Thursday, January 25, 2007

Brian is Video Blogging

Brian (the messiah of The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah) is now video blogging. Check out his YouTube video:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

MESSIAH is now available on DVD

Well, I finally got the 2-disc DVD finished. You can buy it now, on CustomFlix, at THIS LINK. Please support indie filmmaking by buying an indie film.

And please tell your friends, announce it on your blogs if you see fit.

Thanks, and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Brian the Messiah is now a Blogger

Brian, the titular character in The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah, is now blogging at his own site -- Apparently, he wants to tell his own story (also, I think his understanding of internet aesthetics is heavily influenced by the mid-1990s).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Godfather, Part II

Well, this week in my 70s Cinema course, we'll be talking about The Godfather, Part II. I'm interested in anything my readers might have to say about the film, which is, in my opinion, an interesting way to make a sequel. That is, it seems to intentionally avoid the sense of "nostalgia for the original" that most sequels go for, instead creating an opposite feel. There is no honor in Michael Corleone's reign (in contrast to Vito's reign). The whole film seems to be tinged with the loss of Vito -- just as the viewer feels the loss. His presence in the first film was so powerful that everyone in the movie feels the loss and can't help but compare Michael to him. Connie yells at Michael that, "You're not my father!" when he opposes her latest marriage, and Fredo sadly says, "I wish pop was here" near the end.

The complex structure and plot also go against the standsrd sequel fare, which normally tend to re-tell the original story but with slight differences (like Rocky II, which tells essentially the same story but gives the viewer what he or she wanted in the first film, namely a victory for Rocky).

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what elements of this film interest you the most.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Lazy Friday Posting

Things I thought about today:
  • I still haven't raised a dime for my next feature film, Endings. I still don't know where to start. I know I'll be applying for a grant from the Austin Film Society's fund, but that's pretty competitive, and I need to find some money in addition to that...
  • I am trying to visualize the narrative flow of the short documentary I'm working on (Clean Freak). I am also trying to figure out how I can shoot a documentary about me without using an outside camera operator. Should I hook up a couple of cameras in the living room and other rooms and operate them via remote control? Does that sound crazy? Or daring?
These are things I have thought about, but about which I have done nothing today. The one thing I am in process of actually accomplishing:

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A First

A first for me: this morning, I received a fax from someone wanting to get a copy of my masters thesis, having "come across many references" to it and being "very interested in reading it." The writer wanted to know if an electronic copy was available for download or would she have to get it through interlibrary loan.

This is the first time I've heard anyone outside of my thesis committee or my family mention my project. I would be amazed if there were any references to it out there. In truth, it's not a traditional thesis. I wrote a feature length screenplay (a bad one, I might add, but it was my first) and had to do a certain amount of scholarly meandering to justify the academic nature of the project to fulfill degree requirements.

But my ego has been sufficiently stroked.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wintry Mix

That's what they're calling it -- a wintry mix. And since that's pretty rare in these parts (these parts ebing central Texas, where the mix we usually get is heat mixed with more heat), I thought it was worth mentioning. It rained a lot the last few days (my backyard has turned into a swamp), and it finally got really cold last night, so we woke up to ice on roofs and pretty much every school in the region closed (though my kids' schools, and Baylor for that matter, were already closed for MLK Jr Day).

So I'm holed up at home, trying to stay warm, and preparing to talk about The Godfather with my Mavericks of the 70s American Cinema class tomorrow (assuming the ice melts).

What can you say about The Godfather? Since I'm half-Italian and grew up in a family that embraced its Italian heritage (which happens when it's your mother's family that's Italian), The Godfather is almost like a home movie for me. Not that anyone I know was in the mob, of course. But growing up in Staten Island, one of our neighbors was the son of a noted mobster, and besides, The Godfather put a lot of Italian culture on the screen. Watching it, I remember my grandparents, and my mother's recipe for sauce (which is not dissimilar from Clemenza's).

And after all, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli" is one of the great lines in movie history. To me, that line defines the movie more than the classic "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." The latter line is all about the Corleone's power (an important image, no doubt); the former contains within it the family's brutality mixed with its humanity -- which is why I think it conveys the films themes so efficiently.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I've started a new blog, a series of first person monologues from a character I'm creating for a story. Please read The Monologues of Morgan Chickering.

Final Reading Reports from the Break

Well, the spring semester begins tomorrow, and I raced through a couple more things I wanted to read.

Ray in Reverse, a novel by Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish. We meet Ray in heaven, after he has died of cancer at a young age (around 50), and the novel tells his life story, or several key events in his life, in reverse, working its way back to about the age of 10. It's a touching story in some ways, a life story told in small occurrences, seemingly meaningless things that end up making up a man's whole life. In some ways, the "reverse" nature of the story seems like a gimmick. Though there are a few things that are revealed interestingly because the events are told in reverse order, on the whole I didn't feel like telling the story in this manner was really an integral part of the work as a whole.

