Monday, December 29, 2008

Best Films of 2008

I've tried in the past few days to come up with a ten best films of the year list to post. Living in a small market really puts a kink in that - most of the year's critical favorites won't screen here until 2009.
Looking back, I don't recall a lot of happy visits to the theater this year.
Here's a few of the good ones:
Paranoid Park
The Dark Knight
Mongol
Ironman
Milk

Though I wouldn't count Milk as that great aside from Sean Penn's performance. Wall-E is on a lot of lists this year, but I didn't like it that much. Felt like I'd seen it before.
I'm straining to think of anything else. I didn't like Burn After Reading or many other new releases. The thing is I really like seeing films and I enjoy ranking them at year's end. Making a list in February is kind of lame. Do I need to plan a trip to NY or LA at year's end each year to accomplish this? Would that qualify as a business expense? By the letter of the law, yes.

I'm looking forward to The Wrestler, Wendy and Lucy, Frost/Nixon and some others.

I watched a lot of films and tv shows on DVD this year. 2008 was the year of The Wire.
So that's my pick for Best of 2008 - all five seasons of The Wire. The best sixty hours of the year for me in terms of staring at a screen.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Goal Setting

I've mapped out some fitness goals in a very specific manner this past week. I created a specific, realistic and attainable objective based on my current physical condition. With guidance from a trusted source I will be working toward my ultimate goal systematically over the next twenty-one weeks. It will take longer if I sustain any injuries or lapses in discipline. Easy weeks are built in regularly over the four and half month schedule. I wouldn't have set up the schedule with as much patience on my own. I would push too hard, get hurt, or get frustrated by my lack of herculean progress.
I don't know exactly how this will translate to my work as a filmmaker, but I am getting my head around the possibilities. I think I'm experiencing burnout from taking too much on for so long. I need to find a way to make steady progress without going into all or nothing mode. I have had many goals as a filmmaker. I recognize a pattern of abstraction as well as anxious elasticity and a flip-flopping between grandiosity and timidity in my goal setting. It's time to focus.

Ciao
Signore Direttore

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas

Not much blogging lately. No year end best lists from me yet. No progress reports on the various projects. Here's one: Berlin said no to But A Dream. Other than that I've been spending more time at the gym than at my office this week.
Whenever I think of filmmaking right now I don't feel any joy or excitement. I have some quiet contentment about Dangerous Writing. But everything else is better left until the new year. Though Nicola is going to Tanzania for a shoot starting January 15th. Whatever I get going is going to take a hiatus for the second half of January. I'd rather concentrate on running and cycling and feeling good physically.
I'm in better spirits than I sound. I'm excited about everything else in my life. I'm feeling some guilt or fear about the distance I feel from making films. I need to let that go. Im trying to remember that it all matters. It all counts. Riding my mountain bike in foot deep snow on Sunday has as much to do with my career as being on set.

Anyway, Happy Christmas to you my loyal readers and friends.

xo,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let it Snow

Okay, now I'll say we've got some winter going. Though driving is still very easy with snow tires or chains. I took my mountain bike out for some midnight riding last night. It was gorgeous as was the long walk in Forest Park yesterday morning.
I don't remember a single white Christmas growing up in Portland. This year might be in with a chance.

I still don't feel much like talking about film these days, but I am enjoying myself. I'm going to build a fire now and prepare for our dinner party with some families from our neighborhood.

Signore Direttore

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snow Week

An apocalypse of bad weather has overtaken Portland this week - closing schools and wreaking havoc on our fair-weather city. (I've had no trouble driving around with no traction devices, but maybe I have superpowers) As such, my life has been taken over by kids home from school.
I'm losing my mind. Which happens when overexposed to my children and underexposed to work and exercise.
Christmas break starts next week. Hurray! This after two weeks of dealing with my son's school crisis. So I missed my trip to New Orleans, hoping to be around for his transition to a new school only to find myself devoted to caring for my children about 85% of the time in December. I know I sound ungrateful, but without some balance I'm a marginal parent. Whether that's true or not in practice, I sure feel overwhelmed and very far from my work.

Signore Bitter Poppa

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Folk Wisdom 041

Moving fast is not the same thing as going somewhere.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Master Says 361

Eighty percent of success is showing up.

Woody Allen

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Master Says 360



The talent is in the choices.

Robert De Niro

Monday, December 08, 2008

Still from Dangerous Writing

Mala Noche Traler



I saw this film at the Castro Theater in San Francisco back in the 80s with live organ accompaniment. The Castro Theater is featured in Milk, GSV's latest, which brought back memories of seeing his first film way back when.
We've created a theater marquee in the background of one of the scenes in Dangerous Writing in honor of Portland's greatest filmmaker and the Portland of my youth that Gus preserves so beautifully in Mala Noche and Drugstore Cowboy. I'll post a still later today once it's done rendering.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Master Says 359





It doesn't happen all at once.... You become. It takes a long time.

Margery Williams

Segua quel sogno

I knocked my girlfriend, now wife, up when I was 31. I was just a few months into the transition from my life as a club promoter and band manager to trying to become a filmmaker. I'd been writing and acting off and on for years, but I never let myslef enjoy any sustained pursuit. I was ready to put the other stuff aside and dedicate myself to the silver screen. Because of my past in the visual arts and my friendship with a top tier production designer, I cut my teeth in the art department at first. We worked on high-end stuff - American Express, The Gap, Volkswagen. But as a non-union member of the art department I couldn't do much but hang about the set waiting to go pick something up from a prop house in the art dept. truck. My experience never paid off very directly as anything I worked as an art director later on didn't have a budget that allowed for any elements used in the big budget stuff. It was helpful to be around top commercial directors and DPs and stars like Whoopi Goldberg, Beyonce Knowles and Jerry Seinfeld. I had been around people of such celebrity in the club business, but working on a set with them was much different. In fact that was the type of experience my friend was trying to help me get. When I started talking about getting into Local 52 to become a prop man and earn three times what I was as an assistant, my boss strongly discouraged me from putting on a tool belt of any sort. he knew how much less likely it would have been for me to pursue directing that way. One of the prop guys on our regular crew was John Ashton, formerly the guitarist of The Psychedelic Furs. John had a family and was very pleasant on set, but he didn't love the work as I recall. He certainly didn't urge me to take the test to get into the union. A couple of years later The Furs went on tour. John played the tour and invited us to the show when they played Jones Beach.
I've gone off on an unintended tangent. I was going to talk about how ten years ago I began pursuing a career where success and financial security is elusive. And started a family at the same time. I thought about giving it up then. And while Nicola was pregnant I worked more in the art department than I wrote screenplays. I had some ideas kicking around and did some outlining. I wrote a couple of short stories hanging out in the back of the prop truck. I was making money being around what I wanted to do, but I wasn't doing what I wanted to do or even learning that much about writing or directing. And the money I was earning, while decent, was but a fraction of what I'd earned in the past. Then Henry was born and I thought about law school or something much more practical. It occurred to me that the best thing I could do for my child was to show him how to pursue a dream. I didn't have to succeed, I just had to follow my heart. Even so, I thought if I didn't see some tangible results by the time I was forty I would move on.
I threw myself into learning about film. I started saying no to art department gigs. I started studying acting again. I took classes at SVA and later enrolled at NYU. I bought a 16mm camera and a DV camera and made films and videos. I started teaching acting. I directed some plays. I wrote a script. After a couple of years I tried to find a job I could do to make some money in the industry while working toward directing. I tried editing. Then I went back to the art department. It was obvious to me and others that I needed to be directing. A funny thing was happening - my awareness and knowledge of what was good was growing at a much faster rate than my ability. It was as if a sportscaster suddenly found himself expected to play the game expertly instead of commenting on it expertly. I was becoming a student of and a commentator on the game rather than a player. Not completely, but it was more the case than not. I continuously waited to become. And waited. My posture gaining in sophistication all the while.
I'm now 41. I haven't quit. I've thought about it. I've felt guilty as year after year goes by with more money going out to fuel the dream than comes back. I've done some good work and continue to learn. My good work still isn't out in the world. It's starting to happen. Getting turned down for Sundance called some things into question. I didn't expect to get into Sundance. I don't think I was unfairly rejected. I recognize the many many factors that go into those selections. Yet there's this voice in my head that says, "Hey, if you think you're so goddamned special; why didn't you get in?" Funny that -- "You." I didn't submit me. I submitted But A Dream, which I made, but it isn't me. Made Crooked is closer to me, there's certainly no doubt that the story comes from me, but it still isn't me. Dangerous Writing is the closest thing to me that I've ever made. That and Nora Mae, my first short. That's part of the reason I want to get Made Crooked out there first.
I digress once again. Even as I claim DW is me, were it rejected I might not feel the same self-doubt. What I wanted to accomplish with DW was about telling a story in a certain way. I never expected it to be good or get me anywhere. Whereas with BAD, I thought it was going to be the calling card that green-lighted Original Glory, a script I wrote that had a major agency was packaging. Even with Made Crooked, the expectations and projections were eminent.
Whatever resistance to finishing films that I've been working through is diminishing. Now that that particular struggle is over I find myself exhausted not only by the herculean efforts to get past my fears, but by the endless ardor of working with no money. Right now I'm feeling like I can't put myself through making a film by any means necessary again. The New Orleans project is much bigger. And because it is much bigger, I have much less control over whether it will happen or not. I am determined to follow through and take it as far as I can. Though at the moment I'm not sure where the energy to do so is going to come from.
I saw Quantum of Solace last night. Possible the most boring blockbuster I've ever seen. $224 million! The director Marc Forster started off small less than ten years ago with a stylish indie. I forget the name of it. Then he did Monster's Ball. When I'm reminded of such career arcs, I maintain some hope. Then I see the making of a Britney Spears music video this morning. It reminded me when seeing the elaborate sets just how long that I've been trying to do something with nothing.
I don't have any answers. I'm going to work on finishing these two no-budget features. And I'm going to keep going on the NOLA project. I'd like to say what I'm going to do after that, like if it doesn't work out within eighteen months I'll go back to school to become a ...
But that would be unproductive and disrespectful to the great mystery of life. So for now I think I'll just keep doing what's in front of me, leaving the results up to the powers that be.

