February 28, 2006
I think we wrapped for good on Sunday night. At least until I decide to turn this movie back into a feature. I missed those 400 feet of film we lost last weekend, but aside from rolling out far too soon on a few Tarkovsky-ish driving shots, I got everything I wanted and more than I needed.
During the shoot, we talked about the greatest short film ever made, Guy Maddin's The Heart Of The World. After we all dispersed, I couldn't think of a better way to end the day than to go home and watch it.
And then yesterday (as linked to by GreenCine) a really wonderful interview with Maddin showed up in the latest issue of Offscreen, followed today in The Village Voice by a loving retrospective piece on Blue Velvet, written by Maddin himself. Of the character of Dorothy Vallens, he writes: "Director and neophyte actress collaborated to retool the old genre's often stock figure, to deglamorize and humiliate the supermodel, to knead her pulpy nakedness into a bruise-colored odalisque of inseminated sensualities and untrusting ferocity." That's a sentence worth reading aloud, right there.
February 25, 2006
No broken motors this time. I've got a beautiful Arri SRIII package (moving up from the SRII) sitting here in my bedroom all weekend. I can build it and plug it in and try out different lenses, but I just don't trust myself to load it with fresh film; thus, I have to wait until tomorrow to actually go out and shoot with it, when I have my trusty friends to help me (by the way, a big happy birthday to Clay Liford). It seems ridiculous to me, all of a sudden, that I've been making films for so long and I can't shoot on film with the same ease that I do video. Granted, most of my films have been on video, but still - I'm behind the curve.
I spent the morning outside in the rain, chopping a dozen coconuts in half. Ever since I went raw, I've been missing Thai food on a pretty regular basis, so I decided to adapt this recipe and make some red curry coconut noodles. It turned out perfectly (I hope it stays fresh for the shoot tomorrow, because I'll be foisting it upon everyone). The interesting thing about cooking raw food is that, if you actually want to make something other than salad or some variation thereof, and you want that something to actually be good, you're pretty much forced to step up to gourmet standards.
Which is why I've been mostly sticking to salad.
February 23, 2006
I just realized that the whole day has drifted by and I haven't done a single thing (perhaps it's the after-effect of staying up until the wee hours of this morning, watching Abel Ferrara movies). So, in order to feel like I've accomplished something, let me dip into the backlog of things I've been meaning to write about here and mention a few of the links I've recently added to the list on the left.
- I can't believe I'm such a latecomer to filmmaker Paul Harrill's Self Reliant Filmmaking. It's a wonderful read; as an example, I'll point to a recent post on self-promotion, which is quite the fine line of a topic. I really cringe when filmmakers egregiously overpromote themselves - it makes it that much harder to take their work seriously. And then there are people like me, on the opposite end of the spectrum; due to this crippling introversion, promotion doesn't come easy to me - even having my own website feels like overkill sometimes.
Paul's own films are excellent, I might add. Gina, An Actress, Age 29 is a pitch-perfect short, entirely deserving of the prize it was awarded at Sundance. He also has a shorter piece available for download on his website, Super 8 Titanic, that contains particularly effective mantra for struggling filmmakers: I don't have the money to break your heart.
- Indie Features 2006 is a group blog created by Sujewa Ekanayake of Filmmaking For The Poor. Filmmakers posting to it include Sujewa, Joe, Kat and myself...among many others I'm looking forward to getting to know. Rick Schmidt is supposedly on board as well.
Sujewa, incidentally, is currently racing to finish post production on his feature, Date Number One, which already has its first screening date in Seattle in May. I'm hoping I have a chance to see it myself before then...
- Filmmaker AJ Schnak's All These Wonderful Things has quickly become one of my daily stops online; I only discovered it a week or so ago, when AJ wrote a terrific post on the future of self-distribution, citing therein my own contributions to this emerging collective discussion. He also recently called attention to the tragic demise of my favorite indie distributor, Wellspring. Yet another reason to dislike the Weinsteins. On a different note, reading about this travelling documentary festival organized by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna is just the thing to erase that nasty corporate aftertaste.
