Monday, December 31, 2007

The Master Says 268

Of this I am firmly convinced, that cinema today should be tied to the truth rather than to logic. And the truth of our daily lives is neither mechanical, conventional nor artificial, as stories generally are, and if films are made that way, they will show it.

Michelangelo Antonioni

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Chekhov's Six Principles of a Good Story

1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature
2. Objectivity
3. Truthfulness
4. Brevity
5. Originality
6. Compassion

Billy Wilder's Ten Tips for Screenwriters

1. The audience is fickle.
2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4. Know where you’re going.
5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees.
Add to what they’re seeing.
9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Philip K. Dick Reading List

The following are the most productive sources for Sci-Fi ideas according to Philip K. Dick:

Psychology journals
The works of CG Jung
Zen Buddhist writings
Taoist writings
Historical and medieval works (especially thos dealing with crafts, such as glassblowing)
Greek philosophy
Roman literature of every sort
Persian religious texts
Renaissance studies on the theory of art
German dramatic writings of the Romantic period

The Master Says 268

Many people, I guess, want to know exactly what it is they're supposed to think ... Well, my message is that I am not going to do their work for them.

Robert Altman

Saturday, December 29, 2007

oo7 Review | Time Is On My Side

We shot our second round of Made Crooked epilogue scenes yesterday. We were on the front lawn of Reed College with Tara P. and Alex Cassidy. The younger Cassidy brother played Tara's boyfriend. Not only was Alex great to work with, it felt really good to have a witness to our story. I can't say where it came from, but I just knew that Tara had to have a boyfriend in her interview scenes. And it was perfect.
It was cold yesterday. And that's coming from a guy that doesn't get cold easily. Once we wrapped all the cold that had worked its way up from the cold and wet ground through my Vibram and Goretex boots and wool socks suddenly came into full focus in my upper legs. Tara was shaking between takes, but dropped it as soon as we rolled. I really like working with her. I suggest something to her and she instantly and easily makes it her own. My job becomes very simple. I decide if we should do it again with but the slightest of adjustments or move on. It's easy to tell that she's working from a special place because if she says guest house instead of guest room and you correct her, she's like, Oh, did I say that? Which tells me she's not watching herself, she's just kind of entering another little world. The adjustment I need to make to my directing with actors like her is to ask, are you aware you said guest house? rather than offering a reason why she should not say guest house.
Revisiting and retelling the story of Made Crooked is a wonderful thing. It's been such a long road that it's easy to forget its wonder. Sitting down to a hot bowl of pho after the shoot I said as much to Jordan. His reply: Of course it is. Why else would I be standing out in the cold that long? I'm glad he's committed because I booked our tickets for NYC to shoot Joey's bit in early February where we'll be shooting exteriors in Central Park.
So yesterday's shoot was our last bit of filmmaking for the year. It was a very busy and full year in that regard. Looking back at January and the subsequent months of oo7, I feel as if I'm in a very different place as a filmmaker. I wouldn't change a thing yet I don't think I would approach much of anything as I did this last year. Which is a very good feeling. No regrets combined with a confident sense of benefiting from my experiences.
I was able to apply a valuable lesson yesterday: Move faster while giving myself more time. In other words, I knew we could do what we had to do in a couple of hours but I didn't tell anyone that. Instead, I had everyone for the full day. So when one of the dogs ran out of the Cassidy's when picking Alex up, it was no big deal to take the time to get him back. Tara and Alex had a chance to get to know each other while Jordan and I agreed on the best spot out of the places I'd scouted. Once we were where we needed to be in terms of the the camera and orienting the actors, we ran with it, stopping only for a bit of brief rain that we didn't have to suffer because we had plenty of time.
This may sound overly simple, but one of the things I've come to really hate as a director is the feeling that I'm always fighting the clock. All things unexpected are perceived as threats rather than opportunities or simply life. I don't want actors paying attention to the time, but if I'm feeling its pressure, they are likely to feel it as well. Nor do I want to move on, or be pressured to move on, if I'm not getting what I need from a scene. And I most certainly don't want to ignore the bounty of happy accidents. I don't know if this is the ultimate answer but it's a solution worth further review.
I've got a couple of Master Says' up my sleeve for the next couple of days, but this is likely my last dispatch of the year. So Happy New Year to all -- may you bring this last year to a joyful close and enter the new year with open hearts and minds.

Signore Direttore

Light and Shadow 013 - David

The Master Says 267

I was so moved by the way he (Raymond Carver) told stories, what he told and what he didn't tell and how he made a story out of the slightest incident. I was just amazed by it and thought this is what we should do more of in film.

Robert Altman

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Master Says 266

If you're a certain kind of filmmaker, everything is personal, whether a movie is about yourself or not. But I think, for the most part, people who write about film have a very limited idea what personal expression is and how it can manifest itself. As a result you often find directors being encouraged to make "personal films" when they would probably grow faster and go further if they began to look outside of themselves. That was the real turning point for me: I wasn't interested in making films about me anymore, and my take on things. I thought, "I've got to get out of the house!" And I've had more fun and I think the work is better since that occurred to me.

Steven Soderbergh

Thursday, December 27, 2007

i miei dieci di oo7

1. Michael Clayton
2. Control
3. No Country For Old Men
4. Lars and the Real Girl
5. Into the Wild
6. There Will Be Blood
7. Cathedral Park
8. The Bourne Ultimatum
9. Eastern Promises
10. Superbad

Have yet to see: The Lives of Others, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 4 Months3 Weeks2 Days, Lust,Caution, Persepolis, Atonement, Paranoid Park

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Master Says 265

I never had a plan. I don't how you can plan for it. God knows what the next thing will be.

Tim Roth

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Better Directing

With Jordan's encouragement, I've tried to let go of helping as much, or at all even, with the lights and the camera on set. The idea being to let things settle and flow during set-ups and in between takes. Doing nothing is okay. Getting quiet is very important. It's helping. I focus better. I have more stamina in terms of concentration and inventiveness. I'm not quite there yet but I can see how it's opening up the possibility to ask actors for more, and much like the Chandler quote below, get pulled by our collective momentum instead of pushing it.
Each time I get on set lately, I've felt it building. Rather than scolding myself for not having pushed myself to push for more from the actors, I've had faith that I'm learning a new way to ask for more and that I don't have it just yet. It will come with patience. I'm sure of it.

I hope everyone out there has a Merry Christmas. I'm going to take a break from ye olde blogge until after the holiday.

Buon Natale,
Signore Direttore


For most of my moving toward long life, I've made decisions and plans in a decidedly reactive and whimsical manner. New York City, you say? You know I think I'll move there, always wanted to; why not? And so I sub-rent my Portland apartment still furnished with my stuff, park my 67 Wildcat convertible in a friend's driveway under a tarp, send two boxes of stuff via UPS, buy a plane ticket, pack two suitcases and move to New York City with all of three hundred dollars and a credit card with a $600 limit. Six months later I'm making twenty grand a month doing some pretty interesting stuff with some pretty interesting people.
And so it goes in my life. I landed back in Portland with two kids and a wife and opened an acting studio. We were two years too late or two years too premature in terms of our readiness for a cross-country move, having overstayed our welcome in the big city. Our thinking was it would be better to struggle here than there for two years.
So even with wife and kids, I've still been flying by the seat of my pants. All along I've been concocting moves to Mexico, Scotland, Senegal, Klickitat Washington, South Dakota, et cetera. I've even considered a never-ending roaming of campgrounds throughout North America according to the seasons and chance. I've fantasized about earning a living doing any number of things. Things practical, mundane, humble, grandiose, industrious, wanton and so forth. We've had more children and they've all grown to the point of arousing my awareness to acute acknowledgment that it's not all about me anymore. So I pluck away at my dream of making movies and ignore the beck and call of evermore romantic and impetuous adventures. You could say that my family grounds me, geographically foremost and in staying put I am not so distracted as to ignore my emotional, psychological and spiritual roots. You could also say that I'm a bit worn down by the sturm and drang of my thrill-seeking ways and I don't feel as if I have too many more tricks up my sleeve.
Yet I still do not have a plan. I concoct plans for just about everything. But I don't have a plan that has been carefully considered and pursued with diligence, right action and ingenuity. I am a not so lonely reed blowing in the wind, lacking the discipline and courage to take honest stock of where I am and where I would like to end up. I keep it vague. I want to keep whistling in the dark. I want to envy David for being in grad school and Jonny for his cozy house and Richard for his law degree and Din for his business and The D's for their centeredness. But I don't want to work on becoming a theater actor in Houston and I'm not sure I want to give up my investment property for a cozy house and I don't want to be a lawyer or own my own business to the exclusion of having time for my family andmaking movies. As for The D's, I know they have their share of struggles to stay grounded, too. All things honestly considered, I just want to be me.
Seems like I'm gearing up for a new year. I've learned and grown a lot this year. Life is good. I want it to be better. And it will be with more focus on diligence, right action and ingenuity and less on envy, taking comfort and analysis paralysis. Alas, I have a lot to be grateful for and I'm more and more serenely aware that I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

