Sunday, March 30, 2008

AFI Dallas excursion

I spent the last two days enjoying the AFI Dallas Film Festival (with a group of about 42 freshmen who we took with us so they could get the experience of an international film festival).

Saw some good films (and one or two not-so-good ones). Saw fellow blogger and filmmaker David Lowery (whose A Catalog of Anticipations is playing at the fest) -- but I only saw him from a distance and I was busy organizing students, so I didn't have time to break away and say hello (or would I be "introducing myself"? We've never met in person, but have of course corresponded by blog and email).

And the films.

Noise -- an enjoyable film from Henry Bean, writer/director of the controversial The Believer. I went to it partly because it stars Tim Robbins, and I always enjoy the films in which he chooses to act, and partly because it just sounded interesting. It's about a New Yorker who becomes obsessed with blaring car alarms and starts a one-man campaign to silence them and in the process risks losing his family and his freedom as he satisfies his obsession. It's billed as a comedy, and it is quite funny in places, but also a little uneven as it drifts off the course it established in the opening act. I would've enjoyed it more if I hadn't had a headache going into the film. The title is quite accurate -- the sound designer of this film must've had a field day with all the layers of noise. The director mentioned in the Q&A afterwards that this is the second film in a planned trilogy about obsessive characters. The first, The Believer, was about religious obsession. This one was about political obsession, and the final one will be about artistic obsession.

Gonzo -- a great documentary about the life of "gonzo journalist" Hunter S. Thompson, who committed suicide in 2005. This is from Alex Gibney, director of the Academy Award winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side (he spoke briefly at the start of the film but had to leave before the end -- hence no Q&A -- because he was shooting footage for a new film the next morning). Gonzo was very well done, even if it does spend a little more time than I think it should on Thompson's involvement in George McGovern's 1972 campaign for the presidency. This was perhaps one of Thompson's shining moments, when he was at the height of his influence and his creative powers, so the focus on that makes sense. But the rest of his life -- from 1973 - 2005 -- is then covered in a brisk 15-20 minutes before the film ends. I would've liked to have seen more about his life in those years in part because I know so little about what he's been doing since then. I feel like I knew a lot about what he did in the late 60s and early 70s because that's what he was writing about, but he was comparatively very quiet in his later years, almost in seclusion. Still, a very good film, and it revived my own desire to get to work on a new documentary I've been wanting to tackle (after I finish with ENDINGS, of course).

The Guitar -- Hmmm, where to start? Shallow, immature, and derivative. It's the story of a mousy New Yorker (played by Saffron Burrow who is, uh, not mousy) who learns, in one day, that she will die of throat cancer in one month (maybe two), that she has been fired, and that her boyfriend wants to "take a break to find his inner child." And as she walks away from her life, she practices a form of retail therapy, using her extensive credit card collection to buy all the things she could ever want (and live in the loft apartment she could never afford) because she knows she won't be around long enough to worry about the consequences. Lessons about living life to the fullest ensue. This film might have seemed original and edgy back in the early 90s, but now it just seems like every other indie film I've ever seen. And somehow, the message that came across seems to have something to do with how buying lots of stuff can change your life. I know that wasn't the intention, but it is the unfortunate result. It's really just not a very good film, and I found myself angry throughout a lot of it because it felt like such a waste. I was even more angry at all the people in the theatre who gushed about how profound it was during the Q&A with director Amy Redford.

The Assassination of a High School President -- I'm still on the fence about this one. It's a high school comedy that's half Heathers and half Chinatown, with an intrepid school paper reporter tracking down a story on stolen SAT tests -- and in the tradition of Chinatown, there is of course a lot more to it than meets the eye. The style works -- it's one of those vaguely absurd films in which there are virtually no adults in supervision over these high school kids (one of the few adults in the film, however, is Bruce Willis as a militaristic principal). And the allusions to Chinatown are more numerous than I realized while I was watching the film. So in some ways, just like the plot, there's more to High School President than you might initially think. On the other hand, it's little more than an enjoyable trifle, and it's not trying to be weighty in the way a film like Chinatown is. It avoids that by being relentlessly jokey, so it's hard to take it as more than an exercise in style and adaptation. A good flick, to be sure, but not one I cared much about once I left the theatre.

