Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Master Says 188

You have to be very honest with yourself to do my job well. And you're not going to like everything about yourself. If you start hiding what you don't like, you're not going to be in the best position to do your job.

Jack Nicholson

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ever Heard of Sam Bowie?

In Sidney Lumet's book Making Movies he talks about watching football on Sundays in the fall. Reading that gave me permission to openly embrace the distraction that is professional sports. If you hate sports, stop reading this post immediately.

The Blazers had the incredible luck of getting the first pick of the NBA draft. The big question was Oden or Durant. The gentle giant or the dynamic athlete. I wanted Durant, the athletic sharpshooter. Portland chose Greg Oden, a nineteen year old with a history of injuries and the demeanor of Forrest Gump.
Back in 1984, Portland used its number two pick on Sam Bowie. Chicago grabbed a guy named Michael Jordan third.

We did get rid of Zach Randolph, who I saw jogging across the Hawthorne Bridge yesterday. I'm glad to see Randolph go. He's my least favorite Blazers of all time. Not only did we not get much in return for him - Channing Frye and the malignant tumor that is Steve Francis - but Z-bo is now on my other favorite team, the seemingly forever hopeless Knicks.
I want to go on the record to say we will regret this draft pick. Please, please, please prove me wrong Greg Oden.

Phase Three Complete

With the wrap party successfully behind us, it's time for a short rest before entering its post-production phases. I enjoyed the party, though I got hit with a wave of complete exhaustion about ten o'clock. I was happy to see all those that arrived and sadly missed those that couldn't make it. We showed a slide show of production photos taken by Simon Hill, David Millstone and all the rest of us that picked up the still camera during the shoot. I put the slide show together yesterday afternoon and watched it most of the seven times it cycled last night. I never got bored of seeing all the faces that made DW such a wonderful experience.
We also showed some dailies without sound. I didn't show selects, we just picked complete takes at random. We ran most of the scenes straight through from roll to cut. We cut two short to preserve the mystery. In one scene where Gish raises a pistol toward Miranda we cut to black. The immediate hiss of disappoinment was sweet music to my ears.
Suzy told me she spoke to Tom Spanbauer about the film. Spanbauer is the founder of a writing tradition called Dangerous Writing. It's based in Portland, but enjoys a widely known reputation in contemporary literary circles based in part on Chuck Pahlanuik's association with the group . Our film has nothing to do with their work, but I know that is not going to be an easy sell. She told me he would like to meet with me and that he is more intrigued than alarmed. I have to admit that I would not be too ecstatic if someone wrote a book called Made Crooked about a filmmaker-acting coach that makes micro-budget films with his students. At the same time, if my endeavors coincided with another storyteller's vision, it may confirm my own status. Knowing the temperament of many artists, it's likely that few of us would trust each other to come up with any thing as flattering or as accurate as we ourselves see as our truth.
Truth be told, I need to make some money. There are a couple of things looming, but I don't have the checks or even the deal memos yet. I don't mind going a bit hungry, but we're a little past that as I've been sticking my head in the sand for two months in order to focus on putting DW together. I have faith that things will work out, perhaps not painlessly but I accept that acheivment doesn't come without sacrifices.
This is the first project that I've ever finished where I haven't been thinking about the next one. I've done a lot of personal work over the last year to make that happen. It has a lot to do with not seeking approval or validation through external things, including my work. Of course I get both approval and validation from making films, but it has ceased to be the primary motive for my endeavors. My fulfillment is more the by-product of the accumulation of responsible actions rather than the collection of enviable accomplishments and recognition.
People have been commenting on how calm I am. I'm trying to learn from David Lynch. I would hardly call myself dispassionate, even-tempered or mild-mannered, but I am learning to allow the energy of my intelligence, intuition and creativity to bloom more fully. I've come to recognize that I have let anger, self-pity, tittilation, vanity and envy obstruct the flow of my more productive energies. Though meditation and counsel I have begun to recognize these patterns and to identify their sources.
I owe it to myself as I owe it to the increasing number of people that show their respect, love and support for me.

