Wanted to give a shout-out to Jon Nix, one of my insanely talented collaborators on Lilith who just released his short film 'The Naked Zinester' this week. The film’s got an astounding 14,000+ hits in just a few days, which is a testament to Jon’s skill as a director and the craftsmanship of his team at Turnstyle Films. 'The Naked Zinester' is a fun and witty look into the mind of an artist (photographer Aaron Tsuru) and his muse (Cherry La Voix), tinged with an air of what it means to reach one's limits and trying to move to the next level. There's a ton of honesty in this little film, and the characters are “naked” in more ways than one.
Definitely NSFW, but in the most fun and gorgeous way possible. Help show Jon some love by watching his film!
Played 599 times
Music for the Weekend:Machines by The Soft Moon.
Finally, it’s done. My short film - titled '7x6x2' - was delivered a few days ago and was screened at a special event on the Sony lot in Culver City, CA. The screening went very well, the film was universally lauded, and we’re moving on to the release strategy. I initially thought it would be available to release today, but Sony’s got a new release plan and we’ll get it all out soon for everyone to see, and at that point I’ll be able to discuss it in far more detail. In the meantime, here’s a sneak-peek still of the film:
So after five weeks nonstop on the road, I’m officially out of gas. I’m taking the weekend off to recuperate, kicking back with a copy of Alexis De Tocqueville’s 'Democracy in America' and listening to the new record by friend-of-Lilith band extraordinaire, The Soft Moon. (Their track ‘When It’s Over’ is featured on the 'Lilith' trailer.)
In the meantime if you haven’t already, make sure to pick up the ‘Lilith’ DVD or download it for a fun weekend watch. We’ve been incredibly thrilled with the show of support so far, but we still need your diehard support to make this little indie film that could a success. Spread the word, pick up a copy for you and your friends, and be a part of a true-blue grassroots indie film movement. I can’t do it without you!
We’ve been feverishly plowing through post-production on our short film, which has tentatively been given a release date on November 28th. Yes. That’s less than two weeks from now. We’ve locked picture at Final Cut Studios in Chelsea, NYC and we’ve still got to color correct, VFX/CGI, compose an original score, sound design and final conform. Lots to do.
To call this little movie ridiculously ambitious is a massive understatement. To complete a 10-minute science fiction film - done on a desert location shoot, with hybrid practical/ CGI creature effects and an original score - all within four weeks from greenlight to delivery is completely absurd. Nobody in their right mind would even take it on, but nobody on my team is sane. We’re all incredibly stoked to be working on something so weird and wild, and we all believe we can do it, and do it well. We’ve called in a ton of favors from some of the best people working in the business and the generosity to make this thing a reality is humbling. I’m genuinely amazed.
Wish I could tell you more about the film but I’m under orders to keep things on the DL until the premiere on the lot in LA on the 28th. After that it’ll be available online for everyone to see for free, and I’ll really get into the nuts and bolts of what went into making this film.
Back to work!
Swimming Pools (Drank) [Explicit]
good kid, m.A.A.d city [Explicit]
Played 511 times
Music for the Weekend:Swimming Pools (Drank) by Kendrick Lamar.
After a week of intense prep, we’re ready to shoot tomorrow. Actors rehearsal is tonight, creatures are choreographed, costumes completed and production design miraculously put a 2-ton mecha together out of scrap metal. We’re ready to make something really amazing. Will surface again on Monday morning.
Also a shout out to all my NYC friends and readers for surviving Sandy like the warriors they are. My heart and strength out to everyone without power and facing difficult challenges. You will make it through like you always have.
Be strong, and have a wonderful weekend!
Bat For Lashes
The Haunted Man
Played 499 times
Music for the Weekend:Lilies by Bat for Lashes.
I’ve hit the ground running as we gear up for our two-day shoot next week. Crew is locked, camera tests on Monday, casting and storyboards will be done by Tuesday, creature effects and production design done by Friday, and then out to the desert to shoot Saturday and Sunday into Monday morning. Somewhere in there I’ll find time to sleep and dream a few dreams.
There’s something exhilarating about shooting a picture without the benefit of time. A lot of our calls are on gut instinct simply because we don’t have the time for analysis. This is filmmaking by doing what simply feels right. It’s a new way for me to work, and I’m enjoying every moment. But then any time I get to create, I’ll enjoy it with all my heart. We’ve got some truly amazing collaborators on this project, artists who are willing to step up and help out because it’s just a really great script and high concept. And we all believe in it, wholeheartedly.