And while I'm linking to things, take note of this: Matt Zoller Zeitz has proposed a blog-a-thon dedicated to Robert Altman, who turned 81 two days ago. The date for the mass posting is Friday, March 3 (or the weekend thereof, if time's of the issue), to coincide with Altman's honorary Oscar (which is the only reason I can think of to tune into the telecast).
February 22, 2006
While the decent-but-redundant Why We Fight plays in theaters, a far more compelling and infuriating documentary of tertiary topicality is streaming for free at Google. Loose Change, directed by Dylan Avery, is the first time I've found myself glued to a 320x240 window for a feature length running time (I guess it is possible).
Watch the first five minutes and see if you can turn it off. It's admittedly inconclusive (to, I think, its benefit), and there's a lot of room for error, but what facts it does have are pretty damning.
David Lynch's Inland Empire should finally be going public in a few months, but for now, here's a teaser of sorts: Room To Dream is a short DVD chronicling Lynch's DV-infused workflow from production to post. It's produced by (and is essentially an advertisement for) Avid, but hey, it's free; and unless you're going to Cannes, this is as close as you'll get to seeing anything new from Lynch until, presumably, sometime this fall. Click the link above to get a copy.
February 20, 2006
The teaser for Tom Tykwer's adaptation of Patrick Suskind's Perfume is one of the most potent trailers I've seen in a while.
Finally seeing that image of Grenouille's famous nose in motion left me thinking about those unrealized adaptations that refuse to die. We always hear of those pet projects which directors harbor for decades (and which so rarely live up to their gestation periods - Gangs Of New York, for example), but then there are those properties that are even more difficult to tap, that are not bound by the passion of a single filmmaker but set a whole progression of imaginations afire. Perfume has been on its way to the screen in fits and starts ever since it was published, starting off in the hands of Kubrick and then going from director to director (not to mention Kurt Cobain) until Tykwer finally managed to pull it off (at least in theory - I'm certainly hoping the trailer is a portent of high quality to come). When a book or concept hits some chord within an artistic zeitgeist, can it ever truly be unfilmmable? I'd say yes, absolutely, but that doesn't mean it won't be filmed anyway. I wonder if there's often a bit of schadenfreude going on: do filmmakers fall so in love with these stories and respond so greatly to the themes in them that they simply cannot let them exist entirely as another artist's handywork? That they have to, by translating it to their own medium, find some way to take a bit of credit for it? And by the time they've realized that maybe they shouldn't, someone else has been similarly struck and is ready to take up the torch.
I could write something here about how I hope Moore's oft-in-development Watchmen never sees the light of a projector, but I think you get my point.
As a footnote: I've written a lot - and will keep writing - about literary adaptations simply because I hope to make a few of my own someday. I love film and literature equally (almost), and I want to make sure I fully understand all the whys and hows of my own intentions before I run the risk of screwing up some masterpiece of prose.
The first few takes from this weekend's shoot:
February 18, 2006
It did snow, briefly; but we didn't catch it on film.
We actually didn't catch much on film at all, due to a faulty camera motor that we spent 200 feet of film and five or six hours trying to fix. Eventually, we gave up on the first camera and loaded the unexposed second half of the roll into an old Eclair that hadn't been run in years, prayed that it was set at 24fps (there were no markings designating a frame rate, but it looked like it was moving at the right speed) and grabbed a few of the shots on my list before calling it a day. Hopefully, we'll be able to get together again next weekend, with a functioning SRII, to really finish things off. If we don't, then I might just have to be content with what I already have, because a quick coordination of calendars indicated that we wouldn't be able to shoot again until early April. I really don't like the idea of dragging things out that long. We're all just so damn busy.
I never get worked up or terribly concerned about problems on set (especially when there's a piano around to relaxe with). As the non-shoot wore on this afternoon, I thought about a story David Lynch tells on his Short Films DVD (which I finally sat down to watch with Marc last weekend). He had set about making his second short film, and spent two months shooting a roll of meticulous hand-painted animation. When it was done, he took it to the lab and had it processed, and afterwards was so excited to see it that he unrolled the first few feet right there on their front step. It was all a blur. He'd exposed the film wrong; none of it had come out. Two months of work down the drain.
