Thursday, January 28, 2010

Miramax Shuts its Doors

Big news today. A giant in the film world Miramax has closed down. Although the move has been suspected for quite some time since the departures of it's founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein, it had always been a big question as to whether or not its parent company Disney could maintain it in their absence. All told exec Daniel Battsek ran the company the best he could, aquiring films like "Tostsi," "The Queen," and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (a personal favorite) but it seems the out-of-sorts film company was always at odds with its owner -- like a teenager rebelling against a parent.

Variety says that speculation is now back on the Weinstein brothers as to whether or not they will make a bid to buy back the company and rebuild it but many are unsure. For the moment Miramax will remain in the distribution business with 7 movies slated to come out this year and early next year.

I don't want to sound like a cliche and say something to the effect that all the other news media outlets are saying about how this is "the end of an era" because the truth is: it's the beginning of a new one. Miramax has had a good 20 year run and it could possibly do another 20. the way things look they could certainly do better than Disney's other studio arm, MGM has done. In any case, whether it does or not is besides the point. The show will go on. It always does.

Day Playuh!

Yesterday I worked a corporate training video shoot of a guy reading a teleprompter talking to an audience of stock brokers about how they should manage retirement funds. I acted mainly as script supervisor and personal assistant. I wish everyday would be like that--a very painless 6 hours. What made the day better was that I was working with two guys from "Lifted," the movie I was working on when I first started the blog! They weren't any two guys either, they were one of the producers and the director of photography, two wonderful gentlemen, very professional and easy to work for.

A friend of mine says that when you come off of a feature film project you're sharp as razors. I think she's right. It was nice because for the first time in a while I felt really good at my job! I'm not saying that I'd like to do videography work for the rest of my life, but some solid days here and there would really slow the encroaching grey hairs that are popping up in my hair line...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This week at Sundance

For those in-the-know, the acclaimed and highly criticized Sundance Film Festival is going on this week in Park City Colorado. It's the first major film festival of the year and depending who you are--the most important. Sundance unveils the first of the years top films but it's not without a stir. It's among one of the longest running film festivals in the world and competition to get in it is some of the most ferocious there could ever be. A lot of the criticism in recent years has been Sundance's focus on films that are not truly "indie" but more or less platform films for Hollywood stars pushing their prowess in more edgy, dramatic or quirky films whose only distinction from a studio film is the bureaucracy in how it was made.

So what is indie anyways? Is it story? Is it the cast? Is it the budget? Are some directors more indie than others? No. Indie simply refers to a movie that gets it's financing from outside the corporate studio system. Because of this, indie films generally tend to be a lot smaller, and about much more niche topics than the broader, higher budget Hollywood cousins. In short though, the studios are risk averse, they let others do the work for them and test out new ideas and when one sticks, they snatch it up (example: Juno, Little Miss Sunshine) Despite all this, Sundance still is a relatively decent platform for movies that are a little outside the box to make an appearance.

One movie I'm really pumped about this year is a film called "The Kids are Alright," a comedy, which focuses on the story of the children of a lesbian couple who go out to find their birth father. Aside from the subject matter the other hook for it for me is the title of the movie is taken from a song by "The Who," one of the best rock bands of all time! Sundance is a huge boost for these sort of films. Movies like this could go either way if released conventionally. First in trailers, then commercials, then in theaters. What film festivals like Sundance do is spark interest and create hype for audiences to get motivated in seeing things that are slightly different than normal. They rely heavily on the "bandwagon" effect which comes mostly from reviews from notable print and television media outlets and the internet.

Other interesting things at Sundance is a film called "Toads," which is a 3d nature documentary--the first of its kind. There's much hubub about whether or not Sundance should even allow 3d, after all--how indie is that? To answer, Indie is all about putting technology to the fullest, not matter how small the budget is, and raising the standards of what we expect is possible out of the wonderful story telling platform that is film-making.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Corporate Life on Film

I applied for a job with Time Warner yesterday. Unsure of why I think I just wanted to do the whole - submit your resume, prove you have a college degree, write a cover letter that somehow makes you look special--you know, that kind of thing. Anyways, it's a total farce but it got me thinking of some really good movies about corporate office life.

When Mike Judge's "Office Space" came out in 1999 it was received well but sat on the shelves. DVDs were only starting to take off and for some reason the film just got lost in the theater to shelf phase because not many people saw it right off the bat. Slowly, with the rise of shows like "The Office" and a huge boost in DVD sales in the early OO's the word was finally getting out. Now, "Office Space" has become engrained into our pop-culture psyches and people everywhere are familiar with the upbeat slacker corporate comedy. I've often wondered, will we ever be able to think of a stapler again without saying it like Milton?