Following that dream,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Master Says 358

I mean, the truth of the matter is, I like the failures as much as I like the successes, it's only the world that doesn't like the failures.

Sydney Pollack

Friday, December 05, 2008

Facebook Frenzy

I received yet another invitation to join Facebook this week. I did Friendster when that first came out and had fun setting that up, but I was pretty burnt on such sites by the time MySpace and Facebook came around. We're finishing DW so I thought -- well, why not? We need to do a page to promote the film. But one thing I noticed on MySpace was that many of my friends don't accept invitations from films or filmmakers, so I decided to just do a page for me. The backlog of ignored friend requests got me off to a blazing start toward some satisfying friend whoring.
Otherwise I've had a hellish week full of activities and concerns with my kids' schools. So the video game puzzle of scanning friends' friends for familiar names and faces and entering the dusty archives of names from my brain into the search window has been a joyfully manic distraction. I found folks that I hold dear in my heart and think of often that I'd long lost touch with. Everyone from the guy I opened my first acting studio with in NY to the cocktail waitress from my regular Thursday night spot circa 1988 with whom I flirted and eventually won over for a sloppy night of lust that didn't quite live up to the promise of our months of coy banter. We didn't exchange messages, but it's nice to know she's out there and that she, too, remembers.
Then there's all of you regular friends all gathered in one place in cyperspace - just one social networking pages of billions of ones and zeros floating around. How fucking weird. But kind of cool at the same time.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Master Says 357


We are not going to wake up one day and be good. We have to work for it, and we have to work for it every day. It's not just going to happen.

Brandon Roy

Sundance 2009

I received an email last night that But A Dream was not accepted. There were over 5,400 shorts submitted, around 80 were accepted. I really hoped we would make the cut, but I am not that disappointed.
Below is a letter aimed toward features, but I think it's of interest. Just seeing it in my inbox this morning made me feel like I accomplished something by having something to submit this year.

Happy Reading,
Signore Direttore



iW INSIDER | Eugene Hernandez: A Letter to Filmmakers, Whether or Not You Got Into Sundance

by Eugene Hernandez (December 3, 2008)

EDITORS NOTE: The non-competition lineup for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival will be announced today at 4 p.m. EST here at indieWIRE; the complete competition lineup was announced yesterday.

More than 3,600 feature films were submitted to this year's Sundance Film Festival, but only about 120 will play at the festival next month. If you got into Sundance '09 then you already received the call and are probably making plans, likely pondering a "team" that includes a potential publicist or a sales rep. Meanwhile, the nearly 3,500 who aren't in this year's line up are strategizing their next steps and pondering which fest to pursue now. I've got some tips for both groups. If you are traveling to Park City, proceed carefully and do your homework as you forge new relationships. If you are not heading to Utah, don't despair just yet, there is life after a Sundance rejection.

I've been going to Sundance for more than 15 years now and it remains a great festival for discovering new work. The circus atmosphere that surrounds the fest sometimes gets me down, but no other fest has given me so much personally or professionally and now with the economic downturn, it's quite possible we'll see a greater focus on the films, rather than the party and celebrity scene.

Either way, you applied to Sundance for a reason. Asking yourself what that reason was and answering that question may help you focus your strategy, whether or not your film will be screening at the festival.

Congrats! You're going to Sundance

For the Sundance Class of '09 -- especially those who are new to this -- you need to know one thing up front - Congratulations, but now your work really begins! You are heading to Sundance, but merely being a part of the lineup doesn't guarantee that you or your film are going to get any attention, particularly from buyers and press. Again, what is your reason for applying to Sundance in the first place? What are your goals for the event?

So, let's be upfront... To those who are hoping to make a sale after your Sundance premiere, it's important to know that most folks I've spoken with agree that this year's market in Park City will be like no other in that it probably won't be as robust for big on-site acquisitions. Larger companies seem to be shying away from theatrical acquisitions and right now there are simply fewer large, established distribution entities to turn to. Even so, a range of reps will work with films and filmmakers to field and generate sales interest at the festival. And sure, deals will be made, but the industry and established filmmakers alike are focusing more and more on digital rights and other means of distribution.

Some filmmakers will have decided to sign with a rep to help them navigate the digital space (DVD, VOD, online), while others will opt to hold on to their rights and 100% of all revenues that may come from them in the future. Either way, these are big decisions. Talk with filmmakers and producers who've already been down this short path and spend time determing what you need to give up and what you'll get in return.

I found it rather surprising that at Sunday's Gotham Awards panel discussion at the DGA, filmmakers nominated for the Breakthrough Director category were rather mixed on signing a traditional rep. "I am curious what a sales rep does now," "Ballast" director Lance Hammer told the audience, referencing the fact that smaller films aren't getting theatrical deals right now.

While Lance worked with a rep at Sundance last year, he decided to release his film himself. In retrospect, he indicated that were he to do it all over again, he said he would have booked the film into theaters right out of Sundance to capitalize on the attention "Ballast" generated at the fest - and then he would have focused on how to exploit his digital rights.

"Medicine for Melancholy" director Barry Jenkins, who debuted his first feature in March at SXSW tried to find a rep for his film, but was unsuccessful in the outset - yet there is something to live and learn... "We were told you have to have a sales rep," Jenkins said on Sunday at the Gothams panel, "Bullshit!" Jenkins worked with his lawyer in San Francisco and brokered a deal with IFC Films. Both Jenkins and Hammer cautioned other filmmakers to really get their head around digital rights and to maximize DVD and VOD options, where they feel the real potential for lower budget indie films will truly blossom.

And, they each cautioned filmmakers not to give away all rights.

The domestic repping business is still diverse, ranging from traditional sales powerhouse Cinetic Media to firms such as Submarine and The Film Sales Company, as well as divisions of leading Hollywood talent agencies: CAA, ICM, Endeavor, William Morris and UTA. Importantly, there are a number of strong boutique sales operations built around individuals: Greenberg Traurig, Required Viewing, and Visit Films, not to mention individuals like Jonathan Dana, Jeff Dowd, David Garber, and Ronna Wallace. Most firms take about 10% of traditional future sales for their work, but others require up front cash or a minimum guarantee, and now digital rights reps are requiring larger percentages and exclusivity over a longer period of years. There are many other active sellers and our two-year old indieWIRE survey of the space is sorely out of date. We'll work on revamping it.

Also shifting is the publicity world. I was surprised recently to learn that Jeff Hill, a 17-year veteran of Sundance, won't be making the trip to Park City this year. The event isn't cost effective for his PR firm, International House of Publicity (IHOP), and hasn't been for years - so, he'll sadly sit this one out. And, since last year's fest, another Park City vet, Jeremy Walker bowed out of the PR business altogether. It's a shame that filmmakers won't benefit from their expertise at the festival this year.