For some odd reason, he said, it didn't really bother him.
That's a bit how I felt today. At least until I was driving home. The drive home is what always gets me, every time.
February 17, 2006
Frozen winds blew in last night, and it's supposed to snow tomorrow. I can't think of a more serendipitous day to have scheduled the pickup shots for The Outlaw Son; no one will have to pretend that it's as cold as it was back in December. It'll probably be even colder.
I'm really glad we weren't able to shoot these pickups in January, as we'd originally planed; having an extra month to just contemplate things has been invaluable. So when I say pickups, what I really mean is the original two shots we didn't get the first time around, as well as a semi-extensive series of new setups (mostly extreme close-ups with very shallow focus), a few new scenes, a few new ideas for scenes and, of course, whatever spur of the moment bits of inspiration come to us over the course of the day. The film stock arrived today, one 400 ft. roll having become three (thanks, Jim!), and we'll start exposing it at 11:30 tomorrow morning. I'm up now taking care of a few last minute preparations, like making an airline tag for a close-up of the main character's luggage. This left me with the troubling dilemma of actually having to think up a name for him; after a lot of thought, I ended up just using Kyle's real name. I doubt anyone will be able to read it anyway.
I'm so excited to be shooting this thing again; you've no idea. I'm already sort of on cloud nine after seeing how well the rough, rough cut I put together this past week turned out; now I have the chance to make it even better than it already is.
Man, I hope it snows. Although for Kat's sake, I hope it's limited to North Texas....
Posted by David Lowery at 7:05 PM
February 15, 2006
Last week, I was going to write something about an anecdote my literature professor told us; about being nine years old and walking a mile down a country road, barefoot, dime in hand, to see James Whale's Frankenstein at the local cinema; and then afterwards, the sun having set, being terrified at the prospect of walking back; and hearing behind him all the way home what surely were Karloff's heavy boots, clomping along in slow pursuit. My professor is 82, and I imagine there are more than a handful of good stories where that one came from.
I had something else to say about that, but it's slipped my mind. Something about the stories I'll tell when I'm 100. I got sidetracked on a number of things when I jaunted down to Austin last weekend to lock myself into an office and finish a project I started eight or so months ago and have been working on pretty much ever since, under what for a long time were pretty undesirable conditions. I won't go into the whole story, but now it's all done, water under the bridge. I ain't on Evan Mather's level by a long shot, but overall I'm pretty happy with the 10 or so minutes of titles and animation that will be showing up on the big screen next month, starting at SXSW.
The night before leaving, I shot an hour of footage for a new short documentary of my own. Then I caught a Monday morning flight so early it qualified as a red-eye, getting home just in time to decide to skip class.
February 14, 2006
In articulation with the holiday I like the least (and yet still recognize), I was going to post another clip from The Outlaw Son - a particularly angsty sequence, in which the romantically fatalistic philosophies of youth are rendered, in their elucidation, simply words, fallen halfway flat, inconsequential and immature.
But then I couldn't decide which take to use. The somber one, or the more relaxed and jovial version? Or the one that falls between the two but has a slight whirring in the background due to a faulty camera magazine? The shot is static - could I split the image in half and seamlessly combine different parts of different takes? I like them all for different reasons. I know what I'll use in the film, I think, but which one might work best out of that context?
Resultingly, as you might have guessed, if you click that image above, nothing will happen. Perhaps an active link will appear later today, or perhaps I'll stick to my decision that, despite my urge to show this thing to people, at the moment it's best to wait.
February 13, 2006
Following last month's Showgirls discussion, it was decided that such blog-a-thons should be regular things. The second round was scheduled for today, and thus you'll be able to spend your pre-Valentine's Day afternoon reading different takes on this month's selected title: Michael Haneke's Code Unknown. Less fun to discuss en masse than Verehoeven's is-it-or-isn't-it-camp classic? Perhaps, but I relished the opportunity for the sole reason that, of Haneke's recent slate of domestically distributed pictures (beginning with Funny Games in 1997), this was the only I'd missed. Now that I've seen it, I feel as if I've found the one missing piece to a puzzle.