So I’m off to India next week, and in a bout of midnight inspiration, I’ve decided to shoot a short film whilst there. Two days, two actors, a vague concept, and a ton of improvisation.
My forays into particle physics and mathematics have inspired a short story about what it takes to leave our galaxy. There’s a huge spiritual component to it, as the energy required to transport an entire human being to a distant, habitable planet in another galaxy (see the exciting news regarding the Kepler Planets) is something short of a supernova. We’d need to travel at the speed of light (or faster, like a neutrino or tachyon) to cover such distance, and to do so would require us to relieve ourselves of all mass. Hence the importance of discovering the Higgs Boson, which is a theoretical particle that has no discernible mass.
Believe it or not, I’ve concocted a very sweet love story around this concept, the base idea being that the only thing that can match the energy of a supernova is a first kiss. I know, I’m a hopeless romantic.
When universes collide.
I’ve packed up my 7D, a Zoom H4N audio recorder, two lav mics, a portable handheld mount, a gorilla tripod, a small, battery powered LED panel, five 32gb memory cards and a 1TB external drive. That’s it. Fits nicely into one little bag, and that’s all the infrastructure that I’m taking with me. I’ve already corresponded with a few actor friends in Mumbai and they’re up for the challenge. Zero-budget filmmaking at its finest.
This is exciting. Like shooting Lilith in Cleveland, I’ve got the entirety of India as my location, as I’ll be in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and the Maldives. The beauty of the 7D is that I can shoot on the fly, and even in a pickle I can shoot on my cell phone if need be.
So now I need to hunker down and hammer out the basic skeleton of a script, and get it to my actors as soon as possible. I’ll keep updating the progress.
Also, tickets to see the world premiere of Lilith at the Festivus Film Festival have gone on sale. If you’re going to be in the Denver area on January 14th, stop on by. The festival is also going to be doing a cool giveaway of one of our beautiful Lilith posters. I had it giclée printed on museum quality, heavy-stock art paper and signed it. And it’s HUGE - 30x40. Definitely a keeper. Find everything you need here.
The unfortunate news is that I will not be there for the screening - I will indeed be in India - *sigh* - but the much better result of that unfortunate event is that the lovely and talented Julia Voth will be at the screening and handling the Q&A. I’m pretty sure people would rather see her than some nerdy Indian director…
Let listmania continue on! It occurred to me that in my posts regarding my Top 30 Greatest Films (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) I had promised to put together a list of my top short films. Since there are so many, I’ve truncated it down to ten films.
I had written some time ago on the importance of short films, and why we need to continue making them. It is without a doubt that the short film is one of the ideal forums for experimentation. I derive tremendous inspiration from shorts - they expand the narrative by working with less, they are often visually stunning because energies and resources are committed to a shorter time span. They can be the gateway to further career success - the Academy Awards for Best Short Film is a reality for many.
I find it interesting though that so many of my short film choices are animated films. I find that animation thrives in the short film format. Again this may be due to expense - it’s better to produce high-quality animation for ten minutes than stretch that out to 90 minutes at a mediocre quality level. But in the end it boils down to the story, which has to always capture the imagination. These are the films which have enthralled me the most, and to which I return over and over again.
Most of the films are presented in their entirety on this page. Take your time to view them. Watching them all will probably take an hour or so, so think of it as a free feature film.
10) La Jetée, Chris Marker, France, 1962.
As you might tell from my previous feature films I’ve loved, I really shine to films that are able to execute high concepts through low budgets, applying the tools of screenwriting, performance and in-camera effects. Perhaps the king of this methodology is Chris Marker’s La Jetée (The Jetty), which famously was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s wonderful 12 Monkeys. Marker tackles time-travel and future dystopia through the use of photo-roman, which is a fancy way of saying he used still photographs set over a narration. I was so inspired by this method that I used it in my thesis film, Abstract Origins, where I used still photographs of a lonely man wandering the barren streets of New York City. It is a technique that is startlingly effective, and I’m shocked why more filmmakers don’t use it more often.
Andrea Arnold has inherited the throne of British socio-realism from Ken Loach, and has emerged as one of the UK’s most bold and daring filmmakers. Her films - Red Road, Fish Tank, and the upcoming Wuthering Heights - have already been given the title of a “canon,” and her subjects all universally revolve around young women trying to find meaning and liberation (both spiritual, sexual and financial) from the dregs.
