Fans of Joss Whedon and fans of Shakespeare will be pleased to see the first screen version of The Bard's best romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing in twenty years. Unlike Kenneth Branaugh's excellent 1993 version, this one chooses to emphasize the darkness of the Claudio/Hero subplot. In doing so, it provides some new insight into the text (and shows a side of Whedon that perhaps fans of The Avengers will find surprising).
Our bickering Beatrice and Benedick are Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof. These actors, it happens, were the inspiration for the production. Whedon regularly holds readings of Shakespeare at his house, and when he saw these two in the roles, he knew he wanted capture them on film. Denisof knocks it out of the park when it comes to the physical comedy, but I did not go for his manner of bombasting out blank verse. Acker, on the other hand, was totally convincing with the comedy and as a tough woman with a soft spot for her ex-lover. Acker's Beatrice also has a nice chemistry with niece Hero, played by the stunning Jillian Morgese. Morgese and Fran Kranz (who plays Claudio) did the best I've ever seen at making this Othello-lite sub-plot about puppy love and rash jealousy convincing. Whedon's added scene, of Hero observing her own funeral (you need to know the story), helps a great deal with this, as does Clark Gregg's convincing portrayal of her father, Leonato.
The villains, Sean Maher (as Don John) and Riki Lindhome (as a female Conrade) made next-to-no impression. Their fellow conspirator Borrachio (Spencer Treat Clark) gets a nice turn, playing some credible contrition when confronted with his dark deeds.
Nathan Fillion, as local sheriff Dogsberry, and his bumbling night watch played by Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher (YouTube's BriTANick) are very funny. In case you were wondering if the movie was truly low budget, Whedon said that Brian and Nick had to pay for their own flights in to be in the movie. Whedon also shot the whole movie at his house and had his actors provide their own wardrobe.
So yeah, a little less than he was working with with Avengers or even Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog. He also did his own score and some of his own editing. Whedon says he chose black and white photography because he thought of the story as a "noir comedy" in the vein of Sturges, Wilder or Hawks. Frankly, I didn't get this vibe. I feel more like it was chosen because, with actors providing their own wardrobes and using his own house as set decoration, it simplified the art direction. One need only choose for texture rather than color.
So where does this movie fall? Is it a goof, a lark, a slum scrum by some top professionals? Or does it stand with the great cinematic Shakespeares? I'd have to say somewhere in between, more toward the former end of the scale. This one is for the true fans. (The only line Whedon changed involves the word "Jew". He did not, however, change the "Ethiope" line.) As a true fan, I (guilty) enjoyed the heck out of it. My buddy who saw it with me -- and who is not familiar with the play -- was thoroughly confused, and hated the movie. I'm sure to him, my praises are much ado about nothing.
MORE: Great IndieWire interview where D.P. Jay Hunter talks about the run-and-gun approach to shooting Much Ado.
In his commentary track on the DVD for O (Two-Disc Special Edition), a re-telling of Shakespeare's Othello set in a modern high school, actor/director Tim Blake Nelson reveals some of the tricks he learned from Terrence Malick while working on The Thin Red Line.
The best of them, in my opinion, is to try doing takes where the actors don't say their lines. Have them act it out completely with looks and identical blocking. This can be intercut with the dialogue version of the scenes, to use where a look can say as much as a line. Nelson reveals that he used this trick on the scene where Martin Sheen's coach character loses his temper in front of Hugo, played by Josh Hartnett, and wrecks his desk.
The other trick Nelson said he used on the movie O ... Read more...
A French company called Patador Prod did this cool music video for Professor Kliq's "Plastic and Flashing Lights".
On the Patador Prod website (Flash required) you can view more films with their hand-made stop-motion animation aesthetic. It's all in French, so I can't tell if there's more information on how the film was made. Thankfully, the filmmakers did link some behind-the-scenes photos on the Vimeo page which show some of the techniques.
As you can see - pretty simple set-up using a miniature stage and a DSLR on a jointed arm. Here's an X-sheet, which shows the frame counts for various events:
I'm guessing by the large gaps that much of the movement was improvised but aimed toward key beats or sounds. Pretty cool. Magnifique!
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.
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).
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.
On the heels of the Veronica Mars kickstarter, which raised more than $5M, comes Zach Braff's kickstarter project, a sequel to Garden State. The project, called Wish I Was Here has, at time of writing has raised $1.9M of the $2M goal, with 27 days to go.
The Twittersphere's nattering nabobs swiftly denounced Braff as a millionaire who was commandeering a fundraising platform meant for nonfamous artists. Schofizzy has a great long post about why this is stupid and wrong but the main argument is:
No one is coming to your door and begging you to pledge. You won't receive any phone calls from telemarketers selling you this campaign and asking for a pledge. There won't be any pop-up ads on your computer. If you are not interested, you are not interested.
True that! In a more positive light, I've seen some folks encouraging Braff to use the publicity his campaign is generating to put a spotlight on some less famous projects.
If that's what we're doing Zach, let me nominate the equally geek-appealing Wish It, Inc. web series.
The project is by two young filmmakers, Ryan Anthony Martin and Nick Celentano, who have already built a following on YouTube with a series of clever Portal-themed videos. I happen to have gotten a peek at some early scripts for this project and I can vouch for it 100%.
Nick and Ryan have created an incredibly clever and detailed world around the idea that there is a company (Wish It, Inc.) which actually grants -- or denies -- wishes. The writing has the snappy edge of Glee or 30 Rock. They've even recruited Ellen McLain, the voice of GLaDOS in Portal, to play the CEO of Wish It, none other than The Fairy Godmother.
Click on over and watch the video with McLain and read more about the story. If you're not interested in helping Braff, or if you'd like to grant the wishes of some filmmakers who really need resources, join me in backing this great and worthy project.
UUPDATE: The filmmakers have posted a new video which provides a fun introduction to the characters in the show:
FURTHER UPDATE: They have funded - and by a whisker!
On the Criterion edition of Homicide (1991), there is a commentary track with writer/director David Mamet and actor William H. Macy. Among many topics in this conversation, recorded in 2009, they discuss some of the filmmakers who have influenced Mamet:
Mamet: I've always loved film noir. I always thought The Killing by Stanley Kubrick was one of the greatest films. So I love Kubrick's films and, um, Powell & Pressburger, the Brits. And Kurosawa, Ozu and Jean Renoir. John Ford, I always loved John Ford.
Macy: I love John Ford movies.
Mamet: Spectacular. William Wellman and Preston Sturges. I mean there--
Macy: Sidney Lumet, you mention him a lot.
Mamet: Sidney, I love Sidney. I made a movie with Sidney, The Verdict. You start going through the films that Sidney did, one after the other -- Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and The Prince of the City, and The Anderson Tapes and The Hill. Twelve Angry Men. Just one after another.
Earlier in the commentary Mamet revealed that he had wanted Lumet to play a role in the film of an old Yiddish freedom fighter. (Schedules didn't work out.)
Both Mamet and Lumet have written books on directing. (more...)
Martin Scorsese is not only known as one of the greatest movie directors of all time, he is also renowned as a great movie historian. His own personal film collection is reputed to run into the hundreds of thousands. Scorsese has spoken many times about the films that influenced and inspired him. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the master's favorite films:
This British film about the long friendship between a German and an English military officer was released smack in the middle of WWII, against Prime Minister Winston Churchill's objections. Consequently it was not initially well-received and was re-cut many times through the years with no thought of preserving the filmmakers' original vision. In a 2013 Q&A at a National Endowment for the Humanities, Scorsese was speaking about his personal hand in restoring the Powell & Pressburger classic:
Scorsese: The problem was that by the mid-50's, England had changed ... and their [Powell & Pressburger's] films fell out of favor to the point where I didn't even know-- Nothing was written about these two men. And so we began to search them out. And one of the key films was this Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
The main reason is that it was originally two hours and forty-six minutes. A beautiful epic.
Kent Jones: Yeah, and cut to ribbons.
Scorsese: It was re-edited, many times. So I only saw it in black and white at first, finally in 16mm color on PBS in New York, a two-hour version where they straightened out the storylines, 'cause there were a lot of flashbacks, and that sort of thing. And it was still pretty interesting, and very moving, too.
Jones: Andrew Sarris came to love it more than Citizen Kane...
Scorsese: There's no doubt that Kane, you know looking at Kane changed my life, when it was on TV-- Cassevetes' film Shadows-- There were a number of key films. On the Waterfront was the first.
But, um, I gotta tell you. In the past ten, fifteen years the film I watch like listening to a piece of music is Blimp -- the Colonel Blimp film -- more than Kane, more than the others.
In a 1993 Cinemax documentary, Scorsese talked about his love for the classic John Ford western:
Certainly one of my favorites is The Searchers. ... I began to realize what a director did, and that is translate ideas into images, using the lens like a pen.
In his commentary track for Indecent Proposal, director Adrian Lyne talks about his philosophy when shooting sex scenes. In the scene in question, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson's characters have just thrown a bunch of clothes around the kitchen before getting frisky. What the audience sees, but they don't, is that a pair of undies has landed on a hot range burner and is beginning to smoke:
I always think that love scenes tend to make people embarrassed, tend to kind of make an audience feel a bit awkward, you know? And they tend to want to titter and laugh.
So I think it's very important to give them something laugh at, you know, like the line coming up when she says "Your pants are on fire."
Because if you don't give them something to laugh at, they tend laugh anyway at you so it's important I think to give them something to laugh at.
Lyne talks further about how he directs a sexy scene: (more...)