La Pianiste was my introduction to his work, but now it's suddenly clear to me how much of an anomaly that film is. It is the sole introspective work from a filmmaker whose gaze is otherwise tunred outward; or, I should say, his films are always introspective, but they examine the societal psyche, rather than that of the individual. Indeed, one of the two overriding themes in Haneke's oveure is a contrast of castes; this could be seen as tantamount to a sensitive but incisive indictment of the bourgoisie, but I think Haneke is too considerate for that sort of generalization.
Caché is perhaps the most overt example of Haneke's social concerns, but Code Unknown is its direct thematic precedent; it is also far more ambitious, and substantially more oblique. The film is an elliptical accumulation of scenes, centered around a handful of characters in France and/or Eastern Europe. Most of these scenes are comprised of extremely long takes that are, in their seeming uneventfulness, as deceptive the final shot in Caché. Others are more dynamic, and serve almost as microcosms of the film as a whole; the most immediately impressive sequence is the lengthy steadicam shot in an upscale restaurant, in which the camera drifts from one table, where a popular actress (Juliette Binoche) is having dinner with friends, to another, where a young black man (Ona Lu Yenke) is trying to impress his white date. Binoche and Yenke met at the beginning of the film, but they do not interact in this scene; they simply exist simultaneously in the same space, holding independent conversations, unconsciously creating an unspeakably tense social dynamic. In Haneke's films, the gray area where classes merge is a dangerous one (as categorically evidenced in Caché).
I mentioned that classism is one of two themes in Haneke's work; the second, as I see it, would be the involvement of the viewer. Haneke is fond of implicating his audience, breaking the fourth wall in unexpected and subtly (or, in the case of Funny Games, explicitly) devious ways; these are films that, in the great postmodernist tradition, have a lot to do with the process of watching them. In Code Unknown, the subjective trickery involves a thriller Binoche's character is starring in, entitled The Collector, a few sequences from which are woven into the film. They last just long enough for us become involved in this new, comparatively pedestrian narrative before Haneke jerks us back out again, forcing us to reassess both the placement of those scenes and our reactions to them in relation to the overall scheme of the film. There is an early videotaped (check) rehearsal of a scene in which Binoche is terrorized (check) by an unseen figure (check); her face fills with terror as she's informed of her impending death, tears fall from her eyes - and then the director stops her to give her some direction. Compare this to the adjacent scene in which Yenke's mother sobs over the mistreatment of her son by the police; there's no resolution for her sorrow, no one to tell her what she's supposed to feel. This disparity in emotion ties into a key decision (or lack thereof) on Binoche's part later in the film involving a little girl living in a neighboring apartment; and this development loops right back to a scene in The Collector involving an endangered child.
Code Unknown is itself a thriller, although the image of Binoche's frozen scream featured on the film's posters and DVD cases might mislead audiences (or even Haneke fans like myself who note its placement between the genuinely shocking Funny Games and La Pianiste) into expecting something more visceral. Instead, the thrills are of a distinctly cerebral kind; the film is so meticulously structured and so evasive of our immediate grasp that the gradual emergence of its purpose is more exciting than any of the scenes we see in The Collector. It is difficult to involve one's self with the characters here, emotionally or otherwise - Haneke's sharp cutting purposely works against our tendency to empathize - but it is impossible not to become caught up in the intellect of the film, and its dialectical structure.
It's worth noting that the lines of reality are very clearly drawn in Code Unknown (something this film shares with La Pianiste and Le Temps Du Loups, both of which, incidentally, keep that fourth wall intact and reject any postmodern narrative trappings), whereas Funny Games and Caché allow the suspension of certain reflexive boundaries (who's been making the videotapes in Caché? I think the answer is in Funny Games). Over the course of these five films, Haneke is constantly revisiting various combinations of themes and narrative and stylistic traits (reading other blog-a-thon entries this morning, I realized that whenever his films revolve around a couple, their names are always Anne and Georges), resulting in a genuinely cohesive - and fascinating - body of work. By the time that last abrupt cut-to-black occurred on the big screen in La Pianiste three years ago, I was hooked on this filmmaker - but I've only just now begun to realize why.