Simply Human,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, December 22, 2007


A few months back we ditched cable. No more Saturday morning cartoon bonanzas for our children. Aside from the initial tantrums that gave way to grumbling before entirely dissipating, the benefits have been profound. One is that neither of our older children has been bombarding us with dozens of demands of branded plastic contraptions for Christmas this year because they saw it on a commercial. Another is they aren't fighting over shows and turns and so forth. Because I've largely conceded Netflix to children's shows, I've been taking what I can get off of the DVD shelf at the public library.
Yesterday I grabbed The Mudge Boy. Not a title that beckons, but some of my friends in NY worked on it and I remembered that alone. I remember one friend that had worked on it recommended I meet Tommy Guiry for Original Glory. Then when I sat down to watch it last night I saw that Emile Hirsch was in it. Funny that back in 2003 Guiry was the future "star" of that cast. Both performances were very good. Too effective in some ways, at least for my discomfort with reckless homosexuality and the tensions leading up to it. I'm not a fan of watching male-male sex. I accept it when it's romantic. When it's a result of wanton lonely lust, serving as some sort of substitute for hetero desires and intimacy, like Deliverance, prison stuff and especially abused adolescents, I get really, really uncomfortable.
And this entire film was filled with that tension. With no transcendence, no hope, nothing. Just plain cruelty and pain and suffering. There wasn't even any humor. If there's one thing that I know firsthand about being human is that no matter how awful things are, we find a way to distract ourselves, usually through humor. This was just grim.
And to make matters worse, the ugliest bits were sanitized in such a way that rang false and irresponsible. The kid that gets raped is wearing his dead mother's wedding gown. That alone is enough to let you know how depraved things are in The Mudge Boy. The rapist had spoken a lot about how well-endowed he was earlier in the film. One would think that a fourteen year old would bleed when sodomized no matter the size of his rapist. The kid's dad walks in right after it's over. The kid has to ask for help to get the wedding dress off. I'm thinking the dad is going to see some evidence of the rape on the wedding dress. Nope, it's totally pristine and the kid walks away as if nothing has happened to him physically. It would have been almost impossible for the kid to not have been injured and in a lot of physical pain after such an experience.
I checked Imdb to see if the writer-director got a career going from his Mudge Boy debut. Not so far. It was a very competent film both technically and artistically. And it received very favorable reviews for its "gutsy portrayal of rural life".
All I know is, I felt awful after seeing this film.

Left Cold,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 264

The faster I write the better my output. If I'm going slow I'm in trouble. It means I'm pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.

Raymond Chandler

Friday, December 21, 2007


We did some filming last night, a series of interviews to help Made Crooked come together. For a long time I've felt defensive and ashamed to have not finished that film yet. I mean, come on, you shoot a film in three days and it takes you going on two years to finish it. I think there's a lesson there. More than one. As time goes on I am starting to feel grateful to have let so much time pass. It isn't easy making a feature length film. Especially when your budget is less than five thousand dollars. Furthermore it's a long time to hold an audience's attention. I'm the kind of insecure perfectionist/idealist that won't ask you to come see something unless I believe in it. Taking our time with this has helped me support its strengths and let go of the pain of its weaknesses. I remain committed to buttressing its shortcomings and the time has allowed my experience with telling stories and this story in particular to develop. You know another thing that came to me just recently is that there are very few movies that I could watch more that a few times a year. I've seen Made Crooked a lot and letting a couple of months pass between viewings has been healthy.
So last night we shot David doing Pilates while reflecting and commenting on what happened nearly two years ago. Some of the compositions were stunning. I counted on David to come up with some interesting stuff and he did. For other things I fed him lines which he repeated or put into his own words. He said a couple of things that were outrageous. I love working the way we did last night. It was quiet in Studio Adrienne, we had the place to ourselves thanks to Adrienne Silviera's generosity. There was lots of space to move around and an adjacent room to stage our gear. I had a chair and a big HD monitor. Jordan and Brian handled all the gear. We teased each other relentlessly in a nonsensical manner as we always seem to do, creating a spirit that establishes that no one is allowed to take himself too seriously. When it comes to the work, Jordan and I almost don't need to talk that much about what we're shooting anymore. It just comes together most of the time. If he's going in a direction I don't like, I just tell him, No, come back over here, and that's that. I don't have to battle his ego or have a discussion about aesthetics. If he feels really strongly about something he tells me. I guess it's called trust.
I observed some things about myself last night -- some new things and some affirmations. One, I like to work small - simple set-ups and a tiny crew. Two, I don't like to work for very long at night - four to six hours tops. Three, I like to keep it moving. Four, since I've quit teaching acting I'm less and less interested in coaching actors. You bring your skills and I'll bring mine. If you lack skills or are having a rough time I don't worry about it. I'm there to work with you and I want the best we can do together, but there's a line that I'm less and less inclined to cross. Best of all, how good or bad you are has no reflection on my ego. I'm not going to sell you out or point fingers at you, nor am I going to take all the credit for your good work. What I'm doing is not Hollywood, it isn't even Indie. It's just electronic folk art. We're just woodshedding brothers and sisters, like bluegrass musicians coming together to work out a new tune on their guitars, banjos, fiddles and mandolins.
So bring your instruments and lets make us some movies!

Channeling the High Lonesome Spirit,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Master Says 263

You can't give your photograph soul with technique. I want my photos to be fresh and urgent. A good photograph should be a call to arms. It should say, 'Fucking now. The time is ripe. Come on.'

Terry Richardson

Revisting Wes Anderson

My wife has a job in Bangkok next month, a photo shoot for a Japanese company that wants to riff or perhaps rip off The Darjeeling Limited. She needs to go see it soon. This coincides with my recent fascination with Armond White, who loves the film. I reread his review with a mind to seeing the film with a different perspective.
I don't think I can do it. My previously noted opinions stand. White praises Anderson's emotional honesty. To me, every actor seems to be holding his breath until "cut" is called. I don't see anything real being expressed. Emotion is certainly represented. White states, "... it returns common emotional power to today’s fragmented, disingenuous popular culture." I could easily rework that sentence as follows: ... it rejects common emotional power in favor of today's fragmented, disingenuous popular culture. Everything about Anderson's films is mannered -- the acting, the camera work, the music, the art direction, the writing. He merely reiterates and stylizes the luxury icons of the 70s and 80s - Mercedes, Porsche, Louis Vuitton, Cazal, Sulka, et cetera.
White also defends Anderson's idiosyncratic style as being an antidote to the "mass hypnosis of self-reflexive trash like Superbad". In defense of Superbad, it doesn't take itself seriously, present any stylistic stamp nor call itself cinema -- it's popcorn and laughs. I don't need an antidote for popcorn and laughs. I need a remedy for Anderson's relentless and deliberate artifice overelaborated in its delivery and stilted in every way from beginning to end. Were it the least bit ironic instead of pleading some deeply affected ennui I might find his work tolerable.
For irony to come across it would require that the full significance of any of Anderson's characters' words or actions are clear to the audience but unknown to the character, but the dead-pan tics of his actors betray a self-consciousness so pronounced that they appear to be depending on the significance of what they're saying for the very breath that they're holding during every take.
White calls Anderson's self-consciousness "plangent". Affectedly melancholy yes; sonorous, not in the least. He confers undeserving intelligence on Anderson the visual stylist with comparisons to Fellini. "The title metaphor of The Darjeeling Limited converts Fellini’s road-of-life metaphor in La Strada into the train itself (it’s an Orient Express seen through Anderson’s storybook wonderment)." To me, that's like saying The Gap ad that appropriated West Side Story (designed by my friend and former boss Happy Massee) "invokes the warring families of Verona in the mean barrios of New York expressing the clear superiority of Gap khakis over those sold by J.Crew." Just because Anderson makes a film set in India and uses a score from Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy doesn't mean he "... also tracks “the road of life” that is the actual translation of Ray’s classic Pather Panchali". Maybe that is what Anderson's up to, but I tend to think it's more like directions I used to hear in the art department when shopping for props for a 60s-themed commercial: "Copy this Lee Friedlander photo except get an Eames chair for the African-American to sit on." More crass commercialism than honoring the antecedent.
My wife is on her own when it comes to Wes Anderson. At least she'll be quoting a commercial bit of pretense for her commercial work rather than a work of art.

Signore Direttore

The Master Says 262

She wouldn't go with Brad Pitt if you paid her
She's more into James Spader

Saint Etienne

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Master Says 261

Theater is, of course, a reflection of life. Maybe we have to improve life before we can hope to improve theater.