But now, as I think about it, there are some interesting elements to having the story told in this manner. We learn that Ray has gotten back together with his wife before we ever knew she left him (or why). So while that removes the fear that Ray might not have ended up with the love of his life, it doesn't tell us why she left him in the first place. And it doesn't tell him, to tell the truth, whether or not she IS the love of his life. It's this kind of revelatory detail that shows us how life doesn't always end up the way we expect, and how what we appear to be at the end or our lives might not tell the whole story.

I'll have to think on it some more. Check out Wallace's site, where he blogs a bit and draws a bit and other stuff.

Planetary, a graphic novel by Warren Ellis, et al. (Actually, I read it in graphic novel form, but it's a compilation of single editions of the original comic). I used to be a comic book geek as a kid, and though I kicked that habit a long time ago, I remain interested in them. ("Kicked the habit" sounds unnecessarly pejorative; I'm not maligning comics but rather my own childhood obsession with them). Planetary is the kind of comic that keeps bringing me back to the form. It's about a secret group of super-powered "achaeologists" who are trying to "write the secret history of the 20th century" by observing and uncovering all of the secret events of the past 100 years. There's some big mystery to which it's building, and this has something to do with the fact that several of the mysterious characters have the same birthdate -- January 1, 1900. And of course, none of these people appear to be a day over 50.

I like works like this because I like the idea of exploring things that occur below the surface. The structure of Planetary, as a series, is to explore sometimes smaller mysteries (like a murdered ghost-cop haunting a specific street corner in Hong Kong) in order to bring together the details to understand a larger picture. The story has definitely hooked me in. I confess, I have no idea what it's building to, but I'm intrigued and will be buying the next two volumes as soon as I can afford to.

And those are the last two pleasure reads I'll be able to report on. I am sure I'll find some time this spring semester to do a little bit of pleasure reading, but not much. Since my course on Mavericks of the 70s American Cinema is a new one, I'll be putting a lot of time into prepping that. First weekly screening for the course is The Godfather, the film that created Francis Ford Coppola's persona as the reigning 70s auteur and godfather to a new generation of filmmakers.

I almost forgot: I also read Changing Places by David Lodge. It's his 1975 novel about academics switching institutions for a semester. To be honest, I picked out this book because I'd heard Lodge's novels about academics were great satirical looks at academia. And I suppose that was true back in '75 when it was published. It's set in 1969 and deals withthe sexual revolution as well as the changing political climate in the United States, especially on college campuses, at the time. But it just didn't seem to be that relevant to today's academia, and frankly the sexual politics were so dated as to seem positively naive. This is my second Lodge novel, and the first (Therapy) is one of the rare novels that I didn't even finish. It wasn't terrible or anything, but it left me dry, and it just wasn't compelling enough to finish. So when another novel came in that I had been looking forward to, I just stopped. So, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm done with Lodge for now. No offense, of course (to David Lodge, should he perhaps be reading this blog, which I realize is highly unlikely).

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Killer Book

Christine Vachon's new book, A Killer Life, is a terrific read, a great look behind the scenes of the independent film world. Vachon, the founder and president of Killer Films, has produced some of the most interesting films of the past decade.

The book is part "making of" (for the films Far From Heaven, Infamous, and a few others), part memoir, part diary, and part instructional manual for producers. There's a lot of wisdom in it, and a lot of inspiration for indie filmmakers.

What I took away from the book -- whether she intended it I do not know -- was that indie films and indie film writer/directors need a champion in order to work their way through the maze of gaatekeepers. For the films she takes on, Vachon is that champion, and she uses her clout and credibility to open doors for films that otherwise wouldn't get a second look. I feel a little like this is what my script, JONESING, needed (or needs). It went out to a few people, some of whom liked it but weren't prepared to bite for various reasons, and the agent handling it dropped it after those rejections. But for a dark indie film (and a satire to boot), you have to find JUST the right company or person to do it. I'm convinced JONESING is good and could find a home, but it needs a champion behind it, someone who loves it and who won't take no for an answer. It sounds like a cliche, but when you have someone who isn't willing to give up (and who has credibility, of course), it makes a difference.

So, I sort of knew this already, but I'm pursuing that "champion" even harder now for my new script, ENDINGS.

Killer Films makes a lot of great films, some of which I haven't liked. One of the things I love about Vachon is that she embraces the fact that people won't like some of Killer's films. She expects it, and she understands that she makes films that polarize people, so that if everyone loved a film, then it wasn't doing it's job.

This is a company I'd love to work with, for that very reason.

