The filmmaker Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza (J.C. to his friends) had a hit with Second Skin, a documentary about the world of MMO gaming. Now he's hard at work on his second feature, Know How -- an exposé of the US foster care system that is also a musical(!). J.C. generously took time to answer some questions via email about the film, his low-budget filmmaking methods, the perils of distribution and how he puts a passion for social change into his work.
Making the Movie: How did you first become interested in filmmaking?
JCPE: Movies have defined me as a person since I was so young, I can’t remember not being interested.
My very first video camera was a rejected Christmas gift that my father received from my mother. Instead of taking it back to the stores, she gave it to my brother and I to play around with. Embarrassing videos of me from when I was 8 years old all the way through college are all in a big box at home. I think there’s even a recording of me talking about wanting to be a director when I was in the 5th grade.
While it was exciting making shorts with friends, I think what drove me to fall in love with cinema were my parents and their enthusiasm for foreign films; we’d buy weeklong passes to local film fests and go nearly every day. Movies have defined me as a person since I was so young, I can’t remember not being interested.
MTM: Your first feature, Second Skin, was a documentary about World of Warcraft that wound up being a hit at the South By Southwest (SXSW) film festival. How did you connect with the festival? What has been the life of the film afterwards?
JCPE: Second Skin was a true passion project. I went into massive credit card debt, borrowed from friends and family, and made the film at all costs. There’s something reckless and exciting about that, it makes needing a win that much more essential, and so you’re willing to move mountains. (If you’re lucky, so are your friends.)
The producers and I didn’t go out willy nilly either, we sat and strategized, built momentum with our audience, and released a massive (for our means) grassroots marketing campaign. Things that seem really normal now. However, back in 2006-2008 we were breaking some new ground and generating a lot of buzz. Its success really resides inside gamer culture itself, and the attention they drove toward the movie. Word of mouth spread over two years of filming, blogging, interviewing, and so when the picture was ready to be birthed, the audience was already there with us.
I can imagine that you’re wondering how this all relates to SXSW. Well, I think having a built-in audience was a big deal, and it was a perfect fit for the film/tech/music festival. Even in 2008, the interactive part of the fest was taking over, and this picture lent itself to that group of folks.
In all other respects, we connected the same way everyone does, we submitted and prayed and wrote worried emails to the festival programmers, exercised every resource we had. We actually weren’t accepted immediately. I received a call from an incredibly smart programmer in early January who asked me to cut the film by 15 minutes in two weeks, and if he liked what I’d done he’d accept the movie. That was a tough couple of weeks! I’m glad he liked it.
MTM: What did you learn about distribution with this film? Anything you would do differently, knowing what you know now?
JCPE: Hah. I learned everything I know about distribution from Second Skin. Before that I didn’t really understand the business or how movie deals really worked. I’d read some books on the subject, but nothing prepares you like real life experience though. There’s something about reading a contract when it's your entire project on the line that makes it immediate.
If you’re going to sell the film, some major takeaways are to make sure your MG [minimum guarantee] makes sense to you. Keep an eye on the payment schedule in reference to distribution milestones, don’t worry too hard about 1 or 2 percent on royalties, and try not to lose that much sleep over all of it. I nearly drove myself mad the first time out. Finally -- and probably most importantly -- make sure you believe in the people you’re selling the movie too. Whether it’s a big or small company, you have to know that they’re in it for the right reasons, and that they’re going to do right by you.
That was my experience in 2008 and lots has changed since. Self-distribution is more enticing than ever before, there are more ways to get your content out there, and there are better ways to have an indie picture succeed. If you’re worried and can’t find somebody you think will give it real TLC, there’s nothing like committing to its success with your own blood, sweat, and tears.
Making movies can be a 'get rich quick' kind of thing if you’re insanely lucky. However, for most people -- including myself in this instance -- it ended up being about the journey. I didn’t really know that at the time, and took some hard knocks learning that the dream wasn’t going to be as easy to attain as I’d initially thought.
JCPE: They weren’t specifically all filmmaking experiences; I mean I did what every other indie filmmaker does, I suppose -- watch lots of movies, do some commercial work. I produced tech docs for Vice, read potential scripts I could helm and I left the production company I’d helped build and pinned my dreams on.
Amidst some tumult, looking for some direction in life, I started volunteering at Streetwise Partners (a mentoring program for young adults) and going to UCB improv classes. I’ve always thought I had keen ear for listening and understanding others, yet in both cases I felt completely enlightened afterward. It led me to rethink where I was going and why I was doing what I was doing.
So, I started looking at the potential to do good, be good, and have fun while doing it. I wrote something that became my own little mantra: I am here on this earth to be a vessel for change. To fix the social inequities I perceive in our world. I use my love and willpower to create tangible change.
