Category:making movies

June 16, 2003

Everyone's Making Movies

Well, Jason is, anyway. It's a love story. Believe me, you'll laugh, you'll cry.

In the the Observer's "Satisfying Mr. Soderbergh", Rebecca Traitser writes about Warner Brothers' drawn out search for someone to head up their long-planned specialty film division. One of the key requirements of the job: make Steven Soderbergh happy by releasing his films properly.

One name that being bandied about was Elvis Mitchell, the aim-for-the-blurbing-bleachers NYTimes critic. But whoever the new studio head is, Traitser lays out a combination of director-sympathy and strategy-awareness that makes me think she's gunning to succeed him.

Thanks to a 13-year old niece of Boing Boing, I found Badass Buddy. It's a site with 1,200 AIM free buddy icons, a collection which, over 2+ years, has evolved from simple riffs on the little AOL dude (you know, the one who hooked up with Sharon Stone) into a unique medium of its own.


image:badassbuddy.comimage:badassbuddy.comimage:badassbuddy.com

In addition to the predictable ones--Fart, Spongebob, Jackass, School Sucks-- BAB has created little narratives that are HI-larious, timely, touching, and pretty damn cool. To tell these tiny stories, BAB sometimes treats the icon window as a screen, or as a camera. And they adapted some recognizably cinematic visual language, including "camera" angles and movement (e.g., pans, zooms), lighting effects, editing (shot/reverse-shot, establishing/close-up, jump cuts), even Bullet Time.

image:badassbuddy.comimage:badassbuddy.com image:badassbuddy.comimage:badassbuddy.comimage:badassbuddy.com

But they also play off the unique characteristics of the medium--a medium which was probably never intended as one, but which has been embraced and exploited to express the worldview of an IM generation.

image:badassbuddy.comimage:badassbuddy.comimage:badassbuddy.comimage:badassbuddy.com
But as soon as I try to decide which buddy icon I'm gonna use, an alarm sounds in my head, which brings me to the Honda Element. It's ugly, I know, but I like it, and I kinda want one. The wife's worried it might be Pontiac Aztek-ugly (i.e., lame and embarassing) but my gut tells me it's Citroen 2CV-ugly (i.e., cool and if you just don't get it, you're lame). I'm almost always right about that kinda stuff, though; that's not the problem.

The problem is something new to me, age-appropriateness. According to Honda, the Element was designed as a "dorm room on wheels." According to the auto industry's demographic master strategy, I shouldn't want a "dorm room on wheels" any more than I want a "living room on wheels." But even if there were a "loft on wheels," my indignation at being so target marketed would probably keep me from buying it. (It's a Gen-X thing, you wouldn't understand. Unless you read Newsweek.)

old_dude_with_element.jpg
But if I buy an Element, I worry about two equally bad scenarios: 1) it's only marketed as designed for the under-30 demo, which means it appeals only to people over 35, who try too hard. I buy one and subsequently telegraph my aging wannabe-ness. Call this the Miata Scenario, and if you're old enough to remember the launch of the Miata, give up. It's already too late for you. 2) it's actually designed for the under-30 demo, and they embrace it. I buy one and become as lame as when your dad starts saying he's "down with that, yo" to you. Call this one the Badass Buddy Scenario.

Wave UFO, Mariko Mori, image: Tom Powel, nytimes.com
Wave UFO, Mariko Mori for the Public Art Fund
image: Tom Powel, nytimes.com

INT - DAY, IBM BAMBOO GARDEN, 56th & MADISON

A promising DIRECTOR wanders into the atrium to examine Mariko Mori's Wave UFO, a large, shiny pod-looking art object nestled among the towering thickets of bamboo. A YOUNG ARTIST mills about, hesitant to approach him.

YOUNG ARTIST Um, Excuse me.

DIRECTOR
Huh?

YOUNG ARTIST
Did you have a film in the MoMA Documentary Festival?

DIRECTOR
(shocked, confused, with a hesitant inflection)
Umm....yes.

YOUNG ARTIST
I saw it. You spoke after, too. It was really nice.

DIRECTOR
Thanks. (stammer) Thank you.

The two chat briefly, then the ARTIST leaves. Suddenly, from out of a clump of bamboo, CELEBRITY, THE CRUEL MISTRESS appears, looking a lot like the Black Queen in X-Men5: The Hellfire Club. She has been observing the scene, unnoticed. She approaches the DIRECTOR and places her black-gloved hand on his tensed-up shoulder. Startled, the DIRECTOR turns around.

CELEBRITY, THE CRUEL MISTRESS So, the tables have turned.

DIRECTOR
Huh?

CELEBRITY, THE CRUEL MISTRESS
The gawker is now the gawked.
But remember, only the first one is free.

CELEBRITY, THE CRUEL MISTRESS disappears behind the shiny pod, and the DIRECTOR looks around, appearing nonplussed, but secretly high, and already (zeta-)jonesing for another hit.

