June 29, 2008
The other night, I had an allergic reaction to something I ate, and my throat closed up. By the time it finally untwisted on Saturday morning, my vocal cords were strung out and strangled, and my voice was reduced to a raspy warble. Which didn't stop me from meeting up with Clay and having a light lunch of tropical vodka cocktails. After all, what's better than getting slightly inebriated on a hot summer afternoon? I'll tell you: getting slightly inebriated on a hot summer afternoon and then going to shoot green screen sequence for your movie!
Shooting on green screens can be exhausting and frustrating - hence the need for libation - but I still get a little bit giddy about them. There's an old photo in some old book depicting an ILM effects technician holding two TIE Fighers on rods in front of a blue screen, shooting a sequence from one of the first Star Wars films. This image and all the possibilities it represented set my young imagination alight; it encapsulates, in way, quite a bit of what made me want to be a filmmaker in the first place. I couldn't find that picture on the internet, so I had Clay pose in a rough estimation, seen above. We were shooting paper airplanes instead of spaceships, but as far as the technique goes, it turns out there's not that much difference between the two.
After we knocked out the shots, we went to another watering hole for mojitos, compelled by the ingering after effects of Colin Farrell's irresistibly guttural testament to the Cuban cocktail in Miami Vice (which I'd just rewatched a few days earlier). Shortly afterwards, Toby and I hopped in the car and took off to Austin, where we met up with friends and went out for margaritas, which didn't do my absent voice any favors but certainly kept the day on target.
June 24, 2008
I'm really bad about taking breathers. As in: I take too many of them. I finally returned to St. Nick the other day, exactly a month after finishing the first cut, and after a full day of procrastination via reading, working on a script, working on a play, napping, comparing clips from both film versions of Henry V on YouTube and watching the last half of Jackass 2, I opened up the file and promptly cut out seven minutes.
I've really got to get moving on this thing. Tomorrow: animation!
June 21, 2008
Boring Movies about Balloons
Yen and I went to see Hou Hsiao Hsien's Flight Of The Red Balloon the other day, during its brief North Texas run. Two or three shots into it, I leaned over and whispered "how'd they do that?" in regards to the amazing choreography of that titular dirigible within Hou's long, gracefully mobile shots. Ah, the mechanics of whismy - which through the magic of meta makes whimsy that much more marvelous. I honestly don't care how Hou pulled it off, only that he did - but that he did at all sets my imagination alight all the more. I think it might just be the a series of very sustained happy accidents (some anecdote from David Mamet's Bambi Vs. Godzilla, in which he drove himself nuts trying to deduce the manner in which a filmmaker had managed to get a cat to do something in a very specific way, springs to mind), which, if so, is just as much a testament to Hou's skill - that he can roll with the unexpected with as much grace as the precise arrangements of time and space in which he composes his tableaux.
The film itself is a joy, delineating in blissfully uncertain terms the divisions between art and life, between wonder and routine; is is a magnificent see-saw act, with a mother on one end and her child on the other, each working to maintain their balance while tipping too far in the other's direction. It's set almost exclusively in a single, tiny Parisian apartment, and the way Hou, with his trademark roving lens, navigates this cramped space and all the people that come and go within it is as dazzling as any other virtuoso action sequence one might come across in the theaters this summer. As the credits were rolling, Yen asked if we should be worried that this was our idea of a good time, as if that might speak poorly for our chances of sustaining a career in this field. Heck, I'm already more broke than the day I was born; sticking to my guns isn't gonna do me any worse than it already has.
June 20, 2008
Fincher for Christmas
It's taken a good month for the trailer to David Fincher's The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button to officially make it from the big screen to the internet, but now it's finally available in a variety of HD formats. It looks gorgeous, tantalizing; there's something both precious and gutturally unsettling about it - the latter due largely to the uncanny special effects that have placed Brad Pitt's face on the body of a septuagenarian toddler. This is going to be one beautifully freaky Christmas movie - and to top it off, the score is by Alexandre Desplat. I can't wait.
