Boxoffice Roulette

"THE GOLDEN COMPASS dropped 65% from first to third with $9M for a disappointing two-week cume of $40.9M (despite impressive vfx from Rhythm & Hues, Cinesite, Framestore CFC, Digital Domain, Rainmaker, Peerless Camera, Tippett Studio, Digital Backlot and Matte World Digital)."

I got this quote off of Animation World Network and it was a perfect example of backwards thinking in the film industry. 'Despite impressive vfx' suggests that audiences go to the movies just to see special effects. Coming from AWN it is a slanted quote as those visual effects wizards think they are the show. Yes, the overwhelming news on the film was that it looked great but in the end it's the story that sells the film. And on top of that, it's how well the story is told.

It's fairly old news but stars don't make blockbusters and neither does spectacle. 'The Golden Compass' had boxoffice star Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. So what? It got forty percent on the tomato meter and that is the best indicator of box office - whether or not the film works (not that this is an exact science either).

In the end it's all a bit of a crap shoot. I remember when Brad Bird's 'The Iron Giant' came out and it was a critical success and did nothing at the box office. Although hampered by poor marketing the film has since found life on home video and I can only assume it's made it's money back. I suppose it comes down to how much money you want to invest in a film. Judd Apatow's 'Knocked Up' cost 33 million (according to IMDB) and pulled in 150 million. 'Superbad' cost 20 million and pulled in over 120 million at the box office. Low cost, high entertainment. What is special in Apatow's case is that the personality of the filmmakers are coming through. They don't feel like committee driven projects with mountains of notes given. I just read a great quote from William Wellman who I just discovered through TCM and an odd little John Wayne picture called 'Islands in the Sky'.

"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That's how the best pictures get made."

It's not about stars or visual effects. It's about story. A one hundred and eighty million dollar budget will not guarantee you a success (estimated Golden Compass budget). It's all about getting the story right first. This is the least expensive part of the movie making process - a lone writer with a sharp pencil, a notebook and a laptop computer. Even this won't guarantee you a popular film but you'll feel a whole lot better in the end.


Policy Baby

For three days last week I was in a mixing suite finishing up the final mix for a new documentary, 'Policy Baby'. My good friend Michael Glassbourg had asked me to work on a writing project with him last summer but altered his plans and asked me to work with him on finishing up this four year project. I agreed and it was a great experience.

Having worked in animation for four years it was refreshing to get back to a story about real people. The documentary is about a native woman who was taken from her reserve at birth and her journey back to self realization. It's a funny, sad and poignant documentary and I am very grateful to Michael for asking me to work on it. I am also very grateful that he gave me such freedom to help him realize his vision.

Michael has been putting it in documentary film festivals and I'll give an update when and where you'll be able to see it.

Hitchcock Site

Jim Caswell sent me this link to '1000 Frames' where entire Hitchock films are represented in a thousand images. It's quite interesting to see Hitchcock's visual tapestry revealed without the context of the dialogue.

Notice the board of images in the background.

It reminds me of Walter Murch's editing style where he creates boards made up of images from the shoot. This way he can refer to the images to help him visually edit the film and to create a visual flow to the story. It also allows him to pick shots out of context when he needs to create a moment that wasn't shot or concieved before the edit suite.


No Country for Old Men

There has been a lot of discussion about the Cohen brother's new film, 'No Country for Old Men'. It has been a critical success with praise for the terrific performances and the remarkable photography. It is a film that exudes confidence in every way. The film's criticism has been mostly targeted at the character development and the subversive ending which I will not disclose here.

What struck me about 'No Country for Old Men' was the minimalist soundtrack. It is one of the quietest films I've seen in years. I screened some of Kieslowski's 'Blue', 'White' and 'Red' for my students a few weeks ago and asked them to pay attention to his minimal use of sound. Sound became punctuation and it's silence was just as important as it's amplitude. 'No Country for Old Men' uses this method with the same great effect. After the film was over I was convinced that there was no musical score at all. My theory has always been that if you don't notice the music then it was doing it's job. Great film music doesn't draw attention to itself, it enters your psyche through the back door and draws on your emotions. Curious, I looked it up today and came across the blog of the music composer, Carter Burwell. I'll link to it so you can read what he said about his work on the film. On the right side of his site he has a little jukebox so you can hear some of his work on the film.

Brilliant. In a thriller where you want to create tension, most filmmakers lean heavily on the film's score to provide the emotional cues. Here, the Cohen brothers create the tension through story, editing and performance. It is intense to say the least.

I truly admire filmmakers that take chances and push themselves, and the form, to new levels. The Cohen brothers are a great example of the modern maverick, marching to the beat of their own drum. Their films are unique and quirky and they have a wonderfully subversive sense of humour. They've also shown such confidence in making this film that it almost challenges the critic to defy it. The minimalist soundtrack is a perfect example of filmmakers who feel at home with their material. It is, after all, a companion to some of the Cohen brothers best films - 'Fargo' and 'Blood Simple'. They seem to have a comfort with this kind of story but have taken it a step forward. I'd be very surprised if they don't take home some hardware this winter...