"Office Space" is an imaginative movie. The main character, Peter (Ron Livingston) gets hypnotized into a completely relaxed state of mind to where he no longer is concerned about work, and then without warning the man doing the hypnotizing dies of a heart attack leaving Peter still hypnotized. He goes home and thus his shannanigans as the world's most uncaring corporate employee continue. Contrary to what you would imagine if you were to go to work completely not-giving-a-fuck our main guy Peter gets a promotion and doted on by his bosses for "thinking outside the box."

Welcome to 2009! Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" has been released to almost unanimous critical acclaim and it is going stronger than ever towards the Oscars. In many ways due to the success of "Office Space," a movie that didn't win any awards or hardly any critical acclaim when it was released is now, through the looking glass that is our current economic state an almost prophetic movie about corporate America.

Both films have their comedic moments, "Office Space" being comedy, of course has more yet both handle the ideas of out-sourcing, laying off workers, and loving/hating one's job while taking hold of its advantages. Ron Livingston's character and George Clooney's are both motivated by some huge payoff. Ron gets his payoff in the form of extorting the company he works for while Clooney takes advantage of airline perks and his company's enormous travel budget to secure a place amongst only the very top frequent fliers in the world. The best part about these two movies is that their stories are so plausible and something that is unanimous in the sense of "Who hasn't thought of screwing their boss over?" at some point or another, we've all been there.

In recent months I've done quite a bit of traveling and I think that's why "Up in the Air" appealed so much to me. There's a scene at the beginning where Clooney is telling the audience how to successfully use stereotypes to get through an airport security line. It's like he's spilling my own secret! On top of that the movie takes all this recession crap we've been dealing with for the last few years and puts it in context.

So that's about it. I'll probably never hear from my corporate overlords I submitted my resume to and that's probably a good thing. With so many things goes wrong with big banks, big firms, big everything, perhaps we got too far ahead of ourselves. Maybe we should think smaller? Bigger isn't always better and "too big to fail" is just another form of fear-mongering.

Why we like biopics and what that says.

Dreamworks has announced it's found a writer for its envisioning of a MLK biopic. This is sure to be a successful film but to what end are we really gaining anything out of it? MLK, like Jesus and Ghandi is a hard topic to write a two hour piece about without it seeming like it's going all over the place. There's just way too much to include. And if the writer doesn't include something or plays events differently, the whole thing could backfire--like pretty much every biopic made by Oliver Stone. Dreamworks, being a reasonable studio, as far as studios go probably won't let it backfire but still, I feel like they're walking a pretty tight rope. What's going to be the main narrative for a film like this? So many events, so many speeches. There have been biopic attempts at MLK in the past. Made for TV things that skip over huge chunks of history. Which brings us to the problem with these things.

Biopics are very selective about the stories they tell. Sometimes they come out like a book of cliff notes on someone's life, like the Johnny Cash one, touching on the major events and what leads up to them, giving the audience a decent idea of what the person was like but not a total one. Then sometimes they come out a little more artful, but more disjointed and wrapped up in conflicting accounts as "Capote" did. In a story like that, it's almost impossible to really tell what was going on.

Regardless we like biopics because they so artfully and eloquently spoon feed us the bits we need to know about key figures in our history. In the end it's supposed to be entertainment and as a student of history, I know the past isn't always going to be entertaining. People's lives are not always easy to make sense out of. Have you ever thought how you would construct a narrative of your life and make it worth watching?

What would you like to see in an MLK biopic? Everyone pretty much knows the story. Came from Atlanta to Montgomery, boycotted busses, stood up to Bull Connor in Birmingham, got thrown in Jail, made the "I have a dream" speech, then was shot in Memphis. A movie that goes along like that would be a huge failure to a man like King. I'd be interested in seeing something that plays more away from the black vs. white struggle and more about equal rights, equal pay and the war on poverty. This is where King's messages are still so painfully true.

I'd like to see something that goes beyond the South. The worst part of America's Civil Rights story is that the southern states get most of the blame for it. It's led to unjust stereotypes of southerners that persist to this day. A film that brings the Civil Rights story out of the south into the rest of the country is a film that would go much farther than stirring up the regular old wounds. One of the saddest times in MLK's life came when he went to Chicago to help lead the fight against poverty yet most people don't know this. The workers and activists there endured some of the worst beatings and acts of violence there than anywhere in the South. All in all, it's a new decade and sadly, King's dream is still unreached. It's time we examine his message in a broader context, which is how it was meant to be taken, and not in this simple black/white mentality.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Taking a Break and new frontiers

Since coming back from my last job in Louisiana where I got to work on set of a film produced by Ted Hope, one of my indie film heroes, he writes and is a genuine visionary for people who love film, I've now decided to take a break and work on some of my own projects for a bit. I didn't get a chance to introduce myself or talk to Mr. Hope. I mean, after all I'm a PA, what on earth do I have to say other than "would you like anything to drink?" Having read Ted's blog for over a year and having not worked on a personal project since I've started this PA struggle, I think it's time to take a break from the grind. I can wash dishes, wait tables, work retail, whatever, just support myself long enough to get a couple of scripts off my chest.