Keep in mind, not every film or filmmaker needs a publicist. The festival offers PR services and guidance to filmmakers and the many seasoned folks in the press office may be able to answer questions. And those who decide to opt for a publicist have a number of strong options, including a number of veterans who know the ins-and-outs of the fest. There are too many firms and people to mention comprehensively, ranging from outfits such as 42 West, BWR, Falco Ink, ID-PR, mPRm, PMG, Indie PR, Fat Dot and Rubenstein Communications, PMK, Murphy PR, David Magdael and Associates, Insignia PR, and Fifteen Minutes PR, as well as boutique companies or those lead by key veteran publicists, such as Donna Daniels, Sophie Gluck, Susan Norget, Nancy Willen, Mickey Cottrell, Michele Robertson, Gary Springer, and Wellington Love, as well as the new Frank PR. [Sorry, this is clearly not a comprehensive list, so please notify me if we missed a key person or company and we'll revise it.]

As Jeff Hill referenced, setting up shop at Sundance is quite a costly endeavor and firms typically charge filmmakers thousands of dollars for their Park City PR services. It goes without saying that you should do your homework and talk to past and present clients to make the best decision if you decide you need a press rep - and quite honestly, it can be very advantageous if you find the right match!

In the meantime, I'll give you some free advice, get high quality film stills together now, have clips available in a digital format as well as high res images (and why not post them on a simple website that has information about you and your film). If you are on Facebook, add me as a friend and tell me your film is at the festival so that we can find you when we want to write about your movie here at indieWIRE (And just a plug here, we've been covering Sundance for 12 years).

You can do a lot yourself and there are plenty of examples of filmmakers I've met over the years at Sundance who work hard, with limited resources, and make a mark at the fest. From Wes Anderson and the "Bottle Rocket" crew with their short in '93, to DIY queen Sarah Jacobson years later making the most of a local Copy Depot to create low cost materials and hitting the fest with her producer/mom, not too mention numerous recent examples of filmmakers using online tools and resources to create a low-cost presence for themselves.

Sorry you didn't get into Sundance. See you on the fest circuit soon?

Barry Jenkins, whose low-budget indie film debuted at South by Southwest is an example of many of the opportunities on the horizon for filmmakers who don't go to Utah. At this very moment, festivals including SXSW, Tribeca, CineVegas and the Los Angeles Film Festival, not to mention Slamdance, are eyeing filmmakers who didn't get into Sundance. With so few slots, films always fall through the cracks and there are viable festival options beyond Park City (Important! Keep in mind that these festivals as many others have policies regarding "premiere status" so be careful!)

And, some titles will even make their way to Berlin and New Director/New Films in New York (or even Rotterdam) and the many regional fests. Others will find another path.

Developing a smart festival strategy can be daunting and requires a lot of research and conversations with other filmmakers who've just been on the circuit. Many seasoned indie filmmakers are on Facebook today, which offers accesibilty like never before to connect with each other and compare notes as you develep a strategy.

A quick Festival snapshot

South by Southwest (SXSW), in March, has emerged as a vital haven for low budget indies and has cultivated a comraderie among a new generation of filmmakers. Similarly, Tribeca in New York (May), the LA Fest in California (June) and CineVegas in Nevada (June) seek to showcase new work for audiences and industry alike. Some fests early in the year, like True/False (February), Silverdocs (June) and Full Frame (March), Hot Docs (April), showcase documentaries specifically.

Obviously these aren't the only festivals to consider. There are hundreds of options, and each year at indieWIRE we try to attend and cover some of the fests we think are worth attending. You can check out our deep content archive, organized by month and year, here on the site. Among the fests early in the year that we attended in the first third of '08 were the Palm Springs International Film Festival (January), the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (January), the AFI Dallas International Film Festival (March), the Ann Arbor Film Festival (March), the Cleveland International Film Festival (March), Cinequest (February/March), the Florida Film Festival (March/April), , the Sarasota Film Festival (March/April), and the Independent Film Festival Boston (April). Again this is not a comprehensive list - we've covered many more - but we invite you to check out indieWIRE's coverage of these events.

As many people in the industry are saying over and over today, for many filmmakers your film festival tour is your de facto theatrical release. Traveling the circuit can generate media attention and build a following for you or your film. But, unless more festivals find money to pay screening fees to filmmakers, there are no tangible revenue streams from the circuit. In the end, it can be a costly proposition to travel from fest to fest. Numerous filmmakers are exploring how to sell DVDs directly on the festival circuit, capitalizing on the attention they get in local markets. There are some obvious immediate financial upsides but also potentially drastic downsides that can impact other deals, so talk to others producers and filmmakers and study the strategies that others have used.

Again, what are your goals and how can your festival screenings help you accomplish them?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Master Says 356


I think it is very important that films make people look at what they've forgotten.

Spike Lee

Friday, November 28, 2008

Who Opened that Can of Wup-Ass?


This week kicked my ass. I over-committed myself in unexpected ways. School conferences for all three kids. Two for my oldest who is changing schools after Thanksgiving break. One with his old teacher and one with his new teacher. And since the kids weren't in school, we had to arrange childcare. Having the kids home all week has many stresses beyond finding a babysitter. We also had both of our girls' birthdays, one yesterday and the other next Wednesday, and a party to plan and host this Sunday.
Then there was the Thanksgiving holiday. Which we kept really low-key this year. A nice simple turkey dinner at home. No guests. We didn't accept any invitations for dessert from anyone. I played basketball with my son and one of his friends from the neighborhood. I even took a nap during one of the three lopsided football games.
We had a new tenant move in to our building on Monday. I thought I was ready for that, but I was so relieved to have finished the bulk of the renovation that I overlooked a few small details that were relatively inconsequential yet required some time and effort in a week where every hour was already accounted for at least twice over. I spent the morning today taking care of some of that, but there's more that will have to wait until Monday when Wink's Hardware opens. I'm scheduled to be getting Made Crooked going again with Jordan that day. I'll have to take a little break to finish up my landlord duties.
Then there was work. I needed to record ADR with two actors for DW. I have a new computer that's not entirely set up yet so there were a few surprises and frustrations there as well. I did that without having sufficient time to prepare, so I was fighting poor organization throughout each session.
I also showed DW to two of the actors and But A Dream. In spite of all the praise But A Dream gets, I still can't get over some of its flaws. I've been kind of sick this week since seeing it. The opening sequence is still a little off and the color transfer looks spotty. At least on the screen we watched it this week. In any case, I don't know what to do: throw more time and money at it?; or accept its imperfections?
I made it through the week in the end. Though I've been feeling out of breath all along. I was supposed to go to New Orleans next week, but due to feeling completely exhausted and overwhelmed and my son's school transfer I think it would be best to postpone the trip until after the new year. All these distractions are killing the momentum and connection I was enjoying regarding New Orleans, but I will just have to have faith.
I'm grateful I can recognize when I'm feeling overwhelmed and stop pushing myself too much. I really do too many little things for my temperament. I'm much better at digging deeply into something than going in many different directions. I can accomplish quite a lot, but my sanity suffers.

¡viva!
Signore Dirretore

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Master Says 355



Do you have to have a reason for loving?

Brigitte Bardot

What This Week Might Suppose

I begin this week having not really enjoyed an ending to last week. In some ways Mondays are my transition days - simultaneously taking a break and getting things going for the coming week. My Sundays are consumed with my family and with writing and recording music for Dangerous Writing. I'm enjoying making music, but it is work. Though it's that wonderful sort of work where you push and explore and do and redo and struggle to communicate essential but unformed ideas for hour after hour until you realize you've been fully engaged for five hours. It's time to wrap up for the day but I want to keep going. I often feel the same way when writing or directing.
I'm really happy with the music so far. It's both as I imagined it and taking unexpected turns. I'm excited to explore some themes of the film in the music both thematically and through counterpoint. We've recorded some songs using obscure synthesizers from the 60s which produce analog yet very inorganic sounds. This speaks to Ezra's mental dissociation as represented by his struggle to reconcile the modes of recording his writing. He feels compelled to hide the fact that he now writes on a computer. He ascribes the typewriter with his lost talent, fearing the physical object (and the supposed incumbent loss of his talent) at the same time.
I also wrote and recorded some "lyrics" for the most dissociative song in the score. My hope is that they subtly refer to the ambiguities of the levels of fiction in the film. I play with the question of what it would be like for an author to meet one of his characters.
I hesitate to write about this as I might rather keep this a secret. I am getting more comfortable with talking openly about the film's intended mysteries.
I'm recording ADR with two of the main characters in the next couple of days. I'm excited to be at this point and also very excited to share the film with them.
We're trying to really practice gratitude as an action at home this week. (and beyond hopefully) I realize that I'm caught between desperately wanting convention and rejecting it when it comes to the holiday. It's really easy to say you want either side of that coin, walking the walk is another story. Standing confused between the two is yet another.
I hear from Sundance and leave for another trip to New Orleans next week. But we're not there yet. We have school conferences this week. And most importantly, our daughter's are celebrating brithdays 6 and 3.


