Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Master Says 124

I really dig tall women.

Sam Peckinpah

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Folk Wisdom 024

A young filmmaker can commit a lot of energy to a superior posture about the state of things - but my own experience has taught me that fashionable cynicism can cover the fear of what the real challenge is: doing good work.

Andrew Wagner

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Master Works 003

Tom Tykwer, Director
Krzysztof Kieslowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Screenplay

The interrogation scene. Philippa (Cate Blanchett) has just learned she victimized others than she intended. The cold and determined woman introduced in the film's opening scenes crumbles. In the limbo of her uncertainty, she turns to Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), the young carabinieri that has just moments before offered to interpret her testimony.
The scenes leading up to this moment use screen direction and motion to direct our eyes and carry characters upward to heaven, downward to hell, to the political left and right and, in the case of Filippo, smack dab in the middle. Philippa's turn to Filippo begins to restore her humanity. She was resolute in her descent until learning she had failed to eliminate her intended target. She links herself to the man in the middle and rises from hell to limbo.
Blanchett handles this moment expertly. It's in her body - every given circumstance explicated in the scene resides within her.
Ribisi is equally brilliant. He does his work with his eyes - they watch closely, the subtext and his inner life happening behind them.
In the final moments of the scene, Phillipa collapses. As she fades into her faint, Filippo watches and calmly alerts the prosecutor. When Philippa falls, Filippo immediately moves to help her but restrains himself and remains in his chair. It is quite apparent it is the last time he will sit dutifully still.

The Master Says 123

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.

Jane Austen

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Requiescat In Pace

I spent the morning at a memorial for my friend Helen today. The first hour and half in a Catholic church and the latter part of the day at a potluck. I've shed a few tears remembering her today and over the past week since she passed away. She is truly one of those people that will live on in the hearts of many. Which makes her death less sad somehow. I'm not a believer in the after-life and all that heavenly stuff, but there's something eternal about Helen. She was one of those rare people that gave her love without expectation. Whenever I saw her she would stop whatever she was doing and give me a hug. She always asked me about my children with genuine interest. In fact, if I ever tried to gripe or gossip about anything, she would gently steer the conversation toward happier and gentler things. She never raised her voice, even if someone wasn't listening to her. If she was committed to what she had to say, she just kept on quietly until people started to listen.
There was a slideshow of her at the potluck. I stood with different friends looking at Helen in all the different phases of her life: her wedding day, school, Africa with the Peace Corps, at work, with family and friends at her home and in nature. She had the same easy smile in every photograph. She was a beautiful woman.
I'm a better person for knowing her, though I won't miss her because she gave a small part of herself to me to keep forever.


Friday, January 26, 2007

The Master Says 122

I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.

Frank Capra

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Feature Length Rough Cut

I just left an intense couple of hours in our editing suite watching a cut of our "shoot a feature film in three days without letting the actors see a script or even fully disclose our intentions to them" experiment. If you ask me if I like it, I really can't say. I have way too much baggage to come to any easy conclusion. I will say that the more I resist the pull of my various expectations and look at it as a record of the work that we did and the decisions that were made, it is a tremendously valuable on-going experience. On-going is key. Part of my unrealized expectations is my desire to be done with it. I wonder if that is realsitic. Perhaps it isn't a fair comparison, but am I ever to be done with my children? Surely not. My mother has been dead for nearly a decade and our relationship lives on. Why should I want to end it in the first place? Because it didn't manifest into an award winner? Because it didn't launch my career?

There is one scene that I really like. I didn't write it prior to the shoot. I came up with the idea in the middle of working and ad-libbed it. You can hear me feeding lines and questions to the actors in the rough cut. There's a lot of space in the performances and I think it's the most successful scene in terms of tone. I think had more of the scenes been shot in the way that I asked, there might be more scenes like this. Perhaps not.
Though JKM confessed that he was terrified throughout the shoot and gave up on my approach, deciding to shoot it as a documentary. He just told me this tonight, which was news to me that helped make some sense of things.
Over and over again, I learn that as a director you have to stay on top of your vision. Nobody else is going to do it for you.
Another thing that comes to mind as I watch this film is that I've got to work harder to give up trying to make things work and dig deeper into what I want to see and what I want and need to explore thematically.
There's a lot to learn if I am teachable.

