Six Angry Women: Building a Technique and Studying Mike Leigh

When I made my first feature, 19 Revolutions, I used Jean-Luc Godard as my guiding influence, shooting youthful idealism with reckless handheld and frenetic editing. With Lilith I embraced Andrei Tarkovsky, using long, stabilized, languid and almost spiritual takes in a widescreen landscape.

Of course it’s one thing to ape or simply copy these filmmakers, but it’s an entirely different thing to let them be your guides. They did something right, and they fit their worldview perfectly, we’d be remiss not to visit their work and buttress it upon our own. When I look at a Godard or Tarkovsky, I’m not asking myself how they did it, I’m always asking why, of how their technique served the narrative and if those tools are something I can use to tell my story. Godard himself quoted the work of Howard Hawkes, and Tarkovsky’s films always carry the fingerprints of Eisenstein and Vertov.


From Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Dziga Vertov Group, Un film comme les autres, 1968.

With Six Angry Women I knew I had an ensemble piece that required absolute emotional honesty and real characters. I wanted to avoid the cliched archetypes that infect so much of American independent cinema today, like the screechy malaise-ridden families of August: Osage County, which was an amazing play but I absolutely abhorred as a film. I don’t want my actors playing characters that fulfill a role, I want them to play real women who are in a volatile and unpredictable situation.

Tarkovsky and Godard are not the right reference for material like this. Nor is Kieslowski, Roeg, Bergman, Ray, Fincher or Kurosawa. They all have that balance of dynamic realism with surreal images, and it populates their entire body of work. Likewise I didn’t want to go to the crushing reality of filmmakers like Ken Loach and John Cassavettes, because I’m portraying a world that we can only imagine the reality of (the jury room, which none of us have access to), so I needed to look elsewhere. This is what brought me to Mike Leigh.

I’d seen Leigh’s films - Naked being one of my all-time favorite films - but I can’t say I’d ever really studied Leigh’s technique. Turthfully because his technique terrified me, as he regularly goes into a film without a formal script, building the screenplay in rehearsals. Because of my scientific background and my inherent desire to plan, and because I lack any experience directing theater, going about a film like Leigh does seems counter intuitive and unproductive. I was terrified of the prospect of working that way, but I knew it required consideration.


'Naked'

I started watching Leigh’s films and picked up a copy of Amy Raphael’s excellent book Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh (also check out her book on Danny Boyle, it will change your life). I was accustomed to seeing powerful and impossibly authentic performances in Leigh’s films, but in rewatching and studying his work, it also dawned on me that his movies are quite visually beautiful. I’d never noticed that before, and it turns out he had a background in visual arts before going into theater and film. It became abundantly clear to me that I needed to study his technique, and that despite my fear, this was the technique that would best serve Six Angry Women.

Leigh, who is famously cryptic about the details of his method, gives out hints as to how he goes about things. I’d done training in improv at The Second City here in Chicago, so I was familiar with a lot of the rehearsal techniques that Leigh mentions in the book. Trust building exercises, hot associations, actors giving each other “gifts” of “yes, and” in improv sessions. I could do that, yes. But I was far more curious about how Leigh built his screenplays. The misnomer is that he films without a script, which is not true and only applies to Godard and Wong Kar-Wai. There is no waiting-for-inspiration-making-it-up-as-we-go with Mike Leigh. He builds his screenplays in rehearsals, and by the time the shoot date arrives, he has a screenplay in hand, one which his cast and crew can use to make a film efficiently. I loved this about him, and wanted to know how it’s done. Since there is no official document about this technique (at least one I know of), I basically had to create my own version of it based on my own skillset and whatever little information I could glean from writings and documentaries about Leigh, and DVD commentaries from his films.

I know that Leigh assembles his cast early and doesn’t even tell them what the film is about. A lot of times even he doesn’t know what the film is fully about but he has a nascent idea that he’s fleshed out a little. He spends a considerable amount of time only building characters with his actors. I don’t have a clue how he does this, but I’ve created my own version.

I’d tried writing a Six Angry Women screenplay many many months ago, and found that my own politics and desire for justice were getting in the way of the narrative being fluid and honest. The downside was that I was stuck, but the upside is that I had a very clear idea of what the film was about in my head. This helped me as I approached my actors about the project. I’d give them the basics and no details, and told them we’d be building the screenplay in rehearsals, that they will be part of the writing process. It intrigued all of them immensely.

Given that I only have a month to put this all together, I couldn’t afford to be as reserved as Leigh in his productions, so I had to spill some beans about the story, but I only provided a few sentences about what I thought each character would be. Based on that seed, I asked my actresses to find someone in their own lives, or multiple people, who might fit that description. I asked them to simply observe and put together a composite of a character. We were only focusing on character - there’s no mention of the jury or the trial, nor did I want my actresses doing research on race relations or the justice system. I just wanted them to build someone who is real. I asked them to put together a physical description, to come up with a career for them, a family history, and a daily routine that they go through.

The physical description is very important here, and by physical description I mean only quantitative analysis. It’s important to connect a visual to these ideas, and by obsessively writing down every detail, we form a bridge between the visual and the idea. Once the visual is established, then we build the qualitative and emotional aspects of the character. In director’s parlance this is called hot objects and is something I picked up from actress / University of Southern California professor Nina Foch.


Nina Foch. A brilliant teacher and a foxy lady til her last day.

So far we’ve only been talking about character, testing them in different everyday situations that have nothing and everything to do with the trial. But only I know that, and I’m taking notes. After two weeks, I feel like we have a group of very real women who are walking into this jury room. The next step I gleaned from Leigh is to now engage in group rehearsals, where the actors will meet each other for the very first time. Leigh maintains a very strict policy here - all characters must be spoken of in the third person, and no one is allowed to be in character until I say ‘action.’ At this point I am going to present the case to them in detail, and we’ll start collectively figuring out the natural flow of conversation and events. This is based on an outline that I have.

At this time I’m also going to have my cinematographer sit in the room, and we will be recording the rehearsals. I’ve hired an assistant (paid, of course) and at the end of each day, my assistant, DP and I will review the footage and come up with pages of script and a shot list. Hopefully by the end of the rehearsal period we will emerge with a screenplay and and full shot list. Performance, story and visuals all in one exercise

This may not be Leigh’s exact technique but rather it is a modified version of it that suits my own technique and temperament. As much as I was terrified by it, with each passing day of rehearsals I’m amazed with how it’s all coming together. I’m seeing the film clearer and clearer with each new idea. I’m feeling more confident and I know this technique can work because Mike Leigh has proven it works.

My film will not look, sound or feel like a Mike Leigh film because I’m not Mike Leigh. But he’s given me a new set of tools to work with, and my cast, crew and I will figure out how to use these tools to accomplish our goals. It’s like being in school again, and because we are independents we don’t have to please anybody except ourselves. It’s a wonderful and liberating way to work.

Six Angry Women: Casting and Trust

Sorry for the long delay in posting, it’s been a long nine days of casting and rehearsals. After an exhaustive search, I’ve found my six angry women, all local Chicago actors with a ton of talent.

Being that I’m going at this with a micro budget of less than $40k, it’s pretty much been a three man show so far. My production manager, Anthony Del Percio, who is a brilliant filmmaker based here in Chicago, has been handling logistics and has been working with my DP Faroukh Mistry on putting together a camera package and all the requisite gear for a full feature shoot. Despite our budget, we’re not going DSLRs and consumer light kits on this - it’s a full-blown production and we have no intention of skimping on production values. We’re striking mutually beneficial deals and making friends along the way. It’s been remarkable what we’ve been able to pull together so far.

I’m acting as my own casting director and have been criss-crossing across town to meet with actors. As I’ve written on this blog before, I don’t believe in doing cold readings with actors - I think it’s unfair and puts unproductive pressure on both of us. I’ve seen all of these actors perform on stage so I’ve got a pretty good idea about their presence, the timbre of their voices and what they’re capable of. I try to sit down for one to two hours with each actor and just talk to them. I want to find out what makes them tick and see how open they are to the concept, to their craft and to me as a director. This is business about trust, and if an actor and I have difficulty communicating then it will not be a fruitful collaboration.

Some of the actresses I met were fairly closed because of the nature of the part and the film. Many were afraid of playing a racist woman on film. I had to remind them that I truly felt the members of this jury weren’t racist, that none of them walked into that jury room with the mindset of “I’m going to fuck that black kid over.” It’s likely that the pressures of the trial and the jury deliberations brought out their inherent fears, fears which are most likely rooted in a prejudice that comes from misinformation or personal traumas.

I wanted to see how each actress would respond to that, given the part would require them to really dig deep and ask tough questions. It’s too easy to play a racist. It’s too easy to play a fearmonger or scaredy-cat. It’s tough to play a real woman with real feelings and secrets. By means of questions you can tell if an actor is intrigued and excited by the idea or apprehensive about it. As a director you have to read your actors and trust your gut. Given that I don’t have a script for this film, I’m counting on my instincts with this casting process, and I feel confident I’ve got the right bunch.