Grazie,
Signore Direttore

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Master Says 354


If I knew what I was after I probably wouldn't bother to go after it.

Joe Strummer

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Master Says 353

Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.

Tom Stoppard

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Master Says 352


Fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid.

Francis Bacon

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Picture Lock - DW

We locked picture on Dangerous Writing today. I'm very happy with the film, watching it makes me remember how much I love directing. We watched it on a bigger monitor (30 inches vs. 23) for the first time. I composed the photography for large screens and even that increase in size made a big difference. There's so much depth and activity in the frame. A bigger screen helps the viewer step into the world of the film much more easily. Can't wait to see it forty feet across. Soon.

Grazie,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Local Audiences

I went to a screening of a locally produced feature the other night. It was standing room only. I was one of the standing. Which probably didn't aid in my enjoyment of the film as I thought the plot was pretty forced and not particularly imaginative or interesting.
The acting, other than the protagonist, was very spotty. The main dude was very solid, but he didn't have the charisma to carry a film. I've worked with a couple of the other leads myself. I've seen them do better work and I've seen the same deficient habits under my direction. Overall the photography was pretty good. There was a scene with the sky blown out that was awful to look at. Many of the compositions were often pretty, but got to be monotonous and flat as they were repeated to little effect on the story.
I also know they had some money to work with, not tons but exponentially more than most local indies, and that sapped my generosity. I'm much more interested in someone doing something novel with nothing than someone doing something competent with more.
Anyway, I was glad when the thing was over. And then something funny happened: the audience erupted in a loud appreciative applause. I realized that my criticisms or dislike of the film didn't matter all that much. The audience reaction didn't negate my opinions, but it reminded me that a popular medium enjoys popular appreciation and in a hometown screening that warm support is a wonderful thing.

Signore Direttore

The Master Says 351

To finish is a sadness to a writer - a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn't really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.

John Steinbeck

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Master Says 350


I had to spend countless hours, above and beyond the basic time, to try and perfect the fundamentals.

Julius Erving

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November 13th Update

Been running and gunning lately. Thoughts are flying, life is flowing - it's one of those periods where reflection isn't forthcoming. A time of action and movement. Yet nothing of braod significance is going on, at least not that I can speak of in detail publicly.
I've been making more music for films. For Dangerous Writing and we're still slogging away with getting the song right for Made Crooked. I like making music. It's extremely satisfying to have an idea, explain it to a musician, play it together, record it and listen to it. Wow! Obviously one could labor over a song as I do films, but it can be pretty immediate as well. Very exciting. I'm not a musician, but like every one of us, I can make music. I just need to work with someone that is a musician and I become much more capable than I would normally think of myself. In the end, I'm an idea man, whatever the medium. Some technicians and artists like working with an idea man. I've found one in particular that I'm enjoying working with. We put the DW theme under the first big scene and all I could do was smile and nod my head.
The apartment building is now fully occupied at market rents. A relief in so many ways. No more seemingly endless nagging to-do lists. Earlier this year I made those lists and they were several pages long per unit. Six months and a hundred grand later I can finally breath. I actually started the renovation four years ago, but had to take a big step back for a couple of years. Years that I could never quite feel secure about things. Lots of fear and doubt and self-flagellation. There's still some work to be done, but the bulk of it is complete. I'm very grateful to see the end nearing.
Going back down to New Orleans in December for ten days. Hopefully my LA-based partner will meet me there, but his show just got picked up for five more episodes yesterday, which is good news, but it puts our schedule up in the air.
I'm also driving over to Houston to see a good friend. He's playing Harold in University of Houston production of Orphans.
I got an insider's peek at the script for the pilot of David Simon's new show being shot down there. It's not The Wire, that's for sure. Even though New Orleans native Wendell Pierce ("Bunk") stars in it. I'm very curious how it turns out. Usually when I read a pilot I know where the show's going to go, but with Treme I don't see where it could go except for on and on. I thought Simon hit the "Nawlins" buttons and tropes a little hard. He even calls in "Nawlins" in the action paragraphs of his script. I think that's cheesy and the sad downfall of most films shot down there. I'm not trying to be a hater. I LOVE The Wire and have enormous respect for Simon.
I'm late to an appointment so I gotta run.
Big game tonight in Foxboro ... J-E-T-S GO JETS!

A River Dertcheee,
SIgnore Direttore

The Master Says 349



Everything is so dangerous that nothing is really very frightening.

Gertrude Stein

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Master Says 348

Start at the end.

Mike Nichols

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Master Says 347

Music starts to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance.

Ezra Pound

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Master Says 346

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.

Joseph Campbell

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Master Says 345




No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self-deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind.

Cervantes

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Master Says 344


I'm still the little southern girl from the wrong side of the tracks who really didn't feel like she belonged.

Faye Dunaway

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Master Says 343

Don't think of your film outside the resources you have made for yourself.

Robert Bresson

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Master Says 342

I didn’t think “Taxi Driver” was going to be a big hit. Next I was going to make a musical, “New York, New York,” and it was supposed to be a big hit. Whenever I try to make a movie for a certain market, I don’t know how to do it.

Martin Scorcese

Yes We Can

I cried several times last night. The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States is important for so many reasons. I predict he will be the greatest president on the world stage since Truman. Clinton and LBJ accomplished great things but they were seen outside of the US as bufoonish Southeners. Obama represents great hope for all Americans. Yes, electing a black man is a huge step for our country. But the election of a leader that inspires hope and commands our love and respect is something I have seen only now in my lifetime. Until now it has always been a choice between two politicians. We have elected a leader this time. For the past eight years I have refused to call W. the president. We have a president again, legitimately and resoundedly elected. Yes we can call Barack Obama Mr. President. Yes we can say it with hope and pride in our hearts, reason and intelligence in our minds and tears of joy in our eyes.
This is a time we can again be proud to be Americans. It's been a long time coming.

Orgulloso,
Signore Direttore

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Have a Dream ...



... that we'll wake up tomorrow with this man as our President-elect. I cannot understand how it could be any other way and I'm deeply disturbed that the candidate leading by 7 to 11 points on Election Day in major polls may not be the clear winner on November 5th.

I include the following "letter" that I received via email to explain myself further:

Dear Red States:

We've decided we're leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we're taking the other Blue States with us. In case you aren't aware, that includes California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and all the Northeast. It may even include Florida and Ohio, they are seriously considering it. We've given them until Nov. 4th to decide. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to the people of the new country. Since we're dropping the middle states we're calling it United America, or simply the U.A.

To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the former slave states, including Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky et alia that would have liked to have had slaves. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Dollywood. You can take Ted Nugent. We're keeping Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. We're fairly certain Willie Nelson will defect. You get WorldCom. We get Intel, Microsoft and Apple. You get Ole' Miss. We get Harvard and 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama. We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms, and the highest concentration of pregnant unwed teenagers. Please be aware that the U.A. will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we're going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they're apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don't care if you don't show pictures of their children's caskets coming home. We do wish you success in Iraq, and hope that the WMD eventually turn up, really we do, but we're not willing to spend our resources in Bush/McCain’s quagmire. We'd rather spend it on taking care of sick people and educating our children.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80 percent of the country's fresh water, more than 90 percent of the pineapple and lettuce, 92 percent of the nation's fresh fruit, 95 percent of America's quality wines, 90 percent of all cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools plus Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT. With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88 percent of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92 percent of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100 percent of the tornadoes, 90 percent of the hurricanes, 99 percent of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100 percent of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia. We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

Additionally, 38 percent of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62 percent believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the war, the death penalty or gun laws, 44 percent say that evolution is only a theory, 53 percent that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61 percent of you crazy Reds believe you are people with higher morals then we Blues.