Burning Eyes,
Signore Direttore

Nobody Knows Anything

I finished the rough cut of Klepto. I enjoyed doing it. I haven't enjoyed editing for a very long time. At first I thought it was because I'd done a better job shooting Klepto than I had earlier films. There's some truth in that, but it's not entirely the reason for my new found joy in the process. I'm learning to pay attention to my eyes -- what they really see rather than what I direct them to see. Usually what I direct my eyes to see has a lot to do with the logic of making things work in terms of continuity. Yet Walter Murch puts continuity on the bottom of the heirachy of an editor's concerns. I've known this for a few years but I couldn't let go of it when editing until recently. It requires a certain degree of faith. Editing is less mathematical than sensual, it turns out.
Or maybe not, because as William Goldman says, Nobody knows anything.
Yesterday I learned a few more things about the movie business that confirms my advice to the aspiring actors at my studio: Do this because you love it and for no other reason! For years many told me I was crazy to try to direct a script I'd written. Now it's hard to get people to get behind it becuase I've said I don't want to direct it. For a long time I thought it had to do with the nature of the material. It doesn't. It's just a bloody tough business to break into.
I'm not discouraged. I still want to see that film get made. Maybe I will. There's other stuff in front of me right now. Really awesome stuff that needs my atention. I'm going to pay attention to that and have faith that when the time is right, the time will be right.
Billy Wilder says he tried to make pictures that he liked and hoped others would like them, too. I was a very successful club promoter for a number of years in San Francisco and New York. Basically my formula came down to this: I threw parties that I would want to go to. So I'm going to stick to writing and making films that I want to see, and we'll see what happens.
One last thing. An acquaintance of mine has a film in competition at Sundance this year. When I heard the news I was both a little proud and a little envious. His film was reviewed a couple of days ago. Something to the effect that in Cannes people would have thrown stuff, but in America they just laughed at all the wrong places. Voila! Good-bye envy, hello shadenfreude! By the way, I'm not particularly proud of being envious or taking pleasure in his misfortune, it's just the way it is. For now.
Besides -- NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING -- and that includes me.

Signore Direttore

The Master Says 121

I just loved playing a man who was unafraid of making an idiot of himself in the process of falling in love. I found that admirable.

Ben Kingsley

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Master Says 120

A filmmaker has almost the same freedom as a novelist has when he buys himself some paper.

Stanley Kubrick

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Master Says 119

Style is a fraud. I always felt the Greeks were hiding behind their columns.

Willem de Kooning

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Klepto Assembly

In spite of a severe cold, NFL conference playoffs, our wedding anniversary and my only day off this week, I just finished the assembly of Klepto.
There's something there. Some nice shots and performances. It's all going to cut together. There was one shot that is unusable because the main picture car and some crew are in the background. It was at the end of the day. I was helping the actor hit a mark and Jordan was watching focus. The performance isn't quite right to boot - actor trying to concentrate on hitting the mark more than what's appening in the moment. So I just went to the next shot and kind of like it better anyway.
Overall, it's a very quiet film beyond the lack of dialogue. I am not sure if everything works, maybe it does, but at this point I opted not to get trigger happy. I'm not going to try to figure it out yet. I think this is the first time I've ever cut something where I just laid clips down without looking at transistions or what I had so far until I was at the final shot. Anyway, the response I had to the doubt I experienced at one point was that I'll do my best and listen to what others have to say about what works and what doesn't when the time comes.
Process. Process. Process. Assembly today. Rough cut tomorrow. Per gradi.

