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December 31, 2005

2005 was a pretty good year. No need for a recap. 2006 might be better. You know who you are.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:55 AM | Comments (8)

December 30, 2005

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The night before last, James and Amy and I went to The New Beverly to see an Orson Welles double feature. As far as we knew going in, it was to be made up of a print of The Trial and assorted short odds and ends. Those odds and ends, however, turned out to be from the personal collection of Gary Graver, Welles' cinematographer on every one of his projects post-1970. Graver was there to tell stories about Welles and introduce and comment upon all the clips, which included: an entire TV pilot called The Fountain Of Youth, the only existing footage from a failed production of The Merchant Of Venice, a reel of F Is For Fake, various screen tests, trailers and - best of all - ten minutes from Welles' last film, the never finished, never seen The Other Side Of The Wind. The sequence we saw was a fairly explicit sex scene, taking place in a car in a rain storm. It was projected in silence, since all the sound was still on the original mag tracks. It was completely electrifying, partially because of its content and partially because Graver said he'd probably never show it again - unless, of course, someone takes up the reigns and finishes the post-production process Welles left unfinished over two decades ago.

All of that was an experience all by itself, but then there was that beautiful print of The Trial. I'd seen it before, on an old VHS, but had forgotten how alarmingly effective it is. Welles adheres to Kafka's text in both content and structure, letter and spirit. It's a note-perfect literary adaptation, and extraordinary piece of cinema.

* * *

This evening, we went to see The New World. I might have to make a top ten list after all, just so I can put this at the top of it.

Everpresent in my head while I've been watching all these films is the one of my own, sitting in the refrigerator back in Texas. I'm constantly editing it in my head. Trying out different cuts, considering what additional pieces I might need, trying to make it as good as I can before the fact. I probably should just clear my head of it and let myself be surprised.

Posted by David Lowery at 5:54 AM | Comments (3)

December 26, 2005

I began the year on the East Coast and I'll be wrapping it up on the West, for reasons that originally didn't extend beyond a vacation with friends but now has taken on a few mild professional dimensions (it feels really weird to say I'm going to have a meeting with my agent). I was supposed to catch a flight this morning, but all that made it onto the plane was my suitcase full of all my clothing. Long story short, I'm about to hop into a car with Amy for a reckless Kerouac-style birthday celebration. We should be in Hollywood in about 25 hours. Someone call me at sunrise and remind me to play Beck's Sea Change, my official driving-through-the-desert-at-magic-hour album.

I hit the quarter of a century mark today. I look older than that. I feel a whole lot younger. Eighteen years younger, to be exact. Next year it'll be nineteen, and twenty the year after that.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:01 AM | Comments (6)

December 25, 2005

Merry whatever, folks.

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My Christmas Eve Movie (16 MB Quicktime)

I look like I'm trying to be Bela Lugosi or something in that picture.

I shot this at 3am last night, and intended to have it up before sunrise this morning. But various technical problems, combined with a full day of family activity and packing for my flight to LA tomorrow morning, kept me getting it online until now, and also from fine tuning it and making it as perfect as it was in my head when I was daydreaming my way through midnight Mass. It was supposed to be something close to wonderful.

But at least the music in it is wonderful. Nice and bittersweet, just like Christmas music should be.

EDIT: I feel compelled to say that, in retrospect, I'm quite embarassed by the snowflakes arching upward in the video. I need to be more careful about where I place my particle generators.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:27 PM | Comments (3)

December 24, 2005

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If you look closely at that slate, you can see other titles and cinematographers from my previous films under the current ones. That tape will keep building up and up over the years.

The day after we wrapped, I decided it was a good time to go on a detox fast, which I'm now in the fourth day of and which I'll break tomorrow, just in time for Christmas. It's strangely satisfying not to eat for days on end - once you get past the initial hurdle (and the caffeine withdrawal), everything feels peaceful and serene. I've been contemplating what we shot, trying to remember all the little details. It feels like something very special (or maybe I'm just delirious from the lack of sustenance).

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I haven't really felt like writing about the shoot itself. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I'm still in love with it, and I guess I'm a bit posessive of it. I don't want to give up its secrets. I don't want to spoil it, or create preconceived notions. I feel that trying to put it in words would be a bit like trying to tell someone about a dream.

This is the most personal expression I've ever made. I made it exactly like I wanted to (except for one shot I forgot to get, which I'll take care of when we grab a few pick-ups in January). And I think it ended up meaning a lot to everyone who worked on it, too.

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So thank you, Kyle and Machete, James and Nick and Clay and Yen, Jude and Daniel and Sarah, Amy and Trey and Toria, Mark and Marc; you guys helped me rip this thing out of myself. Whatever it is, whatever it ends up being.

