Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Official Clean Freak Website

I finally bought a domain name, and I can announce that the official website for Clean Freak is

Same as the old "unofficial" website -- this one just forwards to that one, but the URL is easier to remember and not as ungainly.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Clean Freak Trailer (on Vimeo)

I decided to put the trailer for Clean Freak up on Vimeo as well -- the video quality on this site is much higher:

Clean Freak - Trailer from Chris Hansen on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What is (film) art?

"Anonymous" made a good point in the comments of my post on making film art on an extremely low budget, and that point is: Don't you have to define what art is in order to determine if it can be made on such a budget?

I was, I admit, intentionally vague about that when I posted that question because I wanted to see how others defined it.

My sense is that low-budget films are given some leeway. For example, one commenter mentioned Rodriguez's El Mariachi. Were that film made on a bigger budget, it might be consider a rollicking good time, but I don't think it would be considered art. In other words, it has "indie cred" that somehow earns it a status above what I think the film itself achieves.

I may be overstating that, and I am trying to be a bit provocative. But still -- I'd like to know just what my readers think. How would you define film art? What makes a film a piece of art?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Clean Freak Trailer Now Online

Thanks to the hard work of my student assistant, B.K. Garceau, the trailer for Clean Freak is now online. I've posted it on YouTube. Check it out:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Realities of the No-Budget Film

Is it possible to make great film art with no money? I realize great low budget indie films have been made, but I don't mean LOW budget. I mean NO budget. I'm talking about making a film for $20,000 as opposed to a low budget film with $1 million (which is, by most standards, very low.

What I'm wondering is if, by the nature of this particular medium, it's actually necessary to have a moderate budget to make great art.

A painter needs only his or talent and imagination. It matters not if you're painting an epic scene or a hovel. The cost of the paint and canvas is the same.

Same goes for a novelist. Pen, paper, a word processor -- the cost of the medium's materials are the same no matter who you are.

For film, though, the imagination can be stifled by the financial requirements of the medium.

This isn't anyone's fault. It just is. It's the condition under which all filmmakers must work.

For example, while I've learned to adapt to the current circumstances, my imagination -- even for a low budget film like Endings -- frequently outstrips my budgetary situation.

Can anyone name great film art made for less than $100,000 (just to throw out a random low figure)? Sure there are major indie successes like Clerks and The Blair Witch Project, but I don't consider those great art so much as great leaps forward for indie film. Amusing and/or interesting films, perhaps even innovative, but not great art.

So, gentle readers -- can you name truly no-budget films that are great art (with no caveats or excuses made for the budget limitations)?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I finally saw this movie on DVD recently. Let me start by saying that I really wanted to like this. I am a fan of the Fantastic Four comic, and with special effects reaching the point where we can actually see these superheroes do their their thing, you can't help but have high hopes for a movie like this.

But. Um. Wow.

Not just bad. So bad. Bad writing, really ludicrous story. Ridiculous plot holes (such as bringing Victor Von Doom back from the dead with the explanation that... oh wait, there was no explanation. At all).

And the acting? Where do I begin? No one acquits him or herself that well, but the standout awful performance comes from Jessica Alba. I keep wondering how this woman has become a star. All of her dialogue is delivered as though she's reading from cue cards.

I can't really state it better than Cinematical reviewer James Rocchi did in his review of Good Luck Chuck: "Has Alba ever given a performance of any note? Or is she just a well-proportioned mammal where fate and the insane nature of modern fame have mysteriously plucked her from a life of car shows and county fair product demonstrations?"

Yes, James. Precisely. Could not have said it better, my friend.

Coppola's Coda

I got Hearts of Darkness for Christmas, and the DVD also contains a new documentary, Coda: Thirty Years Later, which details production on Coppola's first film in ten years, Youth Without Youth.

It was interesting to watch his process -- both his filmmaking process and his thought process in examining the topics he wants to explore in his films. There's an interesting scene wherein he imagines trying to explain the concept of "consciousness" to an alien life form -- an example of his attempt to get to the root of some of the deeper issues that intrigue him. How, he supposes, would you explain this concept to someone who simply had no words for it?

Coppola is an interesting figure. He's perhaps one of the most influential filmmakers of the 70s and has rightfully earned a place among the pantheon of "great directors." Yet the "lean years" of the 80s and 90s have humbled him, and I sense that there's almost an insecurity there now, mingled with his artistic arrogance.

I don't mean to sound negative in calling him arrogant. I've always thought Coppola's grandiosity about his artistic intentions was endearing, for some reason. But it's interesting to see him seem almost tentative, while obviously still in full control of the pursuit of his vision for his work.

