Further Not Better
Played 179 times
Music for the Weekend: Further Not Better by WIFE.
Am halfway around the planet in India, just getting started on my meetings with potential financiers for some long-gestating projects. It’s been three years since I was last in this country, which continues to reinvent itself on a daily basis. The world is changing at a pace that few of us can comprehend.
I chose this song because of its backstory. James Kelly, who is the brain behind WIFE, is also the brain behind Altar of Plague, one of the best black metal bands in Ireland. It’s a complete shift in musical ideology, and yet Kelly makes it work. Listening to this album on my flight reminded me that the greatest joy as an artist is to be unclassifiable. It means no one can peg you down, no one can predict your next move, and if you’re really good at your craft, the world will eagerly anticipate your next move.
It also means that you will continue to challenge yourself, you will never become complacent or spin your wheels. As the saying goes, change is the only constant, and this applies to so much more than just art. Never be bored. Never be satisfied. Never settle. Always change, always learn, always discover. The art which will come out of you will surprise you, it will be dangerous, and most importantly, it will be yours.
Have a great weekend.
Martin L. Gore
Played 145 times
Music for the Weekend: Compulsion by Martin Gore.
I’m four weeks into my insane ten-week travel schedule and I’m already starting to feel burned out. I’ve done three cities in four weeks, a meeting a day, and still have the hardest part ahead of me, which is international travel. I’m abroad for the next three weeks.
Feeling worn out aside, I’ve gotten a lot of things done and things look promising. I’ve been in the film business long enough to temper my emotions coming out of an outstanding meeting (and I had a few) where everything seems perfect and your life is ready to change forever, but then weeks, months, sometimes years later you’re still waiting for those promises and agreements to come to fruition. It’s an old adage from my business law classes during my MBA, which is that if you don’t have it on paper, you don’t have it. I don’t start breakdancing until the ink is dry on the contract.
This song popped up on my playlist - a relic from my college days - and the lyrics hit me hard as I was sitting in a crowded discount airline cabin in my middle seat, at the back of the plane, by the lavatory.
Charms in limited supply and refusing to stretch
That indefinable nothing somehow keeps pushing you
Finding the right words can be a problem
How many times must it be said
there’s no plan
it had to happen
Got to move on sometime and it’s about time
By putting one foot in front of another and repeating the process
Cross over the street, youre free to change your mind
Strength through diversity couldnt have put it more plainly
It seemed to perfectly distill the process of pitching. You’re good in the room, your passion is authentic and vital, and the other side seems excited, but whether it is out of professional kindness or genuine sincerity is known only to them. Then the dance begins, the coaxing of that simple-yet-evasive one syllable answer: yes or no.
Scott Rudin used to say the best answer he could get from a meeting was a “yes,” but the even better answer was a “no.” Because when someone says “no” you can move on, you can try a different angle or strategy. But the media business rarely works like that. On average my discussions / negotiations with agencies take about four months of back and forth, all of it exceptionally noncommittal. It’s absolutely maddening.
We slog it out. Work damn hard. Make sacrifices. There’s few luxuries. Save money by crashing on the couches of loyal friends. Spend money where it benefits your goals the most. And sometimes you make a breakthrough and it’s our human nature to feel excited. But besides giving you a thick skin, this business will give you a new concept of delayed gratification. The celebration must wait until the movie is in the can, or even better when it’s onscreen, or even better when you get your first check from the receipts. There are so many stages, so many uncertainties.
Doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. It’s a cliche but it really is all about enjoying the journey, this is the source of our joy. Those moments when you look up at the ceiling of a room that isn’t yours, and realize that you’re working towards something that’s pretty fucking cool and is incredibly important to you, and is your mark on the world. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.
Soldier on. Back on a plane tomorrow and away for three weeks, so the posting may be a bit spotty. Thanks for understanding, and let’s keep fighting for our dreams.
Have a great weekend!
Played 237 times
Music for the Weekend: Asleep by Makthaverskan.
What a brilliant record by this Swedish quartet. You know music is special when it can transport you, either to a future that you wish could happen or to the past you’d like to reclaim. In this instance for me it is the latter.