All of these roots can be found in her Academy Award-winning short, Wasp. Brutal and unflinching, this is Arnold at her most raw and angry, and the double-edged title mirrors the scathing sociological criticism and environmental horror of the British tenement. Ferociously performed and effortlessly photographed, the film is about as subtle as a baseball bat to the neck.
I’ve written about Mothight before, and it was the first film I dissected when I was in undergrad, where I was fortunate enough to learn and be mentored under the late Stan Brakhage, widely considered one of the greatest avant-garde filmmakers of all time. Brakhage was an amazing teacher but he was also a stubborn, curmudgeonly old shit, and perhaps it his his defiance and bitterness with the norm that led him to create such astoundingly original and groundbreaking works of art. Mothlight was the first time I had ever heard of the concept of making a film without a camera - Brakhage assembled the remains of actual moths and sandwiched them inbetween two pieces of perforated tape, which was then run through a projector. The film is a marvel not only in its engineering, but in also its commentary on cinema and art - the living creature sacrificed in its attraction to light, literal death/ suffering for art. It is a remarkable milestone in our understanding of film as a medium, and is relentlessly beautiful.
7) Rubber Johnny, Chris Cunningham, UK, 2005.
A long-form music video (music videos are shorts, in my books) set to a delirious Aphex Twin track, Chris Cunningham’s short is a retina-searing explosion of body horror. Assaulting us with mutilated flesh and sexual vulgarity, the film is repulsively gorgeous, pushing us away with fetid grossness, and yet drawing us in with fascinating details of the human body. The film is the dangling carrot to Cunningham’s career - after a stunning collection of music videos and commercials, capped by Rubber Johnny, the world awaits his feature debut, which has been in the on-and-off works for more than a decade. I suspect when it does happen, it will be well worth the wait.
6) Paris Je t’aime, 14 Arrondissement, Alexander Payne, USA, 2006.
In the wildly uneven collection of shorts Paris, Je T’Aime, Alexander Payne’s contribution is the one that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, a film that is deserving of its own feature greater than being in the one it is a part of. Payne has long been the king of the miserable and rudderless, but in this portrait of Carol, a mail-carrier holidaying in Paris, Payne perhaps gives us his most enigmatic character since Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick in his brilliant Election.
Carol, who speaks in a nauseating American-inflected French, narrates her emotional experience of being in Paris, presumably to a French class or club. Her droll enthusiasm captures perfectly what it means to be an American abroad - delightfully embarrassing and yet endearingly complete and authentic. Payne shows the love affair between a mind discovering itself and the environment that catalyzed such a profound event. The film is dichotomous in multiple layers - it is shot simplistically and yet its compositions are highly calculated, its delivery is banal and yet its content is esoteric and complex, and the character of Carol is on the surface the epitome of mediocrity, and yet her grasp of the French language and her own psychological awakening suggests a woman of tremendous depth, compassion and curiosity. An absolute gem, and one of my favorite characters in all of cinema.
5) Ryan, Chris Landreth, Canada, 2004.
Canada is the gold-mine for the animated short. The Canadian Film Board’s progressive program of developing home-grown animators of limitless imagination and artistry is legendary. From classics like The Cat Came Back to modern marvels like Madame Tutli-Putli, there is simply no shortage of great animated shorts from Canada, two of which made this list. The first is Chris Landreth’s Ryan, an animated documetary that combines live interview with CGI and archived cell animation. Ryan is the real-life story of Ryan Larkin, a down-on-his luck animator who was nominated for an Oscar in 1969 for his CFB film En Marchant. Larkin, interviewed by Landreth, has been beset with chemical addictions that have rotted and fractured his brilliant mind, a condition that is literally etched into the faces and bodies of the CGI characters. The film is a fascinating exposition on addiction, celebrity, and the desires of the artist to be both anonymous and recognized. Heartbreaking and perfectly executed, Ryan ironically won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
4) When the Day Breaks, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, Canada, 1999.
The other animated Canadian short to make my list, When the Day Breaks was nominated for an Oscar in 1999. It is a true work of fine art, as each frame of the film was meticulously hand-painted. Pause on any frame and you will see a painting worth hanging in any fine art gallery. The film takes on an Orwellian-tone with its allusion to Animal Farm, but rather than a political omniscience, the film emphasizes the connections that all creatures share, bound by events and phenomena both mundane and galactic. A gorgeous meditation on mortality and happiness.
3) An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Robert Enrico, USA, 1962.
"Lynchian" before David Lynch even got into film, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is perhaps the most chilling and macabre short film I’ve ever seen. Plastered faces with permagrin smiles, tortured and manipulated audio, and a dream logic that served to plant the seeds for future classics like Carnival of Souls, The Others and even The Sixth Sense.
Based on a short story by Ambrose Pierce, the film begins on the lynching of a civilian spy by the Confederate Army off a bridge suspended over a river. The man is pushed off the bridge, the noose firmly around his neck. What happens thereafter is a journey through the surreal, particularly a chilly and horrifyingly odd reunion between the man and his regal wife. The scene still haunts me to this date, and I don’t think anything creepier has ever been captured on film. The film won an Oscar in 1962, and was later featured on on both The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
2) everything will be ok, Don Hertzfeldt, USA, 2006.
Don Hertzfeldt is the Walt Disney of his generation, except that he’s not a Nazi-sympathizing asshole. He’s in fact one of the notoriously most soft-spoken and kindest filmmakers working today, and his short film everything will be ok embodies his sensitivity, humor and candor perfectly. While one might think that animating a bunch of stick figures would be a piece of cake, closer examination of Hertzfeldt’s technique reveals an insane meticulousness. There are minuscule movements in the characters that take them from being simple caricatures to almost life-like people, and it is in this link to humanity where Hertzfeldt’s genius resides. The story, like so many other films in this list is a meditation upon mortality, but Hertzfeldt’s wry humor - based primarily through observation of small insouciant details of humanity’s fuck-ups and perplexities - is what separates this work from the rest. There is an endearing sense of humility in this film and the rest of Hertzfelt’s work, something which has become exceedingly rare for any film made in the aughts. Of note too is the film’s gorgeous use of music, especially in the ending. A special, beautiful film.
1) The Street of Crocodiles, The Brothers Quay, USA, 1987.
I’ve written extensively on The Street of Crocodiles and it, along with La Haine, remains as the most influential film in my life, and not just in my career. In this film I discovered my taste and aesthetic, and it was one of those moments when several different ideas, schools of thought, and conflicting moral choices comes to a beautiful amalgamation and forms a cohesive whole. I was thirteen when I saw this film, and at the time I was processing Sartre and Camus (yes, I was a nerd), my love of Gothic and industrial music, the sexualization and contextualization of random objects and substances, and my leanings towards artists like Goya, Munch, Egon Schiele and Marcel Duchamp. There are elements of the Brothers Quay in everything that I do, and it is highly prevalent in Lilith. A classic that spawned a million imitators, and truly one-of-a-kind, never to be captured again.
With this, there’s only one more list to be made, my Things I Liked This Year segment. Happy viewing!
p.s. I couldn’t help but put a strong runner-up in this list, which is Le Grand Sommeil, one of the funniest short films you will EVER see.
So I’m here in NYC and I was walking to the bus stop to get into Manhattan. I got on the bus and looked out the window at the magnificent view of the skyline, and saw looming storm clouds in the distance. Inspiration struck.
I hopped off the bus and pulled out my flip cam (a Kodak Zi8, which shoots true 1080p, I carry it with me everywhere) and found a good angle of the city. For my idea I needed the camera to be stable, so I took a book I was reading out of my bag and sandwiched my camera between the book and a large rock that was lining the road.
Mother nature did the rest, and she didn’t disappoint. During the seven minutes of recording, I wrote a few lines about what I was feeling on the back of one of my Tribeca Film Festival ticket stubs. I knew what music I wanted to add. I got to the studio an hour later and put it all together in FCP, and here’s the final result.
I’ve no desire to go back and refine things, because it’s simply capturing a moment, and our moments in life are imperfect. The film contains no color correction or filters, and all I did was speed up the footage by 400%. Simple, took about ten minutes to edit. I really like it, and I’m just happy I was able to capture a moment of time in my life. Ultimately, the film is a love letter to the city that opened my mind with her beautiful indifference, and to her I will always be a loving, adopted son.
Enjoy this imperfect little movie, and have a great weekend!
Sundance Institute trained, journeyman molecular biologist with bonus producing, writing, editing and directing skills. Amateur film historian, unapologetic liberal Tarkovskite with fierce cooking skills and a penchant for unusual stories. I hope you like my writing and find it useful.