Tom (no brainer), The Rheostatics (god love em), The Tragically Hip, Bachman Turner Overdrive. **Neil Young? Joni Mitchell?** The Weakerthans. Celine? More financing? Lavine?

Favourite scene - When the 'boys' are arrested while visiting America on a trade mission. They don't even get off the tarmac before being taken by the FBI - in an homage to 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' they open the doors to the Canadair jet and the abundant smoke wafts out of the fuselage. The arrest causes an international incident whereas the party leader, let's call him 'Riel MacDonald', tells the President and the world to 'chillax'.

Possible cast: Sean Penn as the President (round out the homage and add some irony)

Is there a part for Pam Anderson? Definately something for Meg and Jennifer Tilly. A 'Kids in the Hall' cameo - surely.

Dialogue notes: Copious use of the word 'dude'.

I think I might be on to something here.



I've used 26 dollars worth of Photoshop today.

Michael Ondaatje

My previous post got me thinking about Michael Ondaatje's poetic novel 'The English Patient'. This 'Canadian' book was adapted for the cinema by a British writer/director with American funding and starring a French actress and an English actor.

I love this passage from the novel.

"And all the names of the tribes, the nomads of faith who walked in the monotone of the desert and saw brightness and faith and colour. The way a stone or found metal box or bone can become loved and turn eternal in a prayer. Such glory of this country she enters now and becomes part of. We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography-to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.

I carried Katharine Clifton into the desert, where there is the communal book of moonlight. We were among the rumour of wells. In the palace of winds."