Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I love football...

...aAnd because I love football, I was thrilled when I got a call from the NFL a few weeks ago. It seems they're having a promotional contest connected with a little game they sponsor (you may have heard of it -- it's called the Super Bowl).

The promotion is for fans to pitch the "Best Super Bowl Commercial Ever," and the winning concept will be produced and shown on TV during the big game.

What does this have to do with me?

I'm going to be a judge. The commercial pitches are being heard at several venues, including Giants Stadium, Mile High Stadium, and Texas Stadium -- which is just up the road from me in Dallas. I'll be serving on one of the panels of judges, which supposedly consist of ex-players, broadcasters, and people like me (i.e., filmmakers and professors from the local areas in which the pitches are being heard).

so this Saturday afternoon/evening, I'll be in Dallas, at the Cowboys' stadium, hearing pitches and judging them and generally getting to be closer to a pro-football field than I've ever been before. I'm very excited about this and looking forward to it. I'll try to report on it next week.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What I'm Watching

This is the latest post in the increasingly rare series detailing my thoughts on movies I've seen recently. As usual, the holidays prove to be the best time to see a bunch of movies because we have parents in town (or we are visiting them) and thus have full-time babysitting available!

Anyway, I saw four movies over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I'll save the best for last. I'm not including photos here because it just takes too long, and there's not a whole lot of value added. You've all seen the promo photos to which I would link anyway.

Casino Royale

The new Bond film. A lot has already been written about this being a series "reboot," showing Bond as a rough-around-the-edges younger agent who is in the process of becoming the suave superagent we know and love. And I liked that angle. I liked the early scenes that show Bond doing his job more with force than with style (as when he literally walks through a wall when a leaping villain vaults over it). He is, as his boss M (Judi Dench) says, a blunt instrument. And the craggy Daniel Craig plays that version of Bond well. It remains to be seen if he'll play the "suave" Bond in future films as well as he plays the "unformed" Bond. What doesn't work as well in this film is the love story that is supposed to form the basis of Bond's bitterness and attitutde toward women. The idea is solid -- the loss/betrayal of the woman he truly loved causes him to never let a woman get that close to him again. I buy that as a concept. But I don't buy THIS love story as the one that accomplishes that. It's fairly banal and cliched, and I never sensed that Bond and Eva Green were desperately in love, though they seemed to talk a lot about it. But really, this was tons better than the recent entries in the Bond franchise, and I'm actually eager to see them explore Bond as a person (rather than as a concept) more in the future.

Stranger Than Fiction
Charlie Kauffman lite. It had the plot of a Kauffman film, but it didn't go anywhere very interesting once it established the idea. Will Ferrell's Harold Crick begins hearing a woman narrating his life. I expected and wanted to see this idea play out with more wit, a la Harold intentionally doing something different than the narrator says. There are many other examples, I am sure, none of which are springing to mind, but they SHOULD HAVE sprung to mind for the makers of the film. Instead, we get a standard love story that really doesn't go anywhere (and Maggie Gyllenhall just doesn't "fit" in this film, in my opinion). And Harold learns typical life lessons about the importance of living life to the fullest and not just counting his brush strokes as he brushes his teeth. Frankly, I think they shouldn't have introduced the Emma Thompson character so early -- Harold's curiosity about who is narrating his life should have been the mystery of the film (or at least the first half of the film), taking us on HIS journey of discovery. And speaking of his journey, I thought the film jumped a little too quickly (and conveniently) to Harold's conclusion that the person narrating his life must be an author. I would liked to have seen more of Harold trying to figure out the source of this voice. After he visits a psychiatrist, the next stop is the office of Dustin Hoffman's character, a professor of literature (who dresses nothing like a professor and has an office five times the size of mine). Really? Would someone experiencing this phenomenon really go to a professor? And would he happen to go to the professor whose favorite author ends up being the woman writing his life? That's a coincidence that's a little hard to take. I could handle a coincidence like that if the story established some sort of destiny at work here, but one if the movie's failings is that it never establishes any reason or motivation for any of this to happen, aside from alluding to the idea that Harold's watch plays an active role in it -- and that concept, while well executed with computer graphics, never made much sense to me. All in all, I found the film to be a good night out at the movies, but generally nothing to get too excited about.

