Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Summer Movies Part 1

Summer is just about here and the entertainment outlets are putting out there summer movies guides but the overall feeling is: yawn... sequels, remakes, and reboots. It's hard to compare this summer to last summer because this summer hasn't happened yet but for the most part, it's not shaping up to expectations... or is it? Despite what many say about, sequels, remakes, and reboots, Hollywood is getting pretty darn good at getting you into a theater seat to go see it. Last year's reboot of "Star Trek" was one of the best movies made both in it's grossing and critic's reviews despite lots of detractors saying it would be a bust. Also, Michael Bay's "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" was successful enough to bring on yet another sequel even though it had very little critical success. So who knows? Well, here's my guess's for eleven of this summer's most anticipated movies.

Ironman 2 -- Hit -- This is obvious. Personally, I'm on the fence about this. I worked on a film set that had several people who worked on this behemoth and heard some pretty interesting gossip. Won't kiss and tell though, the name sells itself and plus people want to see Mickey Rourke in a big action film. The part I'm on the fence about it all the stuff director Jon Favreau is bringing in from the Marvel universe. "Wolverine" did this same thing, bringing in lots of auxillary superheroes who ended up hurting the film more than helping. Seems the ironman franchise is the new "Spiderman" as far as superhero films go and so it will be successful... for now at least.

Robin Hood -- Miss -- Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have been a very profitable pairing in the past but from the way this Robin Hood remake is shaping up, it's not looking very good. Being released in the same month as "Ironman 2" isn't going to help it either. It's going to get hammered critically in how it isn't the story of Robin Hood at all--avoids the crusades entirely, turns Robin Hood away from the likeable ex-nobleman and into a thug. It's sounding more like how "First Knight" retold the story of King Arthur but without Sean Connery and Richard Gere. If you see it at all it's because you're expecting gladiator but what you're really getting is Ridley Scott's over extended line of credit with audiences.

Letters to Juliet--Hit-- This looks to be this summer's "Julie and Julia" in how it sounds like a mother-daughter film that is sure to have success that carries it on for a while. Set in Europe and following the story of a woman's search to return a long lost love letter it may sound cheesy but I assure you it's not written by Nicholas Sparks. My girlfriend will probably want to see it and of all the romantic comedies/dramas churning out, this is one I could probably sit through. Of course, I've been wrong before.

Get Him to the Greek -- Miss -- This bro-comedy looks to hang on the success of a Judd-Apatow-esque sex and drug comedy but despite how much it wants to be this year's "the Hangover" it won't.

Killers -- Miss -- I want Lionsgate to succeed really sincerely, they've started doing most of their production work out of Atlanta now and that's a market I wouldn't mind working in but I don't think "Killers" will be able to beat Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in "Knight and Day." The only similarity between the two is how a woman is accidentally brought into the work of a serial killer/assassin. Cruise trumps Kutcher and Diaz trumps Heigl: "Knight and Day" has been marketing way longer than "Killers" so when people see the "Killers" trailer they think, "Oh, that looks like that Tom Cruise movie with Cameron Diaz."

Knight and Day -- Hit -- Cruise's bad publicity days are winding down. Hollywood wants it's Tom Cruise back. He's learned to keep his head down and mouth shut about the scientology stuff and besides, the media has a short memory, especially when it comes to the antics of Maverick from "Top Gun." Like it or not, Tom Cruise is a force to deal with. The trailer for this movie is stellar and has audiences already wondering what it's all about--something "Killer's" doesn't. There's a mystery in the "Knight and Day" trailer that is more compelling, "How did Diaz live and what does Cruise want with her?" I thought I wouldn't say this, but I almost want to find out. Looks like an exciting date night movie.

The A Team -- Miss -- Why they are making a movie out of this old TV show is beyond me except to say that Family Guy's references to the A - Team and the family guy episode where Peter and the gang turn into "The A Team" are the only reason I can think for the movie's coming about. Plus Mr. T's random commercial appearances. It's going to flop, but no surprise.

