Thursday, April 28, 2005

At Long Last

Ciao amici
I've been far and wide this week, putting this film together. It's been exciting and much work. Often the politics and planning dominate this phase of pre-production. Especially on a project where the director and over half of the production team have been replaced.
The trip to Burns was great. I learned a lot about the story and the production. It was good to see everything straight away.
The former director has tentatively hired by the producer to shoot the film. I don't think that's going to work, but for now I remain open to the possibilty. His ideas as a director were a bit quirky and arbitrary, lending a Farrelly Brothers meets Wes Anderson meets JoeDV Hack vibe to the picture.
As it is the story of David and Goliath in the contemporary world of cross-country running, I'm thinking The Bible is somewhat epic. Set in the high desert -- seems more epic than quirky to me. To keep it from getting too dry for the kids, I'm thinking Election meets Sergio Leone.
I posted some photos on my photo blog:
I've definitely got my hands full. The producer freely admits he has risen to his level of incompetence with the experience and energy that I bring to the project and he's passing that hat to me.
I hired a personal assistant today. If I can't clone myself, I'm going to need some help.
I tried to hire Greg James, a local actor that fits the bill, to play Roy(al) but his wife is having a baby first of July. So I started rehearsing tonight with one of my students. I did a lot of things I warn my students against. I was more concerned with the words on the page than with my partner. i didn't listen except to wait for the lines coming back to me. I wasn't working for anything except to prove to myself that I was right for the part.
But my able student imitated my refrain of, Did you do what you wanted to do? I copped to all of the above and he reminded me to listen. Then we improv'd a bit and I stayed with myself and I didn't do anything until something happened to me as we explored the scene. It was a good start.
There is no character. It's only me playing according to the given circumstances.
I know I've raised expectations a lot on this project. I'm concerned that I might not meet the expectations they've developed for Roy over the past eighteen months. (I got the writer to change the name. I loved Royal, but it was too Wes Anderson) I must remember that all I believe in as a director applies equally to me as an actor as it does to any other actors in this film. I've been admitting my fear to myself and others today. I'm grateful to have taught my students so well that they are there for me now.
I try to be pretty honest with myself about casting. Including myself. I feel I am the best man around town for this part. I think Greg could have done a hell of a job and left me to direct and produce, but he's going to be a papa. Good for him.
And good for me. I will rise to this challenge. I'm a talented man. I'll let myself take this opportunity and do my best in every regard.
One of my fears is that I'll look like Quentin Tarantino, a director that I believe greatly does his films a disservice by appearing in them. Hopefully I'll acheive something closer to Billy Bob Thornton or early Clint Eastwood. I persist in callng this film, High Plains Drifter, so maybe there's something to that.
There's a hell of a lot more to relate, but this week has taken its toll on me.
I've promised myself and my wife that I will do no work tomorrow.
My first day off since February 22 when London Calling started.
No phone calls or emails.


Saturday, April 23, 2005


The morning after. I'm aflutter. I'm giddy. I'm bouncing on the beds waking my kids up, instead of the usual visa versa.
Directing a film is hard work. That work being in the preparation. The next three moths are going to be crazy.
Alas, insane in my preferred manner of living -- creating and discovering through a wonderful process that involves every bit of my being. What's better than that?

ciao for now,

Friday, April 22, 2005

Momento molto

Ciao amici,
What a strange turn of events I've experienced in the past twenty-four hours. In an effort to meet some actors and lend a hand to a small indie film that one of my actor-students is involved with, I took a meeting to discuss the possibility of casting it for them. As a rule, I do not sign on to any project in any capacity without reading the script. Often I get a great feeling from someone and I'm just positive it's going to be great only to find some incoherent tripe that is insufferable beyond fifteen pages or so.
As we were talking about the main character, I thought he sounded an awful lot like me. He's based on King Saul of the David and Goliath saga. I wondered why Zach hadn't ever mentioned it to me. Did he think I would refuse to take part in a small film? Did he think I was the epitome of the 'Those that can't do, teach' refrain? I didn't want to say anything until I had read the script, in any case.
I read it an hour or two later. First scene takes place in a trophy shop. My dad owned a trophy shop when I was a kid. On page one, I was connected. It got better and deeper. The character richer. Pathos. Narcissism. Glory days. Self-will run riot. Oh my.
I called Zach and told him I was interested in playing the lead, Royal McKay. He said he had thought of me the first time we met last year, but was afraid to ask.
I called the director this morning. We talked about the story and the character. It was pleasant. I asked him some questions, to some of which I knew the answer, in order to feel him out. He seemed competent and at ease with it all. Though I sensed he had a better intellectual than practical understanding of directing actors.
Then we spoke of schedules and resources and crew. Oh so quickly the bloom leaves the rose.
I don't want to go to film camp. I don't want to have the experience of making a film for the f*ck of it. I don't want to wait and see what's going to happen. I don't want to cross my fingers. I mean I do want to be surprised, but I don't want it to be a cluster-f*ck. Controlled chaos, yes. Naive scrambling about, no way.
I called the producer. He really wants to make this film. He wrote it and his enthusiasm is typical of the novice filmmaker. Several years ago, I too, thought it was easy. You had a cool idea, you wrote it down. You got a camera. Some actors. How hard can it be?
Several films later: really really really really f*cking HARD. Almost improbable if you want to make something watchable. A masterpiece straight out of the box? Citizen Kane. I can't think of another first film that's a masterpiece. Do your homework on that one. Almost everybody made a first film (or two) before their First Film.
Back to the producer -- he offered me the helm. I didn't think he'd offer it to me. I got the sense I could lobby for the job after speaking with the director, but I wanted to find out more before I explored that agenda.
No matter, he called just now. We're leaving on a location scout after my Saturday morning class.
He's a man of action. Sartre would despise him. Sartre would despise me. I too am a man of action -- I love to call it out con nonchalance.
Seems as if I'll be calling it on set for a number of days this summer.
I'll let you know how it goes.

signore direttore
aka Royal McKay

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Most Significant

Carl Jung claimed in his autobiography that it was not the places he travelled, nor the many exalted people he met, nor even his own awards and achievments that he most cherished. What he found to be the most significant were his dreams and his inner life. Jung influenced Fellini deeply. More specific accounts of that influence will make their way here eventually.
For now I will share this morning's most vivid dream.

A child walks on a balance beam, her mother close by should she fall reminding her to think. I wanted to say, NO! Before I could I was in an auditorium full of students, known actors, with whom I am friends in some cases and at least acquianted in others, and my family including my father.
There was a film being made, possibly my own. While everyone settled into the small auditorium, I spoke to a video artist about contrast ratios in an anteroom while Andrew Dickson took to the stage and began to speak about raising one's arm with concentration. I leaped to the fore and began to distinguish between contacting one's body and intellectual concentration. I was not grounded, so I climbed to the stage and first connected my feet.
I felt my body open up with all the eyes in the crowd on me. I wanted to know they saw what I felt. I wanted to know they were with me. Then they were leaving for the day. Getting into cars. I wanted to stand face to face with Peter Saarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhall to see, not to ask, but rather to read if they thought my work was for real. While I was detained they waved as they climbed into a car and left.
There were others that I wanted to approach and gauge their reaction only to be thwarted by folks less central to the production asking me more questions regarding schedules and technical issues. I wanted to talk to the actors. I was continually waylayed until all the actors had left. The last person to confront me was a high school chum with whom I am still current. He's a musician and I thought he wanted to talk about the composing. Instead, David accused me of stealing his Kenny Lofton pocket knife. I plead my innocence, but it seemed only to confirm my guilt and he too walked away, leaving me in an enormous, very empty parking lot. I wanted to explain I don't steal from people like I did in high school.

signore direttore

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bigger Pictures

Last Sunday I wrote a post entitled Bigger Pictures that disappeared into the ether. The title has attained ever more meaning over the course of the week.