Getting out of my own way,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cut There

It's over. We finished shooting Dangerous Writing. I'll be working on writing the sequel, Dangerouser Writing, instead of editing this one. Seriously though folks, it is over and I'm a bit sad. Exhausted and relieved, but somber. It feels done. I don't have any strong urges to rethink anything. Not to say I won't curse myself during editing, but ultimately I've always been in touch with making this film from where I'm at. I'm not trying to reinvent myself or jumpstart my career. I had an idea for a film and I shot it. We didn't have a lot of money, so some of it is going to be less polished or elegant than other parts of it. It isn't an exercise, that wouldn't be fair to the many people that came to work on a film that they hope to see and feel proud to have been involved. But I wasn't trying to make a masterpiece. Well, that sounds like a qualification. What I mean to say is hindsight is going to rear its ugly head and I'm getting ready to let my film off its deadly hooks by accepting that we all did the very best we could at the time.
We have mucho work to do, but for now I'm going to enjoy what we've accomplished. In the meantime, we have our wrap party tonight. I'm looking forward to basking in the aura of good feelings that have always been a part of making this movie. Last night's shoot couldn't have been a better way to end things. The day started with recording the phone converstations that Ezra has with his ex-wife that bookend the film. Cecily Overman plays Jo, one of Ezra's ex-wives that still speaks to him. She and David and I had a fun afternoon with that. We found some things that I was hoping to find for the ending. Then we shot a couple of individual scenes, one for Gish first and another for Miranda later on. They were simple scenes that we took extra time to light and to art direct. We took a break between the two set ups and had a meal together. There were a few days on the film that we were able to slow down. I like working that way whenever possible. I enjoyed the experience of shooting in Old Town the other night, but it kicked my ass to be awake for twenty-six hours. After a night like that, my insane appetite for shooting has finally been sated. I'm so glad we had one more day after the Voodoo Doughnuts scenes. It was nice to be able to finish the film on a more serene note.
There were so many awesome people that helped us out on this. Filmmaking provides really wonderful opportunities to get to know people intimately and to be part of a little tribe. It's like going to sleepaway camp, which as the child of single mom working for minimum wage it was a very rare privelege. Thank goodness I get to go so often as an adult.

Contentedly Exhausted,
Signore Direttore

Dangerous Writing Last Supper

Reverse Angle on Last Supper

Toland and Welles

Grip & Electric

Prepping for Final Scene

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Little Birds

We fear to trust our wings. We plume and feather them, but dare not throw our weight upon them. We ding too often to the perch.

Charles B. Newcomb

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Master Says 187

I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to
what is there.

David Chase

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Master Says 186

If one can accept one's sin, one can live with it. If one cannot accept it, one has to suffer the inevitable consequences.

Carl Jung

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Master Says 185

The Greeks already understood that there was more interest in portraying an unusual character than a usual character - that is the purpose of films and theatre.