The Queen
Stephen Frears's look at the behind the scenes machinations when Princess Diana died. I don't think the western world was dying for an explanation as to why the royal family behaved as it did when Diana was killed, but this film nevertheless serves up a fascinating inside look at what happened at the time. I can see why Helen Mirren is being talked up for an Oscar -- her performance as the emotionally-stunted Queen is quite good, and I did get a sense of the difficulty she had (or would have had -- I don't know how much of this is true) in trying to deal with the surprising outpouring of grief over Diana's death. The best performance in the film, though, is a more showy one: James Cromwell as Prince Philip, the Queen's husband. His character represents the frustrated and angry "old guard" that refuses to see the way the average person views the monarchy. His every frustrated utterance that the people will "come to their senses" soon enough made me laugh out loud. He simply doesn't get it, and angrily refuses to be moved, even as the Queen is sensing something amiss but doesn't want to face it. A good film, I thought, but perhaps not the amazing piece of cinema that people are claiming it is.

The Departed

As I said earlier, I saved the best for last. Martin Scorsese's new film is a bold return to form for the aging auteur. I am, I admit, a huge Scorsese fan. His films were part of the reason I wanted to be a filmmaker. And The Departed is a dynamic film where no one is truly innocent and yet some are clearly more guilty than others. I was left rather speechless at the end, a rarity for me, and I immediately wanted to see the film again (rarer still these days). The efficiency with which the film establishes its plot and characters is breathtaking -- the pace of the first 30 minutes or so is blinding. And it slows down only a bit when it gets into the meat of the story. I want to wax eloquent on why I loved this film so much, but it boils down to a few key things: great and complex characters (Leonardo Dicaprio's Billy Costigan is terrific, and Matt Damon as the Irish gang's mole on the force is fantastic); Scorsese's irrestistible style (and I need to mention Thelma Schoonmaker's brilliant editing, which helps to make Scorsese's shooting style work to tell a story); and great writing (the story/script is really terrific, taking the viewer to unpredictable places and rarely giving in to cliche or predictability).

I need to see it again to make more critical comments; frankly, I was overwhelmed with the cinematic experience because I haven't seen a movie this good in a long time. But it's clear to me why people are talking about it as Scorsese's best film in ages. On a side note, I don't see this is a "return to the gangster genre" film -- people keep saying it's the only thing Scorsese is good at. But this film is nothing like Scorsese's other greatest film, Goodfellas. Casino felt like a Goodfellas retread, but this isn't the same animal. It feels like something else entirely, and it boils down to being a great story with more twists and turns than you know what to do with.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Is this the Real World...

...or is it the Saturday Night Live version?

I just saw a promo on Fox for a two-part interview with O.J. Simpson: IF I DID IT, HERE'S HOW IT HAPPENED.

No, I'm not kidding. That's really the title. Read more about it here.

Um, I just don't know what to say. It's not that I thought he was innocent. IF I DID IT, HERE'S HOW IT HAPPENED? Really, O.J.? Has it come to this? Is the search for the real killers finally over?

I swear, watching that promo just now, I rolled back my DVR to see if this was a real promo or an ad for some kind of really obvious satire.

Releasing on DVD

I'm preparing a 2-disc DVD release of The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah. The second disc will have nine deleted scenes (around 36 minutes of additional edited footage) and an hour-long documentary about the making of the film. I've decided to self-release it via CustomFlix, which seems like a great service for this very thing. CustomFlix allows you to create a DVD-on-Demand release. That is, you send them your DVD masters and artwork, and they duplicate on demand, as orders come in. They also shrink wrap and ship for you. All for a set per-disc fee, of course.

The reason I'm in favor of this: I don't have to pay for and carry an inventory of DVDs, nor do I have to have anything to do with "fulfillment" (packing and shipping). And CustomFlix now has a deal with, so the films will be listed on Amazon.

So -- I'm excited about the prospect of getting it out there and making some money. In the end, of course, I'd like to get a theatrical release and/or a full DVD release supported by marketing, but I'll gladly self-release and try to make some sales. If I can make some money back for my investor, I might be able to prove that I am a filmmaker worthy of future investment (not just from the original investor, but others as well).

