Sunday, December 28, 2008

You and Me: Let's make a resolution!

The end of the year brings year-end lists. And as you might guess, the ones I'm interested in are critic's lists of the best movies of 2008. But there's a problem out there in critic land. As newspapers fold and merge and the printed word goes the way of the abacus, good thoughtful movie critics are losing their jobs. Many of them are finding nice homes online, but the problem still remains, there are fewer and fewer men and women doing the good work of finding cinematic treasures that we'd otherwise never hear about.

Face it. The marketing campaign for most movies outweighs the entire budget for other (often better) films. Without critics, we might see Beverly Hills Chihuahua and The Dark Knight and think we've covered the spectrum of what's out there - and we would be very very wrong. So we support these pontificating film connoisseurs, learn from them and see for ourselves what we think. Many of these critics are damn fine writers and all of them have a passion for film that is unmistakable in their prose, even when that prose is lacerating a recent offering.

The food critic Anton Ego says in Ratatouille (a film you didn't need a film critic to make you aware of, but may have needed to tell you it was worth your time):

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends...

I am not a critic. I want to be on the other side. Perhaps one day, one of the critics whose opinions I value might see one of my films and rip it a new one. And I'll consider it an honor. Looking to these men and women for advice as they sift through this overwhelming landscape of media, I feel damn lucky that there are still people who care about good, solid, challenging, flickering beauty and are willing to write about it.

So, if you'd like, take a gander at what the critics say:

Andrew O'Hehir
Roger Ebert
Glenn Kenny
A.O. Scott
Matt Singer

And here's an interesting list of top 10 cities in which to make movies. (Current hometown Portland is number 8. Former hometown Los Angeles didn't make the list.)

Okay, now that you've read about some movies that might interest you, here's the resolution: See them.

Poke your head out of your whack-a-mole hole and you'll hear it: Things are bad. Economy swirling the drain. Stock market taking a big poo. Joblessness. Et cetera and so forth.

So why am I lobbying for you to periodically shell out an extra 8 to 14 bucks (double that if you take a friend) from your hard earned, and possibly shrinking, supply of cash? Now, of all times?

Call it a personal favor. But one that will ultimately benefit you. And your brain and heart. In bad times movies are a catharsis, in good times they are a complement to joy. They make us think and feel. They are art. And what, I ask, is the point of us, of humans walking around eating and talking, if not to make something grander than ourselves, to communicate and be communicated to in the thoughtful language of beauty and sorrow and joy?

And for god sakes, if people stop seeing movies, what the hell am I gonna do with my life? Seriously.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Even the most delicious tomato was grown in poo

I asked Brandon how the editing is coming along. He said, "Good." So there you have it, you're all up to date.

In the continuing meanwhile, here are a few more goings on: the screenplay (that will not feature bad guys) is coming along. Characters have been sketched, relationships mapped out, scenarios developed, and two whole pages written. Whoop-dee-doo.

This screenplay, however, will not be the next short the Company is to film. Next on the docket: an Ariana-helmed documentary. And not just any documentary, a documentary about the pursuit of a possibly mythical, but irrefutably fascinating beast. I'll add only that this particular beast is partial to our forested backdrops here in the Northwest, and say no more so as to not spoil the fun.

Jeffrey is also writing a narrative. It involves a coffee shop.

As you can see, the Company is busy making this whole filmmaking fantasy a plausible reality. You may wonder, where did this whole business begin? Well, since you're wondering...

It started with a Christmas present for our families. We wrote, acted in, and edited together a fifteen minute Noir. For reasons of copyright (we used music that didn't belong to us) and artistic integrity (we acted), this particular production will never be posted for any sort of public viewing. If you happen to know a member of one of our four families, ask them to arrange a screening for you. Barring that, just know that our little project turned out about 87 degrees more awesome than we'd expected, and we saw that our love of watching movies could become a love of making them.

Of course there were all sorts of technical things to consider. Editing? How the hell do you do that? So I decided to try something out. Film a scene from a movie, edit it on Apple's magnanimously free iMovie, and convert it to a Quicktime movie file. What resulted is not good, but functional. It helped convince us that it was possible to film things. Recently, Jeffrey (the one member of the Company who turned out to posess acting skills) posted his fantastic and infamous crying scene from our ill-fated attempt at filming the Feature. So I thought I'd post this seminal snippet. Also my grandfather lives in Vietnam and has asked for a recent picture. Hi Ted!

Please note: I do not generally do not wear tights on my head; at the time (mid 2007), the Flight of the Conchords reference in the credits was current; and at all times, in all worlds, in all cultures, and to all humans Deep Forest's Sweet Lullaby is a fantastic and awesome and super great song.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Such Animal

I’m writing my second screenplay for our Shorts Series. As I mentioned to the Company this weekend, as atonement for the sins of my last script (the internal, pensive, self-reflective slowness of it), I want to write something full of vim and vigor, movement and action and intrigue and all that. A mystery! A thriller! The problem? I don’t believe in bad people. Huh? Yeah, I don’t. People do bad things, but I have a hard time believing there are such things as “bad guys”.

And unfortunately, bad guys are one of the easiest ways to engineer conflict. To make a story that follows a character from desire to the thwarting of the desire to the overcoming of the thwarting to the ultimate attainment of the desire, the easiest method is to stick a bad guy in there. Calvera, Lars Thorwald, The Wicked Queen. From wonderful movies, all of them, and I’m not saying that the respective writers took the “easy” way to writing their stories. I’m just saying that it’s taking me a long goddamned time to come up with mine.

So if I don’t believe in bad guys, I’m tasked with the problem of figuring out why people do bad things. When I was sketching out the antagonist, I came up with four scenarios. I thought they were interesting enough to share. Thoughts?:

1. Anonymity fosters antisocial behavior. See: comments on any Internet site. Good luck reading more than five without someone calling someone else a cock sucking idiot. Something I have to hope they’d not do if they were having the same debate over Heath Ledger’s Joker performance face-to-face. See also: flipping the bird while driving.

2. Authority has the ability to supplant individual responsibility. See the electric shock experiment. See also: war.

3. Public opinion supersedes personal morality. See: American Slavery. See also: Nazi Germany.

4. Fear and self preservation.

Not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. And that’s what we have to do: Start.