Isabelle Huppert

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gun Shy

I hesitate to write much here as I learned that someone emailed a link to my blog to three hundred people. Funny, but I never imagined anyone would ever read my blog. Or that I would write it for over two years. Thank goodness for The Master Says series, otherwise I would have given up on this public journal.
I do appreciate the effort put forth by the supporter as he was simply trying to generate interest in the film and our need for extras this Sunday. As a result, I received the first suspicion that Dangerous Writing is based on Tom Spanbauer. It isn't, but some people are not ever going to believe that so I won't protest too much.
I've started to edit some of the film. It's exciting. And scary. I have a vision for the film that departs from convention. If, as Swift asserts, that vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others; does that mean I'm the only one that will be able to see this film's merits? Of course not, but it kind of feels that way when I'm all alone in the edit suite and the picture is "breathing" which might be considered an euphemism for shaking or jittering.
I get really freaked out while editing. I almost need to bring a paper bag in there with me to keep from hyper-ventilating and, or to vomit into. Lots of self-talk - "it's okay, breathe, just sit down, one step at a time, baby steps..."
I shouldn't edit my own stuff. But it's a hell of a way to learn to direct better. And it gets so old badgering editors that aren't getting paid.
I'm sad that the shooting of Dangerous Writing is coming to an end. It's not over yet and I'm looking forward to being back at the helm this Sunday. We have a split schedule that day. Up early to reshoot much of the island scene and then to Ristretto for our big extras scene. We have a huge night Tuesday in Old Town at Voodoo Doughnuts. Then a couple of short evening shoots Wednesday and Thursday. And finally our wrap party next Thursday night.
While editing today there was some beautiful Middle Eastern music playing in the backgorund of one of our MOS shots. I don't know if it fits the film, but it was inspiring. I have some musical themes in mind that can best be described as Techno Flamenco. One of the potential composers I've been chatting with got my reference right away, so I'm excited to hear his take on it.
I must say the universe has been quite open to me lately, offering abundant gifts and love. I'm feeling like a spoiled child -- overwhelmed and unworthy as well as a bitter that there isn't more under the Christmas tree. I'm the type of guy that will complain about the color of life preserver thrown to me. Some of it is an eye for detail, but most of is some deep terror that you should really let me fucking drown.
How's that for feeling hesitant about expressing myself to a potentially larger public?

Signore Direttore

The Master Says 184

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.

Jonathan Swift

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Folk Wisdom 027

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Master Says 183

I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.

Vincent Van Gogh

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Master Says 182

There are a thousand ways to point a camera, but really only one.

Ernst Lubitsch

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Thanks to Our Sponsors

I want to take a moment to thank the people and businesses that have helped make Dangerous Writing happen.
Please shop at these businesses. Please thank these busineses for supporting independent film while you're spending your money there.

Slabtown opened their doors to us and let us run riot for ten hours during business hours. They made life easy for us.

Stumptown let us take over the front door and the sidewalk in front of their Belmont location for most of a day.

Voodoo Doughnuts is letting us shoot in front of their place and they're excited to be of help.

Ristretto Roasters is hosting a scene that has twenty-five extras. They're going to be serving their excellent coffee and desserts to the crowd. They will be closed to the public. (By the way, if you want to be in that scene, drop me a line.)

220 Salon has provided assistance with hair and makeup and is providing our holding area for the Voodoo Doughnuts shoot.

Gearhead and DTC have both offered a lot of support with trucks, dollies, lights and grip gear.

The Belmont Lofts and its residents have been wonderfully hospitable and cooperative hosts to our principal location.

Limbo Films lent us walkie-talkies.

Krystal South provided us with two beautiful typewriters from her collection.

Suzy Vitello has been a wonderful supporter and consultant.

Signore Direttore

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


So, aside from the tiny budgets and the mumbling, what is a “mumblecore” movie?

What are the criteria for inclusion (besides “No jerks”)? The first aesthetic indicators — and, it must be stressed, not all friends of mumblecore make films like this — are improvised dialogue and naturalistic performances, often by non-actors. The films employ handheld, vérité-style digital camerawork and long takes. Budgets are tiny. The plots hinge on everyday events. The stories are often obvious reflections of the filmmakers’ lives. Most characters are white and educated and pursue creative endeavors when not pursuing one another. They are sensitive. They are sincere.

A lot of tension ensues over the answering or non-answering of cell-phone calls. Characters frequently attend and perform in sparsely populated weeknight music shows. There is an abundance of road trips.

Technology is ever present. Four Eyed Monsters is the story of its directors, Buice and Crumley. The two met online and decided to fall in love without speaking to each other in person, only via texts, emails, notes and MySpace. Swanberg especially, in LOL most of all, gets deep inside the effort to communicate through thick layers of screens. The Puffy Chair’s entire plot is set in motion by a phony eBay listing, perhaps a metaphor for the characters’ interpersonal misrepresentations. The suitcase-clutching heroine of Quiet City arrives in Brooklyn completely stranded, betrayed by her cell phone, waiting throughout the entire film for a voice mail to tell her where to go. She stumbles into a real, live connection in the meantime.