No one wants to be a PA forever. Someone on this film told me that "You only are what you're doing at the present time." And so I thought, I'm standing outside in twenty degree weather with a windchill in the single digits, my feet are rotting off, and I'm blocking off a driveway a quarter of a mile from set so that random cars won't turn into the drive and ruin the shot with their headlights. But at least I'm working on a movie people are actually going to see.

It's a pretty easy job, and I like those "deep lock-ups" as they are called because they allow me to do one thing: day dream. I work on scripts in my head and create characters and incidents that I'd like to see. So then one day, there might be a film I'm making and I'll have PA's scattered to the four winds protecting the set from intruders and surely one of them will enjoy it just as much as I did.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fun job. Hard work.

Louisiana is awesome! The people here are great and I love working here. I'm excited about this movie coming out and wish I could say more about it! I'm sad to be leaving here tomorrow but personal life is calling. While there's always things that could be better about every project anyone has ever worked on, I've gotta say this is definitely the coldest. Boston was cold but we were inside most of the time. Louisiana has been nothing but frigid this week and we have been outside almost the entire time! I've learned a lot about union shows, which this is, for the most part. I like them. Having a real transpo department and teamsters is amazing. Having a real crafty table and awesome catering is also amazing.

My feet are killing me. I got the trench foot--which, for those of you who don't know is like athletes' foot. It feels almost like the bottoms of my feet are bruised. To boot, my knee has started really hurting me again. I injured a little over a year ago on a hiking trip and everything seem to be fine until all this cold weather. So, having to work on top of all that is pretty rough. My mind has felt very sluggish these past several days and trying to get things done and stay on task is hard for everyone. We've pulled through though.

I wish I could stay here and finish the show but there are other things calling me away.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Going to LA ---- Louisiana that is

Never travel with cooking products laying about in your back seat. Funny story.

So, it's the night before I leave to go to Shreveport, LA to work on a movie and I'm driving back to my place after a night out and I of course, run into a speed trap, not even a mile away from my apartment! A headlight of mine, which I have been meaning to fix for a while, was out and the police officer wanted to let me know. I hand him my license and registration, he goes off to make his report. I sit in the car, astonished and in denial, I text my girl friend. A few minutes later the officer comes back and hands me my stuff. In the mean time another police car has pulled up and another office is approaching from the other side of my vehicle. The officer that pulled me over is going through what I do to avoid getting charged for the headlight when the other one interrupts him and says, "Hey, I think we got something here."

Thinking, Oh man, I'm fucked. This is really happening. They've planted something in my car like in the movies and I'm about to take a trip to be someone's jail bait for the night. Great, really great. I'm so fucked. I must have turned white.

At this very same moment, the officer writing the ticket puts his pad on the roof of my car. Thunk. And then he asks, "Is there anything you'd like to tell me about what's sitting in your back seat?" In a split second, his voice had gone from a mundane routine traffic citation voice to a commanding alert situational awareness voice.

Suddenly it hits me. It's a Christmas gift that I'd somehow forgotten to get out of my car after getting back home: fresh basil from my aunt's garden. Nervously I glance back there to confirm my thinking. Very calmly I tell them, "It's basil." Then I ask them if I can get it for them. Not wanting to draw any suspicion or alert them in anyway. The officer at my window tells me to sit where I am and that he will get it for me. He goes around the other side of the car, opens the door and reaches to get it out of the back seat. I should not have let him do this because I realized at the very moment he opened my car door that I gave him permission to search my car but it was too late to say anything.

A few more nervous seconds pass by.

Outside the car they examine the contents of the clear glass jar containing my precious basil. Upon opening it they immediately conclude that it really is in fact basil, and astonished they both look at each other, then at me, pausing when suddenly they bust out laughing hysterically! The one who had approached my car from behind asks, "Boy, you a chef or something?" Yes I like to cook. He bursts out laughing again. Still astonished, the officer writing me the ticket hands me the paperwork to sign and in between chuckles explains that they hear the whole basil thing all the time but to have it actually come true just made their night. When he said this, no joke, the other officer was laughing so hard he bent over. They told me I was done and could go and not wanting to stick around and have to trade recipes I left them, huddled in the dust chuckling about what the rest of the boys were going to think of their "basil bust."

Good times. Gotta get some sleep though, heading to The Shreve in the morning to stand on endless lock downs and screw up coffee orders.