Signore Direttore

il universo apri

I'm feeling really good about the way 2007 is starting off. Moving on from the acting studio has freed up a lot more energy than I imagined. I'm collaborating with a couple of awesome, very accomplished people on a big project. I'll talk more about that when I feel it's appropriate. I'm excited about it, but I'm doing a lot of other things in the meantime instead of waiting for that to happen as I've done in the past.
Last year, I made friends with a very talented actor that moved here from LA. Recently we started hanging out again. He's such a great guy. And very funny. He's a good writer and has some very compelling stuff for which he's been looking for someone to collaborate. We've been having breakfast together a lot this week, just having laughs and getting to know each other. He addressed it more directly at breakfast yesterday. My first fear in these situations is that someone wants me to produce something for them. I'm a producer certainly, but more by default than ambition. I produce films in order to get my films made. Whenever I've worked as a producer on someone else's film, I've been frustrated to at least some degree.
Same with editing and art directing. And acting, though not as much if I'm having fun with the role. Anyway, at the end of last year I was trying to focus my attention solely on writing. I was thinking of giving directing up for awhile. I told a few people including the agency packaging OG. (Which, by the way, isn't helping it move forward any faster) Then I produced a short for someone. I was on set helping an inexperienced young aspirant and I was frustrated once again. I thought, why am I going to give up on directing? I've got the skills and the gear and the contacts and the ideas to produce a quality short in a weekend for next to nothing; why not do it for myself a few more times? Most of all, I have the passion for it. I love it and I can't deny it. Writing is cool. I'm pretty good at it. Maybe even better than I am at directing. But it's a means to an ends for me. I only write the stories so I can make them. Which brings me back to yesterday.
So he brings up the possibility of working together and I prepare for him to tell me he wants to direct. I did a pretty good job of putting that out of my mind as I listened to his pitch. It's always nice to listen to a good idea. There were elements of Beautiful Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. So we chat about that for a minute. Then he throws out another pitch for a different script. Also very good, sort of High Fidelity meets Permanent Midnight. The ideas start flying in my head. I hear a lot of directors say that they can't imagine directing something they didn't write. I don't feel that way at all. I like the tradition of the theater where writers rarely direct.
All this was very welcome and inspiring. I had yet to ask the question though. The moment finally came, What role do you want to play in realizing these projects? I just want to act, dude!, he said. That's all I want to do, he continued, I just come up with these ideas and write to keep from going insane waiting for my next gig.
I didn't walk away giddy, no not at all. I was perfectly calm because it just felt right. I don't have expectations and I'm comfortable with what we're both bringing to the table. Like the King said, Ambition is a dream with a V8. So many of my past collaborations have been a lot of talk about horsepower, but we've been running on six cylinders and a weak chassis. To make it worse, I've often been firing five of those cylinders. On projects where I am better matched such as OG, the hot rod is still idling in the garage. When she finally gets out, she's going to lay some rubber, but that day hasn't come.
Funny that I was hoping to run into S to ask him to act in one of my monthly shorts. I guess it's true that if we only got what we asked for, we'd be selling ourselves short.
I've also made another acquaintance with a potential collaborator. I went out on a limb and introduced myself to her and she responded very positively. She's a beautiful woman with a lot of charisma. I have an idea for a little texture piece we could make together the next time I go to LA.
In the past when the universe has opened up to me, I've often closed it down trying to keep it to myself. Or by asking even more of it than has been offered.

A river dertch,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Master Says 118

I'm just like Fassbinder, ... but without the drugs and the whores.

Steven Soderbergh

Friday, January 19, 2007

Signing Autographs

I signed about fifteen autographs today. Yep. I'm a celebrity in the eyes of a class of fifth graders in Aloha. To be honest, remembering how excited those kids were to get the crew's autographs after shooting a segment of an educational training video in their classroom puts a new perspective on the past couple of days. It's pretty easy to get cynical about doing this type of work. I've been taking the possession of a hard-earned set of skills and a lot of expensive equipment for granted.
Those kids were so unjaded and very good little actors. I told them I should have been asking for their autographs. Which is kind of bullshit to have talked the talk instead of putting a pen and paper back in their hands.
The methods in the teacher training were sound and even insprirational. The content consisted primarily of strategies for more active reading. I certainly know some actors that would benefit from stronger reading skills. I learned a few thinks about pedagogy as well.
Anyway, it's good to account for the ease in which I fall into negative thinking.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Master Says 117

Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.

Elvis Presley

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Master Says 116

Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.

Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Master Says 115

A problem is a chance for you to do your best.

Duke Ellington

The Michael Caine Axiom

Michael Caine asserts that if you're working too hard, you're not doing it right. Well, I think part of the problem I've had finishing films has had a lot to do with the what I've completed on set. I've long agonized on things coming together, having seen many projects languish over the years. Earlier on I missed a lot: I never slated shots, I didn't understand transistions and coverage, problems with sound, sound, sound. One of the biggest problems I had was with the writing. I tried to do too much with the story. I wasn't skilled enough to let it be simple. If you asked me what something was about, I gave a convoluted plot and thematic summary, rather than a simply stated premise. I've long heard that successful films are about one thing. My films were much deeper than that; I mean why say it simply when you can make it complicated? In terms of coverage, I either didn't know how to do it very well. Again, why take the time to understand film grammar? I'm way smarter than that. More notoriously, I held the arrogant opinion that I could forego coverage by letting the action play out in the master or, even worse, cut the film in the camera. Just about every filmmaker I know that cuts in the camera makes very wooden and mannered films. Too many of us have been seduced by the Robert Rodriquez mythos. The few filmmakers that let things play out in the master successfully are bona fide masters such as Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, Andrei Tarkovsky and most masterfully of all, Hou Tsien Tsien. I'm not ready to make worthwhile attempts at that just yet.