I have heard both good and bad about Youth Without Youth, and I'll see it when I can (I doubt it will make it to Waco theatres, unfortunately). But I have to say, as someone who idolized Coppola and his films for a large part of my influential years, it was nice to see the beautiful images he was capturing for his new work.

Also of interest was the brief discussion of a long-gestating and ultimately abandoned large budget project, Megalopolis. If you've read about Coppola recently, none of the details rehashed here will be new, but the inclusion of second-unit footage that had already been shot for Megalopolis was a special treat. While it ultimately looks mostly like beauty shots of New York, it does make you wonder what that film might have been, had he ever been able to pull together the resources to make it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My MacBook and Me

My MacBook Pro took ill yesterday morning. It appeared completely dead -- black screen. The IT department determined that the computer itself was working but the display was not. They replaced the logic board and, eventually, the entire top of it (the keyboard area).

So -- it was two days at the office (in the first week of classes) with no access to my files, and sitting in the department copy room using a public PC (Windows -- blech).

It really makes you reflect on how much of your life (your work life and your personal life) you keep housed on your computer. It's a good thing that I have most of my course lecture notes for the courses I"m teaching this semester in three-ring binders.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Clean Freak's First Festival Invitation

Clean Freak is officially a festival film. Nat Dykeman, director of the Lake County Film Festival in Illinois, called me tonight as I was driving three of my four kids to church and informed me that the film will screen there in late February/early March. I hope he could hear my excitement over all the in-car singing.

He also asked me if it was, in fact, a straight documentary or a mockumentary. Yes, it is.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Golden Globes note

Since this blog has become almost all Sweeney Todd, all the time, I think it only fitting that I should mention that the film won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Comedy or Musical), and that Johnny Depp won for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. I'm really pleased by this because I'd like to see the film earn some major Academy Awards nominations, and this makes it at least a bit more likely.

Of course, this begs the question: Why exactly do I care that a film I like gets awards? Will it affect how much I like the film if it doesn't win awards? Of course not. But that's a whole separate post, so I'll just leave it there.

Also, I admit I'm surprised that Best Picture - Drama went to Atonement and not No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood. I expected those to be the front-runners. Interesting.

Sweeney Todd: Singing

I had been thinking about posting some more about Sweeney Todd, specifically about the musical style and how it differs from the stage version of Stephen Sondheim's musical.

But instead, I will direct you to this excellent article at the NY Times, which articulates what I wanted to say in much more coherent fashion than I probably could have.

I will echo all that author Anthony Tommasini has to say in this piece, especially that while some have said that Johnny Depp's singing voice was adequate to the task, I was bowled over with how impressive it was, how emotional and intimate.

Anyway, read the article at that link. It's worth your time to understand the difference between the film's musical style and the stage's version and why the style the filmmakers chose is the right one for a film such as this.

What a Difference a Film Makes

I guess having completed a semi-successful feature film opens a door or two. Clean Freak has now been "invited" to enter two different festivals. Now, of course, that's not a guarantee to be selected, but it is a solicitation earned by the reputation of the first film and the relationships developed via the festival process (and it comes with a fee waiver in one case and a major fee discount in the other).


I won't mention the fests because (a) one of them specifically asked me not to, and (b) if I end up not getting into either, I'd prefer you not know about it!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Indie Film Review: Rebel Studz

I don’t often review films on this blog, but occasionally I’d like to be able to comment on indie films when I see them. A flmmaker of one such indie film contacted me recently and asked me to take a look at his latest work, a short mockumentary called Rebel Studz.

Smart indie filmmakers capitalize on their limitations. One of the ways they do this is to make a mockumentary. I can explain why because I too have done this. When you have little to no money, it’s hard to tell a visually compelling story. But a mockumentary lets you use your limitations to your advantage, as part of the visual style. You only have access to a digital video camera? Well, a lot of documentaries are shot on video? Shaky handheld footage because you’re shooting on the run? No problem, it’s part of the aesthetic. Limited locations, lots of talking heads? That’s part of the documentary look.

G.R. Claveria and D.S. Flores show themselves to be smart indie filmmakers because Rebel Studz capitalizes on these limitations as I’ve noted above.

Rebel Studz plays like one of those VH-1 Behind the Music pseudo documentaries – you know, they’re part fact and part P.R. I imagine the publicists working with bands featured on that show must’ve fought to get them featured. I remember watching the Behind the Music episode featuring 70s teen idol Leif Garrett and thinking how odd it was that this guy was opening up all his pain for this silly show for VH-1, including a meeting between him and his former best friend who Garrett paralyzed in a drunken car wreck years before. I call it silly, but of course it was compelling, and it struck me that this was a way for Garrett, who was recording new music at the time, to get back into the spotlight.