Nice Knowing You,
Blue States

I wish only to add that we will no longer need worry about your governors or Senators, i.e. Georges Bush, Sarah Palin, John McCain, seeking public office. We will need to keep a close watch on California and New York for the likes of Nixon, Reagan, Schwarzennegger and Guiliani, but we'll have more resources to monitor such developments without having to worry so much about Pro-Lifers, Prayer in Schools and people that think the earth is six thousand years old.

Also I want to stop singing God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch and go back to the good old days pre-9/11 when Take Me Out to the Ballpark served as a fine tradition for decades.

That's my dream, but I'll settle for a smart, articulate and reasonable man in the White House. Then perhaps the atrocious ignorance of Middle America will be less noisy for a few years.

Nervously Hopeful,
Signore Direttore

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Master Says 341


My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.

Anton Chekhov

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Change Blindness



Funny thing about Bunuel films - I always think it's going to be a chore to watch them. And every time I'm easily charmed. And in a way that no other filmmaker achieves. Not to say he's the maestro of all maestros, but he has a specific talent of challenging our minds and our eyes in a very easy manner. I'm tempted to say his films possess a facile charisma, but it isn't accurate. He's simply a master.
The two actresses above play the same role in That Obscure Object of Desire. The first few scenes I wasn't certain of the switch. Aside from context and costume no effort is made to obscure the use of two actresses. A little hiccup started happening - "that's not the same actress" - and then I started watching for it. Once noticed, it became obvious and yet remained inspired as I engaged the switches on another level. I've read that some people view the entire film without noticing. A phenomena known as change blindness.

¡vive le cinema francais!
Signore Direttore

Una idea caprichosa de un dia lluviado

whimsy

possession

Sevilla

nostalgia

lace

smoke rings

superballs

go go boots

pompadours

ascots

The rain has stopped now.

Directing Actors Weekly

It's been a while since I've had a camera between me and an actor. End of June to be exact. I've been very busy with other things and I decided not to teach indefinitely. I had a short planned for the fall but the main actor flaked on a prep meeting and I decided to move on to more pressing matters.
The other night I had dinner with an old college friend. She was my Spanish study partner. She's now an immigration lawyer, speaking Spanish daily. She asked how my Spanish was. I said it had been a while since I'd had any conversations, but that it will never leave me completely. Give me a week or two fully immersed in it and I'm fluent.
I think directing is much the same. The language I speak with actors will never leave me. However, since most independent films shoot in four weeks or less, a week or two to regain fluency is a costly reassumilation. In short, I need to stay in practice.
I'm not going to rush to schedule a practice session, but I'm going to reach out to a couple of talented actors this week to plan some workshopping in the coming weeks.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Master Says 340

The banal and the weird are not incompatible.

Errol Morris

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Master Says 339

People prefer to be the hero of their life story rather than the villain.

Errol Morris

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bounty



I said I hated it, but I didn't say I was going to give up. These go in the mail tomorrow morning.

Signore Direttore

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just In Case You Thought I'd Gone Soft ...

I FUCKING HATE WITHOUTABOX AND THE ENTIRE PROCESS OF SUBMITTING TO FILM FESTIVALS!
I've been working on submitting But A Dream to film festivals all week. Every film festival has different submission criteria but the details of which are at once vague and specific. What the fuck is a flyer one sheet? This is not a standard designation and no further details are available. Why do I need to send posters and fliers across the country before the film has been selected? Isn't that a huge waste of resources? I imagine their offices piled with paper, ninety percent of which is going to be thrown in the trash very soon. Why not embrace the EPK? Electronic Press Kits have been around for nearly a decade.
I'm losing my mind trying to track the criteria of twenty plus film fests. This one wants a Black and White Production Still and a thirty word synopsis. Another wants two color stills, a press kit including a seventy-five word synopsis. I'm trying to build a comprehensive EPK that includes all of the above. So far I've written a logline, a one line synopsis (25 words), a short synopsis (50 words), a longer synopsis (75 words) , a full synopsis (200 words) and a DVD package synopsis.
Yesterday WAB mistakenly submitted my project to the Teen section of the Atlanta Film Festival. There is no way to correct it without writing a letter of explanation to the festival. It is impossible to resubmit the same project until the first submission had been removed from the system. As the day progressed I repeatedly filled out Narrative or Dramatic Short as my intended submission only to be sent on to a page dedicated to submitting my feature film. I was met with warnings that my film wasn't long enough for the feature category. In many instances I had to click through many times before I got the correct page randomly.
Then I got to pay a bunch of money. It feels like a big racket, leaving me with a huge lump of acid in my gut.
I love short films. I really hope a better distribution channel develops. And I don't mean the fucking internet. The net is a great showcase for some things, but I didn't spend over ten Gs, ask for beau coup favors and work my own ass off on a film like But A Dream to put it on YouTube.
Perhaps when some acceptance letters start to arrive around the first of the year I'll be singing a different tune. Perhaps even gloating. Or crying. Right now, I'm just bitter and I can't wait to be done with this.

Signore Direttore

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Master Says 338

Slow motion gets you there faster.

Hoagy Carmichael

Monday, October 27, 2008

Things Get Even Funnier

So I had a good idea for the NOLA project on the flight but when I sat down to outline it for my partner via email Saturday something came over me mid-message. What started out as a brief outline ended with my offer to buy him out and proceed on my own. I realized I didn't want to go back and forth anymore. It doesn't work for me. If I'm going to pitch idea after idea for the basic "What's it's about?", I might as well originate my own story. But there's a seed in my buddy's script that has been planted in my mind and I want to shape its growth. But since we stand so diametrically opposed on the basic tone of the story, I need to take over or step back and let him do it on his own. The finality scared me but I realized that if I didn't like C so much my decision would have been easier. I decided to trust our friendship and ask for what I wanted.
So now it's Monday morning and I'm on my own. I've been drifting in and out of the story since Saturday evening when my offer was accepted. I'm not going to jump into another draft just yet. I need to nail the logline, title, theme and the basic story before I proceed with another draft. There are three main characters that are all very rich and three dimensional. I'm debating whether to pit one against the other with the third caught in between or pitting all three against an arch villain. It could go either way and I'll be exploring the possibilities this week.
I've also got to finish my press kit for But A Dream. I find it annoying to do prior to acceptance to a festival. It's a waste of paper and postage as far as I'm concerned. Many festivals will accept an EPK, but it seems many want hard copies of production stills, bios and such. That's the first order of business today as I've got to get three of fifteen applications out the door by Wednesday. I'll be sending the other twelve off, though they have later deadlines. It's just one more step in the never ending journey of independent filmmaking.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Friday, October 24, 2008

Funny How Things Work Out

I said a very pleasant, warm and grateful goodbye to my host in New Orleans yesterday afternoon at the airport. As I walked inside to the ticket counter the lack of momentum and the seeming impossibility of getting this story back on track weighed heavily on me.
Then I found out my plane was delayed two hours and that I would miss my connection in LA, requiring me to take the next flight out at six this morning. Waiting in the security line I called a friend in LA, who funnily enough I want to play one of the leads in the NOLA project and who said he was just about to call me when I rang. He was working on his TV show at Paramount to which he invited me to come hang for the rest of the night and then stay at his place. He even sent someone to pick me up. I changed my connection to a flight leaving at 11.
I wrote a couple of emails and read The New Yorker (great Gladwell article on The Late Bloomer by the way - thanks DM) while I waited for the NOLA-LAX flight. I couldn't help but think if things go the way I'd like I might be flying between LA and NO more often. But it really seemed like a distant fantasy. I had a sinking feeling that I was deluded to have ever thought such a thing, such was my disconnection to the script.
I managed not to dwell on it, diverting myself with the rest of the NYer and some Shostakovitch. Then somewhere over West Texas or New Mexico an idea surfaced. For the first time in a week I was able to say what the film was about in a sentence as several points of dramatic action and twists of plot came cascading over me. I quickly wrote them down, smiled to myself and then, before I could cast any doubts, distracted myself with watching ER on the in-flight programming.
I arrived in LA, stepped out to the curb into a car and was at Paramount twenty minutes later. I got to say I liked walking around the lot. Very nice feeling. Found my friend, hung out with him in his trailer until they came and walked us to set. The 2nd 2nd set me up with a chair in front of the monitors with the director, writer, UPM and scripty. They gave me a headset and I got to spend the next couple of hours watching my buddy work. It was great. I enjoyed the experience tremendously - I felt right-sized about things. I both learned a few things and felt confident that working on that level would not be a stretch for me.
While they were turning around, we took a tour of the sets and noticed on the plaque outside Stage 32 that Citizen Kane, Chinatown and the original Star Trek TV series had all been made on that stage.
We walked to his home after he wrapped. It was a beautiful night and a perfect ending to a long day. He has read my first draft of the NOLA script and knows of my interest in working with him on the film. He's interested and he liked my new ideas that I shared with him before going to bed.
I was dreading going back to Portland with the project dead in the water, instead I have a little spring in my step. The West Texas brainstorms may turn out to be duds, but they'll keep me moving at the very least. Which is all I really need.

