Tuesday, February 27, 2007

AFI Dallas News

So -- the schedule is finally official, and I can now announce publicly that The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah will screen at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival.

The film will screen twice during the festival, at the Magnolia Theatre in Dallas:

Screening #1: Saturday, March 24th, at 4:30pm
Screening #2: Sunday, March 25th, at Noon

Very pleased to be screening at such a prestigious fest! Scheduled to be in attendance: uber-indie filmmaker David Lynch, Sydney Pollack, Lauren Bacall, Laura Dern, Sarah Polley, and Jack Valenti!

Update: David Lynch's film, Inland Empire, will be screening directly after mine on Saturday, March 24th. Mr. Lynch himself is supposed to be in attendance to receive an award from the festival. Now, I ask you, wouldn't it be cool if he came just a little bit early to catch a little film about a guy who thinks he's a messiah?

If anyone knows how to contact him, be sure to let me know...

The Education of George Lucas

Watching all these 70s movies (for my Cinema of the 70s class) back-to-back is illiminating. I've seen all these movies, of course, but seeing them so close together gives you a different perspective. We watched George Lucas's THX 1138 and American Graffiti last Thursday night, and you could almost hear Lucas getting slapped down by the studio and the collective yawn from audiences after THX, only to see a populist, popular vision emerge in Graffiti. And, of course, we all know what came next...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Technology is only a tool...

While I'm a bit of a gadget junkie, ultimately I view technology primarily as a tool simply to accomplish my goals (I'm speaking of filmmaking now). So I might get kind of geeked out about a cool camera or some other gadget, but I'm mostly concerned about a tool's ability to help me make a film that looks (or sounds) the way I want it to.

So all that leadup to mention that the camera I mentione din a previous post arrived today, along with the 30GB mini video hard drive. The problem? The cable that links those two pieces together did NOT come.

Or, rather, we didn't order it. Because we didn't know we needed to. It's an additional cable that you need to purchase separately. After going back to the website, we determined that it IS stated that way on the site, but not in the clearest fashion.

So, all that to say that my camera is in, and my hard drive is in, but I can't use them because of a freaking cable.

Ah, that's life. The cable will be here by the end of the week. So my really cool gadget will sit on my desk until it can become a useful tool.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Scorsese and The Departed

Scorsese finally has his Best Director Oscar, and in a nice surprise, The Departed ends up with Best Picture as well. I have to say, though most of the time I don't care about these things at all, I'm very excited by Scorsese getting this honor, so I just had to mention it here on the blog...

The next morning, and I've enjoyed reading all the coverage of the Oscars, and specifically Scorsese's win. I've been trying to figure out why it matters to me that Scorsese won Best Director and that his film won Best Picture. I mean, ultimately, who cares about this stuff? Does it make the film different or better? No, of course not. Does it change my opinion of Scorsese? Do I like him more now? No.

I haven't come to a full and complete answer as to why this matters to me, but I think it's partly related to this: it feels a little like vindication, like I believed in and was inspired by someone who, it turns out, inspired so many others. (Scorsese's films, I should note, aren't inspirational in any classic sense; rather, his filmMAKING is inspirational).

To try and explain: when I was a kid and a big NBA fan (this was a long time ago; I can't sand NBA hoops now), I loved Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks. But the Hawks and Wilkins could never overcome Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. People always talked about how Jordan was the greatest player ever, and Wilkins was just a show-off ball hog.

And they were right -- about Jordan. Clearly, history has shown that Jordan was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. But I always felt that, even though Wilkins got a lot of respect in some quarters, he wasn't considered great. To this day, Dominique has had to claw his way back into the game, even just to get a little respect from the team he led to the playoffs so many times in the 80s! It feels a little like picking the wrong horse in a race. For the record, I still think Dominique was a great player with amazing skills, but someone who got saddled with a franchise that couldn't put all the pieces together, which is a common thing in Atlanta professional sports history.

But back to the movies: I always felt a little like that about Scorsese. For a long time, even though he was considered "the greatest living American filmmaker" (or "the greatest living American filmmaker WITHOUT AN OSCAR), there was always some criticism -- that he only made crime films, or twisted films, that the way he moved the camera was too showy, that he was grubbing for an Oscar, etc. And though I agree with critics who say that The Departed wasn't his best film, I think it's fitting that he won his Oscar for a crime saga, and for a film that deals pretty explicitly with the shifting nature of identity (if you're undercover, when do you stop being a cop and start being a criminal?).

So Scorsese's win feels like vindication, in some way. And having Coppola, Speilberg, and Lucas give him the award -- while it was a dead giveaway -- was a sweet touch, so you have to give a nod to the show's producers for caring a bit about film history. And allowing Coppola and Speilberg to rib Lucas for not having won an Oscar was also pretty hilarious.

And it's an interesting coincidence that the camera my department ordered for me to use on my next film arrived this morning. Kind of like the universe telling me to use all that creative inspiration and get to work.