William Ralph Inge

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Master Says 260

The pram in the hall is the enemy of good art.

Cyril Connelly

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Master Says 259

You've got to work. You've got to want an audience to sit forward in their chairs sometimes, rather than sit back and be bombarded with images.

Sam Mendes

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Master Says 258

Steven (Soderbergh) has a dry sense of humor. He's evil is what he is. And as often as you can do a movie with guys like that, do it.

George Clooney

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Master* Says 257

As a person who's truly passionate about words, writing a screenplay never appealed to me because it is so skeletal, it's just dialogue on a page. It's only after having written a movie that I realized how much power there is in a screenplay, because if you're lucky enough to have it produced, the collaborative aspect of filmmaking is so colorful and so interesting and you can really create something lasting.

Diablo Cody

*I'm not sure if Juno's writer is a master as yet, but she's getting her work out there in a big way. Many are quite skeptical of her sudden rise to fame, fortune and praise. In any case I like what she's saying here enough to include in her The Master Says series albeit with an *. I'm not one to hold it against a woman for being smart and sexy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Musing on the Golden Globe Nominations

Variety reported the Golden Globe nominees today. Some opinions came to mind before realizing that being too concerned about that kind of stuff isn't good for me. For one it infers that I'm someone whose opinion matters regarding Hollywierd. For another if I'm going to put stock in what writers say about movies I might be setting myself up for a perennial disappointment. Maybe if I were more cultural critic than filmmaker it would be more acceptable. There's a danger in thinking too much of oneself in any regard, especially for one who has a tendency to posture more than perform.
I mean let's say I was a bona fide working director. Would I comment publicly on award season nominations? No way. So is the temptation to blather about them an expression of insecurity at not being a working director or the misdirected energy of a frustrated aspirant? I realize too that while I make movies and ultimately want to play with the big boys, I am a movie fan. I'm cool with that. I just need to be careful that I don't confer unwarranted status on myself. Maybe that's what function sports serve in my life -- playing armchair quarterback or Monday morning baseball manager is a more appropriately unsophisticated outlet.
Let me say this about the Golden Globes: There's no way I would want to see Atonement in spite of its leading seven nominations. I might like to see the likely to be predictable Charlie Wilson's War, the film with the second most nominations, but it isn't out yet. Which just shows to go how artificial the whole thing is and maybe the true reason not to get into it in the first place.
Thanks for bearing with me while I learn to not believe the hype.

Senior Media Whore

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Kicking the K-nowledge

I was looking to read this week's installment of Peet Gelderblom's Directorama. I usually get to it via The House Next Door. Before I could get to Peet's awesome comic strip this headline grabbed my attention:"In a world that has The Darjeeling Limited, Sidney Lumet should be imprisoned!": A Conversation with Armond White, Part I. I spent the next several minutes impressed, intrigued and challenged. Here's a taste:

SB: Well, that’s a good starting point. I guess you talk about this stuff all the time, but where is film criticism? Is it in the same place as it ever was, or—
AW: Oh, no, it stinks. (laughs) However bad movies are… criticism is worse! It’s gotten worse because people who call themselves critics have ceased to be… critical. I fear that they feel it’s their duty to promote Hollywood.
SB: You really think so? That most critics feel like Hollywood servants? Or is it that they’ve been… hoodwinked?
AW: Well, you can speculate on the reasons why, but I think that, from the reviews that I read almost everywhere, it’s like they feel their mission is to transcribe the movie for readers rather than interpret or critique it. I think that’s useless, frankly, because you can’t do a better job of transcribing movies than advertising. So if that’s what most critics are doing, then they’re just furthering the advertising, or as its commonly known, repeating the hype.

I highly recommend reading the entire conversation, both because it articulates ideas I've presented as well as disputes some of the things I embrace.

Signore Direttore

The Pornographers

What a strange film. The Japanese title includes the subheading, An Introduction to Anthropology. And that's how this film reads, like a collection of anthropological essays. With but a few characters it manages to be all over the place in a not so uncharasmatic manner. It makes sense in the end, but I found it hard to sustain my willingness to watch it in one sitting. Though I'm glad I didn't give up on it.
It's a truly beautiful film visually. It's shot in Cinemascope yet most of the frames are very cramped. They're either reduced by architectural frames within the frame, the atypically unglamorous actors' thickset physiques, extreme closeups or a combination of all of the above. All of these elements reflect the theme of voyeurism present in almost every scene. The compositions are often striking especially for a black comedy and dark social satire. As much as the film is set in the slums of Post-War Osaka, the lovely blacks and whites both crystallize that poverty as well as render it idyllic.
There's a lot of talk of incest, a topic with somewhat different historical context in Japanese culture, and the improbability of male-female relationships. One characters frankly states, “No one understands male-female relations. It’s complex, yet it’s vague.” That might be a good way to conclude my thoughts on the film itself.

Signore Direttore

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Master Says 256

I think you should take your job seriously, but not yourself - that is the best combination.

Judi Dench

Monday, December 10, 2007

Made Crooked and But A Dream Updates

Spent the afternoon working with Jordan on two of our many unfinished projects. I feel very positive and energized. I don't always feel like that in post-production, but I sure will take it when I can get it.
We reviewed Made Crooked for the first time in a couple of months. Rather than feel lazy about it, I think it's actually healthy for it to sit for awhile. I am undergoing a process of acceptance. It doesn't stink, in fact parts of it are quite good, but there are bits that just don't work. The challenge has been to find a way to get the good parts out into the world. I had a strong idea awhile back in the Fall but accomplishing it was going to beyond our resources. I recently had another idea that I think will work. I noted the areas of the film that needed help again today and wrote lines for the actors or in some cases questions to prompt their own responses. I'm hoping to shoot those additional scenes while David and Tara are in town over the holidays. And if my idea works I'll go back to New York to see Joey to shoot his scenes.
I also need to get some ADR from Joey for But A Dream. Watching the cut today I was getting some real hits in my chest. I thinks it's going to be good. I know it will be good to finish it. I found out last night at a dinner party that the original editor, an old friend and very accomplished cutter, just moved to Denmark. No wonder I lost touch with her. Oh well, it would have been fun to work with her, but Jordan is doing a good job.

Signore Direttore

More Censorship

Upon coming home last night from another Christmas party I wanted to watch something easy. No subtitles. Just what Peter Greenaway would call a bedtime story for adults type of film. Our babysitter who lives in an apartment downstairs made his DVD collection available. Fond of Jeremy Piven, I selected Smokin' Aces against his advice and apologies that he even had possession of it.
I remember back in the late 80s hearing the word gratuitous to describe violence and sex in films. I thought it sounded a bit too PC at the time. Though I didn't often go see shoot 'em up and, or jiggle stuff. Nor did I own a television between 1985 and 1998. Saying something was gratuitous seemed like alarmist preaching to the choir. Like if you don't like movies like that, don't watch them. Somewhat like my disinvitiation to read my blog in my previous post.
But yesterday I was reading an article in The Oregonian about a man that came home in the middle of the afternoon to find three armed men in his home. The intruders had locked his two daughters in the bathroom. The article described in detail how they pistol whipped him. Images of bad movies came to mind. Apparently I've been seeing more violence that I'd thought over the years. I thought, my god these guys are imitating the movies they watch or at least the ones I've seen. Talk about gratuitous violence.
Okay, you need some quick cash. You decide to break into a house. If you carry a gun it's armed robbery -- a lot more serious than Breaking and Entering. If you're breaking into a home you want to do it when no one is home, it's safer and easier all around. So you knock on the door and you watch the place. You go in. Oh snap, there's a teenager and second grader home. You yell at them to go into another room and then you beat it. Even if there's a phone in the room and they call 911 and scream "Officer Down" or "Osama Bin Laden" before you can get out of the house, there's no way the cops are going to respond to that type of call in less than five minutes. If you're not weighed down by a firearm you can run away even faster. You do not need to lock children in a bathroom or pistol whip their dad. Not only did these guys not steal anything while they racked up felonies injuring and traumatizing their victims they were caught within a couple of hours. Chances are if they yelled at the girls to lie down on the floor or go to the basement and then ran away no one would have been able to provide an accurate description. You don't see this type of confrontation avoidance in movies.
But who's the idiot trying to apply common sense to three grown men robbing a house with guns? I don't think sitting these guys down in front of a Bergman film would prompt such behavior. Maybe they never even saw Smokin' Aces. I know I wish I wouldn't have. And there's part of me that wishes it didn't even exist. However we live in a culture that needs its Rambo's in order to have its Rocky's.