Guy Maddin, image: villagevoice.com

Also from the Voice: I have no idea what to make of Guy Maddin's production diary for his newest film, The Saddest Music in the World, but it's good readin'. Something to do with a legless Isabella Rossellini. Don't let the film's absence from Maddin's IMDb entry get to you, either. (I mean, if Charlie Kaufman's brother can get nominated for an Oscar...)

Maddin's got a joint at the Tribeca Film Festival and a Dracula: The Ballet movie opening at FilmForum next week. Really.

I don't mean in the sense of "So, what do you do?" for people whose profession (e.g., writers, filmmakers...especially writers) might not appear to involve actually doing very much.

I mean in the nosy sense. A boss or busybody or fisher of insider information might ask you what you're working on, leaving you to wonder what, exactly, they're getting at. To avoid the appearance of micromanaging, hovering, or intrusion, the passive aggressive boss might install cameras ("They're just webcams!" he might say chirpily.) and offer assurances that they'll only be accessible "to Charles and James and myself," and all they're for is to "read the whiteboard in the lab" or to "see if you're there before coming over" (telephones being an outmoded way of contacting you, apparently).

Then, when the "webcam" is installed, and it turns out to be housed in a little smoked glass dome, and to pan and zoom, via remote control, then your boss really will know what you're working on, because now, he can follow you around the lab with his camera. At meetings, the webcamming managers will giggle at their new toy, which in the very techy, science-y, even, culture of your workplace, is now an object of gadget envy, by people who don't work within its lens's reach, of course.

Monitor, 1998, Craig Kalpakjian, Andrea Rosen Gallery, image:momentaart.org Monitor, 1998, Craig Kalpakjian Andrea Rosen Gallery, image:momentaart.org

In the first week, you'll know your boss knows what you're working on, because it'll turn out the "webcam" can read a monitor on an experiment--oh, and your computer screen--from across the room. It can zoom in on your colleague's nascent ear hair, "Did you know Craig has ear hair?" becoming a topic of conversation among the admins in your bosses' offices. IT people you've never met will smile at you in the hall, and say hi like an old friend. Occasionally, a stranger'll just drop by to chat; she'd always meant to introduce herself before--you seemed so interesting. Her eyes dart furtively to the black dome and back as you talk, and you say to yourself, if she were a cop, she'd blow the sting.

Your neck and shoulders will seize up by the end of the week, and only when you point out to your male colleague that they're checking out his ass, too, you know, will his disgust for the ideological implications of these controlling cameras overcome his entrenched gadgetophilia. When you impose on the head of the project for a few minutes of his time that afternoon, he will explain the extremely circumscribed authorized uses--and users--of the camera and he'll reassure you that any fears you will have are unfounded. Then he'll ask, in confidence, why, have you heard something different? Then you'll unfold the totality of the harsh spotlight you are under, the misuse and intrusion that inexorably attends the installation of surveillance cameras, and that will missioncreep back, as long as the cameras are there.

Late on that Friday afternoon, a stern mass email will go out--he's a pretty no-nonsense guy, all said and done--from the project head, "the cameras will be disabled immediately, pending the development of an appropriate use policy." An IT guy you've never seen will say hi to you as if you'd shared an office once when he comes to hastily remove the cable. When you come in on Monday, you'll be surprised to see the cameras gone, even their bolt holes puttied and painted over. You'll login to your email to find another mass email from the project head, announcing the cameras' demise, timestamped Saturday evening.

This surveillance camera drama is brought to you courtesy of my wife and her colleagues at NASA. See performances with far unhappier endings, by the Surveillance Camera Players, at "Psy-Geo-Conflux" this weekend, a culture happening you'll still not quite grasp after reading this Village Voice article. I do get that the cool Wooster Collective folks'll be doing a walking tour of street art, though.

May 4, 2003

On First Films

John Malkovich has been doing the media circuit for The Dancer Upstairs, his directorial debut, and it sounds pretty respectable.

It got me thinking, so I made some Amazon lists for your blogger-/info-/shopper-tainment:

  • Directors' famously first movies
  • What I really want to do is direct, movies by ____-turned-directors.

    Bonus links [thanks, Fimoculous]: 25th Hour author David Benioff writes in the Guardian about adapting his nearly unpublished novel, first for Tobey Maquire, then for Spike Lee. He sounds a lot tougher than he did in W Magazine. Maybe it's because he's sharing writing credit with, um, Homer on his next movie.

    Or because he's published alongside Thomas freakin' Pynchon, who takes a thoughtful, ultimately optimistic look at Orwell's 1984.

