Category:making movies

David Kirkpatrick's got an interesting article in the Times about how DVD sales are an increasingly important factor in greenlighting films.

Net net: men buy action blockbusters. No one buys anything else. DVD sales projections drove the glut of pathetic action movie sequels this summer. If anyone buys those things on DVD, we are all doomed.

I'm working on a couple of new features, or Features, interviews with some interesting filmmakers.

Greencine must know that, because they're throwing up so many interesting filmmaking reads, including:

Steven Soderbergh and Richard Lester's Getting Away With It: Or: The Further Adventures of the Luckiest Bastard You Ever Saw,

and Lawrence Grobel's Above the Line: Conversations about the Movies
. Read an Austin Chronicle review for excerpts.

From David@GreenCine's, Summer reading list (hint: print them out for the Jitney): Graham Fuller's 1999 NYT look at directors who make a city their own. For the more hardcore, try Michael Wood's London Review pretty followable, ecumenicist recap of anti-Deleuzian film analysis (you've been warned).

Via TMN: David Sedaris' tips for reading Moby Dick.

Not a read, exactly, but food for thought. In his Voice review of Boys' Life 4, Dennis Lim gets fed up with the splitscreen-because-you-can school of short film making: "Final Cut Pro: more curse than blessingódiscuss."

According to a NYTimes article on the recent poor performance of several expensive, hand-drawn animation films, and the success of such CG films as Pixar's Finding Nemo, Dreamworks (with voice provided by animaster Jeffrey Katzenberg) is calling hand-drawn animation "a thing of the past."

Another nugget of apparently accepted wisdom: as the poor box office of Sinbad, Treasure Planet, and Titan A.E. demonstrates, animated action films targeted at boys will fail. Hmm. Or else, these three films blew chunks. As Final Fantasy showed, you can make a bad action movie with CG, too.

The major studio solution, comedies and sequels (Shrek 2, anyone?), betrays the blockbuster mentality that's ruining live action films, while ignoring the world where action and animation are thriving: anime. The gorgeously hand-animated, Oscar-winning Spirited Away cost only $12mm to produce and scored $10mm in US box office, $12mm in Europe, and like a hundred trillion dollars in Japan.

Animation can learn a lesson from both anime and indie producers. Danny Boyles' horror/thriller 28 Days Later has earned $33 million in the US, performance which means failure for a $140m juggernaut like Treasure Planet. For a DV production with an $8 million budget, though, it signals wild success.

[update from Saturday's NYT: animators Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt aren't taking this studio lameness lying down. They're touring The Animation Show around the country, setting out to drum up audience--and to make themselves the go-to guys--for indiemation.
And on Studio 360, Kurt Andersen basically gives you the audio version of this post.

Wired interviews director/etc. Robert Rodriguez, a young master of the atypical production process, for the launch of his new film, Spy Kids 3-D. It's less than a year since Spy Kids 2, when the NY Times' Rick Lyman looked at Rodriguez's one-man-band approach to movies. (Director is only one of seventeen different credit categories in his imdb profile. More than almost any other director, a Rodriguez film is literally, a Rodriguez film.)

But yet he's not really considered an auteur. Unlike more auteur-y directors (Steven Soderbergh comes to mind) who enjoy passionate followings among critics and film schoolers, Rodriguez' vision is far less rarified. I mean, he sets out to make westerns, teen and kiddie movies. But he makes them well, he makes them profitably, and he makes major production innovations that should have a farther-reaching influence.

Here's an early interview by John Connor, from just before El Mariachi's appearance at Sundance; not much has changed, it seems. Rebel Without a Crew, Rodriguez's production diary from El Mariachi, is a modern, entertaining bible of the behind-the-indie-scenes genre.

[update: Maybe more like the bible than I intended. Making a feature for $7,000 is as tough to duplicate as feeding 5,000 with a fish. Indie filmmaker Felix suggests that anyone who reads Rebel Without A Crew should also read The Unkindest Cut, movie critic Joe Queenan's hilarious failed attempt to replicate Rodriguez's $7k feat.

Also, the Ed Park's Voice review pegs Rodriguez for his "DIY monomania." If his DVD commentaries are anything to go by, he may be to annoying to become a guru. ]

Rebecca Traitser writes in the Observer that the tide has turned (again), and studios are coming back to New York to develop new films. As John Lyons puts it, "I think there is a little sense of exhaustion creeping in with all the high-concept action-sequel movies." Mr. Lyons, it turns out, was just named president of production for Focus Features (Congratulations, Mr. Lyons. Muffin basket's on the way.) , and is staying put in New York, where ex-Good Machiners David Linde and James Schamus are, rather than decamping for LA.

Dreamworks and others are opening development offices here, mostly to scout books. But frankly, that doesn't seem like a huge story. If a studio didn't have a book person in NYC, the books just went west. Lyons' choice to stay just consolidates mini-major power in New York. New Line and Miramax have always been NYCentric; Bingham Ray keeps UA's center of gravity here (his reported brushoff line is, "Call me in LA."); Christine Vachon stays here; Soderbergh moved here. Why, it's the thinking person's Hollywood.