But that's all six months away. In the meantime, Jonathan McNicol is serializing the F. Scott Fitzgerald novella upon which the film is based, releasing a chapter a day in elegantly designed PDFs. It'll be a fine way to begin the day for the next two weeks. Thanks to GreenCine Daily for the link.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:57 AM
June 16, 2008
Not At CineVegas
I'm sad to say that I'm not at CineVegas right now. No Britney Spears parties. No Abel Ferrara madness. Woe is me.
But I did find the above image, courtesy of Patrick Walsh at Cinematical. It's pretty cool to see my little sister's face hanging on that banner - surrounded no doubt by fire breathing strippers and Dennis Hoppers. I guess that means she's officially famous. I also found a little bit of press about Catalog in the Las Vegas Weekly:
Probably the best short I saw today was one that preceded a feature: David Lowery’s A Catalog of Anticipations, which played before Wellness, is an eerie and strangely beautiful story told via still photographs and a bit of stop-motion animation. Lowery manages to mix an arty coming-of-age tale with creepy fantasy elements to create a very memorable result.
The same search also yielded a tiny little review at Not Coming To A Theater Near You, which says that it "feels like a beautiful narrative photo essay rather than simply a slideshow."
I need to start sending it to more festivals. In the meantime, its next big screen appearance will be at Rooftop Films, as part of their evening of "Surreal Sounds and Shorts." I attended Rooftop Films for the first time this past Thursday night, and was blown away - the sound and picture quality was impeccable for an outdoor screening, and the crowd was enormous. It was a beautiful evening of cinema, and just about everyone I knew in New York seemed to be there. It was amazing. Ronnie and I even did push-ups behind the screen afterwards. I wish I could go every weekend! Luckily, I'll be back in New York in July. Anyway, Catalog is screening there on the 27th, alongside a bunch of great short films and a musical performance by Bruce Livingston, who will provide a live score to home movies of Salvador Dali and a collection of 'Buttons' by the Red Bucket Films crew. Don't miss it!
In other news, I chased the IFP labs not with a bout of editing but a weekend of moviegoing, marked by one shimmering, spectral piece of genius, bookended by two works existing on opposite ends of a sliding scale of ludicrousness. The films were The Happening, My Winnipeg and The Strangers, and I'm happy to say that not a single one of them wasn't entirely enjoyable! The Happening is a little too muted to be the camp classic it could have been, but it's still hilarious. The Strangers is exactly the sort of scary movie I've been hankering for and, interestingly, it gets everything right that The Happening gets so excruciatingly wrong. And as for the Maddin film - well, it deserves its own glorious, overblown post. I can't stop thinking about it. I feel that, as a documentary of sorts, it shouldn't be compared to his previous work - but were I to do so, I don't know that I wouldn't say it's his best film yet.
Posted by David Lowery at 4:33 PM
June 15, 2008
Back from IFP
The IFP Labs are over already? Wow. That was fast. I'm itching to jump back into the edit. I had my hard drive with me the whole time, but each day at the SoHo House was so pleasantly exhausting that I finally gave up fooling myself into thinking I'd do some cutting every evening before bed.
It was a great experience. It involved sitting in a room for ten hours a day, listening to speakers and taking notes. First taking a broad creative re-evaluation of our films and then turning to examine all the grimy details that await them - some extremely relevant, others less so, all very much worth considering. One of the most vital aspects of it all, though, was the focus. You get tunnel vision, sitting in there like that. Someone might be discussing deliverables, or the importance of proper music licensing, and the information just sort of twists itself into whatever about your rough cut it is you might be working over in your head. An enormous amount of ground is covered over the course of the week, and it all leads back to the same place.