Karate Kid -- Hit -- I know, I know, how could they? Right? Well, yeah, they could. As much as I loved the original Karate Kid, it's pretty damn dated back to the 80's. I can barely look at the kid in it and help myself from laughing at how ridiculously 80's he looks and acts. I know the 80's cheesiness is much of the charm of this movie but in reality, the reason we like it transcends the decades. I like that they made the kid African American and the master played by Jackie Chan (in a serious role) that is enough to make me go see it and I'm sure many others will too. Great movie for dad to take the kids to.

Predators -- Miss -- From what it sounds like the Predators franchise has wandered all over the place and that this film hopes to get back to the original awesomeness that was Arnold Swartzenager in the glory days, of course minus the Arnold. It seems like this film was made around the same idea that made "Terminator Salvation" and that it perhaps was meant to rival it and now that it's coming out a year later it won't seem so obvious. The problem I think audiences will have with it will be that we don't get it. The concept sounds interesting and there's definitely an audience there it's just not as big as the makers of this hopeful blockbuster want it to be. Like the inconsistency problems that are killing the "Terminator" franchise, Predators will likely kill itself off as well.

Inception -- Miss -- Summer Sci fi thrillers that don't involve light sabers and the Starship Enterprises generally don't do well no matter who is directing it. Chris Nolan is a great director and story teller but I don't know how well he can pull this one off. I'm looking forward to seeing it though and and will probably like it but I don't think it will be a "success" with the mass audiences, even with Leonardo Dicaprio, it seems unlikely.

The Other Guys -- Hit -- The pairing of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlburg as cops is for some reason hilarious. Everyone can picture Wahlburg's cop character from the Departed and we can imagine how it would clash with someone like Ferrell. On top of that, it looks to be of a higher caliber than Ferrell's latest "Will Ferrell-eque" type comedies so it should be interesting.

So, those are some of my bets. It's not necessarily what I personally would like to see, not all of it at least, especially with "Inception." Some obvious successes are Toy Story 3, Twilight Eclipse, and the Steve Carrell animated film, Despicable Me, and Salt--because anything with Angelina in it is successful and this one has been marketing for a while. Ironman 2 comes out next week! So let the viewing begin!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Summer Movies Part 2: the formula

I love that feeling when a movie is announced, and it's like there's just something under my skin that's just itching, compulsively, and won't stop until it forces me to see it. I love that feeling. I saw Star Trek on my own last year because I couldn't wait to schedule going to see it around my friends schedule. I did the same when Two Towers came out, and regrettably, I went straight from finals to go see the sequel to The Matrix when it came out. I don't know what I feel about the films coming out this year, suffice to say, deja vous? Have we been here before?

There's nothing too distracting about the movies coming out this summer and that has allowed me to peer behind the curtain and find something extremely telling: the formula. Here's how it goes: non-trilogy, franchise sequels & prequels are generally released earlier in the summer, along with long anticipated remakes/reboots they're the ones that will get the most hype and most anticipation, for instance, Ironman 2 and Shrek 4, and Robin Hood (AKA Gladiator: the sequel) coming out in May. This is followed by a slew of date films and bro comedies at the same time children's films from June -- August. Throw in some more big budget action/adventure stories, this time, ones that are probably more original, and then let the money roll in...

Studios posture endlessly to schedule release dates for their upcoming blockbusters because they want to have the most strategic release as possible so the most money can be made from it. The three biggest weekends to release summer movies are the first weekend of spring/summer--usually around May 1, July 4th, and Memorial Day. Cleverly enough, these weekends span the summer movie season roughly marking the beginning middle and end. You can pretty much guarantee a big, big, release on every single one of these three weekends.

Since we've already talked about May which has been dominated so far by Iron Man 2, lets move to June which is packed with huge releases geared towards the out-of-school age14-22 demographic.