Signore Direttore

No Thanks For Your Comment

Last night I deleted a comment on an earlier post. I have mixed feelings about it. My action strikes me as resistant to debate in some ways. Perhaps a bit smug, maybe even cowardly.
Or perhaps bold. This blog has very few regular readers and even fewer that I do not know personally. While it exists on the world wide web, it isn't supported by any private or public monies nor does it propose to express the opinions of anyone but its author. I write it for pleasure and I assume any one who reads it regularly does so for their own enjoyment. So if you take issue with what I have to say or the quotes that I post, keep it to yourself. Especially if you're going to throw around words like bullshit in reference to ideas that I present. Were you proposing well-reasoned debate rather than negative personal opinion I might be inclined to welcome your comments.
I was reading and linking to a blog for several months of someone with whom it seemed I had a lot in common. As I became a regular reader, I often found myself in disagreement with her perspective and attitude. I even left a comment saying as much once. Then I realized, hey I don't know this person. She didn't seek me out. She's entitled to her opinion. What makes me think I need to let her know I, a complete stranger, disagree with her? So I deleted the link and I stopped reading her weblog.
I don't need to feed the negativity in my life. If you need to feed yours, please do so elsewhere.

Signore Direttore

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Potential Godsend of the Writer's Strike

There's a movie called Nine to be directed by Rob Marshall that may not get made because of the writer's strike. It's a musical version of Fellini's 8 1/2. Please please please please please don't let this happen.

Signore Direttore

'Tis the Season

Our usual Saturday night routine of dinner and a movie was interrupted by holiday cheer last night. A family that lives close by that we know through our middle child's Montessori school had a party. They're really sweet people. I've always been able to speak very openly and easily with Julio, pronounced with a hard J. They had a full house but it was easy to find a spot in the play room and relax. We didn't know anyone aside from the hosts, which was a blessed respite from small-talk. As I gathered some plates of goodies for the kids downstairs in the adult zone of the party I overheard a long conversation comparing Volvo repairs, various Volvo dealer service departments and so on. I was scornful in my judgment for a brief moment but somewhat effortlessly shifted to a different frame of mind. Which mostly had to do with trying to balance sweets with carrot sticks and apple slices for the kids, my own boring middle class concerns. I bring this up because I just felt sort of all right about things. Often in that sort of situation I want to scoff or feel insecure. I want to feel less than that I don't own a late model Volvo and then make myself feel better than by embellishing my own freewheeling creative career as a "Film Director!" But I was just a guy filling two animal shaped paper plates with food for my children at a Christmas party. What kind of car I drive or what I do for work didn't come into play in my own mind let alone in some sort of anxious conversation. That's freedom.
I surprised my wife with La Vie en Rose on DVD when we came home, but after getting the over-tired children to bed we only made it through the first half hour before crashing ourselves. So there's no movie reviewing today.
In a correspondence with an actor friend about a project we worked on together, he referred to one of the characters as having had Elijah come and gone from her life. The reference gave me an earworm that is still with me. But what do you call an earworm that's all wrong? Like I initially thought the GoGo's song Our Lips Are Sealed was Honest On Tuesday. I know, I know. In my head this morning I'm hearing Hank William's Kaw-Liga as Eli-Jah. It strikes me that this deserves a post of its own or maybe is just totally irrelevant emphemera.
Back to the holidays for a moment. My children's schools celebrate as many Winter celebrations as possible - Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice, La Posada, Kwaanza, Diwali, Martinmas, et cetera. My daughter is full speed ahead in her embrace of all of it. She announces what day of Hanukkah it is at dinner each day. I'm glad that they know of the various cultural celebrations and I don't dispute the validity of any however suspect I think it is that Jesus happened to be born so near the Solstice. But hey, God is powerful. A Greek Orthodox priest explained away my skepticism of the virgin birth that God, being all powerful, made that happen to get people's attention. All facile liturgical explanations aside, knowing about various celebrations and celebrating all of them is another story. I'll hang all the collage Stars of David that they bring home, but we're not Jewish. The open-minded inclusiveness seems as if it could be an affront somehow. Like we're playing around with centuries-old symbols, images and rituals to show how tolerant we are. On the other hand my son is harumphing about all the Hanukkah talk this last week. He actually said, This is America. I have no idea where he heard that. It wasn't me and I haven't let him hang around my ex-Skinhead cousins for years. I'm pretty sure if anyone else hears him spouting his xenophobia, it'll be assumed that I'm the culprit. Oh well.
Krishnamuurti said, "Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay”. Even so, I like to say Merry Christmas. But as I write this I am uncomfortable. I don't want my mind to decay nor do I want to offend anyone. Not to be PC, but to break out of the security of the privileges of the dominant culture. I suppose that's a fine line. Maybe I could dance around it semantically for a few sentences, but I won't.
At the end of the day I don't want to assume what holiday someone celebrates. Nor do I want to assert that the holiday I celebrate is the more valid. Especially since I don't believe in Jesus Christ as a savior. I just like Christmas trees and all the other Santa stuff. Which has a lot of corporate and commercial influence. It's easy to get lost in all this stuff. This is part of Nietzsche's assertion that God is Dead -- we no longer have a state mandate telling us how to believe, celebrate and worship. We're on our own, and as Nietzsche pointed out, most of us aren't up to the task of managing our own religion. I'm just as lost as the next guy in all this cultural and religious freedom.
In the meantime, I'll be getting a Christmas tree and buying presents and accepting invitations to holiday parties. I'm even going to go cook latkes tomorrow at my son's school.

Ho, ho, ho,*
Signore Direttore

*Oh yeah, even that has become suspect

Saturday, December 08, 2007

... a Filmmaker's Quest for Mastery ...

When I wrote the subheading for Finding Fellini I took great care to acknowledge that I am on a journey. A quest for rather than toward mastery. I accept that while I may not achieve mastery, that it may not be my manifest destiny, it is my goal. It remains my goal three years later, though my concept of mastery has changed monumentally.
Admittedly my earlier concept of mastery was almost entirely solipsistic. I was concerned with my ideas and my achievement. I thought that was the alpha and omega of having vision. Somewhere along the way as I experienced the vicissitudes of my quest I began to see the need to be a more effective communicator. Having brilliant ideas wasn't enough working in a medium that requires collaboration no matter how much of an auteur one considers himself.
Making change usually depends upon a simple formula like eat less, exercise more and you'll lose weight. However when the human mind and emotions are involved that bit of addition and subtraction becomes advanced Calculus. When faced with trying to stop yelling at people and trying to shift to a less condescending tone I became more tense. It wasn't a matter of simply stopping or changing. There was something behind my cruel narcissism. I thought that perhaps I had what the DSM-IV classifies as a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But just as alcohol is but a symptom for alcoholics, my narcissistic habits and tendencies were symptoms of something deeper. Besides no narcissist on a pathological level would be able to recognize their own affliction.
I always knew that I suffered through some tough stuff as a kid. We were very poor. My mom made some bad relationship choices. I was molested by my step-brother. So I had some shame over some of that stuff. I thought it was a matter of not discussing it in polite conversation. And yet on the other hand I thought it wasn't really a cause to be emotionally troubled. There are a lot of people that have suffered and survived much worse upbringings. The fact was is that I was troubled emotionally about something and I couldn't just get over it through will. In fact my will was making things worse. So I entered the darkness once more, trying to sort myself out. By talking through the aforementioned traumas I've discovered more truths of my life. The day to day stuff that became normalized in my perception. With some help I was able to challenge those perceptions and undo some of the kinks in my psyche. Perhaps watching your mother and other adults pull guns on each other is not normal. Nor is it normal for a nine year old to live in a tiny travel trailer by himself in his dad's girlfriend's backyard on 82nd while his mother runs off to track down her outlaw biker husband that smashed the house apart with clubs and chains before splitting town. I've learned that someone that watched television for eight hours a day may not have been offered a healthy opportunity to develop emotionally. I've learned that someone that transfers schools every year and sometime three times within a single school year may not have been offered a healthy opportunity to develop socially. Basically I've learned through looking into all the day to day activities and interactions in my childhood that I was not offered hardly any opportunity to develop into a functional person. A statement in and of itself that's evidence of my downplaying the trauma I've suffered.
So when someone says you don't get here from there, they're talking about a person like me. Now the wonderful thing about surviving my childhood, and I did survive many violent and literal threats to my life, and the reaction that was my earlier adulthood is that while I may still have some problems I have had the opportunity to work through much greater personality defects. In doing so I've become accustomed to working through changes. I don't accept plateaus. I am conscious. And the more conscious a human being is the more powerful he is. I've spent a long time on this planet feeling powerless over people, places, things and my own emotions. It gives me the strength of empathy for all the horrible suffering that's going on in the world.
My quest for mastery of the film medium has expanded to a quest for mastery of being a fully realized and conscious human being. I still want to be good at directing actors and writing screenplays and all the other things that it takes to be a good filmmaker. Mastery of the craft of filmmaking is essential to be sure. But mastery of kind, compassionate and effective communication in the deepest most organic sense is far more critical. Initially, I just wanted to change the tone of my communication in order to get people to do what I wanted them to do. If only they would listen, it would make getting my work done all the easier. Had I received what I had hoped for I would have totally short-changed myself. I just wanted to stop patronizing and belittling people and I ended up thinking about the way agribusiness treats animals and the way governments and multinational companies oppress people. In trying to find out why I felt insecure I became interested in early childhood development and education. In search of a source of strength to do all the work making films requires I became closer to my family and my family is growing closer to the human spirit that connects all of us. You, me, everybody. Some people call it God. I'm not sure I'm willing to go that far, but do what you like. For in learning to be patient with others I am learning to be patient with myself.