From that point forward, I founded a non-profit called White Roof Project to curb climate change, and created a little marketing piece to fundraise for a foster care film that seemed like a great project to direct.
MTM: Which brings us to Know How. Tell me more about the origins of your latest project.
JCPE: Each year a group of foster care youth discover a non-profit called the Possibility Project. These teenagers are chosen to participate in the program based on their desire to create a better world. They come together for one year to share their stories. They learn to create change for themselves and their communities. They also create an original musical from the stories of their lives.
I actually went to one of their first shows when I was in high school, and after college volunteered to shoot some of the productions. I fell out of touch with them once I started directing my first feature. And then, in 2010, I got a call from the founder requesting a meeting. They wanted to make a movie.
The project felt like a great one to be a part of. I’d get to work with foster care youth to tell their stories for the screen and then have them star in the film itself. It also sounded incredibly challenging, high risk, and unlikely to get funded. So we started by making a short fundraising piece for the film; rather than focus on it as a motion picture, the pitch was based on youth development and creating change with a national conversation. A day after the musical premiered on stage, we had a few major donations come in that allowed us to move forward -- and so what originally was unlikely became very real.
I co-wrote and directed the film, in collaboration with foster care youth. The film is written and acted by them, about their real lives and we've been working on it for now nearly three years. I’m just rounding the corner on post-production.
MTM: I understand you've just launched a Kickstarter to help with post-production on the film. What is your strategy for reaching your funding goal?
JCPE: We did just launch a Kickstarter [link], and I’m really excited to finally be so close to finishing the film. We’re looking to raise $25K after nearly three years of production all that's left is the color correction, motion graphics, pieces of the score and sound design/mix. Our strategy for raising the funds is to drive excitement through our networks, email campaigns, reach out to news media, keep our community on Facebook and Twitter involved, and grow that core fan base we need begin taking social action.
This short has been making the rounds this week. It's a great example of how a documentary can re-purpose archival audio and illustrate with slick visuals and graphics.
The film is credited to "The Glossary" - a collective out of Los Angeles. They have a fancy website that's well worth checking out.
It looks like they've been doing a brick business making book trailers, which is a new and exciting territory for filmmakers. Right now, most of the book trailers I see are terrible. But I fully expect that in a few years, we'll look forward to book trailers like we do the movie ones.
With the release of The Great Gatsby, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back on the career of the glossy Aussie, Baz Luhrmann. This screenwriter/director began his career with the so-called "Red Curtain" trilogy -- a group of films in collaboration with the screenwriter Craig Pearce that reveled in their own theatricality. He followed them with two ambitious Hollywood-style historical spectacles, the aforementioned Gatsby and a paean to his home nation, Australia.
Which of his films are worth watching? Which should you watch first? For a range of opinions, I reached out to filmmakers Yfke van Berckelaer (her Vimeo) and Micah Baskir (aka MTB, aka Jeddy Rice). For good measure, I also surveyed musician Lillian Parker, aka Ukelilli. What follows is our own personal rankings of Luhrmann's all-singing, all-dancing filmography.
Premise: Scott Hastings has been training in ballroom dancing since the age of six with his eye on winning the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. But his deployment of some non-sanctioned moves in an early qualifier causes a crisis with his partner Liz (Gia Carides), his mum (Pat Thomson) and the sport's most influential judge (John Hannan). Tara Morice plays the homely Spanish girl Fran who believes in Scott's new moves and teaches him some moves of her own.
John says: The acting and directing choices in this film are campier than I normally prefer. The story is almost ridiculously crude (the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix is one-step removed from the Catalina Wine Mixer in Step Brothers as a plot-important event that's rammed down your throat) and yet... And yet this movie wears its heart on its sleeve, and the heart is in the right place. This is a great introduction to Luhrmann's no-holds-barred approach to storytelling, and the only place you can see how creative he can be with a limited budget.
Yfke says: In general I am a big fan of Baz Luhrmann's work. He has a style all of his own and that's rare these days. Also, if I can quote my brother on this, "Any male director who can rock two pigtails ranks high in my book!" In this first feature, Luhrmann shows how great he is with combining music with images and his uniquely explosive directorial style. We've seen many versions of the Cinderella story and yet in his hands it once again feels totally new.
MTB says: For me this is the most forgettable film Baz Luhrmann has made. I swear I've seen this film at least five times and remember next-to-nothing about it -- except my lackluster reaction. Like many of Luhrmann's films, people cherish it deeply. So, curious, I re-watched it to determine what magic I'm missing. With Strictly Ballroom, I can confidently say: nothing. For a man who uses style for substance, this just doesn't have any of either for me to care about.
Lillian says: I saw this several years ago and don't remember it AT ALL. Seems kinda strange for a Baz Luhrmann movie. I don't think anyone would ever call this man's work easily forgotten... I don't remember disliking it. I really want to rewatch -- it might land higher up than Romeo + Juliet then. But without the advantage of a recent viewing, I'll have to put it at #4.
What don't you do?
With the movie The Game, director David Fincher had a tricky task: how to maintain the audience's trust while also manipulating them. In a commentary track on the Criterion edition, he talks about his approach to this twisty tale of a businessman (Michael Douglas) who finds his life overrun by a mysterious game.
Here's the tricky thing. You're making a movie. And the audience knows-- You have control over everything somebody sees and hears for two hours. Every single thing. And the audience knows that you can show them anything. I mean, you know, you've got computers and you can make Tyrannosaurs Rex eat a car. So they know you can do anything.
So the question is: what don't you do? Not what do you do.
Every time you go to a closeup, the audience knows subconsciously that you've made an editorial decision. You've said, 'Look at this; this is important.'
Well in a movie like this where everybody's lying, you can run an audience ragged by showing them things that are supposedly important. Because everything that is a closeup is important, whether it's important or not. When you cut to a closeup of somebody's face, you're going in for a reason, you're doing it for a reason.
He goes on about the effect of psychological effect of closeups on an audience: (more...)
An update on the indie apocalypse movie The Battle for Bunker Hill, whose making was profiled in depth here on the site. A company called New World Distribution just announced they will be releasing the movie:
New World Distribution releases “The Battle for Bunker Hill” worldwide on Google Play, You Tube Movie Rentals, Viaway, Amazon, Sony Playstation and I-tunes with many more platforms to follow. NWD will also be taking the film to the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.
“The Battle for Bunker Hill” begins its story when former Wall Street executive Peter Salem is released from prison. Peter heads for the small town of Bunker Hill, Kansas, where his ex-wife and their children have started a new life. Soon after he arrives in town, all power is lost – there is no electricity, and cars and computers suddenly shut down. Community leaders are at a loss to explain. Is it the rapture? A massive terrorist attack? Aliens?
Cut off from the world, the town’s militant past is reawakened and forces coalesce to protect citizens from an unseen enemy, represented to some by Mr. Farook, an elderly Pakistani immigrant who owns the local convenience store. The town’s fear leads to the creation of a posse of gunmen, resulting in torture, illegal searches and eventually murder.
The film includes a stellar cast of Saeed Jaffrey (Gandhi), James McDaniel (NYPD Blue), Laura Kirk (Lisa Picard is Famous) and Blake Robbins (The Office).
I guess you could call Sightseers, the little British film about a couple on a vacation in an RV, a dark comedy. Emphasis on dark, de-emphasis on comedy. I imagine the ideal audience for this film being drunken art house filmgoers at a midnight show with a taste for gore, deadpan observations and sadism.
Directed by Ben Wheatley and co-written by stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (with additional material by Amy Jump), Sightseers tells the story of Chris (Oram) and Tina (Lowe), a pair of losers who have started dating a few months before and now are going on a week long 'caravan' together to Britain's lesser tourist attractions.
Sightseers would fit comfortably on a rampage-film double bill with God Bless America or Falling Down. To play it with Thelma & Louise or A Clockwork Orange would just expose how unredeeming it is compared to the better examples of the genre.
While the film's amorality rankled me, I have to acknowledge the performances of these leads. They are utterly believable as put-upon schmos who release their petty resentments via homicide. I would like nothing more than to spoil this sick film, but unlike these characters, I do have some compunctions. So... spoilers ahead. (more...)
This biography by prolific behind-the-scenes documentarian Laurent Bouzereau chronicles the life of producer Richard D. Zanuck. Zanuck was the son of Darryl F. Zanuck, the longtime Fox studio head, and was raised on the studio lot. While his father's name helped him get a foot in the door, Zanuck managed to distinguish himself early on as a producer with a string of hits, culminating in The Sound of Music, at that time the highest money-earning film. (He would later top his own record with Jaws.)
All was not roses between him and his equally-willful father. They had a year-long power struggle for control of the Fox studio, the story of which forms the most fascinating part of this documentary. Darryl and Dick later made friends, and the tradition of Zanuck producers continues into the third generation with one of Richard Zanuck's sons, Dean.
Perhaps because of the Zanuck family's close involvement (including Richard, who was able to see a cut of the film before he passed away), the documentary goes soft on Zanuck's drinking and only hints at his explosive verbal and physical temper. (How many times did he find himself in jail before he quit drinking?) It also glosses over his first two marriages and dwells far too long on his last wife, Lili Fini Zanuck. A fine filmmaker in her own right, I'm sure, but not the subject of the documentary.
Still, I recommend this show to anyone who is interested in film history, especially the careers of Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton, over whom Zanuck had a profound influence.
Air dates for Turner Classic Movies:
Wednesday May, 8 2013 at 08:00 PM
Wednesday May, 8 2013 at 11:30 PM
He also said "chick movie" is code for crying. The quote comes from a conversation between Zwick and Rob Lowe on the 2010 Blu-ray for About Last Night..., a movie starring Lowe and a young Demi Moore about a couple who starts their relationship with sex and ends with love.
Lowe: Usually 'date movies' mean guys are gonna go under duress with a gun to their head.
Lowe: Right? There's nothin' in it for them. And the girl's gonna love them for being taken to that movie. That's code for 'date movie.' This is actually a movie that works for both of them!
Zwick: Right. And crying. There has to be crying involved for it to be a date movie too. For the girl.
Zwick: That's more the 'chick movie'. Actually, 'chick movie' is code for crying--
Zwick: 'Date movie' is code for sex. That's very funny.
With the stateside release of Iron Man 3, co-written and fully-directed by Shane Black, many journalism outlets have been taking a look back on The Black Man's career. If you're new to Shane Black's brand of fun action and punchy dialogue, which movies should you watch? Which ones should you watch first? Where does Iron Man 3 fall in the Black cannon?
To help me answer these questions, I've recruited Germain Lussier, writer for /Film, Trevor Schoenfeld writer of Schofizzy's Movie Review and host of the Top 5 Film podcast along with his co-host Jonnie Chang, who also reviews films at No One Man. We're going to give our personal rankings for each film in Shane Black's filmography.
Premise: L.A.P.D. Homicide Sergeant Murtaugh (Danny Glover) gets paired with loose cannon narcotics cop Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) to take down a drug ring run by Vietnam vets. Gary Busey plays the (also loony) enforcer of the "Shadow Company," Mr. Joshua.
John says: I didn't get around to seeing this action movie classic until pretty recently, and I was quite impressed how well it has aged. Even though buddy cop stories with one wild partner and one who is "too old for this shit" have become cliché, I had no problem being constantly surprised by the story. While there are some ridiculousnesses, especially in the villain department, this is a more grounded version of Shane Black and therefore one that remains a great introduction to his oeuvre.
Germain says: Much like Die Hard after it, it's easy to underestimate just how influential this film is. Sure, films like 48 Hours preceded it, but almost all modern cop or buddy films have their DNA in Shane Black's unique blend of twists, turns, humor and violence. We all remember the film for its dialogue and action but watching it again, the Riggs character is really way more complex and interesting than this film deserves. Unfortunately, the franchise loses that edge moving ahead.
Trevor says: Shane Black's first script also happens to be my introduction to his work. I remember going to see Lethal Weapon with my father in theaters at 10-years-old when it opened and walking away loving the action comedy. It is my first exposure to an R-rated buddy comedy. As a kid, I didn't realize how much of Black's style seeped through into Riggs and Murtaugh. Going back and revisiting as an adult, however, Black's sense of sarcasm and wit really shines in his first script. This brings up a quality about Black that is so great, his ability to reach both young and older audiences with his characters. As a kid, I loved the characters he created and the situations he put them in. As an adult, I am far more impressed with his knack for developing characters versus the situations he puts them in.
Jonnie says: An instant classic. Black's witty dialogue and whip-smart plotting established -- and still holds, arguably -- the gold standard for explosive action fare in a modern setting. Mixing the right amount of comedy with the perfect dose of action has been re-attempted -- with minimal success -- by countless films that followed it, proving that Black's voice was, and still is, truly unique. Lethal Weapon's pacing, story, and most importantly, characters, define the best of the genre, going over the top in just the right places, but never forgetting the importance of staying true to its dark-but-fun tone. Black perfectly showcases his abilities as a screenwriter with the alchemy of action and comedy deployed throughout the film. It's an untouchable.
In 1963, film scholar Donald Richie wrote an article for Films and Filming magazine in which he put the question to the master director:
Recently, I asked him, if he had to choose among them, which was most important, the script, the actual shooting, or the editing. He told me: "All three, naturally; still, if the script is no good, then it doesn't matter how well you shoot or edit."
The article is reproduced in the Criterion edition of High and Low, a rare Kurosawa film set in contemporary times. Despite the modern setting, this kidnapping story still has Kurosawa's unmistakeable painterly eye. A dark sequence, where the villain of the film walks down an alleyway filled with junkies is, I think, about as close as Kurosawa ever got to making a zombie movie. And in this black-and-white film there is a single, powerful use of color that I believe must have inspired Steven Spielberg's famous sequence in Schindler's List with the girl in the red coat.