June 4:
Get Him to the Greek

June 11:
The A-Team
The Karate Kid

June 18:
Toy Story 3
Jonah Hex

June 25:
Knight and Day
Grown Ups

And the big ball-busting can't believe it's going to make so much money:

June 30:
Twilight Saga: Eclipse

So in total, every weekend is something big, but it's geared more towards young adults because they're the ones killing time, spending parents' money.

Looking further ahead, at mid summer where the July 4th weekend is going to be dominated by "The Last Air Bender" the hopeful new blockbuster by a not so blockbusting director M. Night Shyamalan, there is a more diverse mix of films. This is because July is the one true month of summer where if someone were going to have a summer vacation or be off for whatever length of time, worldwide, this would be the month. So take a look:

July 2:
Last Airbender
I hate Love Stories

July 9:
Despicable Me
The Kids are Alright
Change of Plans

July 16:
Sorcerers Apprentice

July 23:
Dinner for Shmucks

July 30:
Charlie St. Cloud

Keep in mind, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Twilight, and Knight and Day will all still probably be playing during this time and grossing big money. I'm excited that "The Kids are Alright" -- the indie/Hollywood film about lesbian parents whose children want to know who their sperm donor father is, got a release that falls in the mix of all these films. It's definitely on the "Little Miss Sunshine" marketing bus of "little indie film becomes summer's sleeper hit," sorry "Letters to Juliet," if it hasn't happened for you by this point it's over baby.

Moving on to August the summer movie season wraps up, but since that's so far away at the moment we'll keep the pre-game out of it as we've yet to really see how exactly June and July shape up. I hope this has been informative but I hope it doesn't discourage you from seeing what you want to see. Go support film!

Dega Job

Sometimes shoots don't work out. I was hired by a company last week to PA a shoot for the Talladega NASCAR race. Unfortunately, bad weather canceled our shoot and the race that was going to happen on Saturday. Sunday's went off fine, but we weren't covering Sunday's. Anyways, all I ended up doing was running errands. It was pretty easy work. Reminded me a lot of interning except I didn't learn anything and didn't make any good connections. It was just a job. Fortunately, even though they canceled the shoot I still got paid.

There was a funny story I was going to tell about the very particular needs of one of the persons involved but it doesn't seem necessary. I just wonder when I'm a big producer or director if I will be as demanding as some of the people I've worked for. Is this what happens when we start at the bottom and work our way up? It seems many learn by example and become pickier and pickier as we assimilate more power.

I don't ever want to be picky. When the apocalypse comes, who's going to care about your non-fat Haagen-dazs strawberry sherbert with the blue top? Whose going to care about your skinny, sugar-free vanilla, one pump, extra shot vente latte? How will these people learn to survive without their Diet-Peach Snapples or 6" Turkey subs minus lettuce, minus bread, just mustard and meat? Seriously? I know it's my job and everything but I'm beginning to think people do this pettiness on purpose and there's really nothing I can do about it.

"Greenberg" -- Worst film in years

I've seen a lot of movies in my life; some good, some bad, some with so much possibilities but Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg" was none of these. Baumbach has finally made a truly despicable film with nothing redeeming about it what-so-ever. No important lessons, not even marginally important lessons, or even mistakes or anything can be taken from this movie. It's hard being the brother of a rich person, living in LA, and having friends that don't get you, that's about all I got. The fact that no one punched Ben Stiller in the face except once in this whole movie was a shame.

Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale" was a great film about the disconnection between parents and kids during divorce. His script writing of "The Life Aquatic" and "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" are great contributions to film libraries everywhere. People going to see "Greenberg" because of these facts are being duped and it should serve as an insult to all his previous work.

