Film Essent Archive for February, 2011

Wish List for the Future of Indie Film

Out of the blue, I woke up this morning thinking about Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc . Maybe I was pondering on this whole AOL/HuffPo thing, and even more about The AOL Way and how it tries to reduce into Powerpoint slides geared toward traffic and keywords how writers should write, and how editors should assign stories.
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Mixed Messages

So Melissa Leo took some glam shots with pals and made a half-serious, half-tongue-in-cheek stab at a personal Oscar campaign. Big effing deal.

I mean, sure. Interesting choice, given that she’s the perceived front-runner. Also a ballsy choice. “Just because I play blue collar doesn’t mean I AM blue collar, Oscar voters.”

She has a valid point about ageism in Hollywood. We are a society that worships at the twin altars of youth and beauty. Hollywood is ageist, it’s true (news flash, so is the rest of our culture) and that ageism impacts women more than men. Women are supposed to stay forever young and beautiful, right? Male actors grow more dignified: Patrick Stewart, George Clooney, Sean Connery. Female actors who aren’t Helen Mirren just get old.

So Leo felt she wasn’t being promoted enough and took out her own ads. Good for her for taking initiative, I guess. Either way, she is a fine actor, I love her work, but she deserved an Oscar way more for Frozen River than for The Fighter.

In other news, a famous plus-size model is criticized for losing a little weight. Yeah, seriously.

Citizen Bay

Thank you, The Bayifier.

*Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, the clip art included in The Bayifier does not at this time include either tits or ass, both of which are really necessary to fully exemplify the artistry that Mr. Bay brings to his filmmaking. So this image comes with the disclaimer that, lacking the requisite objectification of female body parts, it’s simply not possible to live up to the watermark of classiness that Mr. Bay has set in the industry.

But Shia’s head certainly helps.

The AOL Way: Insert Keywords, Barf Out “Content”

Update: I just added a response from Cinematical’s Deputy Editor Scott Weinberg, below.

Over on The Daily Beast, Dan Lyons offers a scathing analysis of the AOL/Huffington Post merger. Lyons quotes Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, who asked the question: “Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?”
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Why Are So Many Films for (Insert Group of Your Choice) Bad?

Alonso Duralde, writing for Salon, ran a piece the other day asking why so many films for Latinos are bad. The heart of his piece: Spanish-speaking countries have given cinema bankable, artsy, serious actors like Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Salma Hayek … so, Duralde ponders, ” …why is Hollywood returning the favor by making such dreadful movies for Latino audiences?”

It’s an interesting enough question, but try reversing Duralde’s premise: Is Hollywood is making terrific movies for everyone but Latinos? Maybe in some parallel universe, but certainly not in this one. Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians, Gays, Women, hell, even kiddie flicks and teen schlock — the problem is not that Hollywood makes shitty movies for Latinos, it’s that Hollywood, with very few exceptions, makes shitty movies for everyone. Unfortunately, people keep paying to see them, and as long as that’s the case, Hollywood will keep on churning them out.
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Huff Po Sale: Arianna $300 Million, Writers 0

David has his own detailed take on the HuffPo sale to AOL, and it’s a good write-up with some interesting comments which you should read if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

For me, here’s what the HuffPo sale really means:

Ariana Huffington managed to take a model of paying people little (in some cases) to nothing (in most cases) for the privilege of having work “published” on HuffPo. “Citizen journalists” my ass. Using a spin on the “unpaid intern” huckster sell, she convinced many, many smart people to give her their hard work for free, so that she could build up a site over a few years and then sell it for $300 million.
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Super Bowl Ads: And Now for a Word from Our Sponsors …

I took my 11-year-old son over to my dad’s yesterday for some family bonding time over football and the excitement of the big Super Bowl ad spots. Jaxon was more interested in the game, even though our Seahawks weren’t playing. We weren’t particularly invested either way in who won, so we considered just flipping a coin to decide who to cheer for. We ended up rooting for Green Bay because their fans wear cheese hunks on their head (Jaxon’s call) and because their quarterback is hotter (my call). My dad is a Raiders guy and has no interest in the relative hotness of quarterbacks, so he didn’t really care either way.

I had an interesting time explaining to Jaxon why there are so many ads during the Super Bowl. I looked up the cost per ad spot (roughly $3 million for a 30-second spot, holy crap) and then we figured out about how much the network makes off selling the Super Bowl ad spots (a lot).

I realize that everyone and their brother on the Internets last night and today is all a-Tweeting about the spot for Super-8, JJ Abrams latest super-secret marketing effort, er movie. And sure, okay, the 30 second spot was fine, and yeah, it was mildly reminiscent of the Amblin films and their suburban utopia and maybe there are clues buried in there that you can dissect frame-by-frame, but honestly, why would you want to? The movie will come out eventually, and either it will be good or it will not be good. All the hype in the world won’t make it any better or worse than what it is.

The new 30-second spot, while it still retains the tone of menace we saw with the 90-second spot from last May, does add a layer of wonder ala E.T. and Close Encounters, whereas the first was all BOOM BOOM BOOM, “Let me outta here so I can kill you and eat you,” but I don’t have a strong sense yet of what the movie’s heart is, assuming it has one. You can compare both trailers over on Apple and see what you think.