I also had to have actresses who were great writers themselves, and part of my line of questioning was to determine their process. Again, it’s too easy to just ask if they write, because everyone says yes. But it’s more about the process of writing, of their approach to creating a character, of where they find the soul of the character and how it matches up to plot and environment. I propose different scenarios to each actor - “We’ve determined that regret is a big part of this character, how do you demonstrate regret in a crowded room?” My actors are not “writing” a response on paper, but we’ll go through the creation of a scene using that seed. It’s a fun and fascinating process, and as aforementioned it requires openness and communication. If your actors trust you, then they’re more willing to take risks.

It begs the question: how does one go about building trust, especially in such a short time? The answer is simple: empathy and sincerity. As a director you have to be sincere with your actors. I follow a protocol when I meet a new actor, and when I say protocol it’s not a cold list of rules to go through one-by-one. I do these things because I sincerely mean it.

The first is to always, always thank your actor for coming out to meet and audition. It takes a lot of preparation and travel for actors to audition, and they’re putting themselves up on a plate for you to dissect them. That’s asking a lot of someone and is daunting, so be genuinely thankful for their participation in such a grueling process. The next part of the protocol is to just talk to your actors. Chit-chat. Talk about the weather, the commute, something that’s happening around you, whatever. This will put both of you at ease and let some of the tension out of the room. It’s also establishing your communication with them. In order to get to the root of any character you have to be able to talk freely.

Which makes the next part of the protocol very important - you must show empathy. This means you must share a bit of yourself with your actors in the process of discussing the part. You don’t have to reveal all your dark and personal secrets, but you should share your feelings and thoughts with them. An actor - or any collaborator for that matter - will be more willing to dig deeper and share ideas / thoughts / emotions when you demonstrate that you’re willing to do the same. I talk freely about experiences that have shaped my desire to make this film, my fears and doubts, my admission that I’m just as curious as anyone else to know what this film is going to end up looking like. And it’s not lip service - I honestly feel these things and want to share them, because it helps me process all that’s around me as well.

In this sense, my auditions are really just two sounding boards listening to one another. My actors are all figuring me out just as I’m trying to figure them out. There is no power struggle here, we both need each other to make this thing work. The audition is a level playing ground, which is why I hate traditional casting with a table separating me from the actors in a cold room. That’s an awful way to get to know someone.

But sometimes a cold reading of lines in a room with a table is necessary when casting supporting roles and smaller parts. I reserve my custom casting process for my lead actors, but it doesn’t mean I’m any less personable with my supporting actors. Even from behind a table I thank them for coming, I shake their hands, I chit-chat with them to put them and myself at ease. I don’t have the time to go through a full process with each actor, but at minimum I devote 30-40m per actor. It’s exhausting work for me, but if it means getting the perfect cast, then it’s well worth it.

Plato once said that we must “be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle.” Actors are not there to take our frustrations and insecurities out upon. I’ve seen this too many times and it disgusts me. It all stems from the opinion that many directors have of actors, which is that they are property, they are just tools, pieces of meat to manipulate to make a picture. Where the director is the seat of power that all actors and crew must bow down to. This is nonsense. Your actors are the directors of performance, you have to entrust them with your vision, and when you do that they will listen to your direction with utmost care and respect. You are equally important to each other, and that mindset has to be upfront and clear from the second they walk through that audition room door. Doesn’t matter what style you have as a director, an actor will only give you respect when you respect them. This applies not only to film, but to life as well. If you show an actor respect and they turn around and disrespect you, then there’s no place for them in your collaboration. Talk to them, find the root of the problem, and if a solution is not there, then fire them. But that’s a tough and expensive process, so it’s best to get it right at the audition level. Cast with your heart, not your eyes.

Now begins my one-on-one rehearsals with my actresses, where we focus only on character. We’re not even discussing the film. Just character. I’ll get more into to this process in my next post.

The work on ‘Six Angry Women’ begins, two decisions already made.

Back home from LA, got a day’s rest, and jumping full speed into working on 'Six Angry Women.'

As a reminder for those just joining in, in a bout of inspiration that I will write about further, I’ve greenlit my own production of a feature film that follows the deliberation of an all-woman jury for a fictional trial where a young black man is shot dead. The case is an amalgamation of incidents like the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown shootings. I have no screenplay for the film, only an outline, and the script will be built through improvisation during rehearsals. We’re gonna Mike Leigh this movie into existence.