Bigger Picture #1 (and #1b)
Zach Sherman will not be starring and co-producing our war film, But a Dream. Nor will he be co-producing Dear Juanita. He has booked parts in two studio motion pictures filming in New Mexico and Los Angeles next month. I'm very proud of him and not the least bit surprised. As for any disapointment I might be experiencing due to his inability to work on the films I had slated for next month, read on. Please.

Bigger Picture #2
Didn't have to go to Austin to transfer London Calling after all. Jim Barrett at Downstream made me an offer I couldn't refuse and we transferred the film Thursday. I recommend Downstream wholeheartedly. They treated us like the commercial pros that were paying five times as much.
As for London Calling, I never had dailies printed to save a little money, so I hadn't seen the footage. I was lowerring my expectations as each day passed. I'm not sure they could have gotten any lower. I was certain of reshoots.
As I watched each flat come up on the monitor, I smiled more and more as I chatted with Jim the colorist.
One thing I mentioned that I believe appropriate to mention here has to do with jargon. As I was describing some adjustment or another, I interrupted myself to expain that I don't claim to know the technical language of color correction and that I was going to explain it as I saw it and that he should feel free to correct or question me at any point. I added that I wasn't particularly interested in learning the ins and outs of his field either. Not out of disrespect but quite the contrary, I explained. Too many directors get bogged down in technical terms and concepts while neglecting our primary job -- storytelling. Jim really appreciated that.
The film really moved me to tears of joy. It's the first time since my very first film that a film has come together so completely according to my intentions and ambitions. I look forward to cutting it over the next few weeks. And that is a perfect segue to:

Bigger Picture #3
I mentioned meeting some editors around town a couple of weeks ago. One that I met is Lisa Day. Lisa has cut films for some great directors: Hal Ashby, Peter Bogdonovich, Taylor Hackford, Jonathon Demme. She lives here in Portland. We have a mutual friend and she agreed to meet me for a coffee a couple of weeks ago. She gave me the numbers of some editors around town and even said she liked the sound of London Calling but was too busy to cut it. I wasn't even thinking of asking her, to tell you the truth. She said something else to me that really stuck. After I told her about some of my screenplays and other work that I've done, she told me that I really had some good ideas but that I should be working harder to get them out there.
She's right.
So I started thinking bigger and asked her to be the Supervising Editor for London Calling. She agreed.

Bigger Picture #4
I finally got a chance to see Sideways. Another week or two and I'd be watching it on DVD. It's not exactly cinematic, so it may not lose much on the small screen. The performances were definitely big in the right ways. Paul Giamatti really did some fine work. As did Miss Madsen and Miss Cho. I was annoyed by some of the stylistic choices and the ugly, flat desaturated look, but I got over it. A thought I had in between laughing and appreciating the wonderful storytelling was; why are there not more films like this out there? It's a simple story well told. How hard can it be for studios to promote the creation and distribution of simple stories well told?
Yet another colleague excused the studios by pointing out the lack of good scripts.

Bigger Picture #5
I got some other news this week that really points to Bigger Picture issues. I'm not ready to reveal that news just yet.

Long ago I worked as an art teacher. Many kids would question becoming artists citing the difficulties of earning a living in a creative field. It's a competitive world. Getting a BA or even a JD or MBA doesn't guarantee success these days. Why not pursue something you can put your heart into? Without forgetting that the good is often the enemy of the great. Remembering that mastery of one's chosen craft is the pursuit, not some half-assed-getting-through-it-status-quo-ancilliary-functionary-in-a-pseudo-creative-profession so you can buy an iPod, go on cool vacations and drive a Mini.

Writing scripts is inexpensive, at least compared to making Super16 short films. In light of Zach's absence and ascendence, the seeming success of London Calling, the support of a respected pro like Lisa Day, the dearth of good scripts reaching the studios and not least because of this week's big (secret) news -- I'm going to polish a few scripts and even knock out a couple of new ones over the next few months.
Maybe then I'll be making Bigger Pictures with someone else's money.
I'm fairly certain ff was always thinking in terms of bigger pictures.


Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Social Mask

May the outward and the inward person be at one.