The book is also a fast read. Maybe it helps that I've heard Vachon in interviews, so I could read the book with her voice in my head (in contrast to hearing Michael Tolkin's voice when reading Return of the Player, which made that book harder to read, as I mentioned in a recent post). Regardless, whether you're into "behind the scenes" info, indie cinema in general, or filmmaking, this book will provide insights into the process that will affect the way you view movies.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years and Miscellany

Okay, should I cave and write the obligatory New Years resolutions? Everyone else is doing it, so maybe I should... but other things first.

One of the things I love about break times is catching up on my reading. I get lots of books, DVDs, and graphic novels for Christmas (the latter from my brother, the only person who still buys me comics-related stuff). So I love to use my break time reading whatever I've been dying to read lately. So far this break, I've only read two books, but I feel this is justified because I was taking care of a father with pneumonia and a wife with major all-day morning sickness.

Bret Easton Ellis's newest novel, Lunar Park, was an interesting work (it's not really new -- it came out in 2005, but I'm just now getting to it in paperback). The main character in it is Bret Easton Ellis, the much-lauded writer of Less Than Zero, who tries to settle down with the mother of his child but finds that the horrors he's unleashed on the world in his novels have come to life to haunt him. Now, this sounds like the plot of Stephen King's The Dark Half, and it is very similar. But where King's work simply uses the concept for a by-the-numbers horror story, Ellis uses it to explore the concept of coming to terms with your past. And given that he is the writer of American Psycho, one of the most controversial written works of the past 50 years (and a novel that, after reading it, I couldn't justify keeping in my house -- the only time I've ever gotten rid of a work of fiction), his exploration of what his own past has caused him to unleash on the world resonates. And, I admit, I love to read about writers, so reading about a writer like Ellis, even if it is only a fictionalized version of him, is interesting to me.

I've also read Michael Tolkin's The Return of the Player. This is a hard work to judge for a number of reasons. First, it's been a LONG time since I read The Player, and second, a lot of my recollections of the earlier work are colored by Robert Altman's excellent film version of it. It's hard to read about Griffin Mill without picturing Tim Robbins in the role. The other complicating factor is that I heard Michael Tolkin speak at the Virginia Film Festival this fall (about his film, The Rapture), and it's hard to read a novel by him without, in a sense, hearing his voice behind it. The Return of the Player contains a lot of satirical editorializing, and this stuff -- for me -- sounds like it's coming right out of Tolkin's mouth. And I think it is intended that way, but it doesn't work as well for me now. Having said that, I wanted to read this book because I loved the original (and the film) and wanted to see where Griffin Mill's story went next. And I got that. But I'm not sure it was a satisfying trip. The resolution is so over the top unrealistic that it's just silly, whereas the satiric resolution of the original novel was just right -- Griffin got what he wanted because his underhanded actions are actually rewarded in that world. But I think it just goes too far in The Return.

That's a rambling review -- sorry. I haven't really formulated all my thoughts on it.

Finally, I read Trinity, a graphic novel by Matt Wagner. In its story of Ra's al Ghul's attempt to use Bizarro (one of Lex Luthor's failed experiments to recreate and control a Superman), it details the relationship between Batman and Superman, as well as their first meeting with the amazon princess Diana (also known as Wonder Woman). I have never been a huge DC comics fan, but I'm coming around, especially to stuff like this that explores the inner life of these figures. I'm not interested in straight up superhero action stories like I used to be, and Trinity is not one of those. The relationship between Batman and Superman is interesting in this graphic novel. If you consider that Superman would probably hate Batman's methods, his defense of those methods to a horrified Wonder Woman is very interesting (and her reactions to and thoughts about both of them, including a possible attraction to Batman's dark side and an obvious attraction to Superman in spite of his need to be the protector to women, makes her a more interesting character than I've ever thought of her before).

And now, on to those resolutions:

Finish Clean Freak, my new film: which means I need to get off the stick and start on it in earnest. I've been avoiding thinking about it, in part because I don't know exactly what it's going to be yet, but I need to get to work on it.

Raise enough money to make my next feature, Endings: I want to shoot this next summer, and I need to decide by this summer if that's going to be a realistic possibility so that I can get it listed as a course on the summer course schedule (to have students work on it for course credit and to involve other crew).

Lose 20 pounds: I know I can do this, because I lost 100 pounds a few years back, and since I moved to Texas, I've put about 15-20 back on, so I just need to find my willpower again and stop going to Mexican restaurants so much.

Redecorate: with a baby coming, we're going to be doing some "room shuffling," and that means repainting, which I hate doing. So I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and get it done.

Prepare to be the father of four children: is it even possible to do this? Or should I just adjust my thinking when #4 arrives?

Decide on a name: My wife and I cannot agree on a name for this baby. I'm partial to Katie or Molly if it's a girl, and my wife likes Lilly or Ava. There has been very little movement on this issue. At least we agree on a boy name (probably Carter). After all, with three girls, we've had a lot more time to consider boy names that haven't been used.

There are, I am sure, other things I need to resolve to do. But these are the biggies.