There’s something about this track that reminds me of my most awkward introduction to love, or what I thought was love. Sometime around freshman year of high school. I couldn’t stop thinking of this one girl in my math class. She wasn’t one of the unattainable popular girls, she was a figure skater and would show up at school at like five in the morning to practice. Nobody seemed to really notice her. In that sense we had a lot in common.
She was very pretty but more fascinating to me was an understated elegance to her. Every movement of hers was soft and on some sort of parabolic glide. She had sharp features mostly hidden by long, straight brown hair. I was mesmerized and awestruck. She was the first girl that reminded me of Audrey Hepburn. And the last.
She also had a boyfriend. Every nerd’s nightmare. She was off limits, and even if she was unattached I was so painfully shy I wouldn’t have done anything about it. What would a beautiful girl like her want to do with an introverted dork like me?
High school continued and two years later I ended up having a photography class with her. And her boyfriend. My torture resumed. Then one day I had my nightmare scenario. One early morning before school started, I was in the darkroom (we used to develop our pictures back in the 90s, kids) and I was developing a series of pictures that I took in the mountains. It was really good work, the nascent legs of a visual career that I had no idea would turn into my life’s passion. I was in the darkroom by myself, and then she walked in. It was just the two of us. I was petrified with fear. We worked in silence.
She looked over at my picture in the developer bath, and looked at me and tried to say something, but she choked on her words. I looked up at her, as if I’d done something terribly wrong. She smiled and said “your pictures are really beautiful.” My brain exploded, and I eked out an almost inaudible “thanks” and smiled at her. And then something amazing happened. We talked. Like a lot, for an hour or so, about a ton of stuff. Music. Mountains. Skating. Art. Life. We got out of the darkroom, and for reasons beyond my understanding, she asked if she could take my picture. I was dying inside. I said okay. She snapped a pic, and I took a picture of her on my camera. Our relationship thereafter was relegated to exchanged smiles in the hallway and a hug at graduation.
And that’s it. Rather unspectacular in the annals of recorded relationships, but the emotions that were invoked in me, the sea change of feelings, I cannot possibly give justice to. It wasn’t love, or infatuation, or some teenage masturbatory fantasy, it was a special moment when you just connect with someone on an entirely different level, when every nerve is activated and every cell engaged. Small, beautiful moments that carry on for the rest of your life. For that, I thank Lisa with all of my heart.
All this from one song. Such is the power of art.
Have a great weekend!
Polaroid by its nature makes you frugal. You walk around with maybe two packs of film in your pocket. You have 20 shots, so each shot is a world.
I feel this way about film vs. digital. I’ve shot movies on both, from Super-8 to 16mm reversal to Super 35mm to RED, Alexa, Sony and Canon DSLRs. There is a unique economy to film that digital doesn’t have, because it is a finite resource.
I put a ton of thought into every shot irrespective of capture medium, but film has this additional pressure that repels any kind of shortcuts. There is no safety net with film, when you expose it you have that much less time and money to work with, so you make each one count that much more. Smith says it perfectly - each shot is a world.
Film strips by my late college professor and mentor, the great Stan Brakhage.
The thing to take away from this is that even when you shoot on digital, you treat it with the reverence and care of film. We are filmmakers, not videomakers. Film is an art, a craft that knows no shortcuts. You exercise it, you execute it, you practice it until you are a master of it like any other art. When you shoot digital, you plan for film, you light for film, you color correct for film. No excuses. When people start accepting digital as digital, this is when you see glitches, limitations and movies that look like backyard birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.
Everything - including digital -begins and ends with film.
Cigarettes & Loneliness
Chet Faker - Built On Glass
Played 641 times
Music for the Weekend: Cigarettes & Lonliness by Chet Faker.
This weeks starts an insane ten weeks of work travel, and I’ve already spent a considerable amount of time in airports. I’m shopping three television shows and two feature films, all which has been written in the past two months. I’m all written out for now, but now it’s time to hit the road and sell.
My father used to be a consultant, and he was on the road all the time. There was a period in my childhood where I’d see my father maybe 1/3 of the year, because he’d stay for weeks in Europe on consulting gigs. He’d always come back with gifts from wherever he visited. He’d get me old comic books and weird stationary products from Asia.
My pops rarely if ever shared his stories from the road, but having grown up and logged my own fair share of miles, I can now understand why. The road is an amazing place, lonely and introspective, and simultaneously dangerous and exciting. Those stories are personal and just for my dad. Someday he might tell us, but that’s okay, we all have to take some things with us.
