paloma-voladora ASKED:

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]

Ice Cube

The Predator (World) (Explicit) [Explicit]

Played 167 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.

Making of 7x6x2, Part 4: Co-Directing and the Director’s Responsibilities.


Part 1: The Beginnings.
Part 2: The Monsters.
Part 3: The Machines.

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.

Rant, Again: Transformers.

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.

Rant: Transformers.

Transformers: Age of Extinction made $312,642,664 worldwide in just three days. The film holds a 17%’rotten’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is certifiably terrible.

If there was ever a prophetic title, then Age of Extinction is it. Maybe we’ve underestimated Michael Bay, maybe he’s the satirical prophet we just never gave a fair shake to.

We complain about stupid movies being made. We bitch and moan about how idiotic people are becoming. And yet millions of people went to go see this movie. Stupid is as stupid does.

We’re so good at this. Playing the high horse and then indulging in the path of least resistance. I have friends who believe in and fight for social justice who will happily turn a blind eye when it comes to watching the World Cup. The plight of Brazilians being fleeced by their government, migrant workers enslaved in Qatar, all enabled by FIFA, apparently has zero connection to the desire to have a good time. All of a sudden people who fight injustice everyday throw their hands to the sky and shrug, saying there’s only so much they can do. The only thing left to do is drink beer and watch soccer. Suddenly those 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria become less important than the Nigerian soccer team. Bring back our girls, just bring them back after the game’s over, okay?

Numerous corporations like Chick-Fil-A, Barilla and Hobby Lobby assume the rights of individuals and are forcing their religious beliefs upon people who don’t share those same beliefs, let alone the same religion. But people take a defeatist attitude because hey - those chicken sandwiches taste so fucking good and where the fuck else am I going to get my scrapbooking materials? Fuck gay people. Fuck women’s reproductive rights. Just give me some tasty chicken!

And you’re part of the problem.

Seriously. We need to decide what’s important.

Gay Pride and Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy.”

In 1984 as an 8-year old kid I’d never once met a gay man, and the term “gay” was an immature way to make fun of someone. Reagan’s AIDS-fueled homophobic agenda completely convoluted my young mind as to what it meant to be gay in a society that literally thinks you are radioactive. I remember seeing this music video - Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” - on Teletunes, Denver’s late-night public television music video show. I’d seen it a few times and I loved that synth line, but I’d no clue as to what the song and video were about. It was a great song, and since I was clueless about homosexuality, it was just a great sounding song. I went out and bought the record. I still own it.

Almost a decade later I’d become aware of LGBT issues, and I’d openly expressed my support of equal rights. It came to the forefront during a high school campaign to vote down Amendment 2 in Colorado (which passed but was later deemed unconstituional in the Supreme Court), but one thing remained: I’d never met a gay person in my life.

That changed in college. I pretty much made friends with everyone in undergrad and my organic chemistry partner Alan was no different. He was a senior, I was a sophomore. We got along, we kicked ass as lab partners and studied together. We became friends. Chem labs were from 6-10pm on Thursdays and we walked home, as our dorms were in the same direction. Alan seemed nervous. Not his usual peppy self. I reached my dorm and he said he wanted to ask me something. I said go ahead.

He asked if I was interested in going out for dinner. Without giving much thought I said “that’d be fun.” He looked at me, and I remember his face clear as day. Like he was looking at an innocent puppy. “I’m not sure you get what I’m asking,” he said, holding my hand.

Then it hit me, and in that moment a wave of confusion slammed into my brain. All the programming of growing up in Reagan’s America resurfaced. It was like seeing a unicorn. I didn’t know what to say. Alan saw my hesitation. I could see he was scared too.

"Oh god, you’re not-" he stuttered.

"No, no I’m not. I’m so sorry." That’s all I remember saying to him.

He was embarrassed. He turned and left. I felt terrible. We saw each other in class and for some reason we acted like nothing ever happened. We remained affable and we finished the semester. He graduated. I never saw him again.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard was found battered and beaten on a barbed wire fence in Laramie, Wyoming. He was murdered for no other reason except because he was gay. I was mortified when I heard the news. I’d overheard people in Denver say they were happy that the “faggot got what he deserved.” It disgusted me.

I thought of Alan. Of how brave it was for him to come out to me, at that time, in the climate we were in. How terrifying it must have been for him to hear Matthew’s fate. I tried to look Alan up, to maybe send him a letter, but I haven’t found him. In this age of internet I still can’t find him.