  • Jonathan Van Gieson has launched a team production weblog for his off-off-Broadway show, Buddy Cianci: The Musical, wherein "more than 20 people (10 cast members plus a sizeable staff) all working their asses off to get "Buddy" up and running by August 9th," will stop being polite and start being real. [via Lockhart Steele]

  • It's Wit Capital-meets-HSX. (i.e., sounds a lot like 1996) In the LA Times, Josh Friedman reports on Civilian Pictures' plan to fund Billy Dead, an $8m feature starring (and produced by) Ethan Hawke, through an IPO. [via Daily GreenCine]

  • Rustboy is Brian Taylor's gorgeous-looking animated short, which has an equally impressive production website. Taylor's use of off-the-shelf s/w and h/w should be a kick in the pants to anyone thinking about making films. [via BoingBoing]

  • From CG to as-real-as-it-gets video, a CNN story about artist Sam Easterson, who outfits various creatures great and small with cameras for his ongoing project, Animal, Vegetable, Video. Here's a Filmmaker Mag article on a recent installment, Where the Buffalo Roam. Here's an excerpt of a sheep stampede. [also via BoingBoing]

  • Gerry, still, Gus van Sant

    Don't know how I missed this; in Feb., Gus Van Sant talked to The Onion A.V. Club about making his films. The sequential filming mode from Gerry was used again on Elephant; with a small, light crew, Van Sant was practically flying along, shooting whatever he wanted. It was an approach he'd missed since his first feature, Mala Noche.

    One review of Gerry deadpanned that Los Angeles is enough of a desert itself, why go to Death Valley; since reading it, I've wanted to do a shot-for-shot remake of Gerry, set in teeming east LA. After all, for a west-side anglo, being stuck on foot in East LA could be as alienating and threatening as an empty desert.

    [Update: I finally found it; It was a Voice interview with Van Sant, who said: "In the West, as soon as you get out of town, depending on which direction you go, you can hit desert, especially in L.A. I mean, L.A. is really a desert anyway."

    Unfortunately, there's something screwy going on with the DVD release of Gerry. Criterion is apparently handling it, but there's no mention of it at all on their site.

    via GreenCine, although I should be reading Indiwire more regularly anyway. We all should. Howard Feinstein pays homage to First Run/Icarus on the distributor's 25th anniversary. "Now officially hip, documentaries are gaining more and more converts among aficionados of fiction."

    I know what you're thinking. Hasn't Greg made started a series of Slacker-meets-¿ la recherche du temps perdu documentary-like narrative short films? Riiight. As if. You're actually thinking, so what's showing at the Anthology this Saturday at 3:30?

    Why, it's the theatrical premiere of La Commune (Paris 1871), Peter Watkins' critically praised, six-hour epic docudrama. J Hoberman rated it the best film of 2002. My suggestion: it's six hours long. Sneak away to PS1 for an hour, and be back before the movie ends.

    [Update: After reading Hoberman's review of La Commune, I think you should stay to the end. Why does it feel like I'm trying to direct everyone away from my museum tour?]

    For almost three years, I've carried a little red movie ticket in my wallet, the old-fashioned pulpy kind, from a big roll. It says "Emergency Re-admit" on it. It enables me to return and see Dancer in the Dark, which I went to see one weekday afternoon in 2000. After 15 confusing minutes, I snapped and decided I'd better get back to work, and I hastily, if temporarily, abandoned the controversial film.

    Dancer in the Dark, image:
    Last night, I watched it on DVD, and it blew me away. It's not just a movie starring a singer, it's a musical. All this time, I'd assumed that meant it had some aggressively amateurish Sound of Music renditions, with Catherine Deneuve and Bjork as added gimmicks. So I was half-watching while writing when the first actual musical number came on, almost halfway into the film. After that, I was transfixed.

    Von Trier was intent on "covering" the musical numbers in one take, as live events--come what may audio-, image-, and mistake-wise-- using 100 cameras. It didn't quite happen that way. They did use 100 fixed, synch-coded DV cameras (140 for one song), covering the entire performance area, and they shot several takes, all the way through. Additional crews shot close-ups of Bjork. The result: a staggering amount of footage (68 hours for one three minute song) and, presumably, a big job in post.

    Rapid cuts between fixed shots stands in sharp contrast to the never-resting hand-held camerawork in the rest of the film. From the commentary tracks, the choreographer Vince Paterson, who did the Vogue video, meted out whip-cracking tough love, Madonna-style, on his Dogme-soaked, improv-happy collaborators. Vince made sure the 100 cameras positions and framing was actually based on the staging. His impressive combination of imperiousness and restraint comes through in his commentary, ("We found out it would serve our purpose much better to involve me.") and it's not hard to accept von Trier's comment that Paterson saved the movie.

    The limitations of this ultimately low-tech, handcrafted sophistication are apparent, though. Von Trier rightly laments the short cuts it produces: "Maybe if you had 2,000 cameras, you could get some longer cuts and closeups." At the same time, he argues strongly against editing between multiple takes and for multi-camera coverage of a single performance. It all reminds me of The Matrix Reloaded, of all things. Specifically, the god-like CG camera technique the Wachowksis and Maeda used to film The Burly Man fight, the one with 100 Agent Smiths and thousands of cameras.

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    Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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