Anyway, I've rambled too long about this -- it was just an interesting swell of emotion for me. I'm sure my wife was wondering why I was pumping my fist every time The Departed won an Oscar. And, truth be told, so was I.

The ChizFilm Awards

Film writer and fellow blogger Jonathan Chisdes (a regular commenter on this blog) recently announced his film awards for the year, and he gave The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah several honors:

Best Movie Made for Under $100,000
Best Comedy

It also received honorary mention in two other categories:
Best Director
Best Feature

Given the competition (studio releases and higher budget independents), I feel honored to be included on Jonathan's list.

(Note: Jonathan saw my film at its screening at The Virginia Film Festival and reviewed it on his site and then later gave the DVD a full review).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nicholl time

Well, I've gone ahead and entered the Nicholl Fellowship again.

The Nicholl, as it's often called, is the most prestigious screenwriting competition in the world. Sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, it provides up to five $30,000 fellowships each year (not to mention the fact that it generates a large amount of interest from producers and agents). There are typically around 4500 - 6000 entries (the peak was a little over 6000, but I'd guess that the average over the last few years is closer to 5000). But anyway you slice those numbers, the competition is intense.

JONESING was a quarterfinalist once upon a time (that put it in the top 250 scripts that year). Amusingly, I submitted the first draft of the script (under an old title); I've since submitted the streamlined, lean-and-mean rewrite...

...only to have it not even make the first cut. That's the way these things go. I had stopped entering the competition, mostly because I haven't had a new script to submit, and I was getting tired of resubmitting stuff that I'd sent before. This year, I have ENDINGS, about which I'm feeling pretty good (I just finished a rewrite).

So, you know, since I'm so sure it's good, it probably won't advance.

Actually, I'm not being pessimistic here. ENDINGS is an unsually structured script, with some disturbing elements and a not-wholly-satisfying ending (that's intentional). I am not trying to be anti-commercial with it; just writing what feels real. I really like how the story has developed, and my hope is that some contest readers out there will feel the same. But I've learned not to hold out any great hope for these things. The year I was a quarterfinalist, I was (privately) convinced that this was the year for me. It was the best script I'd ever written, and I knew it was going to go far. But it was DINKED after the quarterfinalist round.

This is not a unique story. I'm on a email list/community of writers who have advanced in or won the Nicholl, and I'd say my story is about as common as they come. In fact, any screenwriters out there who read my blog are probably bored silly by this post. I'm going into detail for those of you who aren't as familiar with the Nicholl Fellowships.

Side note: past Nicholl winners include Andrew Marlowe (Air Force One, Hollow Man); Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road, The Brothers Grimm); Mike Rich (Finding Forrester, The Rookie); Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, 28 Days); and Patricia Burroughs (also known as "pooks," a Dallas-based screenwriter and e-friend of mine who I should have met in person by now, seeing as we live all of 90 miles away from each other).

Now, I'm not saying those writers are all successful BECAUSE they won the Nicholl. Arguably, with their talent, they would have found success anyway. But winning a Nicholl Fellowship certainly raised their profiles in the industry.

Anyway, here's hoping this is a good year for my entry...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Work on the new film

I'm almost ready to begin working on the new film. In a bit of an experiment, I've decided to shoot scenes in and around my house using a "bullet cam" device, which will be mounted on a hat or something like that.

This removes the need for a camera operator, and it will -- I hope -- create an interesting feel for these scenes as they'll feature people reacting to me but won't show me at all...

And if I can give props to my department here, they came up with the money for this (unexpected) expense, buying both the camera and the mini-hard drive/recording device to archive the footage.

The camera pictured above is the one we ordered, a VioSport AdventureCam. Pretty good resolution, and it's typically used for mountain bikers and other sports enthusiasts. It should fare pretty well in my little household adventures.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A good week...

Some good news on the teaching front... The "engaged learning group" that two university colleagues and I proposed was selected as one of the four ELGs the university will roll out in fall 2007. The ELGs are cohort-style groups of up to 60 freshmen who will focus on a specific topic area for four one-hour seminars over the course of four semesters. We proposed an ELG on "Film & Global Culture" -- focusing on film as an art form and international business concern, influenced by and influencing cultures around the world.

More on ELGs here

Sunday, February 04, 2007

It's About Time

Possibly the greatest living director in America has finally won the DGA Award for direction of a feature film, for his latest work, The Departed. And while The Departed might not be the film that Taxi Driver is (or Raging Bull, or Goodfellas), it is an excellent twisting and turning film.

I think I would have been disappointed if he had won for The Aviator or Gangs of New York, both interesting films but not up to the same standard of his other works.

But I feel he has legitimately made one of the best films of the year.

Scorsese, you must understand, is also one of the main reasons I became a filmmaker. Though I can't say his films have directly influenced my work, the orginality and boldness of his work have always inspired me, and I've always wanted to be the same kind of bold and independently-minded filmmaker.

Congratulations, Marty.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Messiah Videoblogging, Session #2

Brian, the Local Messiah, has posted part two of his videoblog on YouTube: