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March 25, 2010

SXSW Trailers

It's been a week now since most folks started heading home from SXSW, and a little less than that since the trailers we produced for the festival wrapped their big screen engagement. Aside from Joe Nicolosi's excellent midnight bumper, I directed all of spots that played before the feature films. Toby Halbrooks produced them; he is the very definition of an enabler, taking my sketches and random ideas and making them all come to fruition far better than I could have had I been left to my own devices. This was a true collaboration, between the two of us and also all the folks who pitched in and helped us pull these off on an insanely tight budget. A lot of the St. Nick crew helped out (we threw in lots of little references, from the posters at the miniature movie theater to the photos on the wall of the crumbling set) and, of course, that was the inimitable James M. Johnston striding away from wreckage in the last one.

As to the creative origin of these spots - they weren't written, but leaped into realization half-formed, and as with my projects only came into their own after they were already well into production. I remember the morning of the final soundstage shoot (which we conceived of a month earlier while riding around an empty soundstage on razor scooters), looking at this paltry, half-finished little set and wondering how it was actually going to happen. But happen it did, and in a single take. And then there was the music box spot, which was defined once by the fact that a blizzard fell on Dallas one day and I demanded that we go out and shoot something in it, and then again towards the end of the miniature photography when I walked into the other room and told Toby I was thinking of making it about the last movie in the world.

Here they are, in their finished form:

And here's a little behind-the-scenes video of that final spot, with cameos from Savanna Sears, Bryan Poyser and Clay Liford, as well as lots of other friends and collaborators.

My goal in making these was to produce four great short films, unto themselves, and also to keep audiences engaged over dozens of repeat viewings. I'm pretty proud of how they turned out.

Thanks also to Karina Longworth for highlighting them so pointedly in her SXSW article for the Village Voice.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:51 PM | Comments (3)

An Unfortunate History of Moviegoing

This sad account begins around this time last year, when Darren Hughes linked to the US trailer for Götz Spielmann's Revanche, in which his own review was quoted. The trailer hooked me - I think it was, for some reason, that lateral dolly shot of the cop at the shooting range which really pulled me in; that, and that pastoral beauty for which I'm such a pushover. I eagerly awaited the film's release in Los Angeles...

...which I then missed. I felt guilty, moreso than I usually do when I miss a film in the theater, but c'est la vie. Sometime later, Criterion announced they would be releasing the film on DVD in early February of this year. I added it to my Netflix queue and waited for it. The months ticked by, February rolled around and then the film was available. I was busy shooting those SXSW trailers the week it was released, but I looked forward to the imminent evening in which I would curl up on the couch and watch it, uninterrupted.

That evening did not come, partially because I didn't want to stream such a gorgeous-looking film on my laptop. I wanted to wait for the DVD, but to do that, I had to mail back the disc I currently had out from Netflix (Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell), which, given the average of three months it takes me to drop movies, already watched, in the mail, wasn't going to happen anytime soon.

So instead, we paid a visit to the video store last weekend and rented it. It was a new release; we had it for two nights. We managed to put the disc into the DVD player on Saturday night, but didn't actually watch it. Three nights later, we started it, but I had a caffeine headache, couldn't focus and turned it off after ten minutes. Finally, the following evening, last night, we turned it on again and watched it straight through. I'll take it back to the video store at some point today and pay the 20 dollars in late fees on a movie I could watch for free through the Netflix account that I never actually use.

And the film? I loved it. A masterpiece. Well worth the wait, ridiculously distended though it was.

Posted by David Lowery at 10:59 AM

March 19, 2010

SXSW Wrap-up

1. Once again, SXSW - my fifth, and first as a newly engaged gentleman, which in so many regards sets the counter back to zero - is over. The festival is about a half-step away from overtaking Sundance, and with this new level of frenzy comes, apparently, an Austin-centric bug all its own. Hence, I'm now at home with a serious case of the sniffles.

2. I am, by virtue of my involvement with it, prohibited from doing more than blindly waxing ecstatic about Audrey The Trainwreck. Thankfully, there are other critics out there doing the Lord's work: here is Vadim Rizov's lovely take on the film for GreenCine Daily, which thrilled me in just about the same way that certain responses to St. Nick did last year. It eloquently echoes the sentiments we heard from many folks in the lobby after the screenings, and on Twitter (aside from the fine fellow who quickly listed it as one of the three films he hated at the festival).

3. Also, amidst this hurlyburly I've neglected to note that Lovers Of Hate (which the NY Times calls "viciously amusing") was picked up by IFC and is already available via Video On Demand. I don't need to tell Bryan that this accelerated acquisition-release schedule only raises the pressure for his next film. Consider that ante upped, my friend!

4. The Jackie Brown soundtrack was playing at Whole Foods a few days ago. Did they read my Cold Weather piece?

5. As most folks at the festival know, I did the four bumpers for SXSW this year (but not the midnight one). I'll write more about them next week, when they go online, but the response they received was really great. My goal was to make something that people wouldn't be sick of the twenty-fifth time through, and I think I succeeded - even if, in the case of the Onion A.V. Club's Leonard Pierce, I halfway depressed the hell out of them.

6. But perhaps that was halfway the point. My perspective on cinema isn't completely full of brimstone, but it does, more than it used to, come fraught with nervous questions of worth. These agitations pull every other panic in my life, every little agony, film-related or otherwise, into their tremulous orbit, until the state of this art form I love is forced to bear not only the desiccate, fickle masses and their cruel mediate overlords, but the fact that spark plugs on a '99 Volkswagen might just go out at the most inopportune time.

7. We were sitting in the Alamo Drafthouse, watching one more unplanned short film program while waiting for the mechanic to call. We'd stumbled in as the program was beginning, and just as the espresso I ordered was working its magic on my brain, a film by Jessica Edwards entitled Seltzer Works began. It's a short documentary, beautifully photographed, about this old seltzer factory in Brooklyn. The proprietor is a third generation seltzer filler, proudly presiding over his 100-year old machinery, tending to a product he loves and dedicated to its quality and integrity. It's a lovely little film, and, shortly after it ended, the car was fixed and we headed home.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:37 PM | Comments (2)

March 16, 2010

Four days into SXSW...

Some quick notes, from bed, all cozy-like: freezing precipitation blew into Austin Texas this evening, prompting an early return home after a perfectly lovely four-movie stretch. This morning saw me running from Lovers Of Hate, after catching the first forty minutes on the big screen at the Paramount, down to the Alamo to catch the world premiere of Audrey The Trainwreck, which was just all around wonderful. I'm so proud of that movie. Proud through and through.

The other highlights so far have been Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, fresh from Sundance, and Aaron Katz's Cold Weather. In support of that film, Aaron and writer-producers Brendan McFadden and Ben Stambler continued our tradition of long conversations about other movies. The resulting piece went online over at Filmmaker Magazine, just before their premiere.

Tomorrow morning I'm spending a few hours on the educational end of things, as a panelist participating in Mentor Sessions. I didn't expect anyone to actually sign up to talk with me, but I just checked and all of my slots are booked. Fascinating!

And now some sleep.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:46 AM

March 11, 2010

Pretty Close


concept_art2.jpg sxsw_spot2.jpg concept_art1.jpg

The proximal relationship being: I don't try to match the movies to the drawings - I try to match the drawings to what I know the movies will look like.

These will be hitting the big screen starting Friday.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:16 AM

March 9, 2010

On Possession

Possession has become a curious thing. I can glance to the shelf of DVDs at my left and see evidence of a time when the procurement of physical media meant more to me than it does today, and I can pull up iTunes and see what it largely amounts to today. I'm the sort of person who values texture and mass, the artful occupation of space and the extensions of my ego represented by manifestations of my taste. Commensurately, it would seem my ego is shrinking.

On the other hand, the value I place on the act of possessing has not diminished; it has, apparently, simply shifted into the abstract.

Let's set aside the psychological impulse to collect, which is another matter. What is happening in the general sense is this: those textures, masses, monoliths and physical imprints are being trumped by the dissemination of the art or media (I shun the word content) to which they merely serve as wrapper. In other words, while I may love the design of a record cover, or paging through a well-conceived booklet, it is ultimately not as important to me as having that record. To have music, in its purest form, is to hear it; to own a film is to have seen it. And so, if I'm able to hear or watch what I want to, at the drop of a hat, then the firmaments to retail provided by deluxe packaging and the promise of a shelf well filled begin to fall away.

And once that dike is broken, and the act of possession floods out into the more general realm of experience, its more gainful aspect immediately falls into even greater flux. The monetized value one assigns to possessing becomes an individual decision, one whose fickle economics have been put under the microscope ever since Radiohead released In Rainbows, but which isn't limited to the Pay-What-You-Can model made popular by that record. The traditional model of exchange has already been twice compounded: once by the dissolution of the physical, and once more by the availability of the art, media, etc. through alternative channels. Hence, the model can be more accurately articulated as simply Pay, or Don't.

The resulting experience is the same on either side of that divide. I will hear this music whether or not I purchase it on iTunes or download it from a filesharing site; I will see that film regardless of whether I buy a ticket to see it in the theater or download a DVD rip. The old satisfaction of possession no longer lies in the art of acquisition, for acquisition is now a foregone conclusion. Instead (and here I begin to feel a bit of straw under my feet, but hang tight nonetheless) it can be found in the compensation one offers for it. The relationship between the producer and purveyor has been reversed: we do not pay for what we hope to like. We pay for what we've already enjoyed. So, taking an artists' livelihood into consideration, what was once a simple economic stipulation now becomes a moral one. And what was once an object, possessed, now becomes a meta-object, bifurcated but no less owned; there is the media, in its immaterial and immanently ownable form, and then there is the even more abstract sense of satisfaction that comes part and parcel with having offered something in exchange for it.

And now I'm going to step back from the empirical tone of this piece now and begin to work backwards. Not here, in this predicative body of text, but over the coming months, as we prepare to take St. Nick out into the world in a more intimate form. We'll be exploiting antiquity with a lovely DVD; we'll be testing the waters of the future with a digital release - and through it all, we'll be hoping that everyone who wants to see it - everyone who's already seen it, everyone who will see it - also sees fit to own it, however they so please.

* * *

All of the above was actually inspired not by St. Nick but by my purchase of Ramona Falls' new album Intuit last month, brought about by repeated viewings of this stunning video:

Posted by David Lowery at 7:15 PM | Comments (4)

March 7, 2010

45365 FTW

I'm bursting with pride for these guys.

If you haven't seen 45365 yet and you're in LA, you can catch it at the Silent Movie Theater on March 18th. Tickets, which will sell out, are available here.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:51 PM


As I procrastinate on preparing a new snippet of journalism for Filmmaker Magazine's site, I took note of Scott Maccaulay's link to this article by Nancy Angier in the Times science pages last week concerning a study on the evolving semantics of film language - in particular, the way in which the editorial process has grown increasingly congruous to the cognizant patterns of our own brains.

"Reporting in the journal Psychological Science, James E. Cutting of Cornell University and his colleagues described their discovery that Hollywood filmmakers, whether they know it or not, have become steadily more adroit at shaping basic movie structure to match the pulsatile, half-smooth, half-raggedy way we attend to the world around us. This mounting synchrony between movie pace and the bouncing ball of the mind’s inner eye may help explain why today’s films manage to seize and shackle audience attention so ruthlessly and can seem more lifelike and immediate than films of the past..."

Pink noise is what it's called, this wavelength cinema ha been conforming itself to; a ratio of 1 over f, "seated somewhere between random and rigid," to which filmmakers have subconsciously begun to adhere. This sensory verisimilitude has been complimented by developments not just in editing but in lenses, film stocks, moral codes and software - the article called to mind Chris Wisniewski's essay in Reverse Shot about how the advent of nonlinear editing over the past two decades has affected Terrence Malick's filmmaking (he being the rare filmmaker whose body of work is largely free of graduation.

What I'm curious about is whether we've always thought that way, or if the very media which has mapped itself to the contours of our brains also helped develop that landscape. Have we always responded in the same way to different stimuli? To be sure, our pattern-recognition abilities in and of themselves have developed exponentially, as chronicled by Maryanne Wolf in her excellent book Proust and the Squid; hence, one might surmise that, as much as modern film may have caught up with modern thought, they'll both be as antiquated to future generations as a Technicolor opus is to we audiences on the cusp of the YouTube generation. Or, conversely, did John Ford movies look the way people used to think?

Posted by David Lowery at 1:19 AM | Comments (2)

March 1, 2010

Back (in LA)

...and awake just long enough to report that somewhere just shy of 30 people came to the screening at 92Y last night. Almost three times my estimate. Thanks to everyone who got the word out, everyone who came and to whoever is in charge of calibrating the speakers at the theater - it sounded outstanding. As I was listening to it, it occurred to me that the screening was happening one year to the day that I ran that half marathon and then hopped over to our marathon sound mixing session. So much stress, this time last year.

But the first question was what I thought of the movie, after having sat through it once again. I couldn't bring myself to actually say that I loved it, but - I loved it. I'm still proud of it. We pulled something off.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:56 AM