Signore Direttore

Reality Check 001

MYTH: Democracy and Capitalism go hand in hand.

REALITY: Democracy and market economies are exactly what we should be seeking, because they are the foundation of equitable, self-organizing societies. Capitalism is the mortal enemy of both. It creates an illusion in the minds of the powerful that it is an engine of prosperity rather than an engine of destruction and upward redistribution.
By definition, design and practice capitalism is a system that concentrates economic power in the hands of the few to the exclusion of the many.

From Take It Personally - How to Make Conscious Choices to Change the World by Anita Roddick

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Master Says 255

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Master Says 254

Context is why I don't do theory.

Richard Pepperman

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Last Waltz

Sometimes you hear someone hasn't seen a rather famous film. Many people go with a glass half-empty response like, "Man, I can't believe you haven't seen that." Others are more half-full with "Oh, you've got to see it!" I'm more often somewhat envious of that first hit that I can no longer get from my favorites.
Last night I finally experienced the joy of Martin Scorcese's famous concert film The Last Waltz. Recently I looked carefully at all of the covers of Rolling Stone magazine from the 60s through the 80s. The Band kept coming up. And again in the recent Dylan film. For so long I just couldn't pay any attention to 70s rock that wasn't punk. I wouldn't say I was missing anything. I just wasn't open to it. Now that I am, it's a wonderful thing. I've heard all or most of these songs on the radio and from my parents, but it's like a new discovery. Not only of the music but the history of the times. It makes me grateful to have grown up in that culture. I watched five minutes of Justin Timberlake's concert on HBO recently. While he may be talented there is not any evidence of the humility, integrity and sincerity that I saw in the The Last Waltz.

Signore Direttore

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Master Says 253

I make movies to show that this is not the best of all possible worlds.

Luis Bunuel

This Week's Devil

We often see a film on Saturday night and I usually write about it on Sunday. We saw Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead this weekend. I didn't feel as if there was much to say about it. It looked good and it was well acted. It was very dark. As I watched it I felt myself grow tired of shrugging off violence and darkness not just in this film but overall. I thought more than a few times about Marisa Tomei's breasts for a couple days. She is quite perky, especially for a forty-three year old woman. I don't feel any shame for thinking about her tits. But I am aware of my prurience. I would rather not have her tits on my mind. It's so impossibly unsatisfying to obsess about them. There's no possibility of satisfaction. I watch this film and I'm filled with lustful desire that is totally unrelated to the rest of the film. I'm disconnected. And that's not why I go to movies. I go to movies to reconnect. To find some bit of the something that binds us all together. I don't go to be entertained or aroused sexually. I certainly don't want to be made to feel any more alienated. I want transubstantiation at the cinema. Anything less and I might as well watch television or pornography.
I'm not calling Mr. Lumet's film tv or porn. I have tremendous respect for him. He often seeks to show the dark side of humanity in his films and has done it masterfully, especially earlier in his career in films like Network, The Pawnbroker and Dog Day Afternoon. In those films there's something redemptive. A hint at deeper albeit horribly confused intentions. Not so in this Devil.

On a Soapbox,
Signore Direttore

Monsieur Montage

Sundance announced its feature selections last week. For the past few years I've been involved with or friends with a number of films and filmmakers accepted to the holy land of American Independent film. This year I didn't have the remotest connection to any of the selections. A small part of me felt out of the loop being in Portland and somewhat self-reproaching for my lack of progress with my own projects. The shorts haven't been announced yet, but I do know one that got in. I've seen it and it's pretty darn good. The guy that was going to edit Dangerous Writing, that I thought was in the process of editing, is the co-director of said short. So good for him. Honestly. He's going to check out LA and make hay on his Sundance success. I would do the same were I in my mid-20s with a short going up in Park City this winter.
He didn't do any cutting though. And it looks like it's back on me. I've been thinking of re-embracing the art of montage anyway.
I took a look at a new assembly of But A Dream last night. It's a lot more promising than I saw a week or so ago. On the other hand I thought London Calling was close to being finished, but looking at the cut of that yesterday leads me to believe otherwise. I don't know if it's back to the drawing board or not, but it needs more than a few edts to bring it to final cut.
Watching BAD got me to thinking that it's perhaps a bit naive of someone that's been doing this as long as I to discount what an impact editing has on a film. Mostly I think it betrays the impatience inherent in my lingering affliction of having my identity and self-worth tied to my abilities as a filmmaker.

Signore Direttore

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Master Says 252

Photography was a license to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do.

Diane Arbus

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Master Says 251

If I ran my set with fear, I would get 1%, not 100%, of what I get. And there would be no fun in going down the road together. And it should be fun. In work and in life, we're supposed to all get along. We're supposed to have so much fun with our tails wagging. It's supposed to be great living; it's supposed to be fantastic.

David Lynch

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Master Says 250

I'm very often still very much alive for that other being and that other world long after the film is finished.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Childhood Hero R.I.P

When I was in the second grade I absolutely adored Evel Kneivel. I was thoroughly obsessed with him. There was a whole line of toys that I wanted and asked for for Christmas. My mom warned me that money was tight. Not wanting my mom to feel badly about being broke I waited a few weeks and told her that I didn't really like Evel Kneivel that much anymore. I still got a bunch of stuff for Christmas that year. Both of our deceptions came out and Evel Knievel was forever after part of my own little Oscar Wilde story.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Peter, Steven and Mary Ann

Steven Soderbergh is the hardest working man in show business. My god, what doesn't this guy do? He shoots his movies as Peter Andrews. He edits them as Mary Ann Bernard. So he often works all day wearing many hats - producer, director, writer, DP, camera operator - then he cuts it together at night. All this after going out for dinner with leading man and producing partner George Clooney. The guy is tireless.
I've been watching K Street, a tv show he made a few years ago. I hadn't even heard of it until I came across it in some obscure way. It's pretty good. It's too subtle and raw for network television. James Carville and Mary Matalin play quasi-fictional versions of themselves. They also co-produced with Soderbergh and Clooney. It's all improvised and many Washington politicians and journalists make guest appearances.
Soderbergh is one of the main guys that I've long wanted to emulate in terms of being a very hands-on filmmaker, the kind of guy that does it all. And I can do it all pretty well, not anywhere near as well as him, but better than many of my peers. Recently I gave up on editing and turned a lot of it over to others. They're even slower than I am. I'm not slow, I just put off doing it. But even the few people that I've paid have been super slow about putting assemblies and rough cuts together. Then when I see it, I'm frustrated by it. London Calling has been about five total cuts from final for over a month but I can't get together with that editor for some reason. I'm debating taking it over again, not just LC but all of them. I'm thinking of buying a new MacBookPro and doing it bit by bit on a daily basis instead of surfing sports and other internet distractions. I have a nice editing suite but the minute I go in there, my kids are underfoot pulling stuff off the shelves, climbing into my lap and attacking the keyboard. For some reason they leave me alone when I'm on my laptop. So we'll see. I'm over thinking any of my films are going to be very good, so at this point I just need to experience putting them together and moving on. Maybe I can be more like Steven/Mary Ann afterall.

Signore Editore

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Master Says 249

There is a certain combination of anarchy and discipline in the way I work.

Robert De Niro

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


My daughter Maisie turned five today. Our home was filled with sweet little girls this evening. I'm so so very grateful and proud. My heart is full.


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Master Says 248

Life is an unanswered question, but let's still believe in the dignity and importance of the question.

Tennessee Williams

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'm Not There ... I'm In Your Head

You know when you're watching television or a movie -- you see pretty pictures, you hear the opening chords of a great song and for a moment you're like wow this Iggy Pop song is on tv. Then you realize it's a commercial for a gigantic insurance corporation or some other such exploitation. That's how I felt in the opening acts of I'm Not There. I'm not accusing Haynes of commercializing Dylan. I'm sure he wants the film to make money, but it's not busting any blocks so far due in large part to Haynes making the film he wanted to make, which I admire greatly. Okay so he's not selling anything, but it still feels a if it's capitalizing on Dylan's music. That Haynes is exploiting the allure of Dylan the man and the power of his music to exercise his own intellect.
Which results in some fine filmmaking to be sure. He thoroughly breaks the mold on bio-pic conventions. Nearly masterfully from a technical standpoint. The film looks great as it transitions from one palette to the next and back again. Haynes heavily quotes two of my favorite films, 8 1/2 and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Haynes is an ardent recreator of classic films. Far From Heaven was a replica of the look and tone of Douglas Sirk's 50s melodramas. Like Tarantino, his re-imaginations are imprinted from the outside, lacking a real pulse of their own. This is especially true with regard to Fellini. Fellini made films from his heart, Haynes makes them from his head. In 8 1/2, the passionate dreaminess of the externalization of Guido's inner life is sublime. It's absorbing. The beautiful surfaces leading inward much like the beauty of a cathedral leads the faithful into both the building and themselves. This does not happen in I'm Not There. Which is part of the point, I realize, but for me it's also a major impediment to giving myself to the film.
As far as the acting goes, Cate Blanchett as Jude-Dylan performs many moments splendidly, but overall there's a disconnectedness to her characterization that is more of a distraction than a revelation that Dylan is not there. That's really it, I think. Haynes says, "Hey, Dylan isn't Dylan. He's not there in the way we project." Which makes him a passive character. Passive characters can be quite problematic if you want the story to move forward. I'm not sure six characters standing in for one passive uber-character makes it any easier. Christian Bale plays Jack-Dylan well. As does Heath Ledger perform Robbie-Dylan. The young kid playing Woody-Dylan is uneven, but hey he's a kid. I liked Ben Whishaw as Rimbaud-Dylan the best. Richard Gere as Billy the Kid-Dylan was all wrong. I liked the look and feel of the sequence but Gere is too much the polished pretty leading man to convey the depth of what Haynes is trying to say. Julianne Moore never vexes me more than in collaboration with Haynes. Her part was like Waiting For Guffman but without a sense of humor. As CoCo, Michelle Williams was just blah, she's a pretty good actress usually and she's certainly cute, but she's just not sexy enough to carry off an Edie Sedgwick-type role.
While I'm on some of the little things that bothered me, there are some period prop and wardrobe errors that distracted me. Like the Ray-Ban logo on the Wayfarers that Jude-Dylan wears. That logo didn't appear on Wayfarers until the 90s. The stiff, unseasoned clothing on some of the extras early on took me out of the film as well.
There's no doubt that Haynes is very smart and this film is perhaps his most intelligent. And in spite of my criticisms I don't think this is a bad film or a missed opportunity. It's Haynes's vision and it's fully realized. I just didn't happen to connect to it as much as I liked how it looked and some of its ideas.

Dalla mia testa ed il mio cuore,
Signore Direttore

Friday, November 23, 2007

Composite Preview

A preview of Lumberjack Storytime

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Folk Wisdom 036

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.


Thanks Giving 2oo7

Dashing off a list of all that I am grateful for doesn't come easy for me. There are many things of course seemingly requiring little thought. However I don't do much with little thought. So for nearly every expression of gratitude for a person, place or thing in my life an "even though" or other contracting modification rears its ugly head.
I've heard it said that an attitude of gratitude is one of the sure ways to work through life's challenges. Since that attitude is not my prevalent way of being I think I'm somehow absolved from working toward it. I don't like baby steps. I'm resistant as is evident by my blathering lead-in to a simple list.
I suppose first off I'm grateful to be alive. That goes for any of us, but I've definitely pushed the limits of my mortality. Thinking back on my life, the expression "you don't get here from there" couldn't be more appropriate.
Next off I'm grateful for my wife and children. From each I receive love in ways that I feel ill equipped to accept let alone reciprocate. Being a father and a husband present very real challenges that ultimately can't be avoided, manipulated or responded to with anger. I thank them for their patience in letting me learn how to love and care for them as a husband and a parent. Here's a very real case of the gift being in the giving for as I go through my children's various stages of development with them I learn of my own developmental deficiencies and heal in the process.
I'm extremely grateful for my son's new school and his new teacher. Miss I is one of the most fully realized human beings I have ever met. Finding her in our lives is a graceful joy.
Next I want to thank my many friends far and wide that have helped me understand the world and myself to the extent that I do. So many people have encouraged and supported me. So many have listened to my whining, my genius and my bullshit. I especially want to thank those that have stuck to their principles and have thus helped me develop and respect my own.
I'm grateful to live in a city such as Portland. That I've been able to come back home to create a new life and new memories with my family.
I'm grateful for my daughter's wonderful school and teachers.
I'm grateful for all the wonderful people we've met through our children and for the little friends of our children.
I'm grateful for my love of writing and storytelling.
I'm grateful for my ability to make films and for my love of directing actors. I'm grateful to have had the experience of making so many films with so many wonderful people. I'm grateful for all those that continue to help me make more films in spite of not having seen the last thing they helped me with.
I'm grateful for the diverse natural beauty of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
I'm grateful for our home. For its beauty and its strength. For its memories. For its versatility. For its value and the security it provides. For its height and its windows all around allowing us a clear 360 view in spite of its being in a dense urban neighborhood. I'm grateful for the three mature cedars in our parking strip providing us privacy and protection from the East wind as well as a habitat for squirrels and birds, giving us a view onto our own private forest.
I'm grateful for all of our material wealth and comfort. For the many tools for making films. For our cars. And bicycles. Our books. For my watch that I bought the day before Thanksgiving in 1986. It's been with me a long time, through thick and thin. I'm glad I had the vanity and foresight to buy it. I reasoned at the time that I would easily go through $625 worth of Timex', Casios and Swatches before a Rolex would give out. I'm grateful I have been able to hold onto it.
I'm also thankful for the debt that has allowed us to enjoy some of the above in a more expedient manner than otherwise possible.
I'm grateful for the experience of travel and of living in so many interesting places in the world: Germany, San Francisco, Mexico, New York City ...
I'm grateful for my experience as an acting coach. For all the friends I met in doing that and for the joy and challenges of running a studio for five years.
I'm grateful for the internet and the ease of communication it provides.
I'm grateful for my first set of orange Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias, my first information superhighway. As I'm thankful for my life-long love of books, reading and learning.
I'm grateful for all the music, film and art that touches me deeply and for all that simply entertains me.
I'm grateful that I can grow and change. For P and all the help and guidance he's provided.
I'm grateful to my family for giving me life and for teaching me how not to live. As I'm grateful that they keep their distance now.
I'm grateful for this blog and its readers. For the record it provides, but more importantly for the challenge of getting my thoughts and experiences out of my head on a regular basis. There is often magic in it. So thanks for reading.

Signore Direttore

The Master Says 247

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.

William Faulkner

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Folk Wisdom 035

When you do all the talking you only learn what you already know.

The Master Says 246

Self-interest is but the survival of the animal in us. Humanity only begins for man with self-surrender.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stills from Recent Shoots

October Moore as Clio in Clio Tells His Story

Tara Piccolo and Christy Hernquist in a workshop scene for Back To Baghdad

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Than A Car Crash

We all want to look at a car crash. I'm not sure what we're looking for. Do we want to see that everyone is safe? Are we hoping for evidence of the vulnerable unpredictability of our mortality? Do we want to see real life instead of television? Do we even know why we look or is it some sort of reflex?
I've seen some gruesome things while rubbernecking. As well as some astonishing things like a guy with his feet in the air and his upper body inside of the car that just hit him as he was walking across West Burnside. He crashed head first through the windshield and was suspended for almost an hour while firemen and paramedics prepared to remove him. He walked away from it with a few scratches on his face.
I don't know if it's another bad Brian DePalma film, but Redacted bombed at the box office this weekend. My suspicions are that Iraq is a wreck that we don't want to look at anymore. I've been reading Riverbend, a blog by an Iraqi woman. I link to it under All Things Human.
Some of the things she writes stab me in the heart. She avers that the continual gaffes by the U.S. are actually strategic policy made to look like incompetency. It's the one thing she says with which I disagree. Sadly, I can pretty much guarantee that our Iraq policies and their implementation are plainly incompetent.
I recall one of this blog's reader talking about "the mission". I wonder; is "the mission" about dividing a people along sectarian lines that coexisted peacefully prior to the war? Is the tolerance of masked border guards and militiamen a result of the valiant and heroic effort by the soldiers that carried out "the mission" of occupying a country that was invaded under false pretenses and contrary to international consensus? Before anyone gets their panties in a patriotic twist, please read Riverbend. Take a walk in her shoes. Lower your eyes from the masked militiamen with her instead of looking away from the living hell that we've created in her country.
I'm disgusted by our role in Iraq. As I'm disgusted at our unwillingness to look at it. Perhaps the greatest thing about the electronic hyper-connectivity of the 21st century is that we can no longer exist in the vacuum of fatuous ideology. If only we can take a break from celebrity gossip and other pornographic tripe and exercise our empathy from time to time.

Cantando nella nerezza,
Signore Direttore

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maybe I'm Getting Soft

The softness I speak of is my growing inability to laugh off nihilistic violence in movies that claim to offer something more than a genre film. A lot of people are singing the praises of No Country For Old Men. I, too, have some high opinions of the film, but I take issue with comments such as "indisputably great". Foremost on my mind is the fact that I found little humor or wit in the film as I thought I might based on the interview with the Coens I listened to yesterday. There was a time that I laughed at wicked violence in films. Often it was a lone laugh in a crowded theater such as the scene in the Scorcese Cape Fear remake where Robert DeNiro bites off Illeana Douglas's cheek. Or the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. I even went as Mr. Blonde for Halloween that year, carrying a blood stained rubber ear that I took out of my pocket to talk to during the course of the night. But in the dark of the theater last night I found myself shuddering at the moment of impact most of the time things got violent. The Coen Brothers are good at letting you know just about exactly what's coming yet somehow they add a distinctly quiet suspense to it and then they hit you with what you saw coming all along. Bam! It's visceral.
I admire the quiet in this film. It's part of what makes those suspenseful moments work so well. Hardly any music. No goofy sound design. Technically, this film is a formalist's wet dream. The photography, the editing, the sound design and the production design, including wardrobe and squib effects and especially Bardem's hair, are all brilliant. Overall the writing is excellent but there are some crucial gaps regarding the money. Maybe. They may be gaps or they may underscore my suspicion that the gaps are meant to let us know that what we think this film is about isn't what it's about. I'll get to that later. Another thing that might be minor, but no error however small seems minor in a film as well-crafted as this one. Anyway there's a reference that's anachronistic to the period of the film that happens in the third act that I can't ignore.
I also admire the acting a lot. Javier Bardem is someone else -- he's just out there in a way that we don't need too talk much about. Josh Brolin is a movie star. I love that guy. He was by far the best thing in American Gangster. And I wanted to be with him every second in No Country, even though he wouldn't really let us get close to him. Even Tommy Lee Jones manages to not be so Tommy Lee Jones, though I think the film would be better if someone else played his role. I won't spoil anything, but when he's sitting at the kitchen table late in the movie I recommend listening closely. You have to because what he says might be the key to what this movie is about. As I've said, what you think it's about turns out to not be what it's about. I can't rightly say with any certainty because I didn't listen closely to Tommy. I've learned over the years to throw his lines away, because he never does. (An aside to Tommy Lee Jones: Mr. Jones, I know you probably don't give a rat's ass what a nobody like me has to say and your five million or so you banked off of this film is more money than I'm likely to see in my lifetime, but I'll say it anyway: sometimes it's what isn't said in a film that speaks the loudest.) That's the reason I think he was miscast. And it's part of the reason that I think this very good film isn't a great film. I'd like to see it again. I have a feeling or maybe just a fond hope the Coen's knew exactly what they were doing, but I can't help but doubt it just a little. It's the anachronistic bit about green hair and bones in noses I mentioned earlier that undoes their credibility. Because as the film suddenly shifts to a decidedly more literary telling in the third act I need things to be as tight as a drum for it to work. My ear says that drum needs some tuning. Then again nobody ever accused me of having perfect pitch.

Cantando nella nerezza,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Real Americans

Writing the title of this post made me reflect on the absurdity of arrogant racist and patriotic paradigms in the United States. Not just because most of us are from somewhere else or that there are a lot of people on both continents in this hemisphere that have the right to call themselves Americans. Because most of us shouldn't be throwing stones. It brings to mind an indelible moment in my life. I was in the fourth grade. My mom was married to an outlaw biker and we lived in a trailer in Scappoose at the end of Smith Road where the asphalt stopped and turned to gravel. We shot our guns from the side of the mobile home into a mound of dirt. I stole Marlboro's from the drawer in the kitchen where Grubby kept his carton. Just down the road, there was house and barn that seemed forever covered in mud. I had a Huffy bmx bike that was always getting flat tires. When my bike was up and running I rode down the hill past the muddy house to the Turner's where I lost my front tooth or to other kids' houses that weren't covered in mud. When I had a flat I would walk down and play with the kids that lived in the muddy house, but always felt superior to them. Because they had a huge cow tied up in the barn that didn't have any doors or a floor. Because there was always mud everywhere. Because they seemed like little muddy urchins. I gave them Marlboros and we smoked while slogging around in the mud. One not-so-beautiful Saturday morning my mom and step-dad got into one of their brutal fights. One thing led to another and soon my mother was running down the road. She collapsed in the middle of the road in front of the muddy family's house. Paramedics came. The sheriff. It was a big scene. My mom regained consciousness. I don't remember much else. But one day not long after that I was riding my bike down the rode and as I was passing the muddy house, the dad came out onto the porch. The kids hid behind him. He told me he didn't want me coming around there anymore. He told me I was trouble. I didn't really care about not going there anymore. And I didn't know anything about irony. But I was very surprised that he of all people, a guy that lived in mud up to his ankles, thought I wasn't good enough to play with his kids.
I didn't sit down to write about that proud moment of my past and I'm a bit short on time now. What I've had in mind are the millions of Americans out there skulking around the parking lots of fast food restaurants wearing dirty slippers and tank-tops with strange little bruises and sores all over their bodies and with little brown nubs for teeth. All those people that are either gigantically obese or thin but flabby living in trailer parks and cheap motels watching hours of television, drinking gallons of soda pop. I am thinking about those racist and patriotic Americans thinking that they're too good to play with their neighbors, living hopeless lives where the asphalt runs out.
Come to think of it, my step-dad Grubby was a Native-American, though he may have been a real American, he didn't exude earthy joy and compassion any more than the rest of us.

Signore Direttore

Those Iconoclastic Coens

Just listened to a podcast interview with the Coen Brothers by Creative Screenwriting editor Jeff Goldsmith. Lots of questions about outlining, beginning, middle and end plotting, research, writing habits. The blanket answer: "We don't do that. We nap. We don't work too hard. We take long lunches." Writer's block?: "If we get stuck with something, we put it aside and work on something else." How's does co-directing work? "Distinctions between what we each do are artificial whether it's writing, directing or editing." What is your process for writing an adaptation?: "We didn't know or realize we were tapping into Homer with Oh Brother Where Art Though until we were well into it." Theme? Joel: "That scene was taken from the novel. (Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men) Ethan: "Theme?" Goldsmith: "Let's move on. You guys have always had a bit of the macabre mixed with humor, but violence in this film is more brutal and doesn't seem to be tongue in cheek." "Really, I thought it was pretty humorous. People laugh. I don't know why. It's visual. It's absurd. There's something funny about it."

If you listen to the podcast you might find my quotes may not be transcript accurate. I just jotted my impressions down from memory.