We’ve set the shoot date for November 6th-11th. Yes, that’s a six day shoot for a feature length film. It’s insane, but that’s how I roll. I’ve found three of my six angry women and have to be fully cast by October 1st, which is when our rehearsals begin. We’ll rehearse for five weeks. My DoP, Faroukh Mistry, who shot Lilith, will be coming in early and during rehearsals we’ll figure out our shot list and visual strategy. We’ve already made two creative decisions that are written in stone: we will film in black-and-white, and the movie will be shot in a 4:3 format.

These choices are both instinctual and symbolic. I just felt the 4:3 format, the “square” aspect ratio, was fitting because all of these police brutality / racial profiling / shootings are being chronicled on television, and the 4:3 aspect ratio, despite our widescreen flat-panel televisions at home, is still considered the classic “tv” aesthetic. It also is symbolic a myopic, sheltered point-of-view, which for me is important when it comes to showing each juror in their own self-justified world. I also love the format, used brilliantly in films like Meek’s Cutoff and Wuthering Heights. Both films feel like a pressure cooker of tension simply by their choice of aspect ratio. Aesthetically I also love having the black bars on the sides, it’s a bit of a jolt since we’re so used to widescreen now.


Wuthering Heights dir. Andrea Arnold


Meeks Cutoff dir. Kelly Reichardt

The decision to film in B&W is a purely symbolic one. The court-justified shooting of unarmed black men is a black-and-white issue that has tons of moral gray inbetween. To film it in vibrant color seems like an affront to the issue at hand. To do it this way would also reinforce the starkness and bleakness of the situation. I’m inspired by Robert Elswit’s work on Good Night, and Good Luck and Roger Deakins’ work on The Man Who Wasn’t There. Lofty standards, but Faroukh’s a kick-ass DoP who can do it.


The Man Who Wasn’t There, dir. The Coen Brothers


Good Night, and Good Luck, dir. George Clooney

Locking in on decisions like this early on makes so many future choices clearer. The location we choose, the set dressing, the costumes, the makeup, the blocking and the framing will all be driven by these two choices. We will not step down from these choices, they are set in stone, and were mutually made after a long discussion between me and my cinematographer. It’s a bold choice, but then again after being honest about why the choice was made, it’s not that bold at all.

Tons of work ahead, and after a long lull this blog will pick up some steam as we plow forward into the great unknown!

Liar

Rollins Band

Weight

Played 219 times

Music for the Weekend: LIAR by Rollins Band.

I’d like to dedicate this song to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Read my open letter to him and you’ll understand why.

Back on the road, back to financing. In Canada, surrounded by lovely, nice people. I love it here.

Have a safe, wonderful weekend.

My Open Letter to Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner.

With new video and information surfacing regarding the Ray Rice domestic violence case and the NFL, after much deliberation I’ve decided to pen a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, demanding his resignation. Read the letter and if you agree, forward a link of this the letter to Mr. Goodell’s twitter account, his email (roger.goodell-at-nfl.dot-com), or write how you feel in your own words and send it to him, send it to your local NFL team’s offices (I sent one to the Denver Broncos offices). Send it anywhere you think it will be read.

(BTW here’s a link to contact info for the NFL.)

_____________

Dear Commissioner Goodell,

My earliest memory of professional football was that of a nightmare. At the age of four, I was convinced that Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker Jack Lambert was hiding in my closet. I used to turn off the lights, terrified, thinking Lambert would consume me despite his lack of front teeth. While terrifying as a child, as an adult it brings back fond memories of how much football and the NFL was a part of my life.

I grew up a Denver Broncos fan and have religiously watched every game I could for almost three decades now. My family, immigrants to this country from India, found a sense of community in Denver that centered around football. Some of our dearest and lifelong friends have come into our lives because of the shared experience of supporting our beloved home team.

Having idolized Steve Atwater, I worked hard as a kid to develop my body and skills to become a defensive back. I played in high school and it will forever be one of the most formative experiences of my life. My coaches, some of them retired NFL players, not only taught me teamwork, communication and the fundamentals of the game but also became father figures, teaching me as much about life as they did football.

It is obvious that my regard for the game is sacred, so it pains me all the more, for the first time in my life, to boycott the NFL because of your administration’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

The NFL has made many errors in the past, as any organization is inevitably destined to do. In the face of these errors one has to have faith that the heads of the organization will make any and all corrective measures to ensure that these errors do not occur again. To do this requires humility and compassion, both of which were distinctly lacking in the handling of the Ray Rice case. That you, your staff, and the Baltimore Ravens organization were well aware of the infraction and yet actively denied the existence of conclusive and damning evidence not only makes you complicit, it makes you an accessory.