(which we'll find out next month, when I get the film processed - here's hoping it live up to this quiet, oblique fever dream in my head)

Posted by David Lowery at 3:38 AM | Comments (5)

December 21, 2005

We wrapped 24 hours ago.

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I think it must be a very good thing to feel this sad.


Posted by David Lowery at 12:10 AM | Comments (8)

December 15, 2005

As I mentioned in the comments a few posts down (and contrary to the advance planning I did back in June) I feel like throwing my critical faculties to the wind and foregoing a Best-Of list this year. Everyone else is making them, and I certainly enjoy reading them; but by and large, they're pretty much all full of the same cross section of entries. I don't want to follow the crowd in terms of the titles I choose, but I also don't want to ignore a lot of those films that I genuinely love, like Capote, which don't technically need my endorsement. Nor do I want to have to have to choose between, say, Jay Rosenblatt's heartbreaking 27-minute The Phantom Limb and Peter Jackson's heartbreaking, 187-minute King Kong, both of which I could easily call the best film of the year, both of which are as beautiful as they are completely different. Why confine them to categorization? I could tell you why, but, at the moment, I'd rather not.

I will, however, list a few of my favorite filmgoing experiences of the year. Experiences are definitively subjective - they are purely mine - and are therefore safe to order (chronologically):

This is probably an incomplete list. Most of the movies may be out, but the year ain't over yet.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:40 AM | Comments (12)

December 14, 2005

Two days and counting...

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...so of course, this afternoon, I started feeling fluish chills in my spine, aches in my stomach. Since then, I've been devouring vitmain-C tablets and cayenne pepper pills and spoonfulls of grapefruit seed extract, and have exchanged coffee for green tea. Hopefully all that and a good night's rest will be enough to beat back the onslaught of ailments my lack of sleep has left me open to.

Aside from that potential disaster, the only other problem we've run into is with audio equipment. The vendor from which we were going to rent a DAT informed us that theirs was broken. Our second choice was having theirs repaired at the Tascam factory. It felt like a conspiracy: one utterance of the words 'low budget' or 'independent' or 'discount,' and the equipment mysteriously becomes unvailable.

But the issue has been solved - and rather creatively, I might add. We'll now be recording all our audio directly to vinyl, by way of an antique phonographic recorder. It should, if nothing else, add an intersting auditory aesthetic to the film. Snap, crackle, pop, etc.

The worst part about pre-production thus far has been forcing myself to skip the press screenings of Haneke's Cache and Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada this week. I'm dying to see both of those films, but I'm a responsbile director, and there have been more pressing matters - like staging a mock guerilla shoot on miniDV (from which the image above was procured) at one of our locations, just to gauge the possibilty of unwanted attention from security guards. It was, at least tonight, a non-issue.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:02 AM | Comments (4)

December 13, 2005

Since I probably won't have time to review it in-depth before it opens this week, here are some brief thoughts on Peter Jackson's King Kong:

1. It's terrific. I figured I'd at least like it, even though I really disliked that first teaser last summer. But no, it's a pretty amazing feat, and it made me cry. I should have known.
2. It made my brain hurt. There is an implicit awareness of CGI that is everpresent in one's head during in big effects pictures, and it diminishes the sense of wonder that practical effects once offered; CGI can do everything, so the suspension of disbelief is gone. But what happens when that absence of disbelief is itself suspended - when the CGI looks so real that you can't understand how it isn't? Gollum traipsed around the edges of this conundrum; in his close-ups, Kong flat out stomps on it.
3. Jackson takes everything in the original and makes it bigger and better and somehow manages to avoid overkill. The dinosaur stampede and the T-rex fight will go down in the history of set-piece one-upmanship. And I loved how, after all that action, the spider pit sequence took a sudden detour into eerie horror film territory.
4. On the other hand, he also makes the racist elements more racist; I don't think Jackson intended this, and he may have been trying to avoid this by having people of a handful of ethnicities all wear the same unnatural mud-gray makeup and act exactly like the Orcs in LOTR, but the fact of the matter is: they aren't orcs. They're dark-skinned humans, and they're portrayed even more savagely than those in the 1933 version. At least you could have a reasonable conversation with those guys.
5. That aside, I haven't a single complaint - only praise that, should I continue, will get redundant. There will be an inveitable backlash after it gets a Best Picture nomination, but whatever. This is spectacle at its richest. You get your money's worth; in fact, at ten dollars per head, this is a steal.
6. One major alteration to the original: Kong is a vegetarian! Score one for raw green diets.