Rebel Studz is a lot like one of those episodes, and a little like the excellent parody that The Simpsons did of Behind the Music (I believe it was called The Simpsons: Behind the Laughter). Rebel Studz details the semi-meteoric rise, brief fall, and rise again of the titular country rock band through archival footage with voice-over and through interviews with musical competitors, hangers-on, former and current associates, and would-be lovers.

A number of these interviewees give solid and funny performances (and a few, as with any small indie film, are somewhat less than solid).

A lot of what I liked about the film wasn’t in the main story but was in the background. During one of the interviews with a woman who is a former or current lover of a band member, her little daughter literally plays with a set of knives in the background, showcasing the woman’s clear lack of parenting skills in an amusing way (later, she notices this and stops the girl, but I thought that little bit was unnecessary and that the gag was funnier as a piece of the background).

Another not-so-obvious thing the film does well is the sheer amount of faked archival footage of the band. Speaking again as someone who has made a mockumentary, one of the real challenges is taking the time to shoot all this stuff that, in a documentary, looks like “archival footage.” A real documentarian would cull all this footage and use the best stuff, while a mockumentarian has to shoot all that. Many smaller mockumentaries fail because they can’t or don’t take the time to do this, but Claveria and Flores smartly spent a lot of time shooting scenes in various locations with the band to give them an existence outside the confines of the 10 minute film.

Another thing that works here is the band’s attempt to be successful at, well, everything. They are a successful band, but to stay in the public eye, they make a TV pilot and also a comic book. Both of these efforts fail in amusing ways. Incidentally, the scenes from the Rebel Studz TV show are one of the elements of the film that don’t work as well. It’s very hard to recreate the look of a TV show, and the Rebel Studz TV show uses too much handheld camera work and looks a little too much like what it is: a low-budget film’s attempt to mimic a TV show.

The ending is a little anti-climactic and repetitive (the band’s final successful venture is repeated three times over the course of about a minute, making it seem like the filmmakers are afraid we’ll forget what happened). But overall, the film works well and has some subtle laughs via the form of the film and some bigger ones via the obvious set-up.

My other criticism is that the members of the actual band never emerge as strong characters. The audience never gets to know them or understand them as individuals. Perhaps this was intentional. They are products of the media and are represented through the lens of what other people say about them. But the film doesn’t give us a sense that the band members are particularly reluctant to participate in this documentary about them; in fact, the show up in the final scene, celebrating their triumph. So, given that the film is about them, it would have been nice to let them emerge as individuals, even if their personalities or quirks are presented to us through mediated sources.

As far as technical aspects, it’s a little hard to comment on that because the copy of the film I watched was on YouTube. In my view, even cheap video looks good on a computer screen, while sharply shot 35mm film looks lousy on YouTube. I’m pretty sure this film was shot in a traditional video format and not with a “film look” which is certainly in keeping with the style and nature of the piece.

Claveria is also the director of MockFest, a film festival in L.A. dedicated to showcasing mockumentaries of all types, so he clearly has an affection for this form, and he has worked in it more than once. Using his knowledge and experience, he has created a witty and effective film.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why Watch Movies on an iPod?

I have a video iPod, and I have some movies on it. I have even watched movies on my iPod, especially when I'm traveling. But David Lynch said something about the subject that, I admit, resonates (please note that Mr. Lynch's language is NSFW):

So, ahem, that's rather pointed. But, the language aside, I can't say I disagree. After listening to that, I got to thinking about why we would want to watch movies on such a small screen. Sure, convenience is a factor, but it got me thinking about the issue of ownership. I don't mean "ownership" in terms of owning a copy of the movie.

Rather, I think people like to have movies on their iPods (or other digital media players) in part because it gives them a way to possess those movies. Movies we like or love often represent an experience we would like to continually recapture, and having that movie on an iPod gives you the chance to always have access to that experience right there with you, at all times.

I was thinking about this in part because I had been planning to buy the DVD for my latest favorite movie, Sweeney Todd, and I thought that I would probably like to rip the DVD to my computer so I could put the movie on my iPod. Would that small screen be able to capture the splendor of the look of the film? Hardly. But I'd be able to watch it (or pieces of it) any old time I liked. I could recapture the feeling of enjoying the film at the dentist's office, if I wanted to (but I like my dentist, so that would be rude, wouldn't it?).

I'm not claiming this is the only reason people watch movies on iPods and iPhones and all the other devices out there. But I really do think people want to possess a movie (or a video or something else) in this way.

I also think, insofar as our digital media players and what we have on them represent US as people, that having a certain movie on there serves as a way to define ourselves as people. It's kind of like what my generation did as kids with Star Wars t-shirts. If you wore a Star Wars shirt, you define yourself as a true fan. Now, you have to have it on your media player. So you're not displaying your fandom through representations of the thing, but through possession of the actual thing.