You may think this is hyperbole but it is not. I will go a step further and ask you to imagine if it was one of your own daughters in that elevator, would you bow down to the economics of demographic profitability and sponsorships and cover up evidence that would help bring her justice, and more importantly, safety?

You may also think it egregious for me to bring your daughters – your personal life – into this discussion, but remember that Janay Rice is also someone’s daughter. That every woman who is punched, kicked, spit upon, and dragged is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s mother. To further compound the humiliation of the victims of domestic abuse, your committee – knowing evidence existed that would send Ray Rice to jail – made Janay describe what had happened to her in the presence of her attacker. Your lack of empathy and any notion of her future safety is mind boggling, disrespectful, and appalling.

Because of this I am requesting – no, demanding - your resignation, and the resignation of all individuals involved in the cover up of this case. I have in the past been forgiving of the NFL in its handling of substance abuse, knowing personally through collegiate friends who went on to the NFL that there are systems in place for rehabilitation and recovery. In theory these are things men do to themselves, and are not afflicting upon others. But violence upon another is another issue.

Just as swift action was taken against Michael Vick for his role in the abuse and killing of animals, the same consideration was not given for a woman being beaten unconscious by an NFL player. Michael Vick admitted fault, has expressed remorse and regret, and has fortuitously managed to rehabilitate a career despite losing the prime window of his athletic ability whilst incarcerated. But that is the price he willingly paid. That the NFL has pursued justice for abused and murdered dogs and yet is an accessory to denying evidence in violence against women says volumes about what you and your cohorts’ opinions of women actually are. In case you had forgotten, women are living, breathing people, your sisters, mothers and daughters, and not just a demographic to sell merchandise to or curry favor with similar deep-pocketed “not-for-profit” sponsors.

This is not about Ray Rice. This is not about his wife. This is not about the multitude of players, coaches and employees of the NFL who have had troubles with the law. It is about you and those involved knowingly obstructing justice, and doing so in the sole interests of preserving your organization and your job at the expense of victims of domestic abuse. Like any lie, your dishonesty has caused more damage than any perceived gain.

My coach in high school once told us that the great Vince Lombardi, whom the vaunted Super Bowl trophy is named for, was absolutely wrong. Winning isn’t everything. The main lesson of sport is humility, the cornerstone of sportsmanship. The greatest thing I learned from football was not to win at any cost, but to lose with dignity and respect. If I was bested by a wide receiver, my coach would hold me by the pads, look me in the eyes, and tell me to go to that receiver after the game, shake his hand, and tell him he played a great game. And I had to mean it. It is a lesson that to this date has made me a better son, brother, husband, citizen and man.

In this regard I ask you and those complicit to exercise the same lesson of football. Prudence, justice and morality have bested you all. It is time for you to admit your wrongdoing, acknowledge your being caught, and resign with whatever dignity you have left. Until that happens, I will not be watching your games, and I will continue to vehemently campaign for others to do the same.

The NFL was once the bastion of manhood and sportsmanship. Today, because of you, it represents neither, and instead is an organization that has decided to sweep domestic violence under the rug. While it is a difficult and brutal decision for me to give up on the game that has ingrained itself in my DNA, it is nowhere near as brutal as domestic violence. Any person or organization that tries to cover up domestic violence, who is incapable of compassion or empathy, is not worthy of my time, consideration or money.

I look forward to your resignation and the rebuilding of a once-proud league.

Sridhar Reddy
Chicago, Illinois

Never try to convey your idea to the audience – it is a thankless and senseless task. Show them life, and they’ll find within themselves the means to assess and appreciate it.

Andrei Tarkovsky

I struggled with this concept for a very long time. I always knew I had something important to say, and I didn’t realize that the last thing the audience wanted from me is to hear me say it. If they wanted a soapbox lecture they’d have paid to hear me speak and not buy a movie ticket. They shouldn’t hear an idea, they should experience it. This was an absolute revelation to me, and the difference between my first feature and my second was immeasurable because of this discovery.

Before I made my first film (19 Revolutions) I could have read this Tarkovsky quote a billion times and I would have made the same choices because I was headstrong in my desire to convey my ideas. I had great ideas about wealth disparity and the plight of forgotten youth, and in a grand mistake I had my actors talk about those ideas as opposed to live through them. React to them. It made for a talky, preachy movie, and my saving grace is that the dialogue was at least interesting and my actors brought some cool nuances to it. Other than that it was a lecture on film.