Another picture I just saw, which is also one of the year's best films and about which I promise I will write about at greater length later, is Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation. Like Bujalski's previous feature, Funny Ha Ha, it's about a lost twentysomething and his circle of friends. If pressed, and having seen the earlier film again a week or two ago, I might at this moment lean towards saying I enjoyed Funny Ha Ha more (it seemed looser, more random, and the cut-to-black at the end was more effective) but then I might change my mind and suggest that they're mutually inclusive of each other, and are both must-see pieces of cinema (and they can be seen - Funny Ha Ha is on DVD from Wellspring, and Mutual Appreciation is screening in glorious 35mm at Anthology Film Archives in New York this coming Saturday evening).

I want to note the editing in Mutual Appreciation. Scenes appear to be full of jump cuts, but they rarely actually are; Bujalski makes the cuts in the middle of awkward pauses, and the effect of the juxtaposition is an awkward pause in and of itself. And since the film is full of awkard pauses, the rhythm that emerges from this odd cohesion of sound and picture becomes something entirely unique.

I suppose the first thing that comes to a lot of people's minds when watching Bujalksi's films is Cassavetes: Mutual Appreciation, especially, since it's black and white photography seems reminiscent of Faces or Shadows. But Bujalksi's films don't have the sweaty urgency of Cassavetes, the nervous close-ups, the intensity. His work is more relaxed, more casual...more beautifully awkard. Comparison to Linklater's 'talking' pictures are even less apt; there are no discussions of 'big ideas' or philosophy or any of the profundities that mark the conversations in Slacker or the Sunrise/Sunset films. Bujalski really is making movies in a style and voice all his own; a style and voice that are so simple that it takes a few moments to realize that no one else is using them.

Incidentally, there are a lot of thematic similarities between Mutual Appreciation and the film I'm about to shoot, so I'm going to stop thinking about it now. I need to keep my mind fresh. And what was that I said about not having time? I've got this problem with getting carried away that never comes in handy when I actually need it.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:13 AM | Comments (8)

December 12, 2005

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All the doubts I had about V For Vendetta were unfounded. It's an outstanding achievement, and it pulls not a single punch in bringing Moore's novel to the screen. People Should Not Be Afraid Of Their Government, Governments Should Be Afraid Of Their People - that ideal courses through every frame of the film. I cannot believe a movie with these concepts, expressed so directly, is being put out by a studio. It's a piece of dynamite, and hopefully it'll be handled correctly when it opens in March. That Warners is premiering it at Berlin in the spring seems somewhat indicative of their plans for it; it certainly deserves a prestige rollout.

And I guess I can say it's the best film I've seen so far next year.

* * *

It was the last film of the Butt-Numb-A-Thon, and it was the only print in existence thus far - they made it in Melbourne and flew it to Austin with an hour or so to spare. The whole event was a pretty awesome experience. When you're sitting in a dark movie theater with no timepiece and no sense of the daylight waning outside, 24 hours of movie watching becomes less like an endurance test and closer to prolonged meditative bliss. We even had enough wherewithall to go out for lunch and then make the three hour drive home afterwards. And then I stayed up working on my final paper of the term - which I'm about to continue on now, in these last hours before the semester ends, before I dedicate the rest of the week to prepping this film I'm about to shoot.

Other highlights: King Kong, of course, and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance and a really terrific Lee Marvin western called The Professionals, and an unbelievably terrifying horror film called The Descent, which is already out in Europe and is playing at Sundance next month.

* * *

In addition to the plot-specific use of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, V For Vendetta also had incidental music from Cat Power, Ella Fitzgerald and Antony + The Johnsons. Someone has very good taste.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:21 AM | Comments (7)

December 9, 2005

There was a moment of absolutely sublime, spontaneous improvisation during rehearsals this evening that's almost undoubtedly going to be incorporated into the film, Mike Leigh-style...

...but more on that later. I'm (very irresponsibly) taking 48 hours off, a solid half of which will be spent watching movie old and new. I'm practicing already - I've been going solid for about 21 hours at the moment, and I've got lots to do before I sleep (in the car, on the drive to Austin).

I'll be back with an exhausted report on Monday or Tuesday.

P.S. I feel like I should dismissive of the Marie Antoinette trailer (or at least of its ironic style), but I just can't. It makes me smile too much!

Posted by David Lowery at 5:11 AM | Comments (1)

December 7, 2005

I'm running out of time. A combination of cofee and beautiful ice cold gray weather is keeping me awake. Everything outside is frozen, including the rain that's falling. If this inclemency continues into next week, we're going to have some mighty unpleasant night shoots - but at least we'll be able to see the actors' breath on camera.

