Sunday, December 4, 2005

To become a filmmaker

Becoming a filmmaker is a challenge.

As you can see in his latest photo, Sir K is well on his way.  When the raw footage is shot...

But I digress.

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Congrats to JD Ryznar and the crew of Yacht Rock, who took home the Channy for Best Show at Channel 101.

That would include Hollywood Steve, my writing partner and the host.  He bookended each episode of the series with flair.

If you haven't checked out the show, and if you're over the age of 13, take a look at it.

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Sir Knavely the Westside Cat is on its way to becoming an illustrated series of books

A children's book.  Well, kind of.  The themes are probably too dark for the smallest children.  But I'm sure they'll appreciate the sketches that my illustrator, Terra Harker Pearson, is creating for him.

Terra fell in love with the character I've been creating on this blog -- just for the record, the journey you're getting on this blog is mostly imaginary -- and suggested that I create a book about him.  I suggest that she become an illustrator for the series of books I'm planning on Sir Knavely.  She agreed.

I adore Terra.  She played Lucy when I workshopped our play adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities at the Canton Players Guild in July 2003, and I was very pleased with her work.  The audiences loved her as well.

I'm honored to work with Terra again.  It's going to be fun.

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I'm watching How the West Was Won:  the latest in a series of Westerns I've chosen.  Before directing the Two-Gun Kid pilot, I'm trying to get a visual understanding of the Western genre.

I've seen a range of Westerns this month:  John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado with Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn, and Kevin Kline.

Also John Ford's The Searchers with John Wayne; and George Stevens' Shane with Alan Lad and Van Heflin; and several episodes from The Lone Ranger, the 50s televison vehicle for Clayton Moore from the 50s. 

I couldn't finish David O. Selznick's Duel in the Sun with Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, and Lilian Gish -- too over the top.  It looked like a Western version of Gone with the Wind.

The strangest thing is this:  Lilian Gish got her only Oscar nom from this film, and Jones picked up her third.  Why?  Oscar is inscrutable, at times.

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The other evening, I had a long conversation with Sandy Said, my art designer, about the kind of sets and locations we want to use for Kid.  Since this is a zero-budget piece, we have to be creative.

I don't want to cover for the lack of a set by doing lots of closeups.  Somehow, I think we can do better than that.  My art director is  young and energized.  She'll figure out what can be done.  Ever since Sam Mendes did American Beauty, I've trusted filmmakers who come out of the theatre.

She believes the set and costume design need to come out of the story idea.  So I'm inviting her to my next story conference with my writer, editor, story consultant, and dp.

One of the big questions we must answer is this:  why a Western?  What is there about this story that demands it?  I know it does, but I want us to articulate it.

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Last night I finished reading Robert Rodriguez's Rebel Without a Crew:  Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player.  What an inspiring book.

What I liked most about him is his creativity as a director.  His story about using the turtle to bookend El Mariachi was a perfect example of the way to use creativity rather than a big budget to create a film.

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I saw Rent Friday night.  Major disappointment.  I loved the show, so perhaps my expectations were too high, but there were several problems that helmer Chris Columbus simply couldn't overcome.

The problem I had with the movie Rent -- and this showed in the first two episodes of Harry Potter series that he directed -- is that whenever Columbus needed to imagine the story differently, he retreated to the theatre.

Thus the opening scene takes place on the stage.  Beautiful, if you're doing a video of the show.  But there was no visual connection made between that scene and the rest of the story. 

Second example:  the tenant rebellion, with a fire started in the apartment, and the people lighting up paper on the fire escapes.  What?

The film couldn't decide whether it was a film -- or a video of the stage production.  For example, at the end Mimi dies and comes back to life.  Who?  What?  Why?  And was there ANYONE in the theatre who didn't predict that the pinky would wiggle back to life -- at least by the time the camera had moved laboriously, slowly, deliriously up her hanging arm to the open palm.

Too bad.  I really wanted to like this film.  By the way, Sarah Silverman puts in an appearance as the executive who hires Mark as a documentary filmmaker.  Interesting.

I know this movie was a labor of love for Columbus, and I respect that.  But he should have hired a director who could reimagine the story for a film audience.

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I've been watching all of the films of Hitchcock.  Netflix gives me excellent access to films I'd never have been able to locate even five years ago.

It's a nice option for a young filmmaker today.  It should prepare my generation of filmmakers to do even more informed work.

I like Hitchcock's style -- very precisely designed -- with beautiful cohesion.  Very stylized.

I believe the raw material of a film should be generated from a process that includes risktaking, mistakes, and random brainstorming.  But the final product should be the result of sheer hard work, and ruthless choices.

Oddly enough, as I've been learning and processing the material I read and discover, I keep referencing my workas a yearbook advisor:  so much of the work feels similar.

This feels especially true when it comes to using computer software.  When I began my tenure at Hoover High School, I immediately pushed the program into using Pagemaker, a difficult software program with a steep learning curve.

I'm just beginning to learn how to use digital editing equipment.  In so many ways, filmmakers have a much easier task than did Rodriguez when he shot El Mariachi

And of course because of that, expectations are higher.  So any way you look at it, filmmaking is a hell of a lot of work.  Exactly what I like.

I suppose it's no surprise that I'm planning to direct this Western piece by using a stylized set.  I don't think it's an accident that my 1998 Romeo and Juliet production was the most stylized piece I've done.  It works for me.

Of course, it's awfully hard to pull off style, but if it works, it can be breathtaking.  I'm willing to take the chance that I'm going to fall flat on my face with this piece -- a good reason not to spend money

Rodriguez believes EVERYONE has several bad films in him, so you're best off shooting those before you go to film school, before you spend money.  I like that.

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As I watched The Lone Ranger, I realized again why Westerns went out of style.  The show is about a team of crimefighters who solve crimes.  But the plots are predictable, and the production values are in the toilet. 

The radio show was far more successful.  Television simply couldn't match it -- a few simple sound effects, and you created a brilliant world in people's minds that film is now only beginning to create.

Today's crime fighting shows are much more interesting and relevant.  People can compare the complexity of CSI to their own lives much more easily -- the Republicans like to shout about how people in middle America have simple values, but that simply doesn't match the reality of people's lives.  Everyone has a dark side:  how many politicians who stand for family values turn out to have a dark side that shocks and horrifies the naive.

It's for that reason, I suspect, that a straight-up Western simply wouldn't be interesting anymore.  Taking out the bad guys with clean cheer, a horse, and a six gun simply isn't believeable anymore.

Thus, we're creating a Western show that isn't really about the old West at all.

Another example of a prop in The Lone Ranger that doesn't fit:  the black mask.  A black mask should symbolize secrets.  So why does Clayton Moore's lawman wear it?  He doesn't have another life to protect -- as he says to Old Joe's sister, his mask is simply fashion accessory.  Unless what he has to hide has nothing to do with crime.

For a prop like the mask to work, it needs to be relevant.  And it isn't.  The only Batman films that have worked clearly play on the truly dark, secret life that the hero actively hides.

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I wonder which direction film will go next?  The current generation seems influenced most by Quentin's obsession with game violence -- especially action grounded in the martial arts.

I know this much.  I found Sin City -- a child of Tarantino's ideals -- to be incredibly disturbing.  But its power could not be denied.  I'll never forget the impact of the film, because I was in the midst of writing this summer when I saw it, and it shut me down for two days while I wrestled with its ideas.

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Several other books on my immediate reading list -- mostly film theory and practicum:  Rudolf Arnheim's Film as Art; Christina Metz's Film Language; Camille Landau and Tiare White's What They Don't Teach You At Film School; Sergei Eisenstein's Film Form; Renee Harmon's The Beginning Filmmaker's Guide to Directing; Karel Reisz and Gavin Millar's The Technique of Film Editing; and Bruce Block's The Visual Story.

For sheer pleasure, I'm also reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, Frank McCourt's Teacher Man, and Stephen Chbosky's the perks of being a wallflower.

I finally finished Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kevalier & Clay, but I had to first read Wonder Boys (I love the film) in order to get up the courage. 

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