We start my Beginning Professionals class with a lengthy warm-up session each Saturday morning.
We begin by connecting our feet to the floor. What does that mean? It means something different to each actor I'm sure. The exact sensation is not all that important to me. I'm simply trying to get actors to contact their instruments. It's sad that so many act from the neck up. Even sadder that there isn't much going on up there but a lot of self-conscious, narcisisistic banality in most cases.
So we move up the body, checking in with our knees, our hips, lifting our rib cages, we let gravity have its way with our shoulders, arms and hands. We level our heads, part our lips, droop our eyelids and, most importantly, drop our breath low in our bellies. It is by design that we start with our feet, deal only momentarily with our heads and let our fullest attention rest in our centers.
Many actor-students put the "good student" spin on initially, making sure to peek at me for approval. Don't look at me, I'll say. I want them to break this approval/disapproval cycle. I want them to trust that what is theirs is good enough so long as it is in the moment. Others will put on some sort of yoga meditation face. Those that do miss the point of my class and yoga, for that matter, though that's another rant. The point is not to relax. The point is to connect to one's body. To learn effortlessness. As Michael Caine notes, If you're knocking yourself out, you're doing it wrong.
Whatever the posture, attitude or mask, the point is often missed. I encourage them to chat about what they did last night. To verbally stream an inventory of the here and now. To drop the social mask. This proves too difficult for most. They hang on to me, rush through it or hide in some sort of pseudo-meditation. Being at one with one's inner and outer self is scary. One woman left my studio last year quipping, I can't stand to be observed so intensely.
An actor that doesn't want to be observed. Buona fortuna signorina.

signore dirretore

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Master Says 001

There is no end. There is no beginning.
There is only the infinite passion of life.

Money makes the vurld go round, the vurld go round ...

Stanley Kubrick said, Making movies is a pursuit for those who like spending loads of money. Or something along those lines. He was also known to be as tight-fisted with his wallet as they come. I’m at a money juncture. I have these projects lined up for the next few months and hopefully beyond. I want to keep things in-house as much as possible. But there’s not much of a roof over our heads at the moment. Also, at a certain point, one must not be too independent of a filmmaker.
Let me see if I can be more precise and digress a lot while I'm being precise:
London Calling is up at AlphaCine being processed. Should have it back early next week. Then it’s down to Austin to transfer it to video with my friend Joe Malina at Matchframe. I’m looking forward to getting away for a couple of days and I just finished a draft of a screenplay I’m writing for Producer Tommy Palotta. He’s in Austin producing Through a Scanner Darkly, so hopefully I’ll get to hook up with him and Rick Linklater while I’m down there. I met Rick once before through our mutual friend and mutual Knut Hamsun fan, Speed Levitch. Look for Rick to adapt one of Knut’s novels for the screen one day. Maybe he’ll hire me to write it. In the meantime check out Hamsun starring Max von Sydow to find out about one of my favorite authors. Better yet, read Growth of the Soil or Hunger.
So while I’m waiting for picture, sound needs to be digitized. We recorded sound for London Calling dual-system onto a DAT recorder. There’s a USB interface that I borrowed to convert the DATs to aiff files in Final Cut Pro. I’m still running FCP 3.0 And it didn’t like this audio interface, so I got FCP HD 4.5. Problem is my powerbook is still running OS X Jaguar and FCP HD 4.5 requires Panther. I’d buy Panther but Tiger is due out in two weeks. I’ve been waiting for Tiger and I don’t want to buy both in the span of two weeks.
I don’t think Federico Fellini ever considered this kind of trifle.
I posted for Assistant Editors and Interns on Craigslist and got some great responses. One chap lives round the corner and has a better system than I. He’s lacking in the skills department, so we might make a good match. I got mad skills, yo. Another shows promise as a director and is excited to help out and have me as a mentor. So I’ve got these two great guys and several others wanting to digitize my audio. I can’t tell you how dull that’s going to be. I’d rather write that junk about Panther, Jaguar and the other jungle cats over and over than digitize 5 reels of audio.
Some of the replies I got from my CL posting were from full-blown editors. I’ve been employed five years, blah, blah, blah as an editor. Good for you, but this is for an assistant gig: Lunch money, some training and experience, credit and a DVD copy. So this one dude that I see up on the indie producer’s board posting about every last thing, gets me into this email spat about how my compensation is wanting. I asked the dude what he was trolling the free gigs for if he’s a pro. He got all stroppy with me about that and ultimately threatened me with how he knows everybody in town and he supports local filmmakers and more blah. So I told him, hey I’m not trying to generate support, I’m trying to digitize some audio. You’re overqualified for the job and I’m busy, so let’s put this thing behind us. Good vibes, even though I wanted to tell the guy to shove it. He writes back yesterday asking if I’m cutting on Avid and could he come learn about the Avid. Ugh.
Monday, Zach and I went and met some editors for London Calling. A different Zach. Portland Zach. Zach Actor. No clack Zach. I’m a pretty good cutter, but I figured I would meet some folks around town. I think it’s both good and bad to cut your own stuff. In NY I have several pals that would cut this for me, but I’m not into a long-distance relationship with editors.
I meet this guy that supposedly commutes to Hollywood from Portland-- development deals, DGA member, hot-shot editor, etc. I think his CV is legit, but why does he want to cut an indie short if he’s got so much action down south? That’s the first thing I asked him. Cut to the chase, that’s my style. He says some mumbo-jumbo about building relationships, it’s a cool project, etc. I’m like, cool, but I get this 20/20 that he thinks I’m going to lay down some green. Righto. So we have lunch, discuss the project and play name-dropping hotshots for an hour. Then we talk money. I tell them a low but respectable number for cutting an indie short. The guy that owns the Avid was cool, but Hollywood looked like he was stuck in traffic. We won’t hear from them.
Next up was Wayne Paige at Digital Wave. He has a really nice suite in Sellwood and was very positive about working with us within our budget.
Have you noticed that I’m all over the place?
Yeah, me too.
I really want to be clear about my intentions. However, I’m not sure I’m wired that way. I rely on inspiration, I'm a rationalist -- the sum of the parts being more than the parts themselves.
Judah came and digitized Reel 1 of the audio. What a relief.
About the money juncture -- more will be revealed. Patience is not a virtue, at least in my case -- it’s a skill that I lack. I've yet give up entirely on its development, however.