Not a single film since my first film, Nora Mae, has cut together easily. Until now. With the new technology of P2 cards, logging and digitizing is a much more direct task. Especially when every shot is slated. Now all that has to be done is select the take I like for each shot, set in and out points and drop it in the timeline. Right on down the shot list. There's no anguish, because the story is elegantly simple and was pre-visualized well - storyboards and test shots. Transistions were well considered in pre-visualiztion, too. So I don't have to work too hard to get a rough cut. If I decide to get tricky later on, that will be a choice rather than a compromise. All this bluster isn't to say it's a perfect film. I'm no longer concerned with making a perfect film and what that could do for my vaunted career. Klepto is just a little exercise in making movies that I'm going to finish and let whomever sees it judge it for themselves.

One more thing saved me from a hellish post-production relationship with this project -- no sound. Klepto is a non-verbal film. There's a temp track of location sound for reference, but I plan to record and build a soundtrack after I have a cut. Come to think of it, Nora Mae was the same deal. I'm feeling a bit exposed and vulnerable to admit that after all these years I still can't make a sound-sync film without having to work too hard. Alack, I am who I am and I am where I'm at. Oh, the pain of getting ahead of oneself. Good thing it's never too late to start over. All the better since I have all the experience of failed past attempts at a number of projects beyond my abilities. Oh, the joy of being a human learning to make films.

Anyway, Klepto should be finished within the next week or two if I can continue to embrace its imperfections and enjoy the progress I've made as a filmmaker by being right-sized.

Humbly yours,
Signore Direttore

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Master Says 114

Every once in a while, when the audience is expecting to see one thing, you have to show them something else.

Conrad Hall

Sunday, January 14, 2007


A chronic petty thief extends the pain of his affliction to a co-worker who gives him a ride home.

We shot the film today. All thirty-one shots, many of them in a moving vehicle on city streets. Everything takes so much longer when shooting with vehicles. Also it was a sunny day contrary to the weather forecast earlier in the week. So I didn't plan on having to limit our driving with respect to shadows. I was looking forward to an overcast, low-contrast look, but the sunlight gave us some nice flares, interesting shadows and very deep focus.

It was a hectic day as I knew it would be. Things went well - of course there were the usual frustrations, but they were minor and didn't hold us up too much. I overbooked myself as is not uncommon. I did a lot of rigging, producing, dolly gripping, camera assisting, art direction and assistant directing. I guess I was transpo captain as well. I also managed to do a bit of directing. I liked what we shot. I think the actors did a fine job as did our tiny crew which consisted of a make-up artist and a very helpful but inexperienced grip. (I missed Efrem's intuitive multi-tasking abilities, but he was on a paying job.)

In some ways I feel like I'm developing some bad habits by doing so much myself. I was sucessful at letting Jordan frame the shots and keeping my hands off the camera in that sense. I'm afraid that the times that I got frustrated or needed to remind everyone that we had to move it didn't support the actors as well as I think they deserve. I'm not going to be too hard on myself. I didn't yell at anyone and I treated everyone with respect. It's something I always want to improve upon. I really want to be able to say, Great, now let's try it this way. I have a terrible habit of pointing out what didn't go right. Even though I've mananged to reduce the frequency that I do it and do it a kinder tone than in the past, I want to stop doing it altogether.

We were shooting a few shots at a bus stop, which prompted TriMet to issue a 9-1-1 alert. Apparently there's some concern that any filming near public transportation is possibly a terrorist cell at work. It struck me as a bit absurd, however the man that confronted us was very kind and allowed us to continue shooting, so I shouldn't complain too much about it.

One of the things that I really enjoyed today was that my ego didn't seem to be too involved. I was in the process of doing a job that I'm getting better at. I wasn't thinking of the results. Nor was I ever conscious of demonstrating how impressive I am as a filmmaker. I don't like to admit that I've tended toward narcissism all too frequently in the past. Poseur!

Another challenge was being forced to think on my feet about a few shots under extreme pressure. We had limited hours of daylight and we were running a half hour behind after the first hour. In the end we wrapped fifteen minutes early, so we must have been doing something right. Anyway, one of the things that frustrated me on But A Dream was feeling turned around as we moved around the location from shot to shot. Today I was better at keeping things straight. And I let go a bit more. Maybe it had to do with the fact that BAD cost seven thousand dollars to get in the can while Klepto set me back about seventy bucks.

I'm definitely getting better at shooting the films. The next challenge is finishing them.

Signore Direttore

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Master Says 113

I think people who have faults are a lot more interesting than people who are perfect.

Spike Lee

Friday, January 12, 2007

¡EuroPop Invasion!

Almodovar and Saint Etienne. Together. Oh my. Sugary melancholy fun. I love it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Master Says 113

I am at war with the obvious.