Starving for a long lunch,
Signore Direttore

Friday, November 16, 2007

Revisiting Odets, Mackendrick and January oo7

I'm rereading Alexander Mackendrick's book on filmmaking. The main thing that sticks with me is his discussion of the opening scene in Sweet Smell of Success. Except the only thing that sticks with me is that it's something really poignant about making sure all the characters in a scene need something from one another. I still haven't gotten to that elusive wisdom in my rereading. But I am struck by some other discoveries as I reread On Film-Making. Mackendrick learned a lot from working with Clifford Odets, who rewrote Ernest Lehman's original script. While reading I came across a quote from Odets urging actors to play heavy dialogue fast. It seemed a good thing to share on the blog, but I had a feeling I'd shared it before. So I did search this blog for Odets and sure enough Playing It Fast (and Sappy) popped up.
What's interesting about reading something from the past, even just this past January, is how much I've learned. I don't say that in a boastful manner, especially since a lot of what I've learned is how much I've needed to learn to get somewhere in the vicinity of competent. I'm glad I write from where I'm at at any given time for it gives me a better perspective later on. For instance I was talking about trying to shoot Klepto in an operatic manner a la Sergio Leone. I have to laugh about that bit of pretense. I haven't seen Klepto on a big screen, but Leone it is not. In fact I should revisit it now that I've been reminded of that intention to learn where it fails to achieve that kind of scale. I think part of it has to do with the use of long lenses, something I didn't have the resources for with Klepto. Another thing with Klepto was that the main lesson seemed to be about working with a hostess tray in traffic and on an unexpectedly sunny day. We got going the morning of the shoot and I realized for the first time that my brand new ten thousand dollar camera package was hanging off the side of a truck. Just as Chris relieved my anxiety by handling the driving very well, I realized that the route I had meticulously planned for the driving sequences put the camera rig between the actors and the big bright sun, casting a very distinct shadow on Chris's shoulder. I also learned that we needed more batteries and P2 cards for the HVX if we were to shoot run and gun efficiently. So even though the film is not the film I hoped it would be it served its purpose of getting us familiar with the camera and testing us under fire, so to speak, in some new situations. And it's a finished project. I need some of those. One of these days I'll get to see it on a bigger screen in the dark which is how all films that don't depend on rapid-cutting eye candy want to be seen.
What else did I find interesting in the old post? The whole 35mm adapter debate which I've avoided this year. I think I'm at a place where making things look pretty is less a priority than making things work on a storytelling and performance level. I'm working with editors on two films that I directed that were shot on Super16. Both are beautiful. Both were very expensive to make. Both have problems. When I was in Maine last year, one of the hot-shot DPs up there called the HVX "film school in a box". And it is. You get an image that isn't distracting like DV can be that's closer to what a film camera can do for you like variable frame rates and the P2 media works kind of like film in that you don't want to just let the camera run like people do with tape. You can shoot a lot of stuff for cheap once you have the camera and P2 cards. When you shoot a lot, you learn a lot of lessons.
The other main thing that caught my attention was the corporate gig that I did. It paid very well and I was able to pay off a large chunk of my camera package nearly right out of the box. I did quite a lot of work on commercial projects as a technician last Winter and Spring. I thought that might be the way I would go. As it's turned out, I've moved decidedly away from doing anything like that, ever. It's helped me deepen my focus on the stories I am committed to telling and it's brought me much much closer to my family, especially my son. At first I felt the void of the activity of freelance work and wondered what would fill it. I didn't have to wait long before a major crisis in my son's young life came along that demanded my full attention. Being there for him has fulfilled me in ways that I believe will prove to be more lasting than anything else I could have done. Reading where I was at at the beginning of 2007 underscores just how much I value my development as a filmmaker and as a father.
I'm off to do some letter recognition teaching at my daughter's school.

Signore Direttore

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Farmer's Market Gossip

Rumor has it that the The Pumpkin Patch's proud new owner is Gus Van Sant. Nothing scandalous about it, but it strikes me as very strange. He's been seen in Los Angeles wearing a t-shirt advertising his new venture.

Believe it or not,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 245

I think you start to prepare the minute you read something.

Sean Penn

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Joy Division You Cunt

Last night in the dark of Fox Tower theater number ten things happened for me that don't happen as often as I'd like. But when they do, I'm a happy man. During the first thirty or forty minutes of Anton Corbijn's Control there were at least four times that I was close to exclaiming aloud, "This is brilliant." My foot was tapping away during the music scenes and my entire being was engaged throughout. Control is not a passive experience, even in its excruciating quiet moments. Sam Riley is fucking fantastic. He'll get nominated for a BAFTA and should do for an AMPAS Oscar as well, but American Gangster will probably suck up two of the nominations for the pedestrian work of Denzel and R. Crowe. That's the last I'll sully this post with negativity regarding Hollywood.
So yeah, Riley was top notch. I'll see anything that this guy is in until further notice. Not a moment that his performance didn't entrance and delight me. How many times have you read such lofty goo-goo here at FF? To top it off, he sang all the Ian Curtis songs for the film. I really liked what Joaquin did with Johnny Cash and his songs in Walk the Line, but I wouldn't buy the recordings. Here's another one of those unique reactions to a film, I want the soundtrack if it includes the cast performances. I own the soundtrack to very few films: Collections of Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota (can't go wrong with the compositions from Leone, Fellini and The Godfather), Buffalo 66(Vinny made more off of the soundtrack than the movie, and rightfully so. Prog-rock and Sinatra, anyone?), Grease (I could say for my kids, but that wouldn't be entirely true), Traffic (Really disliked the film overall, but the music was genius), Jesus's Son (Samantha Morton is in that, too) and the Vietnamese film Three Seasons (I can listen to it over and over, check it out). There are few that I'd like to add. Maybe some Lalo Shifrin. Most stuff like John Williams or Henry Mancini I don't want to hear out of context. That's another thing about the film, it makes me digress. It fills me with interest in all the things that intrigue me.
Samantha Morton is solid as always. Her role is pretty narrow in its focus, but she makes you feel the ordinary pain of losing someone on a daily basis. She isn't some cipher that gets left in fame's wake. Her on-screen rival for Ian's love is played by Alexandra Maria Lara. Corbijn and the actors navigate the love triangle beautifully. Like Ian Curtis, you never know who has your heart. Lara played Hitler's secretary in Downfall, another gripping film.
I want to see the Joe Strummer biopic playing at Cinema 21, but I chose Control last night because it seemed more worthy of the big screen. Velvety blacks, creamy whites -- oh the joys of black and white. It made me want to shoot a film in black and white. Which brings me to another unique movie-going experience regarding Control - I wish I had made the film. I admire the experience of making it as well as its making.

Signore Direttore

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Informing Ourselves To Death

I don't plan on joining the Luddites any time soon, but I am doing some research on the ill effects of electronic media. I read a respected essay by the late Neil Postman. You all know how much I like quotes, aphorisms and bits from history. There's some gooduns in the essay. Here's a nice slice of historical irony for you:

The Benedictine monks who invented the mechanical clock in the 12th and 13th centuries believed that such a clock would provide a precise regularity to the seven periods of devotion they were required to observe during the course of the day. As a matter of fact, it did. But what the monks did not realize is that the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours but also of synchronizing and controlling the actions of men. And so, by the middle of the 14th century, the clock had moved outside the walls of the monastery, and brought a new and precise regularity to the life of the workman and the merchant. The mechanical clock made possible the idea of regular production, regular working hours, and a standardized product. Without the clock, capitalism would have been quite impossible. And so, here is a great paradox: the clock was invented by men who wanted to devote themselves more rigorously to God; and it ended as the technology of greatest use to men who wished to devote themselves to the accumulation of money. Technology always has unforeseen consequences, and it is not always clear, at the beginning, who or what will win, and who or what will lose.

Signore Direttore

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Master Says 244

In order to be a great writer person must have a built-in, shock-proof crap detector.

Ernest Hemingway

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Master Says 243

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.

Claude Monet

Sunday, November 04, 2007

American Letdown

Saw American Gangster last night. Pretty lame. Not bad or horrible or unwatchable, but disappointing all the same. Like if you go on a date with your friend's kind of cute cousin that's in town and she throws up in your car; that's a bum deal. If, on the other hand, she is really funny and turns out to be a good kisser; that's a very good date. But if you somehow manage to land a date with a Victoria's Secret model and she neither vomits in your car nor is very funny but lets you kiss her but doesn't kiss you back, then the date was a letdown. I would rather go out with my friend's cousin anytime.
My long-winded metaphor is actually pretty apt, for American Gangster is very long on exposition. My favorite bit is talking about how pretty the wife is. And they kind of need to tell us she's very beautiful four or five times because the actress is nothing special to look at.
Based on a true story is not always a good thing for a film. I would have rather watched a 25th anniversary release of Scarface on the big screen last night. Staying however true to the facts they did in AG crippled the film for me. Nicholas Pileggi wrote it, and he's done well with stories adapted from real life before, namely Goodfellas. Of course that was Scorcese and this was Ridley Scott. I'm not a fan of Ridley Scott directing anything of substance. He's a surface man, great with trifles like Black Hawk Down and Blade Runner. Don't get your knickers in a twist about my calling Blade Runner a trifle. Admit it, it's a tour de force of a visual confection, but it is not a powerful story by any means.
Denzel Washington was Denzel. He's an amazing presence on the screen, but I never forget who I'm looking at. And Russell Crowe, even though he's a multi-millionaire and a reputedly arrogant prick, I still want to give him a hug and say keep trying little fella. Ruby Dee has a moment of power, but mostly serves as window dressing like the rest of the huge cast.
We saw it at Lloyd Cinemas at 10:30pm. There were a number of gangsters and wannabes in the audience. Some Portland Police were stationed in the lobby of the theater. This being liberal and progressive Portland, of course. Wouldn't want the darkies to get riled and bring a ruckus. Anyway the cheering for the particularly brutal beatings and killings was chilling.
It's because of that type of reaction coupled with the lack of artistic merit that makes me feel that not only do I wish I hadn't seen this film, I would prefer that it was never produced.
By the way, I like going to films with an urban crowd. Purple Rain was an interactive experience that puts dorky Rocky Horror midnight romps to shame. My favorite was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger in downtown Brooklyn. In the end when she was walking slowly up those steep steps and the film was all quiet and solemn, someone in the audience shouted, "Why don't you just fly your ass up there, bitch?"

Signore Direttore