I'll announce the availibility of the film here, so anyone who is interested can purchase it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

New Script

So, I wrote a new drama feature script this summer. I wrapped it up at a pretty tight 111 pages back in August, and twesked and polished on and off or the last few months, after getting feedback from several different people. And today I finished the latest polish, which has really all been a part of one big rewrite/polish. So I finally feel like it's ready to go out to -- more writers.

Actually, I feel like it's ready to go out beyond that, but I want to check my instincts with some of my writer friends and contacts. So I've emailed a few professionals to see if they'll read it (and if any of my writer friends reading this blog are willing to give it a look, please email me).

In other news, today was one of those up & down kind of days. Actually, it was all kind of down. Not in a terrible, awful, things-were-really-bad today. Just a dose of the reality of this business.

First, I was reading a new entry on an indie film blog to which I contribute: Tough Enough, director Blake Calhoun's list of required deliverables upon the sale of an independent film. This was a daunting list, and as a filmmaker with an indie film that I'm trying to sell, I started wondering how much I really want to sell it! Blake's list, according to his numbers, could cost the filmmaker an additional $15,000 (money that most indie filmmakers, like both Blake and myself, don't have after getting our film's done).

So, naturally, my mind drifted to thoughts of my new script and the hope of selling it (i.e., not having to worry about the business end of producing it myself, which I'm considering doing). I spoke with a friend who read the script and gave me some notes (this friend is a big "up and coming" screenwriter in Hollywood). He really liked the script and in fact didn't have a lot of notes, and what notes he did have were minor. This is unusual for him; in the past, when he's given me notes on scripts, they ranged from small to major (and most of them were terrific notes; there's a reason why I always ask him to read my stuff). We got to talking about how to market the script, and at this point it hits me that I have written another good indie script. It's really interesting, but it's not that high concept and is pretty tough to sum up in a sentence or two. I'm asking myself why I keep doing that, but it's just where my heart most of the time (and my head).

But this confluence of events is what made me frustrated. Making my own indie films is a legitimate possibility, but the business end is crazymaking. And yet, the long and slow process of getting a script out to people and actually selling it is equally daunting.

So I just had one of those days where both sides of the issue seemed too large to deal with. I left the office wondering which direction I should be pursuing right now.

I'm not complaining at all -- it's a tough business, but it is what it is. I get that, and it's just as hard for everyone else, so I'm certainly not alone in this frustration. And tomorrow, or the next day, I'll probably be fine and continuing to pursue this with everything I have. But today, it was just... one of those days.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Visit from the Angry Filmmaker

So, life returns to normal after the Virginia Film Festival (what, you mean there's no one here who wants to hear me talk about my film for an hour?). I'm planning my next projects, sending off screeners to some more festivals, and trying to pull together some money to get some professional DVDs done so I can start selling this thing. The Virginia festival screening has generated some interest, so I'm hoping to get things going on the DVD front soon.

On Monday, Kelley Baker, sound designer extraordinaire and filmmaker, visited Baylor to speak in my classes. He spoke in my Postproduction class on the subject of Sound Design (Kelley has been sound designer on many of Gus van Sant's films, including Good Will Hunting, Psycho, To Die For, and Finding Forrester). He illustrated the job of a sound designer by showing a clip from some of his work on Finding Forrester. In a scene set in an empty Yankee stadium, he had to contend with a circling airplane, the hum of the stadium lights, and several other sounds. You can't get rid of sounds that are already there, he explained, so you have to add noise to make it feel natural.

And later, in my Directing class, Kelley spoke about his three feature films, made on shoestring budgets. He emphasized the planning that's necessary for any film. We looked at several of his short films, and Kelley surprised the audience by telling them that the apparently "impromptu" interviews in his apparently documentary shorts were completely scripted and planned. And the films have done very well for him, playing on PBS and around the world and paying him pretty decent money over the years.

Kelley's a cool guy (and hardly as angry as his Angry Filmmaker title would indicate), and it was cool to hang out with a fellow filmmaker for a day and get to know him... If Kelley is coming to your town, be sure to check out his seminars and workshops or go to a screening of his films, and support independent filmmaking. Get more info at