Just some random musings that I had while trying to fall asleep last night...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Thoughts on Being Inspired

In all my recent posting on Sweeney Todd, I got to thinking about something I mentioned not too long ago, about how wonderful it is to be exhilarated by a movie again (having not felt that way for so long).

That exhilarated feeling is why I started making movies. But today, I was thinking about how making a great movie doesn't give you the same inspired, exhilarated feeling that seeing a great movie gives you.

It just can't. You can't make art in a vacuum. You need other artists to inspire you. And, of course, I can hope to make a movie that is good enough to inspire someone else. But the feeling one gets from the actual making of the film simply isn't the same as the inspiration one derives from seeing great art.

There is a feeling of accomplishment, to be sure, but it's more of an ambiguous sense of maybe having done something well (even if you're never exactly certain of that fact). The experience of the film as art eludes the maker, I think. Or, at least, it always has eluded me with regard to my own films.

I suppose, after many years, when the details of a film have been more or less forgotten by the filmmaker, he or she could have an experience of it as a work of art. But even then, I'm not sure it's possible, because while details might have been forgotten, the experience of rewatching the film would immediately call to mind the experience of making it.

And that's the gist of the problem, I imagine -- a filmmaker cannot separate the experience of the film from the making of it.

So I'm left with a realization that should have been obvious: even if I can make great art (and I'm not saying that I can or have), I can never experience my own work as great art. That strikes me as... not sad, but perhaps disappointing.

Just some random thoughts.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sweeney Todd: Color

Yes, this blog is starting to sound like a broken record, stuck on Sweeney Todd, but I obviously really liked this film (and my iPod is stuck on the soundtrack).

One thing that occurred to me today: I have caught a few of the TV spots for the film, and I am amazed at how beautiful the images look. Of course, I noticed this in the theatre, but now I'm convinced that whoever is in charge of projection at my local Starplex Cinemas doesn't know what he or she is doing. Not only was the entire film too dark, but it was washed out, with even less color than Burton intended.

The film is intentionally without a lot of color, save for the free-flowing blood, but in the TV spots, you can see the sharpness of the images and the colors (and I don't even have an HD TV -- it looks incredible on my good old analog set).

Now I can't wait to get the DVD so I can see it the way it should be seen.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

ChizFilm reviews Clean Freak

Jonathan Chisdes, a regular reader of this blog and a critic who really liked American Messiah, has screened and reviewed Clean Freak. Read his review here.

I know, you're feeling the suspense now, wondering if it's a good review. Hmmm, I wonder if I would post a link to a review that trashed my movie?

Must Have This Poster

I saw Sweeney Todd for the second time in a little less than a week, and I found it even more powerful experience this time around. It confirmed my love for the movie. I love this feeling. I love falling in love with a movie. I was just a few weeks ago bemoaning my disappointment when hyped movies don't turn out as well as I'd hoped, and here is one defying my expectations. I love that.

And now I must have this poster:

I can buy it here -- putting the link here as a reminder. I guess it's time for a change in my office movie poster rotation.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Random Bullets

-My mom liked Clean Freak (for those of you who have seen the film, you might understand why I was a bit concerned that my mother would think she came off bad in the film, in the section that focuses on my family's influence on my neurotic clean freak tendencies).

-I'm going to go see Sweeney Todd again on Wednesday. I rarely see movies twice in the theatre, preferring to see as many new movies as possible rather than seeing one or two movies multiple times. But I still can't get that movie out of my mind, so I'm happily going to see it again with a friend.

-A friend with connections in the UK sneaked me the recent Doctor Who Christmas special soon after it aired on the BBC in Great Britain (yay for high speed internet!). Voyage of the Damned was quite good, a solid entry in the series, and probably the best of the recent Christmas specials the show has done since its return to TV. It also gives a little time to extending the series' running theme of the conflict between the Doctor's loneliness as a 900 year old traveler and his neverending desire to connect with other people, especially people like him (people with a need for adventure and a streak of goodness in them).

-I read the first two collected volumes of Invincible, a comic collected into graphic novel format. These were my Christmas gift from my brother, the English professor. Very enjoyable -- standard superhero stuff, in some ways (teen discovers he has powers, becomes hero). But it's handled in an interesting way, as the teen has an alien-hero father, so he accepts this all without surprise. I'm looking forward to reading the other collected volumes that are available, and they've been added to my Amazon Wish List. The list is otherwise pretty depleted as I got a bunch of Wish List items for Christmas.

-The college bowl season has not been kind to my teams.

-The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful... Well, actually, the temperature is heading under 40 degrees, but the fire in our fireplace is pretty delightful.