Overall, AFI Dallas has been great. I wish I could spend the whole week up there watching as many films as possible, but I have much work to do, not to mention a family to spend time with before I head to Vegas for a week for NAB. The venues are great (I spent all day Saturday at The Magnolia), the people are great, and the films are great (okay, so I saw one that I didn't like and one that I didn't love -- but overall, they're still a good selection).

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Art of Casting

(Note: the title of this post is intended to be ironic...)

The casting announcements for ENDINGS have been posted, and we're starting to see lots of headshots flowing into the email box. It can be a bit overwhelming. All you get is a photo (which casts the actor in generally the best possible light) and a resume (most of which contain a list of productions with which you're not familiar; not that I don't know the plays, but I don't know these particular productions of these plays)...

So you have to look over all these faces (none of which really look like what you envisioned for the role, but that doesn't matter at this stage), and figure out who to "read" and who doesn't get to read.

It's not a science, but it's also not an art. There's too much guesswork in it. I always feel, when I say "no thanks" to someone based on a headshot and resume, that I'm going to end up missing out on someone great. And I probably am, but you simply can't audition everyone.

And let me tell you, there's a lot of 20-30-something white women in Texas who are pursuing acting. We have one role in that range that we're auditioning for (ethnicity for the role is open, I should add), and most of the headshots we've received have been for that role.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Perks of the Job

One of the perks of being a film prof is that you get to hang out with cool guest speakers. This week, I arranged for filmmaker and Hollywood sound designer Kelley Baker to speak to my freshman "Engaged Learning Group" about alternative distribution methods. Kelley and I became friends vis the internet, of all places, and really clicked. He's known as the "Angry Filmmaker," and he makes his films on ultra-low budgets, then travels around the country showing them, maintaining complete ownership of his work. (I added Kelley's blog to my blogroll, too, if you want to check it out).

That was Monday. Then yesterday and today, Hollywood screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas spoke to the ELG about the business side of being a screenwriter (as well as other assorted Hollywood topics) after a screening of the Blu-ray DVD of their recent film, 3:10 to Yuma. Mike and Derek are Baylor alums and friends of my good friend and colleague (and producer) Brian Elliott. Also, they're two very cool, laid back guys. I had a blast getting to know them.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Career Day Update

Well, it was a crazy morning -- 10 Kindergarten and first grade classes filed through for my presentation, without a break (only because I went too long).

They were also seeing presentations from several other local professionals, including mechanical engineers, fire/rescue personnel, and others.

It was actually a lot of fun. I really enjoyed talking about what I do but at a kid-friendly level, and from what I heard later, both the kids and their teachers found it interesting.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Career Day

You know you've arrived in life when you're asked to speak at your child's Career Day. "Filmmaker" is just too unusual a career choice to pass up, I suppose.

On Friday, I'll be speaking to several classes full of first graders, explaining what I do. I am at a loss as to how to explain this effectively and engagingly to six year olds, but I'm working on it. For one thing, I'm bringing a large HDV camera (the Canon XL-H1 -- because it cuts an impressive pose on a tripod), and I'm planning on throwing together a powerpoint presentation with photos to emphasize the various parts of the process (script, preproduction/planning, production, postproduction).

I'm hoping to find a way to make that interesting for them. If you have any ideas, let me know!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Google Reader

Google Reader, where have you been all my life? Why am I just finding out about you now?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Festival Update

Some good news arrived in the old inbox tonight. Reel HeART International Film Festival, an indie fest in Toronto, invited Clean Freak to screen in competition.

But wait, there's more...

They also invited American Messiah to screen in competition.

So I'm pleased that Clean Freak finally got a second festival invitation, but I'm also tickled that American Messiah, which will pass two years on the festival circuit in April, has finally gone international!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Alive and Kicking

Well, maybe not kicking. But I am very much alive and even got out of bed today and made it to work -- though that seems to be the extent of my energy today. Just walking from the parking garage to my office was tough, LOL...

Anyway, there are only two shopping days left until spring break, so I'm hoping to continue my recovery from a month of illness then.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sick. Again.

Yep, after getting over the flu and then a stomach bug, I woke up this morning with a fever and sore throat.

I actually dreamed that I had a high fever last night, and I woke up feeling lightheaded, so I immediately checked my temperature -- and lo and behold, the dream became reality (well, in the dream I had a fever of 110 degrees; in reality, it wasn't quite that high).