With my new film 'Six Angry Women' I also have a lot of ideas, but I’m taking the approach of having my actresses develop characters around those ideas, using real life people and incidences as the foundational pillars, and we shall improvise in rehearsals from there to build up the screenplay. In improvisation we will hopefully see real reactions to those ideas, reactions based on truths. This will be our key to experiencing ideas, to creating images that show how something feels as opposed to how it looks. During this entire time we will be recording and jotting down our discoveries, and from this our story, shot list and screenplay will emerge.

This of course requires immensely talented actresses, and I’ve already found three of my six angry women. They are both writers and actors, and have done some truly astounding work in Chicago theater. It’s my responsibility to have them think in terms of film and to hone their creativity towards my ideas, and let them build life around it. It’s exhilarating and scary at the same time, but with each new word and image comes waves of anticipation and excitement.

It’s like watching a new universe being born in front of our eyes!

Announcing my new feature project, 6 ANGRY WOMEN.

Yes, this is my take on Sidney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men, except set against a fictional trial of the murder of a young black teenager. Sound familiar? It should. Between Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown / Ferguson and Eric Garner, this is a subject that is not only timely but necessary.

The twist of this production is that I’m going into rehearsals without a screenplay, only an outline, a set of objectives, and a ton of research. I’m going to count on my actresses to improvise and build the script in rehearsals, an approach used with great skill by one of my cinematic heroes, Mike Leigh.

I, of course, am no Mike Leigh and I find the approach absolutely terrifying. I’m a scientist by nature, I plan things out to molecular detail. But this is an exercise in letting it go, of having absolute control and none at the same time. I’ve been planning for over 18 months now, and hopefully my preparation will serve me well.

In the coming weeks I’ll be going into detail of the pre-production and production of this film, just as I did with Lilith. This is an infinitesimaly smaller production than Lilith - microbudget is an understatement - but it is just as big, if not bigger, in its emotional scope and political impact.

Onward we go, into the great unknown. I’m going to be counting on you, my loyal and hyper-smart followers, to help me promote this production throughout. It needs to build steam as it is a vital issue and a very unorthodox way to discuss it. We need to come up from the underground and give as strong a voice possible to the voiceless. The world should know about this film long before it reaches any screen, it should be the film made by the people and lifted by the people. We can do it.  

Hope you like the poster, I designed and illustrated it myself, a nod to Saul Bass and Otto Preminger. Seemed appropriate.

Have a great weekend!
Zoom Info
  • Camera
  • EPSON Perfection V33/V330

Announcing my new feature project, 6 ANGRY WOMEN.

Yes, this is my take on Sidney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men, except set against a fictional trial of the murder of a young black teenager. Sound familiar? It should. Between Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown / Ferguson and Eric Garner, this is a subject that is not only timely but necessary.

The twist of this production is that I’m going into rehearsals without a screenplay, only an outline, a set of objectives, and a ton of research. I’m going to count on my actresses to improvise and build the script in rehearsals, an approach used with great skill by one of my cinematic heroes, Mike Leigh.

I, of course, am no Mike Leigh and I find the approach absolutely terrifying. I’m a scientist by nature, I plan things out to molecular detail. But this is an exercise in letting it go, of having absolute control and none at the same time. I’ve been planning for over 18 months now, and hopefully my preparation will serve me well.

In the coming weeks I’ll be going into detail of the pre-production and production of this film, just as I did with Lilith. This is an infinitesimaly smaller production than Lilith - microbudget is an understatement - but it is just as big, if not bigger, in its emotional scope and political impact.

Onward we go, into the great unknown. I’m going to be counting on you, my loyal and hyper-smart followers, to help me promote this production throughout. It needs to build steam as it is a vital issue and a very unorthodox way to discuss it. We need to come up from the underground and give as strong a voice possible to the voiceless. The world should know about this film long before it reaches any screen, it should be the film made by the people and lifted by the people. We can do it.

Hope you like the poster, I designed and illustrated it myself, a nod to Saul Bass and Otto Preminger. Seemed appropriate.

Have a great weekend!

Asleep

Makthaverskan

II

Played 239 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!

Cigarettes & Loneliness

Chet Faker

Chet Faker - Built On Glass

Played 689 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!

Lesson No.1 for Electric Guitar

Glenn Branca

Lesson No.1

Played 251 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!