Grazie,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Orleans Days 4 & 5

Yesterday was the big tour of potential locations. I was looking as a filmmaker initially, studying the dereliction purely as setting. Not to exploit it as much as to study it as character. Before long I just got numb. Three years later, block after scarcely populated block and house after abandoned and destroyed house. A collosal disaster. I've spent time in Cuba and Mexico and even the slums of San Francisco and New York, but this is on another scale. I took a few pictures for reference, but mostly I just looked around feeling empty.

At the same time, we've hit a wall with where we want to take the story. In many ways it feels like we've gone backwards, maybe even terminally. I really can't say. The trip is still very pleasant, but the day ended with watching Game 1 of the World Series and a few half-hearted stabs at different approaches to the story.
As a truly independent filmmaker I rely heavily on momentum, I feel its ebb profoundly after yesterday. I trust that everything that happens at all happens as it should. I don't like it, but I can accept that time takes time. Sometimes more than others.
We're going to Mother's for lunch on the way to the airport.
If nothing else, I always eat well down here.

Signore Direttore

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Orleans Day 3

Started another beautiful day with a long walk during which I explored Uptown winding my way along Exposition, Laurel, Constance and Camp streets. I gave a lot of thought to our stalled process as I took in the beautiful homes, trees and flowers. I resolved to step back from writing and try to guide the story more as a producer. I meditated on that role to make sure I was considering it as a proactive rather than reactive move. We have had many clashes over the overall tone of the story. The original draft read as fairly dark, which I was attracted to and developed further in my page one rewrite. Part of the motive of coming down here was the resistance of my partner to the rewrite's themes which I thought were an elaboration of those in the original. Our phone conferences and emails got bogged down with discussions of minutiae as did the first two days down here. It was really getting me down. I had the sinking feeling that this was not meant to be at some point on Monday afternoon. I pressed on in spite of my doubts until late that night, but when I woke up yesterday I knew I couldn't go forth in the same manner.
I returned from my walk, stopping to stretch on the front porch. Charlie was playing his grand piano inside and I enjoyed listening to him as I stretched. The small measure of animosity that was a product of not getting what I wanted from the relationship vanished. I ate a light breakfast before sitting down across from Charlie to work. I didn't start with a declaration of my retreat from a co-writing arrangement, but with some questions. Then we watched Hustle & Flow. Followed by some discussion of theme and structure of H&F and our script over Fried Green Tomato- dressed Shrimp Po Boys on Magazine Street. We continued our talk on a tour of the less salubrious streets of Uptown and a stop to pick up some Gumbo for dinner.
I did lower the boom of my withdrawal once we got back to the house. I did so kindly and with extreme measure. It wasn't a ploy to achieve anything other than leverage on the process of getting this script ready to produce. However it had the effect of making clear that in order to work together effectively, especially long distance, that things had to change and that Charlie was willing to do what it took to preserve a co-writing relationship. Which isn't to say he was willing to abandon his insistence on a much lighter tone. Through our discussions I realized that his unwavering made all too clear in our discussions was not clear in his original draft or in the films he had mentioned in association with the story. It's kind of like being married -- the relationship is based on a fundamental attraction and common goal, but you often find out, many times too late, that you weren't really talking about the same thing. "Oh, that's what you meant."
As we worked, I continued to approach things as a co-writer. But I felt differently. I had let go of things. I could feel it. It helped move things along.
The only problem is that I woke up today fairly certain that the strides we made last night were a reconciliation toward a lighter tone rather than progress toward finding a solid structure on which to hang this story.
Back to the poetics board.
It's a demanding process. But it has its rewards. Last night's were a sunset walk in the park to see hundreds of egrets, ibises and other fowl nesting in the trees and the pond and a double serving of delicious Gumbo for dinner.
Things could be worse.

Signore Direttore

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Orleans Day 2

More running in Audubon Park. Followed by a long day of story conferencing. It's very difficult to say just what I'm going through for many reasons, especially on a blog. I'm glad I'm here. So far it's not going as I'd hoped, but I'm trying to trust that everything happens as it should and the benefit of these impasses will be revealed at some point.
Right now I'm a little confounded as to how best to proceed. Everything is friendly and nice, but there are issues of compatibility that I'm seeking to resolve.
More will be revealed.

Signore Direttore

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New Orleans Day 1

Got in late last night. A cab dropped me at my friend's place Uptown. I dropped my stuff, called my family and set off on the walk to the bar where my host was playing a gig. His house in on Camp Street where it dead ends into Audubon Park. The walk down Magazine Street to Nashville Ave where I cut south to Tchoupitoulas was eerily quiet. Most of the beautiful shotgun houses fronted by lush gardens were dark. Every once in a while a cat would rush out from under a house or car. I jumped every time. Though the houses were dark, the night was very bright. And warm. Though once I arrived at the bar where the doors were open and most wore short sleeves I heard many complaints of how cold it was. I was wearing a sweater and was just right.
I went for a run this morning in the park which is a hundred feet from the front door. The weather is perfect - a sunny and mild 75. I took my time warming up and stretching.
We're going to a party to watch the Saints and eat food in a bit and then Charlie has a gig tonight. We plan to roll up our sleeves and get to work Monday morning after I've had a chance to see and hear a bit of this very unique place. Everything has its own tempo down here. I feel myself breathing more easily, just slowing down. It feels good. Supports one of my mantras - it's no big deal and we're not going anywhere.

Signore Direttore

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Master Says 337

We've lost everything, ... I don't know what we're going to do. I never wanted to leave.

Fats Domino

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Master Says 336

I think one of the reasons people quit is because they're afraid they won't be able to get better and better; that they have to come to a zenith of some kind.

Conrad Hall

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Master Says 335

The line between virtue and vice is one dividing the whole of mankind.

Aristotle

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Master Says 334

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.

Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Master Says 333

It's always the fool that stands where evil stood before.

David Milch

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Master Says 332

Be patient to all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, October 03, 2008

Working

I'm working on the New Orleans project. Rewriting, phone meetings, research, casting -- all very enjoyable work. In part, because New Orleans is so far away both geographically and otherwise, it doesn't seem real somehow. Being down there soon should help with that. Even so, doing something like this on spec is a daydream. How not to proceed other than acting as if this movie is going to get made? When in reality it's some words on a stack of paper. Of course those very powerful words conjure a story that compels me like nothing I've worked on before, evoking people and a place that I feel like I know in spite of the fact that I haven't been to New Orleans in nearly fifteen years. I believe others will also know that place as intimately once they read those words that Charlie and I have been writing. The doubts come in often enough - what makes you think this is so great? There are hundreds if not thousands of guys like you trying to get their movies made. How the hell are you going to overcome that? The thing is, I don't know if -- but I do know how and while it may be a steep climb, I feel like I have something that's worthy of carrying up the mountain.

As I meet some New Orleans actors through email and over the phone I really get excited. They have distinct voices and experiences yet we talk across the daunting divides of race and geography, speaking a language more common than I've often experienced in projects I've done in my own backyard. I thought I might feel like an outsider or that there would be a distance. So far that hasn't been the case. I think part of the credit goes to our insistence on meeting actors there first before trying to cast in LA or NY. We're also staunchly avoiding all the silly Bourbon Street-Voodoo-Gumbo-Mardi Gras-Big Easy crap that permeates every film set down there.
JFK and Down By Law, my favorite film depictions of New Orleans are not really about the city and only feature it anecdotally.

There's a great documentary about Katrina coming to Cinema 21 soon called Trouble The Water. Here's the trailer (talk about a voice!):

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sometimes nothins a pretty cool hand ...



I feel like a part of me is missing.

Descanso en paz, senor.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quick Note About NOLA Project

I've been doing a page one rewrite of the New Orleans script the past few days. I started just doing some outlining and some light research and had a long conversation with the writer Sunday night. I had a lot of questions about things and was feeling a little shaky. But I jumped into a big scene in the middle that needed a little shaping and the next thing you know I'd written/rewritten over sixty pages of the script. There's a good twenty pages that I've reworked several times. And another ten pages of rewrites that I've thrown out.
I've been working day and night on it and it feels so great. Feels like a calling. This script is so rich. There are so many distinct characters to work with. The action takes place more or less simultaneously all around New Orleans. It's kind of like Crash but without the PC moralizing. But way better locations and music.

Quick endnote: when I feel really good about something, I can't help but think I'm setting myself up for a fall. I'm trying to enjoy these joyful feelings born of being creative. It's getting easier, but those cynical naysayers upstairs won't shut up.

Grazie,
Signore Direttore

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Master Says 331

The artist is the medium between his fantasies and the rest of the world.

Federico Fellini

Friday, September 19, 2008

Exciting Week

I've been either stressed out or down and out with a head cold all week and yet I have to say it's been a fantastic week. In addition to finishing But A Dream and seeing significant progress on Dangerous Writing I set up a meeting with a very fine actor for an upcoming project and finalized an option agreement on a promising screenplay.
The actor is someone that's always stood out in theater productions at ART and PCS - one of the few locals that I admire. I've written a leading role for him in a short that I think he's going to really bring to life.
The screenplay is a romantic thriller set in New Orleans. It's not like anything I would have written on my own, which taking nothing away from my writing, I find really exciting. The plan is to rewrite it and shop it with me attached to direct.
While I've been ill with this head cold I've been reading David Simon's Homicide. I've become such a fanatic devotee to all things related to The Wire. I've watched Seasons 1-4, The Corner, read four or five books by George Pelecanos, one by Richard Price and another by Dennis Lehane. Pelecanos, Price and Lehane all write for The Wire. I'm saving Season 5 for awhile.
I'm also digging into some exciting research for my tv pilot. I may let that stew for a bit while I did into the New Orleans script.
I've been letting Sway, my novel in progress, simmer on a back burner and while it made me nervous at first now I feel comfortable that I'll get back to it when the time is right.
Everything feels very free and momentous. I'm enjoying it without taking it for granted. I've been here before and I've seen the momentum dissipate without the proper respect and diligence. An odd combination of patience and avidity is required. Finishing a project that I'm proud of fuels both qualities.

Grazie,
Signore DIrettore

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chutes and Ladders

The DVD encoding conflama consumed all of yesterday. The morning edition solved some problems and confirmed the errors of the previous day. It took some diligence to push them away from pretty good, where they seemed content, toward a solid good. I'm doing better at keeping my cool in these situations, pushing earnestly toward getting what I need for projects. Formerly I knew two modes when things went south - strident intimidation or passive aggresive withdrawal. I'm happy to have learned some new skills, though there's no doubt it saps my energy. I've got a lot of energy tied up in these unfinished films. There's fear of success and fear of failure. There's hope of recognition and fear that I'm kidding myself.
One of the things I'm discovering is that I'm conflating recognition for my talents and accomplishments with acceptance by the world at large. I had a dream the other night of being an overnight guest in a friend's house. The friend is successful in the film world and in reality is very generous toward me. As he was in the dream. He offered me a bed in a loft that required ascending a ladder to reach. He and his wife easily scrambled up and down the ladder, but when it came time for me to climb it I couldn't.
As I consider the completion of projects and the possibilities of submitting to festivals like Sundance, I yearn for both recognition and acceptance. Expectations overwhelm my efforts to focus on the work. It is an ascension that I seek. An ascension above and beyond myself. But if the work is coming from me then I don't want to leave myself. It's mine if only I'll let myself have it. And recognition from Sundance or Studios or my peers is a confirmation of what I already am rather than a reinvention.
I did submit But A Dream to Sundance last night. And I did watch the rough cut of Dangerous Writing with the editor today. I'm proud of the work, confident that it's evidence of a strong and unique vision and I'm very hopeful it will be recognized as such. I need to stay off the ladder. I'm not going anywhere and there's nothing to prove.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Impatiently Waiting

Yesterday we finalized the color on But A Dream and output it to Digi-Beta and DVD. I worked late at my office getting the Sundance application finished. I decided I should view the DVD one more time. I was told all was good and I have watched the film over a dozen times in the past week, nevermind the hundred or so viewings over the past several months. I'm glad I decided to check the DVD - it was unwatchable. Blurry strobing, interlacing artifacts - man, what a bummer. I woke up a few times last night looking anxiously forward to the post house opening so as to get some answers. First time I called I was told my contact wasn't in yet. My query as to when he was expected was brushed off with an impertinent, It's early, maybe in a half hour or hour. When I called back forty-five minutes later she told me he wasn't going to be in today. So I spoke to someone else that I hadn't worked with. He told me he would get back to me in half of an hour. It's now been that and an hour - and voila! they just now called. I was going to write that I think I'm just going to go down there. But now I wait somewhat more calmly knowing someone is indeed working on it.
Even before this setback, I was feeling exhausted by this process. I'm basically doing it alone, which is a lonely proposition after awhile. There seem to be so many things that need attention and that can go wrong even in the hands of pros. No wonder I've faltered in completing films.
I'm going to keep on keeping on. Doubtful thoughts do creep in in these trying times.
I'm looking at established, premiere festivals to submit the film to. So far there's Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin, Atlanta, Athens, Ann Arbor, Florida, Nashville, SXSW, GenArts, Tribeca, Krakow and Los Angeles. Many of which are qualifiers for AMPAS, or more commonly known as The Oscars. It's funny to think of the film in such grandiose terms. I don't expect to get into all of these festivals, let alone win them or an Oscar, but getting to this point with a quality project does open some possibilities.
It's funny how hope grows. For not only am I impatiently awaiting the DVD file transfer, I'm also anxious to hear from some of these festivals before I've even sent in my submission.
Impatience is one thing, but sitting paralyzed unable to do anything in the meantime is something else. I need to get up and organize some camera gear or empty the trash. Anything but the dreaded internet. Except to update my iPhone software. Another device in my life teaching me patience.

¡viva!
Signroe Direttore

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Master Says 330

Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.

W. Somerset Maugham

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Good Life (cont.)



While hurricanes battered the Southeast we were in Sisters, Oregon enjoying perfect weather.

Grazie,
Signore Direttore

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Good Life

I've spent the better part of the week in post-production houses working on But A Dream. Talking about my ideas and their realization while crafting the sound and picture in the finishing stages is a pleasure. There are difficulties and challenges. The helpful competence and positive attitudes of the technicians makes handling the hiccups a lot easier. And getting a nice hot lunch served in the suite while working is a nice feature as well. Once more Monday. Then it's back to my office with Jordan and the other boys for less commodious working conditions.

Mollycoddled,
Signore Direttore

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Timeshifting Time Capsule



The Betamax, one of our first timeshifting devices. I liked the smaller tapes, personally. And I've always been a Sony fan. Perhaps due to their advertising in the 70s and 80s - "It's not a TV, it's a Sony". One of my girlfriends was the model on the packaging of the first Walkman's. Maybe that's it. Anyway, porn distributors wanted the VHS format and that's where we ended up until DVDs came along.
Is timeshifting and other on-demand media conveniences good for us? While I enjoy it, I don't always think so. Since I've given up the internet at home, I realize how little I really need to do on the web. And the mobile phone - that too is a mixed blessing.
Anyway, I love the colors in the Betamax commercial. And the real people feel. "Taxi" was a big TV show back then. The whole cabbie motif has really changed. I don't think there are more than about three white cab drivers in New York City in 2008. I actually know one of them - a photographer friend that being young and hip passed by, leaving him driving a cab not so much as an ironic underbelly lark but as his most viable means of support.
This commercial seems to really illustrate for me how much the world has changed. It feels dated, sure, but there's something immutable about it as well as being so of the time it was made. Maybe it's the precision of its capture of the era that makes it timeless.