I came to realize a great many things. I thought I'd killed all my babies on this film, but I learned that no, I had several illegitimate children who needed to be put to death (or, at the very least, as per the wisdom of Solomon, severed in two). I was told, after stammering through my various ideas as to what sort of musical accompaniment the film might need, that I in fact knew exactly what I wanted already - and this was true. And I accepted the fact that I'd made a film that people wanted to watch. One of the most affirmative aspects of the labs was realizing that this movie isn't some rarefied document that only a small handful of cineastes will want to see. There's no need to compromise, or to limit myself. People are going to like it.
Another wonderful part about it was meeting nine other filmmakers and their teams, and talking with them about films and music and food and who knows what else. I'm looking forward to seeing them all again in September, during Independent Film Week, and again next year on the festival circuit, where I'm sure we'll all be running into each other. And I'm sure they'd echo my sentiment in again thanking Amy, Rose, Gretchen and Scott for providing this great opportunity; our films are gonna be that much better because of it.
And now I'm back in Texas for a bit. But my luggage is missing. In my luggage were my car keys. I'm stranded!
June 12, 2008
Flailing Towards Criticism
A recounting of our IFP adventure thus far is forthcoming! In the meantime, my latest piece for Hammer To Nail is up:
"The walls, the ceilings, the door frames in Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light all seem to bend slightly, as if bowing under some great weight. It’s an effect of the wide lens with which the film’s photographed, and it’s exacerbated when the camera pushes in for a close up on the characters: as their faces and the secret torments lined therein grow clearer, the world around them buckles. But then, when the camera moves outside, that world unfolds, unfurls. The wide lens has two converse effects: it captures the weight of heaven indoors; outdoors, it reveals heaven’s entire expanse."
Read the rest of it here, and consider it a starter: I don't think it's going to be the last thing I have to write on the subject.
And I have to say that, although I worked hard to do justice to the work at hand, I feel that it's more of a rough draft of a piece of criticism than an actual study, however brief, of the film. I feel this way about most of what I write these days. I've been looking through old posts (always a dangerous past time!) and it seems that my writing's in a state of decomposition. I suppose it's because I've been occupied with other things - but still, it's been over a year since I wrote a piece of criticism that I feel is legitimately worthwhile (that would be this one); even longer since the beginning of 2006, when I was bursting with ideas on film and art, when the film blogosphere was on fire the first time and I was fully caught up in its ignition (that I was in school at the time is probably not coincidental - there's nothing like an academic schedule to inspire furious intellectual procrastination); and light years since that day in 2004 when, at Matt Clayfield's insistence, I picked up Susan Sontag for the first time and felt my brain undergo a seismic shift.
In fact, I feel like I'm at a place similar to where I was before I started reading Sontag (and Burch, and others). I've got a deeper understanding of what I'm writing about, but nonetheless, I've reached an apex, hit a wall. I look at my reviews that they seem like nothing more than new arrangements of the words narrative and form, with a few 25-cent bom mots from the thesaurus thrown in for good measure. I need new input! I need another intellectual earthquake! I also need more time, but that's beside the point.
What's not beside the point is that maybe I'm just holding on to something that doesn't need to be mine. Also: I'm really tired, and I'm going to go to sleep now.
June 9, 2008
St. Nick & IFPThe cat's out of the bag now; as eagle-eyed readers may have already ascertained, when St. Nick is seen in its final form, it'll have the Sisyphean logo on the left in the credits, alongside the Austin Film Society emblem and any other entity that steps in to help the film between now and then. It's one of ten features that's been invited to this year's IFP Narrative Lab.
I actually received word about this almost exactly a month ago, when I was sitting at JFK, waiting for my flight back to wherever it was I was going, and it kept me buoyed through the ensuing 15 hours of nightmarish travel (I've been having bad luck with flying lately). Now the official press release has laid the whole thing out on the table: I'll be spending the rest of the week (alongside James and Adam) in workshop and meetings, working with editors and producers and distributors and other filmmakers, with an eye towards finessing my rough cut and beginning the process of positioning the film for its eventual debut. All that being said, I'm not exactly sure what the labs will entail. Perhaps a day-to-day account is in order?