Just for comparison’s sake, I dug out this trailer for Close Encounters of the Third Kind on YouTube … it says it’s the theatrical trailer, but really? It clocks in at over four minutes long, and check out how it touts Spielberg as “the director who just had a success with Jaws” and even the producers and special effects guy and the presence of Truffaut in the film, which kind of cracked me up.

I mean, can you imagine a trailer for Transformers or Super 8 or Cowboys and Aliens, assuming one of those had an artsy French director or two making an appearance in them, making a big deal out of that in the trailer as if the fan base would care? “Transformers 3 … starring acclaimed French directors Agnes Varda and Arnaud Desplechin!”

You would just never see a trailer like this these days, it plays like an infomercial. There are so many visuals in that film that could have been called out in a trailer, but of course that’s also speaking from the hindsight of seeing and loving that movie for many years and feeling connected to things like a pile of mashed potatoes sculpted like Devil’s Tower.

On the other hand, the trailer for E.T., made four years later, post-Close Encounters and post-Raiders of the Lost Ark, while still talking up The Spielberg Factor, encapsulates the story arc of the entire film in a series of two-word sentences and slivers of visuals.

It reminded me of why my family waited endlessly in line to take my 7-year-old brother to see E.T., more than once (he’s 35 now, and one of his Christmas gifts from me this year was an E.T. stuffed doll … ). It made me feel that sense of wonder I felt seeing it the first time — and that sense of warm and happy that I still get seeing E.T. even now. It made me want to go home, curl up under a quilt with all the kids piled on the bed, and watch E.T. again, and cry at the end again, because I always do.

Somehow, I just don’t get the sense from the Super 8 trailer that nearly 30 years from now, going back and watching the trailer for Super 8 will immediately evoke those emotions, or make me want to see it again and again and again. I could be wrong though. It could be awesome.

What do you think?

Another View of Sundance Sales

I started to comment on David’s Hot Blog post on Sundance sales over there, but it got too long. So moving my thoughts over here, with apologies if it’s confusing to have to go back-and-forth.

Most of what I heard in lines and at a couple social gatherings later in the fest with regard to Sundance sales among press and publicity folks this year was not so much a theme of “indie is saved!” as it was just a deep breath of relief that some sales were actually happening this year at the fest … and that, for the most part, the films didn’t suck. No, there weren’t any really spectacularly huge sales ala Little Miss Sunshine, but smaller sales that actually generate some profit for their investment might overall be a good direction for Sundance sales to head, n’est-ce pas?

And I’m not even convinced that the idea of sales — especially “big” sales — happening at Sundance or any other fest even should be the measure of a festival’s success. Of course it’s great for filmmakers to get their films picked up, and of course everyone is hoping for a theatrical release.

But my sense overall is that there is a shift coming that’s been brewing for a while in what we mean when we say a film has succeeded financially. I’m reminded of animator Bill Plympton, who did this great presentation at Ann Arbor a few years back about exactly how he makes a living making the animated films he wants to make. He talked about DVD, about marketing, about controlling costs and knowing how much he had to make back on a given film to be able to both make a living and make the next film. This, IMO, is where the conversation about indie film needs to head, because if you are making an indie film with the sole goal of making a 7-figure sale at Sundance, you are delusional and in the wrong business. And I feel strongly about the importance of regional fests and the role they can play in the future of indie film, but that is a longer discussion for another time.

Back to the Sundance sales, or at least, those I am most interested in:

Perfect Sense is more of an artsier, better take on a global pandemic ala Blindness than “arty sex.” Not really much of that in the story at all, for all that we see Ewan MacGregor full frontal and Eva Green’s boobs. I’d liken it tonally more to Never Let Me Go than anything … but yeah, that didn’t do so well theatrically, did it? A shame, because I really loved that film. Perfect Sense is a solid, smart movie, but maybe a little to smart for mainstream audiences. Time will tell on that one.

As for Pariah, Christ almighty, this is my biggest beef of the fest. I’m glad it sold at least, but can we stop with the Precious comparisons already? It’s a better film — much better, structurally, than Precious, but will likely get overlooked because everyone keeps comparing it to Precious.

I guess we can’t have more than one film with a strong lead performance by an unknown, young black actress, and a surprisingly strong supporting turn by an older black actress in a decade or so, though, right? Too bad for Dee Rees and Pariah, I guess, that there was already an artsy black film out of Sundance. Timing just sucks, right?

And too bad for Adepero Oduye that she wasn’t blond enough or white enough to qualify as a Sundance “It Girl.”

It might help both of them to remember, though, that coming out of Sundance a couple years ago hardly anyone was taking realistic Oscar buzz for Push (aka Precious) because it was too black/urban/depressing, so if we MUST compare the two because they’re both “black films” then perhaps we can look at the positive side, too.

As for the rest, what will be interesting is to revisit all these sales a year from now, and see which films did well by their buyers — and which buyers did well by the films.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon