Friday, November 30, 2007

The Red-Headed Step-Prequel

So I've been doing a lot of thinking lately with regards to the responsibility of a storyteller. To what extent are they responsible to the story, the audience, and themselves? Where is the balance?

As anyone reading this knows by now, I can take a while to form my argument when it comes to this kind of thing, so I'm going to break it up over a few days so it's more bite-sized. I will also attempt to think of clever titles for each installment so as not to get boring, but no promises.

Anyway, to begin:

George Lucas, and his supporters, like to point out that Star Wars was Lucas' story, and so it is his prerogative to do anything he wants with it.

Greedo shoots first? Done.

Hayden Christensen in Return of the Jedi? It's in.

Midichlorians? Shit, why not.

The fact that the specific reference in my second link is lost in the PAGES of changes listed should finish making my point. If not, see also the pages for A New Hope (which wasn't even originally called that), and The Empire Strikes Back.

In terms of intellectual property, Star Wars belongs to Lucas. He can do whatever he wants to monetize it -- and he does. But as a STORY, as a MYTHOLOGY and a CULTURE, I think it's out of Lucas' hands. Legally he may have the right to alter it in whatever way his whims dictate, but he is violating the purity and the impact of the story every time he does so.

Aside from the fact that George Lucas is a prime example of someone who NEEDS a guy on set to go "George, that's a stupid idea," the story doesn't belong to him anymore. As soon as you make it part of the fabric of culture, part of the language of the zeitgeist, you have to be ready to let it go and find a life of its own.

Storytellers call their stories their "babies", their "children." Star Wars was Lucas' firstborn, and he didn't know quite what to do with it. The "child" wound up getting reared by a huge team of people, producers and executives who all had their input and influence on making it the film it was. They're like the teachers and friends a child makes in school. Then the film went out into the world and took on its own life.

If it were a child, it would be acceptable and expected that George let it go. But what he did, instead, was give up his next two children for adoption. Then he later kidnapped his adult firstborn, medicated it heavily, and then locked it in the attic for good measure. He also invoked his rights as the biological father of the other two to steal them away from the families that REALLY raised them, brought them under his roof against their will and then forced them to live under his rules.

And then 30 years later, he had three more kids, but THIS time he sheltered and homeschooled them to make sure that they had all the values and beliefs he wanted. I think we've all met the weird homeschooled kid. (Don't get me wrong, there are cool homeschooled kids too, but they're pretty rare and typically not strictly "homeschooled" so much as privately schooled by a group of parents.)

If George Lucas did to his real kids what he did to the original trilogy, child services would SO have had his ass. And there's nothing to be done for the prequels but to shake your head, just like when you meet the socially maladjusted homeschooled kids. "It's not their fault," you say, "their parents made them that way. They probably would have been cool if they'd been let out to play once in a while."

Now, don't get me wrong. There is NO question that legally, Star Wars is George Lucas' property, and I and many of my colleagues owe him gratitude for being progressive, and not suing the bloodstained zombie Christ out of us for playing in his backyard. But that doesn't mean I have to be okay with the way he mistreated his films.

Just because you created something, doesn't mean you control it forever. A storyteller should treat his "babies" like his babies. You have to have responsibility without demanding control.

More in my next post.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fingers crossed...

The writers and the AMPTP go back to the negotiating table tomorrow. I have high hopes that they will reach an agreement quickly, but it's not like the AMPTP was negotiating in good faith before. There's a good chance they aren't doing so now, either. I think there's a good chance that the AMPTP is only doing it to try to swing public opinion back in their favor. "Hey, we tried to negotiate. But those darn writers were just being too unreasonable and walked away!"

Don't back down, writers, and don't be fooled anyone else by the AMPTP's word-games. This is a big deal. The studios stand to make billions off the writers' work. The writers deserve a portion of that.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Movie Review: Fido

Okay, you like zombie movies? You like Shaun of the Dead? Go rent Fido. (If you like zombie movies and haven't seen Shaun, you stop reading right now and go see it. We can't be friends anymore until you do.)

The funny thing about me is that I like the idea of zombie movies, but rarely their execution. Typically they seem to forget that they're supposed to be zombie movies. Dawn of the Dead? Both the 70s version and the recent version use the zombies as a bookending thing -- the zombies lead them into the mall, then are the reason that they must leave. But they aren't really zombie movies. They're movies about people holed up in a mall, and oh yeah there's zombies outside.

28 Days Later? I have a friend, who is an executive at a big name studio, who has her own metaphor, inspired by 28 Days Later, for when a film utterly derails itself in the third act: "Going to the mansion." I discovered this when I pitched a movie to her once. Admittedly the third act was a problem and that particular story has been fixed (I like talking to her because she gives really good notes). She was with me for the first two-thirds of the movie and then when I got to the third act she hissed through her teeth like she'd been stung and said, "Okay, do you REALLY want to go to the mansion?" I just love that metaphor.

(I know 28 Days Later likes to say it's not technically a zombie movie, but we all know it is. I have not yet seen the sequel.)

Land of the Dead? Good God, if Romero wasn't credited as the man who created the "zombie genre" I'd say he has no business in it. Frankly, even given that he is, I'm still tempted to say so based on Land of the Dead. It was a post-apocalyptic movie, but not really a post-ZOMBIE-apocalypse movie. The survivors are living in fenced-off cities, the wealthier survivors live in a hoity-toity skyscraper, and the story is really a struggle between the classes. And oh yeah there's zombies outside. Oh, and one of them is intelligent and has compassion for his "people" for some reason.

Zombie Honeymoon was okay but a lot darker than I expected. Also didn't take the concept as deep as they could have. We can still be friends if you haven't seen it.

The reason I love Shaun of the Dead so much is that it is a perfect zombie movie. It's violent and scary and the zombies are a constant and immutable threat. But the other thing that's great about it is that the characters aren't behaving like you're supposed to behave in a zombie movie. It's like the movie chose to follow the "wrong" characters, and it's just brilliantly funny. Horror-comedy is hard to do well, and the Shaun team does it wonderfully. (Their "wrong characters in the right movie" concept also worked beautifully in Hot Fuzz.)

Fido is, in many ways, a spiritual successor to Shaun of the Dead. Remember how the zombies had been leashed and "tamed" at the end of Shaun? Fido starts with that premise, although with a slightly more sci-fi bent, in that they have special collars that, when activated, make them tame and not-face-eating. When deactivated, well, shoot for the head. It's also set in a fictional 1950s where World War II, from what I can tell, didn't happen. Instead what we got was the Zombie War, which has left small pockets of suburban humanity trying to live a normal 1950s life inside giant fences, on the other side of which is the Wild Zone, where zombies roam uncontained and uncontrolled.

I won't give you the whole of the story because you really should see it, but suffice it to say that the logline I've heard, "A boy and his zombie", is perfectly accurate. There's some great actors in here -- Carrie-Anne Moss and Dylan Baker as the parents, with Billy Connelly as the eponymous zombie -- and the filmmaking is impressive. If you're a filmmaker, I suggest checking out how the shooting and lighting style evolves from a brightly-lit, three-camera backlot look to a more modern/realistic style and look over the course of the story.

But overall, the best part, for me, was that it never forgot that it was a zombie movie. Little touches and glimpses of life made it clear that the filmmakers had considered all aspects of a post-Zombie War society, and it was part of the fabric of the film's culture, not just a McGuffin. That's how you make a zombie movie, and I'm not sure what the ratio of sad/wonderful is in the fact that the only movies that seem to be able to get it right are the comedies.

But the good comedies are comedies because they take the rules very seriously, just the characters don't. The zombies are still killing people horribly, but the other characters seem unaware of the horror. The little boy in this does a great job of acting like he's in a Lassie movie instead of a zombie movie, reacting to his zombie's murder of a neighbor with the "aw, shucks boy" guilt of a kid in some other movie finding that the dog tracked mud all over the brand new carpet just hours before Dad's new boss was coming over for dinner! Hijinks!

I'd really love to see a good, serious zombie movie, but I almost have to wonder if they need to be comedic to work. Certainly Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide (apparently in development as a film by Brooks himself) is extremely funny, but never in a punchline-y way. No, it's funny precisely because it's NOT funny, because it takes the notion of a zombie outbreak as a given and with utter seriousness describes how to get through it. The follow-up, World War Z, is less funny, and I'm personally hoping that it stalls in development hell (it's currently optioned by Brad Pitt's "Plan B Productions") long enough for me to have a shot at it, because I would really like to make that into a film.

But until that day comes, if you're a zombie lover who hasn't seen Fido, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I'm going to stop promising to cover topics in my "next" blog post, and just say "a later" blog post, so I have something to come back to in the lean times. We'll call them blog residuals.

I say that because I said in my last post I was going to touch on the subject of humility, but I've decided I don't want to do that today, so I won't. I have a lot of other, more current stuff to talk about.

Case in point: There's a new Ghostbusters game coming out.

This is, as my friend Travis likes to say, a big damn deal.

To use another Trav-ism: Let me explain something to you.

I love movies. I'll go into how loving movies, especially as a filmmaker, goes through the same stages as loving a person in a later blog post (see how I brought that back? Four years of college, right there). But I've been watching movies as long as I can remember. And the first three films I ever saw were:

The Wizard of Oz

In that order. I loved all three of those movies, even though I'll be the first to tell you I didn't understand a goddamn bit of them. They were just the most wonderful things to me, with their music and their personalities. And Ghostbusters has the distinction of being the first film I saw in theatres. I didn't get the jokes, but I knew Venkman was funny. The dry/sarcastic thing informed my own burgeoning sense of humor. (Being fat in middle school added just the right dash of self-deprecation to make me the pundit-in-my-own-mind I am today.)

And when a Ghostbusters cartoon came out...heaven. (The Real Ghostbusters, not to be confused with Filmation's GhostBusters, which was an impossibly bizarre cartoon based on a short-lived 1975 live-action series in which, as IMDB explains, "Two guys and their pet gorilla hunt spooks." That's right, pet gorilla. The cartoon was a spin-off about their sons, who had apparently inherited both the family business and the gorilla.)

I (i.e. my parents) bought all the toys (including the fucking gorilla, because I was unclear on the distinction), got the funny-smelling purple slime mashed all into every carpet in the house when I would use it with the official Firehouse playset, the whole nine.

People are surprised when they find out that I'm 24 and yet didn't grow up a fan of Transformers. But I had ghosts to bust, goddammit.

I knew every line of the film and could recite it at the drop of a hat, although I still had no idea what I was actually saying. ("I feel so funky" while writhing around on the floor pretending to be slimed was apparently a favorite of mine.)

And about five years after the original film, when Ghostbusters 2 started advertising? Dude. I could've shit Bono, I was so excited. Saw it opening weekend, and for all I remember multiple times. I wore out the video tapes -- as we still brooked such bullshit as VHS back in the day -- just watching and watching.

So then, years later, the internet has arrived. I'm still movie-obsessed, although, as mentioned before, I haven't actively realized yet that movies are and rightfully ought to be my life's passion.

While browsing through Coming Soon -- an Ain't It Cool News precursor that, like most websites, didn't have its own domain and so was impossible to find without bookmarking it -- I discover that there's a Ghostbusters 3 in the works.

(One thing I really miss about Coming Soon, is that the news was sorted according to the title of the rumored film. I remember reading about I Am Legend on Coming Soon; back then it starred Ah-nold, my man Ridley Scott was directing, and Will Smith was "that kid on Fresh Prince.")

Well, in these heady early days of consumer internet, do I take that lying down? No sir. Straight to Yahoo! I go (the major search engine at the time, before the benevolent Google-beast consumed us all). I found a Ghostbusters fan site. With a MESSAGE BOARD! It was really little more than a glorified listserv, but man, even just looking at that Wayback Machine page takes me back. I REMEMBER those guys. Tim the Terror Dog (or TTTD), Paranorman, Jen Spengler, Simone...goddammit, good times.

Well. Needless to say, I was on there ALL THE TIME. Or at least, as "all the time" as having to pay for dial-up access and deal with dial-up speeds would allow. See what I said about VHS.

The GB scripts were some of the first scripts available online, through that site, and I initially learned script formatting by studying those scripts. I later learned the difference between a shooting script, which is what those were, and a screenplay, which is what you write first.

With GB3 interest in a lull in summer of '98, I, being the scamp of but 15 that I was, decided (under a fake name) to pretend to "leak" some pages from the "Ghostbusters 3 script", which was of course a forgery which I wrote myself. Based on the premise that Dan Aykroyd had talked about, it was a scene where Egon tests a new device that accidently sends Ray to Hell for about two minutes.

I thought it was a good scene at the time, a lot of cool visual concepts. Now I just have to shake my head and give younger self an affectionate pat on the head ("Cabs in Hell are RED, see? Instead of YELLOW!" although the description of the diabolical Statue of Slavery does still strike me as inspired), but hey, the board loved it.

It didn't take long for them to figure out it was a hoax, because like an asshole I had misspelled Ray's last name "Stantz" as "Stanz", but they weren't upset. They wanted me to write more. So I did. I wound up writing a 180 page script for GB3 filled with all manner of fanwankery. Walter Peck was back, and the terror dogs, and all the characters from the spectacularly mediocre Extreme Ghostbusters.

I wound up rewriting it a couple times, mitigating the fanwankery somewhat but not fully, and posting it online. I must have continued to revise it even after posting it, because I remember calling it Ghostbusters: Lost Dimension at a certain point, yet the title on the page remains simply Ghostbusters 3.

And indeed, the script is still there, under a legacy site (I can't BELIEVE after almost ten years the page still exists) but I'm not linking to it because it's not good. I also wrote a GB4 script, Ghostbusters: Feast of Samhain -- also not good, also a fanwank -- because I was 15 and marching band season was over and I had nothing else to do with my life. I damn near wrote a GB5, too, but apparently I found something better to do with my life because it never became more than a vague outline.

The thing I will say in my defense is, I wrote each script in like 5 weeks, because I didn't know or care that they were crappy. I kind of wish I could get that cavalier attitude back just in the service of pounding out the first draft of a given project.

Anyway, blah blah blah. I loved Ghostbusters, and I had every intention of going to the premiere of Ghostbusters 3 -- a premiere which was imminent, damn you! Imminent I say! -- in full costume, so I found out how to make the costumes. GB3 never happened, but I and two friends of mine went as Ghostbusters for Halloween, complete with plywood proton pack I had built myself. Besides some cracked paint, it was pretty goddamned accurate thanks to plans by one Norm Gagnon, who was Paranorman on the board and is apparently still furnishing the better fan projects with his GB propping expertise.

I'd gotten the premiere bug, and so when The Phantom Menace came around, I thought it would be great to go to THAT in costume. Then, I got the notion that it would be great to get in for FREE by working with the theatre and agreeing to put on a show (a lightsaber fight) and greet the guests and otherwise earn our tickets with publicity. The theatre actually agreed to it, but they wanted to see the fight first.

Well, my first attempt at choreographing a lightsaber fight was positively an abortion. It all wound up going utterly to shit and we wound up dropping the whole in-costume thing, paying for our tickets, and just enjoying the movie because we didn't know any better. And the lightsaber fight blew us fucking away. And the rest is history but that's besides the point of the story.

All that to say: fuck yes, Ghostbusters the Video Game. According to the official site and other sources, the game's storyline is being written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis themselves, and is closer to a true GB3 than we will ever have again. Taking place after the events of GB2, in the early/mid-nineties, it apparently has to do with a "new ghost attack on New York that only the Ghostbusters can stop".

The incredible inanity of sites saying that's the story premise, as though it's insight, makes me want to yell something incoherent like "Well son of a goddamn duh!" What the Christ else WOULD the story be? But frankly, I don't care what the story is. It's Ghostbusters.

It's a new Ghostbusters story.

Ghostbusters is getting a new resurgence. There's the game, and there's the recent release of the appropriately named Return of the Ghostbusters two weeks ago.

It is probably too much to hope that the popularity of the game and concordant blitz of Ghostbusters loving all over the internet will lead Sony and the cast and director to decide that they do want to make a new Ghostbusters movie. But I'm going to hope anyway. I'd even take a Rocky/Die Hard "We're too old for this shit" self-aware new Ghostbusters movie (actually that might be a pretty sweet direction to take, and revitalize the franchise with the new guys they'll inevitably and reluctantly recruit).

If nothing else, Travis and I are going to make a Ghostbusters fan film.

"You mean THE Travis? The one you mentioned earlier in this very post?" Indeed, the very same. Incidentally, he also happens to be THE Travis behind Three in the Afternoon, Six in the Morning, and the cameraman for RvD2. Also my war buddy on a certain film project that I'm still trying to decide how much I want to talk about on here. Also co-host of Shooting the Bull, which we WILL record another of someday soon I swear. Long story short, we're homies, and we're going to be doing this thing shortly after he gets to L.A., because we've got a great premise and it would just be tons of fun for everyone.

And if no one stops me, I might even dust off the old GB3 Final Draft file and see if I can do anything with it, using my highly developed sense of less-shitty.

They're the best, they're the beautiful, they're the ONLY...


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Insecurity, Part 3: Question Yourself

My apologies to any regular readers I may have who were disappointed that I didn't finish the "series" yesterday. I have no excuse, it just didn't happen. I hope today makes up for it.

Anyway, back to it.

I believe that when it comes to creativity (I hesitate to say "art" just because of the hoity-toity connotations), there is a good insecurity and a bad insecurity. On Tuesday I talked about the bad insecurity, where you try to gain validation for yourself or your talents by way of comparison with others. Today, as I hinted at the end of that entry, I want to talk about the good insecurity, where you seek to always improve yourself or your talents by way of comparison with yourself.

It's possible that insecurity isn't the right word for it. A better, less loaded-sounding word might be "introspection". Whatever you want to call it, what it boils down to is the question "Is what I'm doing the best I can do?"

I'm going to pick on M. Night Shyamalan one more time, since that's become a theme here. I think MNS has lost a sense of introspection (yes, you COULD call it a "sixth sense", but you shouldn't, because I will slap you). I think he was successful with his first film, and he has decided he can do no wrong, and just throws his first ideas onto the page and onto the screen.

I could make the same comments about the Wachowskis, or George Lucas. Success becomes laziness when you decide that anything you touch is gold.

I mean, in the case of George Lucas, it's sadly true. As I've often said, Lucas could have shit on a blanket, filmed it decomposing for 2 and a half hours, called it Revenge of the Sith, and would still have broken box office records with it.

(Some would argue that that's kind of what he did, but I digress.)

(It still would have been better than Episodes I and II. Okay, I'm done now.)

Now, on the other hand, you have a filmmaker like Spielberg. I know I keep bringing him up but if nothing else, everyone knows who the hell he is so it's an easy example. Plus, whether you love him, hate him, or are indifferent, I really do think he's the single most influential director the American movie industry has ever known, second perhaps to Georges Méliès (but some of you had to check Wikipedia to find out who that was, didn't you? So you see my point).

Even though Spielberg's name will instantly make a movie successful, I don't think he's resting on his laurels. It seems like he's always trying something new, always trying to make the best movie he can. He asks others for their thoughts, he allows the input of others to inform his decisions. He doesn't surround himself with yes-men.

If you are a filmmaker, it is important that you are capable of looking at what you are doing, stepping to the side for a moment and asking yourself "Is what I'm doing the best I can do?" Not only that, but I think it's important that you have at least one person on your team that you can trust to ask you that question if you don't ask it first.

I mean, if ONE person George Lucas respected had stood up and said "Now hold on here, George. Where are you going with this midichlorian thing?" and forced Lucas to explain it to him, it would have accomplished one of two things. Either Lucas would have realized that there was a better way to accomplish what he was trying to get at, and changed it, or he would have thought it through and made the midichlorian thing important to the story. Instead, he just kind of dropped it after the middle of Phantom Menace and hoped no one would notice.

I'm not saying you should have a no-man, either. But you need at least one person that you know is looking out for the story. That should be you, but for when you get all caught up in the excitement of a new idea, you need someone else to pull you down to earth and ask "Where are you going with this?"

If it really is the best idea possible, then you should have little trouble explaining why and convincing them. But listen to their objections, because answering them will only make your idea more solid.

Question yourself. Answer yourself. And if you wouldn't accept the answer from someone else, don't accept it from yourself. There's a better idea. Keep looking.

One last thing about insecurity, and this one is mainly directed at

A common mistake a lot of beginning directors make is thinking that a movie has to be 100% "their vision". They have to come up with ALL the ideas no matter what and it has to be theirs theirs theirs. This again is all a kind of insecurity.

What you have to realize is that you're the director, not the dictator. You have to be able to make a decision about everything if no one else has any ideas, but you should also be open to hearing the ideas of others if they DO have them.

Basically, as the director, you decide the destination, and you make sure you keep going in the right direction to get there. That's where the name comes from.

What is the movie you want the audience to see? That's what is meant by having the vision. You don't have to have all the ideas, but you do have to decide whether or not the ideas presented to you will get you to the destination as well as, or hopefully better than, your own ideas. And most of the ideas you hear WILL be better than yours. There's no reason to insist on going down Avenue A when Avenue B goes in the same direction and will get you to your destination just as well or better.

If it won't work as well, be able to articulate why. Don't just say "Nah, we're going to do it my way." Explain. Explain to yourself as much as you're explaining to them, because being a director isn't about HAVING the best ideas, it's about KNOWING the best ideas when you hear them. If you're open to your cast and crew, they will help you make a better movie than you could make alone, and everybody wins when you do that.

One of the comments to the first post in the "series" brought up a good issue with humility. I'll touch on that in my next post.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Insecurity, Part 2: The Better-Than Fallacy

Today we continue our conversation regarding insecurity, and what I refer to as the Better-Than fallacy. To wit:

To the less mature mind, the only way I can be good at something is if you are not good at it. Since good is seen as being a dichotomy, only definable in relationship to bad, if I am going to make myself look good, I have to make everything else look bad. So when you're talking to other people, or about other peoples' work, you tend to be overwhelmingly negative. This sucks and that sucked and look how clever I am to know the better way to do it.

The expectation, so laughably absurd that even the person himself doesn't fully admit it at the time, is that the world will fall at your feet in awe of your majestic brilliance. Which, of course, is not the case. You just seem like a dick. And usually, an inexperienced or uninformed dick.

As in any walk of life, the more you know, the more you discover you don't know, so in ignorance, you think you know EVERY damn thing. It's interesting to me to be on the other side of it now (albeit only JUST on the other side) and see all the statements people make about what I've done. Most of the time my reaction to people's comments is "Yeah, I can see how that makes sense knowing NOTHING about how this project came about. But from my perspective, that's not how it would have or COULD have worked out at all." I like to believe I have more patience for those situations, remembering when I was the ignorant one.

Let me give another example of this kind of behavior. On message boards discussing the new RED camera (plenty of posts to come on that, you betcha), there's a lot of talk about "the death of film." Recently there was a thread about Spielberg's refusal to switch to digital, preferring the look and workflow of film.

Well, there was a fucking UPROAR about it, I'm here to tell you. People calling Spielberg a no-talent hack and saying "fuck him" and going on about how he and everyone else who refuses to switch to digital is going to get steamrolled by progress.

What the fuck?

Let's not kid ourselves. If Spielberg had come out and embraced RED, all that talk of "no talent hackitude" would not have ensued. No, Spielberg would be a genius and a pillar of filmmaking history -- even though the content and quality of his body of work is utterly unchanged.

No, what really instigated the "backlash" is that these are people who are insecure about being on the bleeding edge, they need validation that they've made the right choice, that they're talented and special, and Spielberg rejecting digital is a slap in the face to their egos. So they have to try to bring down Spielberg (good luck with that) so that they can be "good" by being "better than" him.

Of course, as I say, "Better-Than" is a fallacy, because you do NOT have to be better than anyone else to be good at what you do, at least not in a creative industry. Is Michel Gondry better than David Fincher? Is Peter Jackson better than Steven Spielberg? Mix and match to continue the line of questioning?

I'd much rather re-watch Eternal Sunshine twice than re-watch Zodiac once (and could do either within the same running time). But I'd watch Fight Club five times before I tried to sit through The Science of Sleep again.

It's damn hard to compare Jackson and Spielberg, and hard to think of a "bad" Spielberg film, but I tell you what, I'd rather watch Lord of the Rings than The Terminal. Though I'd still rather watch that, or one of Jackson's schlocky early pieces like Dead Alive, before Science of Sleep.

Are these better filmmakers than each other, then? I couldn't say that. In my examples, is one a better film than another? I don't think you can say that either. All I can say is which I LIKE better, which I ENJOY more, and as I learn more, I'm more capable of articulating why.

I took a dig at M. Night Shyamalan yesterday, because I think he's been in a steady decline since The Sixth Sense (which I maintain is goddamn brilliant and a perfect film). But does that mean I think I'm "better than" him as a filmmaker? Would I make "better" choices? Not exactly. It just means I would make different choices. I still cross my fingers for good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes every time M. Night puts something out, because I want so much for him to blow me away again.

All of this, again, comes back to insecurity, and whether it's externalized, or internalized. The younger, and less experienced, feel that they have to be better than everyone else in order to be any good at all. The more experience I gain, the more I realize that two people can both be good at something in different ways, and the only person you ought to worry about being better than, is yourself.

I'll wrap this conversation up tomorrow (at least, I expect to) with a discussion about what I believe is the artistically healthy internalization of insecurity.

Had some great comments on yesterday's post, I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts today.

Monday, November 12, 2007

On Insecurity, Part 1

As of this writing, I am 24 years old. That's not that old, but it's fascinating to me to look back even from here. It should go without saying that I'm a much different person than I was when I was 14, and I was different at 16 than at 14, and different at 18 than at 16, etc. What amazes me, though, is how different I am at 24 (about halfway to 25 at the moment) than I was at 23. How much different I am likely to be at 26 than I am now. And I can't even fathom who I might be at 30.

The older readers of my blog (if I ever have any) will be thinking "Well, duh." The younger readers of my blog may not believe me. I know when you're younger it seems like at a certain age you get it "figured out", and you don't HAVE to change because life is smooth sailing. Whether or not that's the case, you change. Every experience you have changes you.

The main thing that changes -- at least, hopefully -- is insecurity. Now, this is not to say that you will never be insecure. As a filmmaker (and therefore an "artist" in some sense) you will probably always be insecure. And, I will argue in this "series" of posts, you SHOULD be insecure to an extent, because security leads to laziness and laziness leads to the death of your art. What's important is not eliminating your insecurities, but channelling them.

Now, first a little bit about where I'm coming from on this:

Where filmmaking is concerned, at least in terms of this generation, I'm what you might call a "late bloomer". Most of my generation started shooting with their family's VHS camera when they were 10 years old, or younger (Ryan made his first short film -- which he refuses to show me -- at the age of 9).

M. Night Shyamalan likes to put his crappy childhood films as special features on the DVDs to his crappy adult films. I could bore you with a list but I won't. The point is, the fact that it didn't actively occur to me to make a film until I was about 17, makes me a relatively "late bloomer".

Looking back, it seems the obvious choice, and it seems like it was "destiny." I never picked up a camera, but I would put on little skits with my siblings, and I always thought of them as "movies", not plays. I always loved movies, and especially visual effects fascinated the bejeezus out of me. I started "directing" my family's Christmas videos when I was two years old ("Okay, so you record the door, and I'm going to burst out going 'It's Christmas!' and run for the presents!"). So it all makes sense to come to this.

Now, also among my generation, there's a common bit of hubris. The phrase is "the next Spielberg". Usually said in the first person. People say it to each other sometimes, I've had it said to me. I don't know that it's true, but it sure would be nice.

Here's the thing. I don't do the false humility bit and I don't like it when others do, either. I know that I am very talented, and very passionate, at what I do. I make no bones about that. But am I the BEST at what I do? Or will I be, when my skills are sufficiently developed? I don't know, and honestly, I don't really think so. I think I can make good films, I hope I can make great films, but no one bats 1000, and even Spielberg takes the occasional misstep.

Still, as I say, I am aware that I am talented, and have been since I was young. And when you're young, knowing you're talented tends to make you a dick. When I was younger, and first starting out in filmmaking, I was a dick about it (some will say I still am, but I'll address that later).

Why? Insecurity.

See, at that stage you still rely on the validation of others to define you (no matter how much you say you don't). So even though you know you're talented, it means nothing to you unless the REST of the world knows you're talented. And this leads to the Better-Than fallacy.

This entry is really freaking long already and I've barely even gotten to my point. Still, I don't want to bore your pants off (at least not unless I'm paying for dinner) so I'll stop here, and we'll pick up tomorrow with the Better-Than fallacy.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The cake is a lie...

So I spent most of the wee hours last night playing Portal, part of the Orange Box released by Valve. Very fun game, you play a test subject solving puzzles with a portal gun. You can open one here, the other there, and transport yourself instantly. Probably the best part of it is the writing of the A.I. in the testing facility. It has a hilarious personality, switching from kind and encouraging to vindictive and abusive, sometimes within the same sentence.

For those interested in puzzle games who don't have an XBOX or the dough to buy it on PC, you can play the 2D Flash version for free here.

I plan to get back on pace with blogging tomorrow. I started this blog when I did in part because I thought Descendants was almost rolling and so I'd be able to blog through the process, but the writer's strike has kind of buggered that. Still, there's a lot of interesting stuff and developments out there to talk about, so I'll get on that.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Tracey Fragments

So, I just became aware of this film called The Tracey Fragments. It's an independent Canadian production starring Ellen Page (Hard Candy, X-Men 3) as a girl telling the story of how she came to find herself as we find her at the beginning of the film: naked beneath a shower curtain at the back of a bus, looking for her little brother, who thinks he's a dog. Though I haven't seen the film as of yet, it is apparently shot and cut in a "multi-pane" format sort of like Ang Lee's Hulk.

By now you're surely thinking "Social thread", and I would normally agree, but for one fascinating initiative. If you go to the film's website there is a "tab" labelled "Re-Fragmented". If you go to this tab, you will find the entirety of the raw footage for the film, everything that was shot (approximately 20GB), available for free.

That's 100% free, no strings, non-commercial download. They expect, and in fact encourage, other filmmakers to edit music videos, trailers, or even an entirely new cut of the film. They have also made the film's score available for free under the Creative Commons license.

Also included in the bundle is the Final Cut Pro project files for the filmmakers' version of the film. So if you have Final Cut, you can examine just how the film was ultimately constructed by the filmmakers.

This is, of course, a big deal. Imagine if other filmmakers jumped on this kind of share-and-share-alike bandwagon. Imagine what YOU can do in a creative community like this. And if nothing else, imagine what you could learn. Want to be an editor? Here's an exercise for you to practice with: Download the files and the script, but do NOT watch the final film. Instead, use the footage and the script to create the version you, as an editor, conceive. Then compare it to the final project. Find out what you like better than their way, and what you think they did better than you did.

There's also a contest, the best UGC (user-generated content) entry will win a Final Cut Pro package. I'm not entirely sure what value that is when the people getting the most mileage out of the files already use Final Cut, and only Canadian residents are eligible, but there you go.

I know nothing about the film or its content besides what I've already told you, and the film has not been rated by the MPAA. So there's a chance there will be offensive or inappropriate material in the film. Almost certainly there's language, and from the trailer it appears that there is some sexual content as well. Be aware of that possibility going in. I'm not endorsing the film itself, but I definitely endorse the initiative and possibilities the film represents. They follow directly on from yesterday's post regarding the democratization of content and the rebirth of the read-write culture.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

On Content and Copyright

I'm going to have a lot more to say on this subject in the future. My father is an attorney who quite literally wrote the book on copyright law in the digital realm. I personally have made my "fame" (if not my fortune) piggybacking on the success and love of fans for their favorite franchise. So this is a big deal and it won't go untouched-upon.

But for now, let me just link you a video, a TED-Talk. TED is a fascinating concept -- it stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and is an annual meeting in Monterey, California where 1000 luminaries, from those three worlds, come together to share ideas.

That's the main goal: sharing ideas.

I'll undoubtedly post more TED-Talks in the future, as well, but for now, I was pointed to this one and it's extremely significant. I've never attended a TED conference and will probably never be invited to do so. But I'm with them, and believe in what they're aiming to achieve. And so, I share these ideas with you.

EDIT: Tried to post a video, but their embed code is faulty. A link will have to do.

Check out the rest of their site while you're at it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Strike

So, the WGA has gone on strike. For a brief overview explanation as to why, check out this video, which explains it in simple, direct terms.

You can also find much more experienced screenwriters than myself discussing the strike, such as John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), John Rogers (Transformers [story]), and Craig Mazin. I can only assume the latter's blog title, the "Artful Writer", is somewhat satirical, given that he's the man behind the scripts for Scary Movie 3, 4, and the upcoming 5, and that's just about it. Don't let that fool you, though, he's got a lot of intelligent things to say about the business, and is THE foremost blogging authority on the WGA strike. So if you really want to know what's up, go read the Artful Writer.

How does this affect you? Well, if you watch a lot of TV, you're fucked. The last writer's strike, in 1988, lasted 5-1/2 months. That puts us through mid-March, based on precedent. Most TV stations are going to be wrapping up the season early and going into reruns, because they don't have new episodes coming. Your favorite late-night shows are already on re-runs, more than likely, both out of solidarity and out of the fact that they've lost their writing teams.

The film industry won't be hit as hard in general. The films that will coming out in the next 6 months are already in production. The writers can't do any kind of rewriting or polishing, but anyone who ISN'T WGA can do so (you'll see a lot of actors and directors doing polishes over the next few months; or rather, you probably won't see it, but it'll be happening). It's ironically AFTER the time the strike ends that things are going to get frantic. You're going to see a lot of crap getting pushed out even faster and with less QC-ing than usual, to make up for the lost time in the production rhythms.

How does this affect me? I'm not in the WGA, after all. Well, no, that's true, but the issue is that I EXPECT to be in the WGA at some point. And that means that I can't scab, I can't do any writing in a union-type situation.

And that means Descendants.

I'm really upset about this. I just turned in a new revision of the treatment, I was all geared up to get the script together and set it up at a studio...and now this. It's going to kill our momentum, but there's nothing we can do.

Damn it. I was SO excited to be moving forward with this. On the upside, the writer's strike doesn't affect me as a director, so assuming that the producers sign off on the treatment I got in before the strike, there's a lot we can do in terms of moving forward on the project based on what we know about the story, locations, casting, etc. But still...argh.

I understand why the WGA is striking, and I know it's for my future benefit, which is why I won't be breaking the strike. But man...why couldn't they wait until spring when we were up and rolling? Heh.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Movie Review: American Gangster

There was an Italian author in the 60s and 70s, by the name of Italo Calvino. He was a novelist and a short story writer, and though he's obscure to most modern readers (especially since the idea of being a "modern reader" is itself alarmingly obscure), he's notable for defining his work to be indefinable. If you pick up a Tom Clancy novel, you know what you're getting. Stephen King, you know. But if you lived in those days and picked up the latest Calvino, you had no idea what you were in for. He made it his goal that everything he did should be completely different from anything he had done before. Perhaps it's this lack of marketability that makes him obscure, but it's also, to me, what makes him fascinating.

In the same way, I think Ridley Scott has done that with his own career. All the movies he does are different from the others. Who would believe, on a surface level, that the guy who did Black Hawk Down is the guy who did Thelma and Louise?

As such, Ridley Scott has a strange fame, to me. If I see a movie preview, and it's directed by Ridley Scott, I often decide I'm going to see the film. And it's kind of strange, because I'm really not a huge fan of his work. Gladiator was okay, and Alien is great, but Legend was more than a little shaky, and Blade Runner is downright boring.

That's right, I said it.

He's a solid filmmaker, he generally hits all the right notes (with the repeated exception of Blade Runner) and his filmmaking is impeccable, but I don't know if he has a specific style. And maybe that's what interests me. Maybe, like Calvino, I'm fascinated by the notion of always re-inventing oneself as a filmmaker.

I've said for a while now that, if I ever make it big, I don't want to be "the guy who makes action movies" or "the guy who makes sci-fi movies" or "the guy who makes horror movies." I'd love to be all of those things, and more importantly, I'd rather be "the guy who makes good movies." I don't know if I feel that way about Ridley Scott, but he's certainly not letting himself get put in a box.

His latest film, American Gangster, is another decent-but-not-great film. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe star in the based-on-truth story of a Harlem drug trafficker (Washington), and the narcotics officer who eventually brings him down (Crowe). Make no mistake, though, the story is REALLY about Denzel's rise to power and fall from grace, about a nobody becoming a somebody.

It suffers from some of the same problems as other biopics -- kind of meanders, no real "conclusion", although it has a better one than most -- and I think it also suffers from Denzel's performance a bit. The man is an Oscar winner, but I think that's making him lazy. He's becoming the guy you get because you want that performance. You don't hire Denzel because you think he can play the character, you hire Denzel because you want the character to be Denzel.

Nowhere is this more apparent, to me, than when Denzel gets "angry". It's always the same. He gets kind of pouty, he pushes his chin down into his neck and twitches, looking like a petulant child. Then he randomly lashes out, throwing his arms around, shouting, and typically repeating himself several times. I guess this is intended to make him sound "genuine", the way "real people talk". To me it just sounds like Denzel isn't as interested in acting as he is in being Denzel, repeating that Oscar-winning performance even when it's inappropriate to the character. And that's a shame.

Russell Crowe does alright, with what he has to do. His character has a divorce/child custody subplot that goes absolutely nowhere and adds nothing to the story, aside from his "revelation" that he isn't a good father -- which doesn't affect the rest of the story at all, and merely contributes to the already somewhat bloated running time.

Now, it's definitely not as poorly paced as Jesse James; I didn't feel like looking at my watch every 5 minutes wondering when it would be over. It kept my attention almost all the way through. But it COULD have been shorter without mucking anything up, and in my mind that means it SHOULD have been shorter.

As I said above, Ridley Scott is a solid filmmaker and you could do worse, especially as a filmmaker, than to study how he does things. They all seem very textbook now, but I think (and I'll need to watch a lot of earlier stuff to verify, but I'm pretty sure) that's because the "textbooks" relied heavily on him in the first place. But is American Gangster necessary to see on the big screen? I don't really think so.

Two other things: this is a movie about heroin. If you're needle squeamish (as I am), you should know that going in (which I didn't).

Second, a friend and potential future collaborator of mine, Bari Willerford, plays Joe Lewis, and gets a pleasantly surprising amount of face-time, though no actual speaking occasions. Still, pretty cool.