Nostalgico,
Signore Direttore

Monday, September 08, 2008

Our Politics Mirror Our Stupidity

I am unhappy but not too surprised to see McCain currently leads 50-46 in a recent USA Today poll. I know it's a post-convention bump. We looove publicity - please just tell us what to think.
I also saw that in a recent CNN research poll 45% of those polled felt Sarah Palin is ready to be President. In the same poll 75% believed that she was chosen because having a woman on the ticket would help McCain get elected. So only a quarter don't have a cynical view of politics, but almost half are willing to give a very inexperienced person a heart attack away from the oval office the benefit of the doubt.
What the hell have we been going on and on about for the past year if this VP candidate can come out of nowhere and earn that much support based on one speech? It's a joke.
And what of all this crap about her being pretty? She's certainly not physically ugly, but she's nothing to get excited about.
And why is Obama's lack of experience such an issue? W. was governor of Texas for six years. That was the extent of his experience in public office. Not too much more time than Obama has been in the US Senate, let alone as a state legislator. I won't compare the intelligence of the two men. Not because I think the answer is so obvious, but for that I fear intelligence is becoming an undervalued commodity in America.
I don't talk about politics that often, but I'm starting to get to the boiling point. The candidates bother me far less than the enfranchised and the fourth estate. Ugh.

Disgusted,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Master Says 329

Honor the source.

David Simon

The Master Says 328

A 'professional', at least in the common usage of the term, is one who is very far from being 'independent'. If the artist seeks - indeed demands and must have - 'freedom', then the industry professional must face that what he needs and wants is 'dependence', the mutual and reciprocal support of others in what is an industry that produces a product designed for mass consumption in the hopes of massive profits.

Alexander Mackendrick

Friday, September 05, 2008

Trudging Ever Forward




I had a spotting session for the sound design of But A Dream at Digital One this morning. It was one more experience that I went into uneasy and came out calm and confident. I directed the film two and a half years ago. I've since made two features and over two dozen shorts. I'm a far more experienced filmmaker at this point. I've also lost all perspective on the film. As I sat through it one more time this morning I wondered if the tension I was feeling was a result of the story or nerves from sitting in a room with three strangers. I've also noticed that people are very quiet after seeing it. So there's that pregnant pause that makes me think people are trying to think of something nice to say that will cover how much they hated it and resent my asking for ten minutes of their time.
I've gotten better about sitting and waiting for responses to my work. Even when people don't like something I seem to survive. The Digital One guys liked it. The sound designer, Chip Sloan, had some very welcome ideas for it. He really got it in a way that the other sound editors I've been trying to work with for the past six months did not. I guess those relationships didn't work out for a reason. There was one guy that had done some stuff on a few of GSV's films that I wanted to work with for the very wrong reason of having some names in my credits with impressive bona fides. Though there are several others that worked on BAD like Neil Kopp, TG Firestone and Greg Schmitt that have kept very good working company.
Moving on from my egotistical concerns ...
I was anxious about the meeting this morning. It started last night. I've been working on my Withoutabox application form. I'm hoping the film will have its World Premiere at Sundance. I've been doing this for awhile and this is the first film that I've finished that I think merits submission to premiere festivals. I'm looking forward to finding out how it fares, all the while coming up with judgments of it that confirm its failure. It's just a way to try to control the outcome. I want to feel safe and my brain is telling me it's safer to fail.
That's what the film is about - taking that next step even though it might be your last.
Robert Evans says you need to learn from your successes. I'm going to call but A Dream a success right here and now before I even send it off to Sundance. Goodness knows I've learned a lot from making it and seeing it through to meet the world on its own merits. It feels nice to learn from my success.

Bravo,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, September 04, 2008

In Search of a Midnight Kiss



I loved this film. You, too, can go see it at selected theaters like The Hollywood in Portland. It's well written, well acted and beautifully photographed. Downtown Los Angeles has never looked so good.
This film gives me hope for Digital Cinema. The filmmakers told a simple story in their own collective voice. They created something wonderful, avoiding the usual failed imitation of a big studio production or the snarky sloppy cam of many DIY films.

In Admiration,
Signore Direttore

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Back to School

Thus ending another summer. All three of our children are in school this year. Rented three units in the apartment building - only one unit left to renovate. But A Dream is getting finalized in the next week.
The fall looks like a promising season for some writing as well as guiding the two features home. Kind of hard to believe. I'm a little breathless - both out of breath from all the activity and lacking breath from the anxiety of actually finishing some things.
My life truly is good. But for me, it's really hard to accept at times. I'm not used to not being in crisis. I'm sure some things will come up - life always intercedes, but this feeling that there are no big deals coming my way is hard to imagine let alone embrace.
My wife is going out of town for a job and I have to get contractors going on the last unit, so I'm keeping my writing expectations low for a couple more weeks. Oh and I have meetings and sessions with sound designers and colorists and graphic designers for But A Dream. Funny how I tell myself I'm not doing much and then write it down or tell someone and realize, oh shit I'm not really taking it easy after all.
Today, I'm off to coffee with a friend and colleague and then to a school picnic at Blue Lake.

Grazie,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, August 28, 2008

David Fucking Milch

Ooh Danger!

I watched the first cut of Dangerous Writing today. I prepared myself for some big holes in the story and some gut-wrenching pain as best I could. I actually considered not giving any notes and just letting it wash over me this first time through in order to try to accept it for what it is rather than as having failed to bring my vision for it to life.
Though it was probably wise to lower my expectations, none of that was necessary. The film is good. We succeeded in making the film I imagined. The camera work is nice, the performances are all good to very good, and the story comes through. David, Aislinn, Joey and Andrew all do very nice work. They all have moments of excellence. The rest of the cast also does a fine job. The sound kind of sucks, but what do you expect shooting in real locations with no money? With some work it can be improved for the most part.
It was really great to see it. I look forward to seeing the next cut and I think this is a film everyone will be proud to have been involved with.

Grazie,
Signore Direttore

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Master Says 327

Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.

Tom Clancy

Vicky Christina Barcelona


Going to a Woody Allen film in the past ten or twelve years has been a tricky proposition. He's made a few good ones and more than a few stinkers. I haven't exactly gone out of my way to get to the theater for his films as I did beginning in high school. I think the last Woody Allen film I went to see in a theater was Celebrity.
I'm not a fan of Scarlett Johansen. Even her undeniably luscious curves seemed to diminish in the wake of her flat performances. But Woody seemed to find a way to use her effectively in Match Point so I wasn't going to stay away from this one because of her. I adore Penelope Cruz, especially when she has the freedom of speaking and being Spanish.
This film evoked Allen's films of the 70s and 80s - simple situational films dealing with neurotic relationships. Though this story was a bit thinner and the cast wasn't up to the antics of the great former Allen ensembles. Which isn't to say javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson are not good actors or delivered wanting performances. I just don't think they had much to do. In films like Hannah and her Sisters, which this film seems most closely related, the energy was up, up, up. Perhaps the culture of the siesta invaded the film. I want to remind myself here that Woody isn't obligated to duplicate his past triumphs or even continue the same themes. But with a voice as distinctive as his, it's hard not to have those expectations.
At times the lead female, Rebecca Hall, sounded just like Woody - nasally, acerbic, paranoid, absurdly rational. It was charming, especially due to the brevity of the emulative moments.
I worked with Chris Messina on a film called Road in New York. We have a lot of mutual friends. It was good to see him in a sizable role on the big screen.
The film was worth seeing and enjoyable. It reminded me of how simple a film can be and how few films that accept that challenge.

Signore Direttore

Saturday, August 23, 2008

XLI

Thirty, thirty-five and forty didn't bother me. They were milestones to be celebrated. Add one and suddenly I'm beyond the abyss. Which isn't to say I'm bothered today as I celebrate forty-one years of age. I'm quite happy actually, but I can't say I am entirely excited to state my age. It comes with a little interior tremor of, Really?
I ran this morning through Victoria BC, catching up to my family who were visiting the petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park while I had some alone time to gaze across the Straits of Juan de Fuca at the Olympic Mountains back in our suite before my run. I'm finally able to run comfortably after four years of rehabilitating a severe tendon injury in my right ankle. Running makes me feel light on my feet and young. I'm much slower than I was but minus the burn of the pack a day plus I used to smoke even when running competitively. I've been running all week with no pain in my joints. My muscles on the other hand are feeling the burn. My lungs, however, feel quite young.
I have mucho to be grateful for, obvious to my intellect but difficult for my psyche to accept. Oh, the great mystery of life! No sense in trying to sort it all out, better to live as mindfully and courageously as possible and leave the rest up to the universe.

feliz cumpleanos a mi,
Signore Direttore