Words cannot begin to express how self indulgent and psychologically inconsistent the characters and the plot of this flick is. Rotten Tomato's tomato meter is definitely broken for not rating this movie lower. It is marketed based on Ben Stiller's acting performance and Baumbach's previous work but the fact that it has been released so early in the year means that there's clearly no merit to it, otherwise, it would be released closer to the fall Oscar rush. Greenberg is an utterly unlikeable character, his girlfriend played by Greta Gerwig is an LA hipster with serious sexual issues, and the dog has AIDS. If any of that sounds interesting for ninety minutes of your life, go see it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dega baby woo-hoo!

If you ain't first you're last. I just got a job working the talladega races and I'm super pumped! Sports events are some of best PA jobs out there. Once the race starts, it's go go time and you work hard but it's such a rush. My first PA job ever was a dega race. It should be fun. I expect it to be different than last time. Last time we were shooting promo stuff for a 35mm crew and this time it's for a company doing the broadcast. I haven't worked live television much so this will be a good experience.

Job starts early tomorrow and goes through Saturday. Hope I have as many fun stories I did from the last time I worked there. The highlight of that experience was getting flashed by a 50 year old drunk woman so that she could try to get a ride in the golf cart I was driving around that had all the equipment in it. Anyways, it should be good. Here's to optimism.

Monday, April 19, 2010

War Movies vs. War Video Games

War movies were once super popular with the general male populace. Not anymore. With the prevalence of video games and medal-of-honor-worthy acts of digital heroism the need to watch others do it on screen is less exciting. "The Hurt Locker" will probably be the last war film to win an oscar for at least the next decade. The reason: cinematic war is over. Bring on the virtual ones.

War movies rocked male audiences in the fifties and sixties. As you can imagine they became less popular in the 70s due to "Vietnam Syndrome," but would pick back up in the mid 80s. "Apoclaypse Now" and "the Deer Hunter" came out to in the 70s to critical success but they weren't lauded much financially. It wouldn't be until Oliver Stone's "Platoon" that the war film genre would reach its second coming. "Rambo" which is an action film whose hero was born out of the Vietnam war, helps pave the way for how Americans should think about war and audiences showed up in droves. Reagan helped too. The success of Stone's "Platoon" launched several other Platoon-esque films to come out and catch onto the lucrative post Vietnam movie audiences, "Full Metal Jacket," "Hamburger Hill," "Flight of the Intruder," and many others. Looking back though, I think one of the main reasons guys in my dad's generation liked war movies starring big masculine actors like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood was because we liked to imagine ourselves in their shoes: calm, cool, and badass under pressure--much how you feel when you play a war video game.

Well, enter modern war films: frantic, overly depressing, morbid, and dare say, formulaic. Now, this isn't to say that "Apocalypse Now" isn't all of these and more, it's just, it was really the first to hit all those chords. "Platoon" did too, but it's something we can't seem to get out of: "The anti-war, war movie."

Here's how you make a modern war movie.

1. Take an "every-man character" and insert him in the military. Like you and me, there's some resistance and defiance to the military's way of doing things and we relate to the characters through his subtle acts of rebellion.

2. Through "trial by fire" he learns that the military seems to be alright at preparing him for doing the things he must do, so now he's got to just focus on surviving. He looks at life with new resolve.

3. With new resolve in hand, he and his fellow soldiers use team work and brotherly love to get them through near impossible feats of survival.

4. In that focus on surviving our main character sees the other supporting characters get blown away and slowly learns an important lesson: war sucks.

5. The audience leaves the film feeling less enthusiastic about life as opposed to when they entered.

It's an important lesson. War is a crap thing human beings have wrought upon the earth and upon each other. Movies, need to figure out how to tell a war story without it being the same rehashing of old wounds.

Here's where video games flourish. Video games let us get in the shoes of the main character and fight the war ourselves and with the help of some clever programming, we get to the hero and save the day. Like war movies, war video games don't need much plot to get you to the end of it, you just have to save the day or in some cases, just survive long enough.