A river dertch,
Sre. Dir.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

benvenuto amici

In the past few weeks I've been engaged in the production of a short film called London Calling. Where to begin? Where does any journey begin?
Pushing a shopping cart around Target. I was looking for makeup removal swabs for my wife while on the phone with the producer in NYC that optioned my screenplay Original Glory. Should we have Catherine Kellner give Ethan Hawke the screenplay, she's in Hurly Burly off-Broadway with him. As is Bobby Cannavale. Catherine and I are friends. Bobby and I drank together for a few weeks when I first moved to NY in '96. Ethan's gonna love it; but are we ready? Will he trust me, a first-time director in the long-form realm? You got to make a new short, Zach says from NY.
Ugh. A short. Fifteen thousand dollars for a ten minute movie that will never return a penny. I know, you've heard you can make a film on digital video for next to nothing. I've made a few of those, you want to see them? I'll show them to you, just don't say what most people say while they're watching them: Too bad these aren't on film.
Or you can shoot on film like my friend Nick Peterson does, one take, cut in the camera, voila! mini-masterpiece on the cheap. Nick and I work very differently. His work is great, I love it and encourage you to check it out. Where Nick's work is composed and orchestrated, I opt for organized chaos. Here's the frame, here's the blocking, here's the backstory, now let's see what's going to happen. I'll shape it a bit, but as long as the actors are being truthful and in the moment, it stays. I wrote it to be funny, it was funny in rehearsal, now we're on set and -- You're angry? Oh well, guess it's not going to be funny after all.
My rehearsal process is not about practicing the performance, but to discover the structure of the story and its relation to the actors I've cast.
I'll talk about casting next time. I need to run down to the studio for auditions for Dear Juanita.
A few weeks ago I didn't want to bother with any more shorts. Now I've got one in the can and two in pre-production.

signore direttore