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