Also worth noting: Code Unknown seems to require at least two viewings, something I wasn't, due to my schedule this weekend, able to give it. Thus, I'm pretty sure I've only scratched the surface of the film, and I'm looking forward to reading the other varying perspectives today, and seeing what I missed.
For the record, Le Temps Du Loups is both my favorite of his films and one of the very best pictures of the decade thus far. Also, has anyone seen his 1997 adaptation of Kafka's The Castle?
Girish's post, wonderful in and of itself, comes complete with a full run-down of participants in this Blog-A-Thon. Drop him an e-mail if you'd like to participate in next month's round, which will feature the entire body of work of Abel Ferarra...
February 8, 2006
So yeah, MySpace is a big cliche - but it's the only cliche where you can hear the new Morrissey single, You Have Killed Me. One of my favorite things about Moz is the complex syntax of his songs; here, we get that and overt references to Italian neorealist filmmakers.
The album will be released in April. Soon after that will undoubtedly come a lonely summer night when it will shuffle through my stereo in serendipitous fashion, right when I need to hear it the most. I have an infinte capacity for for growing intimately attached to sad songs - as long as they're good and sad.
Posted by David Lowery at 3:19 PM
February 6, 2006
James produced The Outlaw Son for me, and, as I mentioned a while ago, I'm returning the favor for his next film, GDMF, which is currently scheduled to lens the last week of March.
Thus far, about all I've done to earn the credit is help James figure out what format he's going to shoot on with the amount of money he has to work with (we're thinking HDV now - which means that, since I'll be editing it, I'll have to upgrade to a G5 by then). I'm also designing a website. A temporary version of that is already up, actually, but I won't be happy with it until it's no longer in Flash (I've got to try to find time to learn CSS a little better; this blog needs an aesthetic upgrade, too).
Last week, we joked about changing the acronymical title to BLAFD. If anyone can guess what that's a reference to, we'll put your name in the credits.
February 5, 2006
The first time I read the synopsis of Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, back when it was in production down in South Texas, I couldn't help but note that it sounded similar to McCarthy's The Crossing. When my mom and I saw the trailer in front of The New World a few weeks ago, she made the same comment. Manohla Dargis makes the specific comparison in her review; Roger Ebert doesn't mention that particular title, but he does reference Blood Meridian in his his piece (and goes on to note that the film has a tone similar to that other great piece of literature about transporting a corpse, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying).
The reason I so quickly connected The Three Burials to The Crossing (and not to McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, the wonderful adaptation of which also featured Tommy Lee Jones and a friend's body making a trek across the plains) is partially because I'm obsessed with McCarthy, but also because I knew Jones had been attached to direct an adaptation of Blood Meridian a few years ago, and that, more than likely, he was a fan. Sure enough, this new film of his plays like a spiritual adaptation of McCarthy's work; there are the specific details, such as the affair with the body and the refuge provided by a blind hermit, but those are fairly classical narrative devices. The prevailing kinship here is a thematic one; the film, like The Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian, pits the conflicts of men against the myth of the West; it digs up the raw truths buried within archetypes.
And because I love looking for this sort of substantiating connective tissue, I was of course thrilled when last week came the news that Jones is in talks to star in the Coens' adaptation of No Country For Old Men, which Scott Rudin (who would have overseen the Blood Meridian adaptation) is producing.
Jonathan Rosenbaum's review of the film has a line I like. After comparing the film's politics to Haneke's Cache, he writes that "Jones appears to trust narrative as a way to enlightenment, and Haneke doesn't."
Moving on to the Coen Brothers - if you didn't hear their Theater Of The New Ear radio play when it was broadcast last summer, you can download it in two parts here and here. It's their best work in years.
February 4, 2006
I've been obssessing, despairing, rejoicing, not noticing the sunrise!
Holding back, letting little bits slip...
Correlation: I'm supposed to be at this wedding in a few hours. I've got half a mind to bring my iPod and provide my own private soundtrack to the ceremony. Five or six years ago, that playlist might have consisted entirely of, say, the fifth track from the first Radiohead album. I guess I've grown up a little bit after all.