So I have this song, this music video. Bronski Beat. And this song makes me think of Alan, of Matthew, of every kid who grew up thinking that they were doing something wrong, who had the courage to love and accept themselves first, and take on the hatred, fear and confusion of the world around them. Coming out is one of the greatest acts of courage I can think of.

I see the Pride parades across the world today and see how far we’ve come. I meet couples who are now legally married. I know there’s a long way to go, but I’m so happy on this day and every day. I hope Alan is happy, that wherever he is, he can live without fear and marry the man he loves. If today is to celebrate pride, then I declare that I am proud to have shared that moment with him, that he liked me enough to risk it all, including the threat of physical violence, to ask me out. I thank him for showing me something beautiful. I am proud of him.

I am proud. I AM proud. I have pride.

Lesson No.1 for Electric Guitar

Glenn Branca

Lesson No.1

Played 247 times

Music for the Weekend: Lesson No.1 for Electric Guitar by Glenn Branca.

What a week. Turned in TWO television show bibles and have now been commissioned for a screenplay. It’s not directing, but its paid work, and I’m always thankful for that. A friend of mine who is a film professor at the University of Michigan had the wonderful opportunity to have lunch with John Sayles, who is a great influence to me. Sayles was affable as ever, and he had to close the meeting by saying he had get back to his hotel room and work on some for-hire screenplay assignments that were due the next day.

Someone of Sayles’ stature shouldn’t have to be doing for-hire work, but because of his commitment to being independent in terms of his directing work, he needs for-hire assignments to make a living. That’s not such a bad thing, especially when the trade off is that you get to direct your films exactly the way you want to. Not a bad thing at all to aspire to.

Even if we are entrenched in corporate / studio environments, it’s always vital that we think independently, that we always take what is around us and process it through our own unique and vibrant filter. I give this piece of music as an example. In the 80s, genius composer Glenn Branca took an electric guitar, which at that time was an instrument drowning in the muck and hairspray of arena rock hair bands, and twisted and tortured into something entirely different, he applied classic compositions to a purely pop conceit. The result in the 80s was mind blowing, the early roots of what we call ‘math rock’ today. It’s an amazing, towering achievement.

When I first bought this Branca record I’d failed to see that it was to be played at 45rpms, and played it at 33rpm by accident. I have to admit, it sounded even better slowed down (‘Skrewed’, if you will), and now that’s how I choose to hear it. I’m making my own departure on what was a departure in the first place. Stuff like that, however insouciant it may be, really really inspires me. Happy accidents, great discoveries, small victories.

Have a great weekend!

Making of 7x6x2, Part 3: Machines and Ephemera.


Part 1: The Beginnings.
Part 2: The Monsters.

To watch the film in its entirety, click here to go to the Tribeca Film website.

In the six days of preproduction for 7x6x2 we had the arduous task of building an alien landscape and the sci-fi elements that were commonplace in Paul Pope’s work. We’d already begun the work on the seven rock people, and we’d turned our attention production design and art direction, which included a desert campsite that had one very specific distinguishing feature: a giant mek.

Meks in Paul Pope’s universe are far more than just robots, they are extensions of mankind’s ambitions and flaws. They are sentient beings with attitude problems, they are guardians and killers. Paul’s THB contains the greatest of all meks, the eponymous THB (aka Tri-Hydro Bi-Oxygenate), and the graceful and liquid lines of THB are tantamount to the very essence of Paul’s Meks. They are insectoid, organic and fluid.

From THB.

Paul’s original script called for a massive terraforming mek that was downed in a barren wasteland, large enough to form a shelter for a lone repairman surrounded by seven creatures. Paul’s concept art shows the intended scale:

From a production standpoint, on a four-figure art budget with less than a week to build, replicating the mek on that scale and form would be an impossibility. We had to strip things down, but not lose the essence of Paul’s signature meks. We brought in art director Mike Conte, who’d done some crazy throwback sci-fi work for music videos and television. Also a bonus, Mike is the frontman and lead guitarist for one of my favorite metal bands of all time, EARLY MAN. You might say it was a match made in heaven.

Mike really starts killin’ it at 2:30

Mike not only had to build the mek, he was also responsible for all the sci-fi gear for both Bryce and Swanson, the young surveyor. This included laser welders, the camping gear, and the electronic workbook used by Swanson. The script also had a buggy transport for Bryce, but our budget and timeframe didn’t allow for it.

Mike started putting concepts together right away, because he had to source materials and start building in his workshop. One major consideration would be the transport of the mek - it had to be easily disassembled to be placed in a truck and reassembled the desert location. It also had to be designed to not just look like a pile of junk sitting in the desert, it had to have indications of a fallen robot.

Mike put together some initial concepts that were based more on Paul’s observation of lunar landings and early NASA concepts. He did 3D breakdowns for scale and measure:

It was a good starting point, but it needed to be bulked up and placed with a personality, hence it needed a face. Paul like the idea of a wasp / bumble bee, and Mike built a ‘face’ with dimmed eyes. The idea was to have a mek that had some power still left in it. Mike took two opaque domes and coated them in the luminescent liquid found in glow sticks. Low-tech solutions to high-tech problems.

With the mek and gear taking shape, it was important to Paul to ground all the elements in a tangible reality, and he wanted all the items to have brands and logos that signified an authentic and identifiable world. We employed the services of our longtime friend Jim Pascoe, who hands down is one of the most talented people on Earth. I’m not exaggerating. Besides being a design genius, Jim is also an acclaimed published novelist and international man of mystery. And he’s funny. And a great father and husband. We should all aspire to be men like Jim Pascoe. Seriously.

In true 7x6x2 fashion we asked Jim to create iconic brands and labels for the mek, for Bryce’s manuals and references, and for his provisions. Paul created space foods that were prevalent in his graphic novels, including things like PRO-JAK, PROACH and fruit hybrids. Jim belted out some awesomely hilarious labels that we affixed to tin cans:

Tribeca was concerned with Sony having modesty issues, so Jim modified that last label.

Jim also created a manual for robot repair and logos for Bryce’s gear and for the mek itself:

While a lot of this would never be seen in the film, it added a layer of authenticity to what we were doing, and helped create an atmosphere that we could all immerse ourselves in. I’d written about this some time ago when we included a copy of ZORD magazine in the film, ZORD being a tip of the hat to Blade Runner. The magazine was illustrated by cartoonist Sam Hiti and designed by Pascoe, and it’s a thing of beauty.

Put it all together, and you’ve got a believable alien world on film.

With production design chugging along, we turned our attentions to the human elements of the film - our three leads and their corresponding looks. We weren’t even halfway there, and we had four days to hold auditions, rehearse and source and fit costumes. It wasn’t getting any easier.

Jumpin' The Turnstyles

Alms For The Poor

Sweet Mother: Free Activation Series No.1

Played 143 times

Music for the Weekend: Jumpin’ the Turnstyles by Alms for the Poor / DJ Z-Trip & DJ Radar

My brain feels like this song. Really. It’s been a hell of week. Perhaps I might’ve taken on too much, I haven’t gotten much sleep as I’ve got some big deadlines looming. Been writing an eight-episode TV bible for a noir crime show that uses time travel. That’s right. Time travel. Never easy, because there’s so many loopholes / wormholes to navigate, and I want to get the science right. So while my days have been spent writing, my nights have been spent studying quantum physics, particle / string theory, uncertainty principles and predestination paradoxes, singularity, the heat death of the universe and Schrodinger’s Cat among many other things. Because if the internet proves one thing, it’s that everyone loves cats.

Also this week I had an amazing opportunity to meet two very important directors who have had a profound impact on my life. I got to hang out with Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams and Andrew Davis, the director of The Fugitive. Both men were incredibly humble, despite having created some of the most powerful and influential films in cinema history, and what really struck me was that they were infinitely curious and asked questions with the same energy of a debut filmmaker embarking on their first project. It was incredibly inspiring, and I made two very good friends who I know will be there when I need some advice, an extra set of eyes, and a solid opinion. I was honored and humbled, and aspire to follow in their footsteps of creating art without compromise.

Andrew Davis, yours truly and Steve James. Chi-city represent.

Have a great weekend!

Making of 7x6x2, Part 2: Monsters

For Part One of this series, click here. To see the film in its entirety, click here.

We didn’t waste any time once we got into Los Angeles, the clock was ticking and we now had six days to design, build, dress and cast the film before shooting. We were met with many skeptics and naysayers, but we plowed ahead with aplomb and confidence.

It’s impossible to say our “biggest concern was” with this production because everything counts, but we knew the component that would likely require the most time and resources would be the seven monsters that surrounded the campsite, and the downed mech robot that would comprise the campsite itself. We started with the monsters.

The word “monster” itself is a loaded word, and we didn’t want to create one-dimensional baddies. All animals are complex, with social structures, languages and rituals. Our script revolved around a pack leader and his clan, so our first goal was to find our leader and then design everything around him. Our good fortune and friendships brought us to one Mr. Paradox Pollack.

Paradox is a fight and motion design maestro - and founder of LA’s brilliant Alien Fight Club - who has worked on the highest profile films imaginable, from Thor to his playing the lead vampire in I Am Legend. Paradox is aptly named, as he is one of the most gentle and generous artists I’ve ever met, and yet he has an uncanny ability to tap an inner rage and ferociousness that gave both Paul and I chills. We brought Paradox aboard and he immediately went to work, bringing in six of his colleagues to complete the tribe. Within 36 hours, Paradox and his tribe, beyond designing motion choreography, had created an entire goddamned culture and language of the Rock People, bringing Paul’s two-dimensional illustrations to vivid life. Paradox had given each member a name, a skillset, a backstory and a series of hand gestures that served as battle communication. They operated as an organism, feeding off of one another, moving in concert like a tightly wound coil. It was simply brilliant to behold, here’s a little video I shot of Paradox and his tribe interacting with Paul in Griffith Park, in character:

While 99% of these details would never be seen onscreen, they manifested themselves as true menace from the characters. Our screenplay had a much more complex interaction between the Rock People and Bryce, but our shooting schedule would not allow it. Because the majority of the film took place at night, we basically had two nights and a few daytime hours to shoot - about 18 hours in total. Factor in time to get the Rock People made up and prepped, we really had no choice but to strip them down to their bare minimum. But the characterization was key - these creatures had to be a real threat, and this is where Paradox and his tribe’s preparation really shone through. I am forever indebted to Paradox for the sheer amount of heartfelt work he put in, and I look forward to working with him again in the near future - he’s got some amazing, world-altering, magical ideas up his sleeves.

With the Rock People actors and performances taking form, it was time to turn our attention to the design and look of the creatures. We enlisted the talents of creature company MORB-X, headed up by Eric Fox, who has his own SyFy show Foxy & Co and was a much loved winner on Face Off. We called Eric and he was on board immediately - he had to, because we basically gave him a 48 hour deadline to create seven creatures on a vaporized budget, and he went to work in his studio. We sent him Paul’s original concept drawings:


And 24 hours and 500+ lbs of clay later, this is what Eric came back to us with, which blew our minds:

photo 1

We gave Eric the green light to build the seven creatures, including their hands, feet, and radio controlled faces. Despite the level of insane detail Eric was putting in to the makeups, we also knew that our Rock People, because of our budgetary restrictions, would also have to be built up in post-production, specifically CGI and sound. I’d never done CGI work before save for basic plates and mattes, and we’d referenced the creatures in the brilliant film Attack the Block as our desired effect, where bare minimum highlights would be made. This was our way of working around our budget to create the effects we wanted, the effects we could achieve within our limitations. We took the footage to Platige in New York City, and they darkened the creatures, lit up their eyes, and added small but powerful facial movements to the creatures.

Chris Stangroom, my Director of Sound on Lilith, went to work at Howard Bowler’s HOBO Studios in NYC on manipulating the original creature sounds that Paradox and the Tribe were making, and added more layers of animal sounds to the Rock People, including his own voice (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made Chris scream into a microphone). In our edit we limited the screen time of our creatures to very brief, quick extreme close-ups, which allowed us to highlight Eric’s sculpture work with punctuated emphasis. The final combination of character, performance, image, sound, music, edit and VFX helped us create a threatening sevenfold antagonist that was believable and palpable, all on a four-figure budget, all done in six days.

During this week we had to also bring our human characters to life, and before us stood the daunting task of building a giant robot in the middle of a desert. We hadn’t received our prototype camera from Sony, which was being shipped in from Japan. Every night, after an 18-20 hour day working with Paul, Gary, Elisa and our core team, I put my head to my pillow, trying desperately to figure out the puzzle of what lay before us.

To be honest, I was scared. More to come.