William Eggleston

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Master Says 112

In other words, I am interested in a river only if a bridge crosses it.

Nestor Almendros

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Master Says 111

Some actors are very intelligent, but is not necessarily with their intelligence that they act.

jean Renoir

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Master Says 110

The stage is life, music, beautiful girls, legs, breasts, not talk or intellectualism or dried-up academics.

Harold Clurman

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Playing It Fast (and Sappy)

It's time to admit something: I have always loved heightened and melodramatic language in film. I'm not eager to admit it as I've long been seduced by the postures and trappings of realism and naturalism. I like what Mamet says about this topic, something about people going to see film and theater to hear things said that they would love to get away with in life. I think this is why I prefer Fassbinder to Cassavetes. Scorcese has always been a favorite, too. Of course it's his actions that are more operatic, but there are lines delivered by DeNiro - aka The King of the Mumbling Method Men - that may seem ordinary and naturalistic that are truly contrived. I'm thinking of his job interview in Taxi Driver - "Anytime, anywhere." Come to think of it, Taxi Driver is a great big fat lady of a melodrama. "You talking to me?" Come on, that's pure Kabuki. And I love it! As much now as I did when my mom and I used to act it out back in 1977. (How can I not be a melodrama fan if one of my fondest memories of childhood is imitating Travis Bickle with my mom?)
Another of my favorite films is Sweet Smell of Success, which was a box-office failure ironically. It's so heightened, it's borderline camp. Clifford Odet's rewrote Ernest Lehman's original screenplay. I love Odets, but whenever I assigned his plays at my acting studio, actor-students complained. Most of them were too intent on playing everything natural. Playing it natural usually means grinding everything to a slow, methodical (Aha! There's it is: method/methodical!!!) destruction of any dramatic tension. Odets's writing doesn't work that way. He understood it very well, "My dialogue may seem overwritten, too wordy, too contrived. Don't let it worry you. You'll find that it works if you don't worry too much about the lines themselves. Play the situations, not the words. And play them fast."
Now that I think about it, it's not only good advice at getting the seemingly preposterous to play, it's pretty truthful. In life, we often have to speak fast if we want to be heard. Maybe not in a town as laid back as Portland, but in New York for sure. If you want to get your two cents in, you had better be sharp and quick.
This month's short, Klepto, is a film without dialogue. I am trying to design the shots so that the tiny little movements of the compulsive thief's hands play on a grand scale. I'm looking to Sergio Leone for inspiration - all those moments of anticipation such as the beginning of Once Upon a Time in the West.
Next month's short, Friends of Bill, has a highly improbable set up with a lot of heightened language. I'll have to remember Odets's advice.

2007 is off to a good start. Getting my daily meditation and exercise. No fiction reading as yet, but I did put a collection of TC Boyle stories on my nightstand. My new camera is being used as I write on Holly & Grace's newest endeavor. I stopped by set yesterday and saw the camera with the Mini35 adapter on it. Jordan and I get to do a camera test with that tomorrow night after they wrap. I'm very excited to see the results. For those of you who might not know what a Mini35 is -- it's a device that allows 35mm cine lenses to be mounted to a digital camcorder. You get much improved optics and the power of selective focus.
What else? We're shooting Klepto next weekend, so I've been busy location scouting and storyboarding that. The walks I've been taking in the industrial area around Holgate have been inspriring. There's talk of a WalMart going in over there. Hopefully the significant oppostion to that will prevail.
And we booked a lucrative three-day, two-camera shoot for a director out of New York. It's some sort of teacher training CD-ROM. Not too painful. Perhaps even an opportunity to learn something.
I got to speak to Eric Edwards on the phone the other day, he seems to be a very nice man. He's shooting a short that the French invited Gus Van Sant to make to play at Cannes this spring. I was able to drop by the set for a brief visit yesterday.
Lastly, I saw Notes on a Scandal last night. Can't go wrong seeing that one. Pretty easy to get lost in the performances -- Dame Judi is amazing as always, Cate Blanchett continues to mesmerize and Bill Nighy is a gem.

A Big Pizza Pie,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 109

Without discipline, there's no life at all.

Katharine Hepburn

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Master Says 108

The thing about not reading scripts and my wanting a director to tell me a story is a risk I need to take. I need that real fear.

Judi Dench

Monday, January 01, 2007

2007 Resolutions

+ Make lots of mistakes

+ Write, Shoot and Edit 1 short film each month

+ Acknowledge, accept and embrace fear and resistance directly

+ Read more fiction

+ Daily Exercise - Not if, but what

+ Daily Meditation

+ Look at more paintings

+ Listen