As part of the program, the film will receive support from IFC all the way through its post-production, including a slot at the Independent Film Week (formerly the Independent Film Market) in September and individual assistance from a mentor assigned by the labs. I'm sure this will all be invaluable, but at this point the best aspect of being selected is the sense of validation - knowing that people see something worthwhile in the film, even at such a delicate stage, when its qualities are not fully formed. That those qualities are recognizable in their nascence is incredibly encouraging. A big thanks to Amy, Rose and everyone else at IFP for giving the film this opportunity.
But that all starts tomorrow. For now, I'm just hanging out, pretending to enjoy a level of heat that's far more sweltering than anything in Texas, and riding around town in a car with Ronnie Bronstein, the Safdie brothers and a bag of excrement. Don't ask.
June 8, 2008
Brand Addiction - Invalidated!
I'm currently at the Atlanta airport, where I'll be connecting to JFK in about 30 minutes. I decided to have a cup of coffee to tide me over on the last leg of this trip and, upon disembarking the plane from Texas, I noticed a Starbucks just past the gate. But as my connecting flight was at a different concourse, I decided to ignore the absence of caffeine in my bloodstream for a few more moments and first catch the shuttle over to the adjacent terminal. Surely another green tentacled maiden would be there to welcome me across the Tarmac! But alas, the first sight that caught my eyes as the escalator bore me upwards was...Seattle's Best.
I considered returning to the previous terminal, and to the rich, delicate Americano I knew could be procured there. But then I paused and considered the possibilty that it wasn't the Starbucks coffee I craved but their brand; that their paper cups and cardboard sleeves and the knowledge that their CEO had closed down ecery store in the counrtry to reignite the passion for fine espresso in his legions of baristas were the real reason I felt so magnetically drawn to them. Now was the time for sensibility! All I really wanted was a good cup of coffee, regardless of what name or image it was sold under! I marched up to that Seattle's Best and ordered an Americano.
Dear reader: it tastes terrible.
And now it seems my flight is boarding. This post has been made possible by the Apple iPhone, which is very difficult to blog on.
UPDATE: the flight has been delayed for two hours, casting into clearer resolution something I've only recently begun to realize: flying is annoying and tedious!
Ciao in New York
I'm on my way back to New York, where it just so happens that Ciao will be screening this evening. Since the last time I wrote about Yen's film, it's had its world premiere at AFI Dallas, won an Honorable Mention award there, and then set out on the circuit of just about every LGBT festival in existence. Its Manhattan premiere is courtesy of Newfest, and from there it will go on to Frameline in San Francisco and Outfest in LA, among others.
I haven't mentioned its festival run yet for somewhat selfish reasons: I didn't want to be a hypocrite by celebrating something that I'd been openly unhappy with. On the one hand, I was really disappointed that it didn't branch out further beyond the niche festivals that have been so welcoming to it; I wanted it to be appreciated as a great film, without having to be qualified as a great gay film. Essentially, I wanted it to have its cake and eat it too. On the other hand, though, I was very adamant that should Ciao fail to score a premiere at a major festival, then it definitely shouldn't starts its run at its hometown festival. No offense to that festival and its programer's' excellent tastes, but I felt that bowing where it did would put the film in a very small box and set the glass ceiling for its success very low.
Ultimately, though, the film was left between a rock and a hard place. I was staying with Yen last fall and winter, as the rejections from Sundance and SXSW and Tribeca rolled in, and over that time we had a lot of long talks about where the film might have fallen short of its original intentions, where it might be turning people off. Were we that far off from what we'd set out to do? Were our tastes out of whack? We conceded that there were some elements that hadn't turned out as well as they could have, but that's how it is with any film; there are parts that you watch and scratch your head, wondering why you made that decision, or why you didn't realize that moving the camera just a little bit closer would make the scene that much better. But even more than that, I think we began to realize that it just wasn't an easy picture to embrace. I remember writing to him in an e-mail that the film, by its very design, keeps the audience at arm's length for most of its running time, until, for just a moment, it opens up; if you miss that opportunity, you're stuck outside, and the film will leave you cold.