I gave the actors a CD of songs, about five of which were very thematically similar to the film. The rest was tonally appropriate filler, but I didn't tell them what was what. The tracklisting includes:

Last night, I was flipping through some old tablature collections and came across the chords and lyrics for Peter, Paul & Mary's Puff The Magic Dragon. My dad used to play for me on the guitar when I was little, and I also had a well-loved storybook adaptation of the animated film, but somehow I'd forgotten all about it in the year between then and now. It's such a sad song! I felt somewhat amiss the rest of the evening, after playing it through a few times. It's so beautifully written, too; that B-minor makes my heart hurt. If I had a recording of it, I'd have included it on that mix CD in a heartbeat.

Another enduringly lovely song I remember from back then is Ernie's I Don't Want To Live On The Moon. A recording of which I do happen to have...

Posted by David Lowery at 3:34 PM | Comments (2)

December 6, 2005

Alejandro Adams of Braintrust DV coordinated a roundtable of ten essays on the subject of the new video iPod; if you want to see what Matt Clayfield, Nick Rhombes, Mark Cuban, Evan Mather, Chuck Tryon, myself and a few other notable theorists and/or filmmakers all have to say about the device and its implications, click here. It's very much worth reading; of course, about half of my piece was rendered semi-redundant by the latest development with Apple's MacMini last week, but, all things considered, that's sort of apropos.

* * *

Also very much worth reading: this Wired interview with Steven Soderbergh, in which he says:

Another thing that really excites me: I'd like to do multiple versions of the same film. I often do very radical cuts of my own films just to experiment, shake things up, and see if anything comes of it. I think it would be really interesting to have a movie out in release and then, just a few weeks later say, "Here's version 2.0, recut, rescored." The other version is still out there - people can see either or both. For instance, right now I know I could do two very different versions of The Good German.

I've talked about this briefly in the past, in relation to The Outlaw Son and my (somewhat hyperbolic but nonetheless sincere) claim that it would never be seen the same way twice. That was part of my grant proposal, and I'm sticking to it. I love the idea of releasing multiple cuts of a film; it could be seen as an indecisive indulgence, but I see it more as an open embrace and exploitation of the very subjectivity of the medium. It's extremely exciting.

Posted by David Lowery at 5:47 PM | Comments (1)

Just in time for St. Nick's day: brief reviews of two films ready made for family viewing: Syriana and the movie adapted from the first book I ever read after learning to do so.

Unreviewed but worth mentioning is Scott McGhee and David Siegel's Bee Season, which I caught last week the night before it vanished from local theaters. I disliked the trailer, and I certainly didn't trust Ebert's glowing review - but some vague quality hinted at in Karina Longworth's review made me think that I should give it a shot. I'm glad I did. The first forty five minutes or so is an awkward mess (with some of the worst editing I've seen in ages), and the last quarter is predictable and pat, but in between is about an hour of pretty extraordinary material. The film has an impressive theological bent, and had the quality of its middle sequences been constant, it might have warranted a spot on some future list of spiritually siginificant films.

The spelling bee did provide the filmmakers the opportunity for a few in-jokes: one of the words young Flora Cross (who makes the uneven bookends worth staying for) is given is 'suture,' which of course is the title of McGhee and Siegel's first film; and another is 'duvetyne,' which is a type of heavy black fabric used (as far as I know) almost exclusively on film sets.

* * *

One of the themes in Bee Season is ancient Kabbalistic mysticism, which is also an element in Aronofsky's Pi, which reminds me that this huge protrusive vein emerged from the side of my skull last night, bulging under my skin and completely freaking me out. It disappeared after about a half hour, at which point I ceased my search for an electric power drill.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:36 AM

December 5, 2005

A few Outlaw Son related images from this weekend:

Pre-production meeting
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Sort-of rehearsal (really a long talk, during which I took pictures for lighting/composition)
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The Theater Fire Show the night before last
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Not photographed: Nick (barely visible behind the drums in the image above) and I looking at Fallen Angels and Days Of Being Wild this evening, or holding the light meter out the window while speeding down the highway, trying to get a decent reading on the way to the store to buy wine (multi-tasking at its best).

Posted by David Lowery at 2:00 AM | Comments (2)

December 3, 2005

Up until a few months ago, I'd always written my scripts in Movie Magic Screenwriter; then I switched to Final Draft for a specific projec, and I've been using that almost exclusively until just now, when I opened up MMS to do some revisions to The Outlaw Son. What an unexpected relief! The intuition is so much stronger in MMS.

There was a time when I resisted screenwriting software, when I was proud of my expertise with the Tab key in MS Word. In other words, there was a time when I like wasting time.

Like right now.

It's December already?

Posted by David Lowery at 2:09 AM | Comments (5)