Lately I've spent a lot of time watching "The Pacific" on HBO. I loved the series "Band of Brothers" and am so far still on the jury when it comes to "The Pacific." For the most part, it's a harder mini series to get involved with. "Band of Brothers" had character development that has never been seen before in the war movie genre. "The Pacific" has had some development, but it's more like a collective ensemble of average grunts being portrayed through small vignettes of valor. One thing is definitely different though, "The Pacific" is much more realistic than I ever imagined the Pacific War to be because until now the best example I have in my head is John Wayne crawling over rocks in a movie about Iwo Jima. The film is a fairly accurate of the hardships American troops had to go through and is a fair depiction of it that gives a little more of a sense about it than if you were to watch a documentary about it on TV.

I think tomorrow I'll wake up and play some "Call of Duty." It's all the same action minus the guilt. Some say you should feel worthless for playing video games. I don't. I feel worthless for watching some half contrived war movie that makes me feel like I'm doing nothing with my life unless I'm out killing japs and coming down with a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder. When faced with that, I'll take video games any day.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Film Slaves vs. film makers

There are film makers and there are film slaves. Film makers say they "make films" whereas film slaves are the ones who "make films happen." I'm getting tired of "film makers." These are people you meet at film festivals or in film schools who are the next 'wanna-be Martin Scorcese,' and that they're going to make the next big revolution in the film industry happen. Why? Better yet, how? And even better yet, why should we listen?

This business is based on money, not art. Many of us would like for all of the content of film and television to based on art and the collective needs of our culture to have some form of art that reflects itself but it isn't.

Americans hate art. Most of them anyways. Including myself for the most part. I took some art classes in college and couldn't help but feel their aim was more or less off. They preached art as being "a great equalizer" as something that gets messages across and makes arguments that are original and individual and that if you make something that resembles someone else's you are simply "cliche" or not being individual enough and need to figure out who you are. So, art students go on this quest to prove who they are. They shop at thrift stores, eat ramen noodles, intern at photography studios, and read fashion magazines and for what? Why? So some failed college art professor can feel like they have a sense of power? No.

So it comes down to this. In this industry you either work above the line or below it. You make your own job or you get hired for someone else's. That's how it is. It's not art, it's not culture, it's business. In a capitalist system this is how we determine what deserves to get made or not. It's the project that gets the most money or the most support and its not often the project that is the most deserving. It's the project that is clever, that's seductive, that's edgy, that's whatever the people with the funds want it to be.

For all you aspiring film makers out there get your stupid little heads out of the clouds of revolution and take the coffee order because that's all you're going to be able to do. Indie film is dying. Auteur film-makers are becoming extinct. That's not to say they'll become non-existent, but they're not really needed. Anyone can become an auteur if they're facebook or twitter page is clever enough. That's the reality of this digital age of film-making we're living in.

Frivolous Friday April 16th

Here's my audition for a Reality TV show. Hope you enjoy. This is what I have had to deal with lately.

Data Wrangling

So this past week I worked as a "Data Wrangler." It was terrible, I hated it. If there's one thing I'm not, it's an assistant editor/data wrangler. Now, I did learn a ton of new stuff, which is excellent, and I would love to have this opportunity over again so that I could do it all right. I hate not doing stuff right and getting it wrong and messing up the production, I absolutely hate it. That's part of being a PA, I guess.

What I'll do right next time:

1. Think! -- I think this crucial ability was impaired by the fact that I was so nervous about this new assignment I only got but about 3 hours of sleep the night before, so I guess more importantly, the trick is to get a good night's sleep.

2. Never assume -- now, this is a very basic thing I've learned in this production industry of ours that I somehow forgot this past week. I wanted to impress the people I worked with so much I forgot some very basic shit I should not have forgotten. Mainly, asking the producers for clearer instructions when stuff was unclear.

3. Admit what I don't know--There was clearly confusion on what the company wanted me to do. What I agreed to do when hired was to work as a runner/data wranger. What I ended up doing was that plus more, stuff like assistant editor work. Next time, I might be a little more forthcoming about my limitations, I barely know Final Cut, at least to the point that they wanted me to know it. Next time, I'll make it clear that I don't know something.