I keep saying 'we' when Ciao is, of course, Yen's own work through and through. But because I know it so intimately, because we worked together on making every single cut in the movie, bouncing ideas back and forth and wondering how long we could get away with holding on static wide shots, I feel ever so slightly protective of it. I can't help it. I think I know just what Yen was going for with it. And I believe I'm on the same page as him regarding the final product, which, whatever its flaws, I fully stand behind, and believe is good. I'm incredibly proud of it. And now that I've swallowed that same pride, I'm glad that Yen and Jim didn't listen to me about the premiere. If that glass ceiling I was afraid of ever existed at all, the film's long since shattered it of its own volition. It's said that every good picture will eventually finds its own path - and you can probably figure out the rest of where I'm going with that. Suffice to say, Ciao screens today at 5:30 at the AMC Theaters on 34th Street, and it's already sold out.
A few belated links:
A story on Yen and the film that ran on NPR a few months ago. It was such a relief to listen to it, to hear that someone actually got it.
- A very thoughtful piece written by Michael Guillen for The Evening Class, in anticipation of the Frameline screening later this month.
- And, from my own archives, here's one of the first rough drafts of a trailer I cut for the film, right after we finished shooting way back when. The sound is noticeably rough and unmixed, the color isn't timed and it's a little on the short side, but I'm fond of it anyway.
And now to the airport and a flight that will, unfortunately, be landing long after Yen's screening is over...
Posted by David Lowery at 12:32 AM
June 6, 2008
Back from LA, but only long enough to pawn off a few of my fingers to pay the bills before I depart again.
Interesting developments on the way...
June 1, 2008
Why, It Must Be Summertime
A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I found myself strangely nostalgic for Los Angeles - this in spite of the trenchant misery which accompanied my most recent inhabitance of that fair metroplex. So now I'm back out here again, doing who knows what but with what appears to be, for the time being, a clean mental slate.
Anyway. It's now June, and time to mention that yes, A Catalog Of Anticipations has a few screenings coming up this month. Indeed! Wow. The first is at CineVegas, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and which I'll hopefully be attending for a few days. I've heard it's pretty insane (and judging from party & event guide they just sent me, most if not all of the debaucherous rumors I've heard are true). Catalog is screening on June 13th and 17, before Jake Mahaffy's Wellness, which I'm excited to see after missing it at SXSW (Jake also directed a film called War a few years ago, which I've also never seen but which I nonetheless wrote about here).
After that, Catalog can be seen in New York via Rooftop Films, the venerable summer screening series. It's screening on June 27th, as part of the Surreal Shorts program. I'm excited to note that this program includes Becky James' I Hate You Don't Touch Me, Or Bat And Hat, which is still one of the best films I've seen all year. Part of Rooftop's deal includes exposure with IFC.com, so take note: at some point over the summer Catalog will finally be available online, for a limited time only. There in a heartbeat and gone in flash, or something like that.
And finally, in between these two events, the film will be screening on June 15 at the legendary Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, as part of a Slamdance showcase that will take place amongst performances by an amazing assortment of artists, including M.I.A., Sigur Ros, Cat Power, Aimee Man, Talib Kweli Willie Nelson and hundreds of others. The screening will occur at 7:15, which means that if you're down there and planning on seeing Broken Social Scene or Alison Kraus play with Robert Plant and T-Bone Burnett, I'll forgive you for skipping out in favor of music. Actually, with a lineup like they've got, I don't think I'd set foot inside a single film screening were I to attend. Unfortunately, I won't be going. On June 15th, I'll be in transit between New York and somewhere that has yet to be determined.
And now, time to go see The Foot-Fist Way!