  • The Only Real Cancun picture I could include, knowing my wife and mother read this site, image:therealcancun.com
    "Who wants to star in The Real Cancun 2?" image: therealcancun.com

    As a maker of documentary-looking films, I was a reluctant fan of New Line's The Real Cancun once I figured out what it was. Now that I've read Joel Stein's hi-larious review in New Line's corporate sibling pub, Time, I'm now a fan of entertainment synergy, too. The real Real Cancun sounds even better than the film itself:
    ...[the film's 16 thrown-together non-actors] indirectly deliver the requisite moral lesson of a teen comedy: casual sex, even for loutish frat boys, is a pain. "In our house, the girls got all hurt if we brought another girl home," says Matt, 20, an Arizona State student. "They acted like we were a big family, but we'd only known each other for a few days."
    ...
    "There were things that the producers told me I couldn't do," says Casey, 25, a Miami model. "There was one point where I hooked up with Trishelle from The Real World Las Vegas [who was there for MTV], and the producer said I wasn't allowed to hang out with her because she's under contract for other things."

    And unlike documentarians, the producers, who have to work with MTV in their day jobs, felt it prudent to edit out the more controversial scenes, such as the one in which the twins have an angry, cursing fight with rapper Snoop Dogg in his post-concert trailer after, they say, he tried to get amorous with them...says twin Nicole, "Celebs like him are just average normal people. But he's more of a slut than the average person"
    ...
    "I'd rather be known for this instead of being smart or something," says [other twin, Roxanne]. "There's a million people who are smart. There's only 16 of us who were in Cancun together."

    Maybe this year, Roxanne. [Even Lawrence Van Der Gelder's entirely point-missing NYT review is entertaining.]

    Last evening, 7:30, heading to a tour a friend gave a museum group of her art collection, I was momentarily freaked out by the light.

    At first, I figured it's how streetlights turn on before it gets dark, but no. The sky was mottled, completely overcast, a bright, diffused, grey>>faint plum lightbox. It was that post-sundown interlude cinematographers call magic hour, except you never hear about "cloudy magic hour." For some reason, the light was cold, and every streetscape detail had a hardcut crispness.

    Then, I turned into my Korean deli, of the narrow middle-of-the-block variety, and was freaked out again. Was it the contrast with the strange outside light? Something wasn't right. So I asked, and, sure enough, they'd packed the ceiling with new fixtures, all filled with full-spectrum fluorescent tubes. $20 each, the owner proudly boasted. It was like shopping in a Gursky photo. I walked back out--with enhanced calcium absorption powers, apparently--into the separate-but-equally intense twilight.

    [Read an ASC's interview with Thin Red Line DP John Toll. "Because this is a Terrence Malick film, a lot people will just assume that we sat around waiting for magic hour, but we simply didn't have the luxury of doing that... We had a 180-page script...Yes, there are magic-hour shots in the film, but only because we had to shoot until it got dark!]

    alexander_payne_moma_dor.jpg
    from r: Jane, David, Nancy, Swoosie

    First, the good. Star photographer-to-the-stars Patrick McMullan has posted Billy Farrell's party pics from the Alexander Payne event last week.

    Then, the lame. In a bit they call House of Payne, the Daily News pretends that Alexander Payne was a pain in the ass and that "he should get over himself," slamming him for his "snippiness" toward good friend and interviewer, UA chief (and legendary indie film producer/distributor) Bingham Ray. But it's totally not true. Here's the deal: Rush & Molloy are too afraid of upsetting a studio head by saying he talked too much or sometimes inadvertently cut Alexander off; instead, they'll take lame shots at an extremely friendly, self-conscious director.

    Ray and Payne had gone off earlier in the day to discuss what themes and ideas they'd talk about on stage. During the rehearsal, their back-and-forth conversation was both animated and fascinating. Both are behind-the-camera guys; performing for a crowd doesn't come naturally to either of them. When the lights went down, Alexander was much more self-conscious, and Bingham was much more talkative.

    Many people told me they found the whole conversation very interesting. Some found it interesting, but thought Ray talked too much, at least for an event about Payne. And a couple of people wondered, who was that guy? If that's you, you're not in the film industry. But if you know Bingham Ray, you want to work with him, and so you're probably not going to tell him he talked too much. It's the paradox of power.

    My take: Ray said several times that night he'd never spoken in a one-on-one format like that, and he'd be mortified to think he messed up Payne's evening in some way. So if he talked over Alexander's answer, or told some story of his own, it was with the best of intentions. But hold a position of power and be sought out for your vision, for a long time, and you can become accustomed to being listened to. Bill Clinton was the same way. And Payne was a combination of polite, nervous and self-effacing; he's not gonna call a friend on something in front of a crowd, and his own reluctance to analyze his work beat out any fleeting desire to spoon-feed the crowd.

    As these two brilliant behind-the-camera guys gamely put on their best show, the producer sitting next to me had quickly figured it out. She leaned over to me at one point and whispered, "I want to hear the DVD commentary track for this."

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    Since 2001 here at greg.org, 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 greg.org that time.

    comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
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