4. Not beat myself up -- It's an easy thing to say, not an easy thing to prevent. We all want to be perfect. When we're good, on top of things, we're confident that we'll work again and get that next job. When we're not, we got into this spiraling of self blame.

5. Keep it light -- I think this was supposed to be a frivolous post.

ANYWAYS, it's all said and done. Live and learn. One thing this other production could've benefited from was paying me a half wage and hiring another PA. Sometimes it's better to have more warm bodies than cold, worked to death, dead bodies.

That's it. I'm out. Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Refuse to:_____________

This is a new section I'm starting about things I will no longer put up with. One of them: stupid accounting departments. I can't do anything about it now. But when I'm head of a production company or head of a studio, that's going to be the first target in my cross hairs.

I've had two weeks of fixing a problem with my passport that has caused quite a bit of irritation for a production company I worked for doing casting calls for that reality show. It seems to them, the only two valid forms of ID needed to complete an I-9 work form are a DL and a passport. I had the DL but did not bring the passport and thus they told me I would not get paid until I did. The reason for my delay is that I've been hesitant on giving out this information so I consulted a lawyer. Paranoid? Maybe, but maybe it's time for a wake-up call.


I think I found the line. Refusing pay, based on refusal to show additional forms of ID after two forms of it were already given is not only a pain in the ass but illegal.

I did not understand is why this company needed my passport when there are many other types of ID stated on the I-9 that are also included as "acceptable" forms of identification. What types you ask? It clearly states Social Security card, non drivers license, commercial license, air plane license, military ID and any other form of government ID greater than a library card. Since the production was not shooting out of the country I see no need to submit my passport information because I view that information as private and something I should only have to share if needing to show it to a government official.

Second only to my right to privacy, is the fact that a company should not force its workers to submit pass port identification if the work being done for the production is being done on a "local" basis. In other words, if the company is not willing to ship me off to France or the Bahamas to work for them, then FUCK their need to see my passport.

Lastly, in the United States, citizens are not required to get a passport, it's optional. A company that requires its workers to have a passport and will refuse pay if they don't is illegal. It's discrimination without basis and had I gone to law school and had nothing better to do I would file charges against them. It would be one thing if this company hires people out to work over seas for them but it's another if the work being done is domestic. You cannot make one of your credentials for employment based on whether or not someone has the ability to travel overseas if the work being done is NOT being done overseas. It's retarded. The smoking gun here is the threat that they will not pay until their version of a proper ID has been presented to them for approval.

The people who worked for the company told me how they have to show their passports every year and that for whatever reason, that's just the way it is. Well, I'm here to say it's not the way. A company cannot make up it's own rules on how it wants to interpret a federal tax form. That's just the way it is.

Hope this is at all helpful to anyone other than just me. I'm probably getting madder than I should over the smallest thing but I feel that more and more these days production companies are trampling on our rights as employees and there's nothing we can do about it.

Next time on "I Refuse to: _________": Voodoo Accounting Practices

Friday, April 2, 2010

Frivolous Friday April 2nd

I had a lot of time to think while on this past production job sitting in casting auditions all day. My mind wandered and my phone died all too quickly because I was on the internet constantly. When I got off the internet I couldn't help but think about why it is people audition for reality shows. Why would anyone consciously want to be put under a microscope like that? To be subjected to social experimentation without recourse or protection by a validated research agency seems insignificant but after the shit hits the fan then what? Instead, you are under contract with a money grubbing, power hungry, ratings starved production company who needs you to be as entertaining as possible so that they can get more viewers and make more money from their network and cable channel masters. Then, when they're done with you, you're for the most part thrown away. How many people have had success after American Idol? For a show with monster ratings and huge appeal to mass audiences what all this tells us is that people care more about "the process" of getting to "America's Next Top... whatever" than what actually happens to them once they get there.