Eating dinner in a hotel bar, or getting room service in a small town hotel. I always order fish and chips or french onion soup. Don’t know why, but it’s comforting. Watch the spelling bee on ESPN. Local news, where the Mudcats scored three touchdowns against the Fighting Hornets. Weird guy who sat next to me on the airplane and who tried to convert me to Christianity. People crying on their own. Cigarettes and loneliness.
Have a great weekend!
Hi I never got around watching Tarkovsky films. I wonder in which order would you recommend to watch to get into him. With some directors don't matter what order, but it others makes a significant difference! Thanks
A great question. I’ve spent over a decade studying Tarkovsky and I think there definitely is an order to go in. One that works for me, at least.
I’d start with Andrei Rublev, as it contains pretty much all essential elements of Tarkovsky’s philosophy and aesthetics, his usage of Christian themes as part of his greater Russian identity. It’s also a doctrine of the artist, an encapsulation of the place of art within the larger state and consciousness.
I’d then move on to Ivan’s Childhood, which for me is a great juxtaposition of finding beauty in detritus, of childhood innocence within the mores of men. From a composition standpoint it is one of Tarkovsky’s most visually arresting pictures, and as it is his first film we see his reliance upon painterly visuals and less maturity in terms of performance.
From there I’d move to The Mirror, which to me is Tarkovsky working at the height of his powers, and it is his most personal film. Here we see it all come together, and it is Tarkovsky’s most layered and textured film, and it is imbued with an emotional honesty that was previously masked. Tarkovsky mines his heart and his memories, and it makes for an emotionally riveting experience.
From here I’d move to Tarkovsky’s science fiction masterpieces, first Stalker and then Solaris. Both films in this order will take you through the gauntlet of faith, the former being stripped bare of it and the latter reaffirming it, albeit in the most gnostic of ways. After the grounded humanity of Andrei Rublev, Ivan’s Childhood and The Mirror, it’s fascinating to see Tarkovsky move into fictionalized, created spaces, where his humanity is allowed to exist in a pressurized construct. Both films use the environment and inexplicable laws of science to test the human subjects, a test of ultimate faith which would mirror Tarkovsky’s own allegiances to the Soviet Union.
This is a good time to revisit Tarkovsky’s earlier works pre-Ivan’s Childhood, as it’ll give a remarkable insight as to where Tarkovsky developed his signatures. Start with The Steamroller and the Violin then to The Killers and There Will Be No Leave Today. It’s the equivalent of reading old high school essay papers, where we know the later outcome but we start to understand how it all came together.
Back to his features, we see the tumult in Nostalghia, where Tarkovsky was betrayed by his homeland and he had to divide his work between Russia and Italy. The dynamic affects his work, and for the first time I felt a genuine rage in Tarkovsky’s writing, a discontent which moved far beyond his mammoth reasoning. It’s my least favorite of his films, but Tarkovsky’s least effective movies are grand successes when compared to others.
It is apt to watch his final film last. The Sacrifice was made in collaboration with legendary Swedish cinematographer Sven Nyquist, and the battle of monumental wills is apparent onscreen, but to brilliant effect. It was at this time that Tarkovsky’s health was beginning to decline, and one has to wonder if it influenced the overall tone of the film, which reads as a gentle dirge, a passage to a different place altogether. Combined with Nyquist’s flawless lighting, the film contains trademark long takes and transformations, each more arresting and affecting than the next. I see the film and the romantic in me thinks Tarkovsky understood his fate, and he made this beautiful tone poem as a result.
While you watch all of these films, I highly recommend that you check out / purchase Tarkovsky’s book Sculpting in Time. Let the book be your reference along your journey, it is better than any kind of commentary (albeit the Criterion discs are magnificent in both transfer and extras), and will be a reference to you for the rest of your life. I know that sounds like hyperbole but Tarkovsky was one of civilization’s truly great thinkers and philosophers, far more than just a filmmaker or even an artist. He was an intellectual giant, a deeply felt humanitarian, a philosopher who rightfully belongs in the same breath as any Plato, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Krishnamurthi or Lao Tzu.
Enjoy the journey, it will likely be one of the most rewarding in your life. Hope this helps!
When Will They Shoot? [Explicit]
The Predator (World) (Explicit) [Explicit]
Played 169 times
Music for the Weekend: When Will They Shoot? by Ice Cube.
These past two weeks in Chicago have been insane. On the 4th of July weekend, some sixty-four people were shot, fourteen dead. It’s getting crazy in this city. On the news you hear of innocents being killed in Palestine (zero fatalities in Israel) and just out your door you hear of grandmas being caught in the crossfire of gang activity. There aren’t enough cops, and a lot of the cops can’t be trusted to make fair judgements without prejudice.
What to do?
Be active. Be proactive. Be empathetic. If we all flee then it will only get worse.
Have a safe weekend.
To watch the film in its entirety, click here to go to the Tribeca Film website.
Before I get into more details of how we made 7x6x2, I wanted to discuss a little about the role of the director. One of the most common questions Paul Pope and I got asked about the film was what it was like to co-direct. I think people were interested because individually, we’re both kind of control freaks, we’ve always been in control of our visions from start to finish. So what happens when you put two of those kinds of artists together?
We had immense success as a co-directing entity, and a lot of that success I feel stems from our personalities, but also in that we clearly defined our roles from the outset, and we gave each other input on what we were tasked with.
In order to do this, we had to do two things: address where we would be most useful and productive to each other, and then really break down what it meant to direct. The latter seems almost nonsensical, but it is essential for any director to understand, be they solo or co-directing.
Paul had asked me to come on board as a co-director largely because he’d never directed before, and being the humble giant he is, he wanted to have someone he could trust by his side during the entire process. We’d established our collaborative chemistry during the development of The One Trick Rip-Off, so it seemed the natural choice. Once we sold Tribeca on the idea, we had to figure out who was going to do what. It would be counterproductive to have us do the same work, and having two minds chime in on every single decision would be incredibly inefficient. We had to decide where our strengths lay, and go from there.
Paul is one of the great visualists of our time, his aesthetic has earned him honors and accolades, and he’s been recognized as one of the true masters of his craft. He builds worlds from the ground up, and infuses them with genuine heart and sensitivity. It made absolute sense then that he be in charge of the design of the film - the art direction and production design, costumes and visual effects. We would be remiss if we didn’t build a Paul Pope universe.
Paul’s got a brilliant knack for production details. Check out the Thing’s texting tools.
My strength is creating strong visuals, and doing them very efficiently. I can make something look insanely expensive and beautiful on a pittance and incredibly fast. I would take Paul’s ideas and designs and map them out, block the action and work with our DoP Jesse Green on getting the images and coverage we needed. Paul and I would both collaborate on the performances.
By separating our work, we were able to work brilliantly together. Paul would complete designs with Mike Conte and he’d ask my opinions. I would storyboard the film and consult Paul on angles and movements. We’d make adjustments and discuss our differences in opinion. It worked exceptionally well.
But this was all pre-production, and the crux of our work was understanding what it means to direct a motion picture. I always break down the directing responsibilities into three categories, and this is what I shared with Paul before we got into principal photography. The three responsibilities of directing are:
1) To Hire. A director is only as good as the people around her, and she has to have a keen ability to interview, assess and hire the best collaborators. There are many things to consider when hiring, but the most important thing to assess is chemistry. This applies to both cast and crew.
What is chemistry? Chemistry is a connection that you share with someone, when wavelengths are harmonized and honesty is enabled. It’s when someone intrigues you and makes you want to know more about them, when they bring something to the table that you’ve been dying to discover, and they’re willing to share it. Chemistry is ease of communication, of someone you’re clicking with. As hard as it is to describe, the beauty with chemistry is that you’ll know you have it once you experience it. But in order to get to that point, a good director has to be able to ask the right questions of candidates. A good director finds out what makes her collaborators tick, what makes them scared and what makes them exited. A good director makes challenges for their collaborators and takes notes on how they respond. A good director knows what they want and must be able to determine if their collaborators are willing to work to get there, and if they have the wherewithal to do it.
Paul Pope, Jim Pascoe, Paradox Pollack and producer Gary Krieg (foreground) during a production meeting at Native Films in LA.
2) To Convey. Every director, if they’ve done their homework and put in the work, will have a complete vision for their film. A complete vision is not every minute detail, although many directors (myself included) try to get down every detail as possible in our heads. It really depends on the individual, as some will have a greater holistic vision and others will be far more lucid and detailed. Each end has their particular advantages and pitfalls. Either way, a vision must be had.
But a vision in your head is useless if you’re not able to clearly describe it to your collaborators. I find that directors who are unable to clearly convey what’s going on in their head are the ones who scream and become belligerent. If you see the top kitchens in the best restaurants, you’ll find that the atmosphere is calm, relaxed and efficient. Every chef in the kitchen knows what they need to do, they are fully aware and understand the executive chef’s vision. Ever wonder why Gordon Ramsay shouts so much on Hell’s Kitchen? It’s because his chefs don’t get what he wants. He could easily remedy that (which he does in his own restaurants), but if he did that on tv then it would be the most boring program on Earth. The man doesn’t have multiple Michelin-star restaurants for no reason.
Paul and I had to be exacting and extremely clear with our team as to what we wanted, and we had to put our desires into objectives that not only conveyed what we wanted, but allowed our collaborators to bring their talents to the forefront. This is the difference between directing and micromanaging. A director will ask an actor to reach a place after giving them an actionable objective, a micromanager will act the sequence out for the actor and tell them to exactly replicate it. The latter will always result in uninspired work. You can give examples, you can interact physically, but you can never, ever do their job for them over their shoulders. Fail to communicate clearly and you will build only resentment and contempt, and you will lose control of your show. Clarity is confidence, and you must have conviction behind your words. People will trust you if they feel you know what you’re talking about.
And what if you’re stuck? What if you run out of ideas that work? Then you clearly ask your collaborators. It’s as simple as this: “nah, this doesn’t seem to be working, what do you think?” You’re being honest and clear, and you will get some good ideas in return, some bad ideas, and some things that you can work with to create a solution. That’s collaboration, and it only happens when you are able to clearly and calmly explain what’s going on in your head.
3) To Observe and React. As your vision comes together, you have to be able to take notes and process everything that’s unfolding. Sometimes it’ll go exactly as you envisioned, other times, because the millions of moving parts in making a film, you will get something different. You have to be able to see those shifts, observe them, and react accordingly. Reacting could be making corrective measures or it can be seeing where these changes are taking you. During this entire time you must keep a running log in your head or even on a notepad of how this vision is evolving. You must let your instinct react to these developments, and trust your gut. Sometimes your gut leads you astray, but more times that not your instinct is correct because your instinct is the real you, and you want the real you represented on the screen. If you feel the real you is not being represented, make the changes accordingly, give objectives to your collaborators that will push in those directions, and see what they give you. If the chemistry is right, if the objectives are clear, then you will find that things will appease your instinct or challenge them in beneficial ways because your collaborators trust in you and you trust in them.
Note that all three of these responsibilities apply to every facet of filmmaking, because the director is responsible for every facet of what makes it into the final cut.
Paul and I adhered to these responsibilities religiously, and it not only made our collaboration seamless, it made the shoot fun for all involved. It was brutally hard work but I can say with absolute honesty that I enjoyed every minute of it. Every film should be that way, where even the problems are welcomed as challenges and not as affronts. Filmmaking is nothing but solving problems and creating new solutions, and the more fun you have creating, the more your problems will seem like opportunities do do something crazier.
Apparently one reader felt my last rant was misleading. Fair enough, I didn’t talk about the content of Transformers: Age of Extinction and used it as a segue into our greater problem of lowering the achievement bar to a point where even things like picking our nose is considered a grand accomplishment. It’s the reason why I called it a rant, and not a topic. Rants can go anywhere, I just needed a starting point. I apologize for the misdirection, but I won’t apologize for my politics.
But if it’s a rant against the movie that was advertised, then who am I to unfairly not deliver? Transformers: Age of Extinction was the seed for my rant, so let’s find out where it all started. Against my better judgement, I watched the movie.
Emerging from the film I had the urgent need to chug a Bud Light in one of those fancy blue cans, to eat an Oreo cookie, to buy my wife some Victoria’s Secret and pretend in my mind that she’s underage jailbait. My brain feels this because I’d been bombarded these messages for 165 fucking minutes nonstop, a relentless 3D barrage of product placement and pent-up Bay psychosis and misogyny.
Oh fuck. Misogyny! Watch out, here I come with my bullshit politics again. Let me address that thought right after we finish this agonizingly long crane up Nicola Peltz’ legs and hold on her booty shorts, all the while we’re reminded multiple times in the film that she’s underage. Michael Bay wants us to know this. He also creates a giant vagina robot that gets blown away and has his a-hole protogonist-bot quip: “Take that, bitch!”
Ah, such eloquence. Such displays of a gentleman’s entertainment. Gimme that beer (or berrrh). Better yet give me that weird Chinese beverage that is so prominently displayed for no other reason that there’s a demographic to be cashed in upon. Wait - did Stanley Tucci just take the most incredible transmographic compound in the history of the universe and turn it into a ‘Beats by Dr. Dre’ bluetooth sound pill? This just shows us that Michael Bay isn’t stupid, he’s just mocking our own stupidity, which simply makes him an asshole. An asshole we’re freely giving our money to. Over and over again.
Halfway through this cinematic equivalent of punching myself in the nuts- wait, let me correct that, because I’m being an insensitive liberal asshole here. Comparing this movie to punching myself in the nuts is an insult to the underrepresented minority of people who actually enjoy getting repeatedly punched in the nuts. I’m sorry for being so insensitive and hostile to people having a good time. Go ahead and ignore the ‘do not try this at home’ warning on the last Jackass movie and create papercuts on your scrotum and pour lime juice into it. Have mindless fun. That’s your right, and I’ll pay to see you do it.
Because this is America (or better yet TEXAS, USA as the film reminds us, because there are so many other Texas’ out there) and in America we want our stories to not make sense and show Frasier Crane getting paid to lead an anti-immigrant parable only to have that mildly interesting plot point killed off in favor of even more questionable jailbait humor. Hey look, Nicola’s Red Bull-sponsored racing boyfriend just produced a legal document that says in Texas it’s okay to fondle an underage girl. Well I’m glad Michael Bay cleared that up for us.
Maybe I should follow the lead of the blatantly pan-Asian autobot (thank GOD they got rid of the blatantly ghetto Black autobot from the last movie) and try not to rock the boat. This is just a movie after all, and it’s okay if a movie has denigrating lowest-hanging-fruit messages like not being able to make an omelet without breaking some eggs (an Autobot yelling “just run ‘em over’ in reference to not being able to get those pesky humans out of the way) and Pleistocene revisionism that would make intelligent design proponents desperately look for scientific logic. It’s okay. This is entertainment, where nothing has to work, as long as it gets blown up in the end by a robot riding a giant fucking robot dinosaur.
I miss old curmudgeon Grimlock.
Sure, stupid is a form of entertainment. But lace that stupidity with misogyny, sexism, racism, nihilism, sociopath tendencies to kill innocent bystanders and NOT have any of these aforementioned elements be a part of the narrative or character development is just outright pandering to the worst parts of human civilization. It’s a propaganda snuff film, one that purports to be mindless entertainment and yet fuels and reinforces our most selfish and evil behavior. It’s absolute fucking horse shit, and we gave it our money, and because we gave it our money, we’ll continue to get more and more of it. Like FIFA. Like Hobby Lobby. Like Chick-Fil-A.
By giving shit like Transformers a pass, we’re giving passivity a positive veneer. Transformers doesn’t even try to be good, and we accept it as passable entertainment. We’ve given up even trying to embrace good entertainment, because as Robert Greene wrote “if we don’t try too much in life, if we limit our circle of action, we can give ourselves the illusion of control. The less we attempt, the less chances at failure. If we can make it look like we are not really responsible for our fate, for what happens to us in life, then our apparent powerlessness is more palatable.”
So continue to justify the inane and empower it in the name of mindless entertainment, of good chicken, of our God-given right to have a good time at anyone’s expense, because those people are far away and have nothing to do with our lives. That’s our right, let the next generation worry about the consequences of our insouciance, our fear of losing creature comforts, our desire to not fight for our right to party responsibly. The right to party has to be earned, it is not an entitlement.
THAT’S what I got from Transformers: The Age of Extinction. Sorry I misdirected on the last post, I hope this clears it up. Let’s go enjoy Tammy this weekend, I hear it’s insanely stupid entertainment.