Above all, mumblecore films are about trying to communicate.

The Master Says 181

Once you've been really bad in a movie, there's a certain kind of fearlessness you develop.

Jack Nicholson

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back at the Helm

We resume shooting Dangerous Writing tonight. We have three scenes to shoot in two locations. In spite of having two weeks off in order to prepare for tonight's shoot, we are thin in terms of crew. I'm learning that in order to be available to the vision of the film, to direct the actors and the camera, I require a modest degree of support. I do not object to lifting sandbags or setting up a microphone, but I have only so much time and energy during a set up.
I have two choices -- roll my sleeves up and sacrifice some energy or let others do the lifting and setting up and sacrifice some time. Time on a film set is so fucking precious. It goes so fast when you're trying to bring it all together. It's such a delicate balance to keep the actors focused. It makes sense why movie stars have stand-ins. I need the actors on set to frame, light and block them. I need to rehearse them, too, but I want to keep them fresh. That's really their responsibility, but most of the people I work with don't have a lot of experience. They do their best, which is often wonderful, but it requires even more effort on my part to keep them focused. I keep saying focused, but what I really mean is present. It's not easy to be in the moment.
I need to do the same stuff they need to do, feel my feet on the floor, breathe, listen, follow my impulses, trust the moment.
If I do those things to the best of my ability under the circumstances that I find myself in on set, everything will be just fine in spite of how much to the contrary it feels much of the time.

Signore Direttore

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Master Says 180

Having worked with a lot of different directors, I can say something I look for in a director is somebody who will make tough decisions. Steven Spielberg always leaves himself room for options, but he will make decisions.

Allen Daviau, ASC

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pulling Focus

Back from my week in Maine at the International FIlm and Video Workshops where I took the FIlm and HD Camera Assistants course. It was very good to get away and to be immersed in the world of pulling focus, loading magazines, checking the gate and camera reports. There was a great group of people, some of whom I hope to stay in touch with for a long time.
I tried to speak very little of my independent filmmaking activity in order to focus on what I'm hoping is to become my new day job. It was nice to take a break from Dangerous Writing, though not easy to do nine days ago. It was new to to sit back and hear various camera department veterans speak of directors without letting on I was a director. Doug Hart, the primary instructor, has worked with some greats, Woody Allen most notably.
Sometimes the stories and the lectures seemed to get in the way of the hands-on work we all craved for more of than we we were able to do. In the end, I think this is going to be one of those experiences that I continue to draw from for many years. There was so much information put out to us from early morning until late at night every day. We broke for an hour for both lunch and dinner, other than that we were working. Even reading American Cinematographer on the plane ride home I noticed how much more deeply I understood many articles. Such and such production used the Panavision Genesis, a Panny Platinum and an Arri 235. Well in the last week, I broke down and rebuilt each of those cameras, threaded them, loaded mags, or processor in the case of the Genesis, for them and operated the Platinum and the 235 on my shoulder. I did not have such intimate knowledge of any of those cameras ten days prior. There's an ad for the new Arri 416. I spent two and half hours with that camera with an Arri tech. What do you want to know about it? Frame rates? 1-75fps. Shutter angle? Manual 45-180. Is it quiet? Less than 20db. Magazine? Coaxial design "borrowed" from Aaton. Take up side on the inside (reversed from SR3 mags) and deeper throat for quieter operation. I could go on, but I'm sure it's all too geeky to be of interest.
It was a fun week. I need to pull focus back to directing. It's tempting to be scared by the transistion, tempting to want things to be one way or the other, but it's also quite a privilege to have two such challenging and fulfilling facets to my working life.

I'm back,
Signore Direttore