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Library of Congress: Only 14% of U.S. Silent Films Survive - These are amazing historical documents, if not artistic masterpieces. Kudos to the people working to save them.
Movie Morlocks: Accentuate the Accent... or Don’t - I'm one of these people who is driven crazy by dodgy and illogical accents. I like to think I can put that aside and enjoy films on their other merits. I haven't seen the two films discussed here.
"...while just 13% of producers who produced a low budget film go on to make another one." - Filmmaker Magazine takes a look at the stats of independent filmmaking.
Movie franchise meter - Nice chart of the critical reception of franchises over time.
Screenwriter Frederic Raphael in the Times Literary Supplement: Nazism was a triumph not so much of the will as of modern sales techniques, especially film...
FilmDrunk: Spike Lee Was Spectactularly Unhelpful to Oldboy’s Allegedly Plagiarized Poster Artist - It is hard to know if Spike really didn't understand how this would look or is just using one of his brilliant marketing techniques.
The first part of a two-part essay from USC film student Paul Snow. Enjoy. - JO
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Much has been written over the last year about the questionable stability of the blockbuster, but the fact is that even if event movies run losses on a regular basis the studios will continue to make them because they aren’t just movie studios, but divisions of massive media conglomerates. Regardless of how successful Captain America is as a film, it establishes revenue streams in video games, comics, toys, and other branding deals that will more than pay for the production cost. The Walt Disney Company has famously made more money from Cars merchandise than on all of Pixar’s films combined. After such a success, films like Cars 2 and Planes seem to exist for no other reason than to perpetuate the toy line. The blockbuster is necessary, but rarely an end in itself.
Even when Hollywood tries to sell a movie by itself the old-fashioned way, a close look reveals that it is really only selling tickets. After you buy your ticket at the box office, Hollywood’s responsibility to you ends. Studio marketing clearly demonstrates this.
Marketing and audience satisfaction
Because Hollywood sells tickets and merchandise rather than movies, its marketing focuses on putting butts in seats, rather than planting the seeds for good word-of-mouth by preparing the audience to be satisfied by the film itself. As a result, the trailers today are filled with money shots – to the point where the recent trailer for Ender’s Game shows the climax of the movie (which anyone who knows about the story beforehand will be able to identify).
Instead of having the marketing team work creatively to show the unique merits of each picture, movies today are made to conform to the marketing and to play well in one of the two templates for a studio trailer: exciting or lighthearted. When a film defies easy categorization, the marketing group tends to misrepresent it in some inappropriate genre, setting the public up for disappointment and confusion when they go to see it. Blade Runner, Fight Club, and Where the Wild Things Are – sold as a shoot-em-up, a wrestling movie, and a family-friendly kid’s movie, respectively – were all famous financial disappointments for this key reason.
I see indie filmmakers falling into traps too. The biggest pitfall today in independent cinema is belief in the fantasy that the festival circuit and crowdfunding are reliable paths to success and financial rewards. In reality, these are only different forms of marketing for the film. Still, filmmakers get enchanted about stories of a time gone by when big producers scanned the festivals all day for new talent. Today, most of them prefer to keep a tab open on Twitter or YouTube – if they want to seek out anyone at all. Only 1% of movies submitted to Sundance are accepted, and 4% or 5% of those (about 5 feature films films out of 120 on average in the last 3 years) receive any kind of theatrical distribution deal. To most filmmakers, festivals are at best a publicity opportunity.
Similarly, thousands of filmmakers run crowdfunding campaigns with the hope of six-figure paydays like the biggest success stories publicized online. Most of the crowdfunding “experts” will tell you, however, to prepare to work full-time for at least a month on a campaign and to set a modest goal. (SideKick reports that the average successful campaign for “Narrative Film” on Kickstarter collects less than $40K.) Understand that a significant portion of that goal will be spent just on the rewards given to donors rather than the film itself. At best, crowdfunding can provide long-term audience engagement and perhaps a set of small additional funding for a major independent project.
If studio filmmakers only care about getting the audience into the theater and independents are willing to place the labor of several years of their lives completely on chance and festival tastes, then these methods are fine. There will always be a balance between art and commerce, but nobody needs to shoot themselves in the foot. So where do we go from here?
My thoughts on distribution with continue in Part 2.
I'm someone who firmly believes screenplays should be treated as literature. For a guy like me, I this Film Scripts Series from Applause Books is dead on the money. Great scripts, great writers, published as shooting scripts with formatting correctly preserved -- unlike so many screenplay books out there, with their tiny pages and non-monospace fonts. Ick! Those who have studied screenwriting know the trouble that writers go to have their story flow visually on the page and how essential it is to see the original formatting.
An update of the 1971 series edited by George P. Garrett and O.B. Hardison, Jr., this re-issue, under the editorship of Jane R. Gelfman, offers three classic scripts in each volume. Each volume also contains an identical introduction which covers film history and the screenwriting process, an appendix with pages from a shooting schedule and a glossary of terms, making any of them appropriate as textbooks.
A minor quibble: this series does omit the original page numbers. While they could be back-calculated, other screenplay collections, like the excellent Preston Sturges compilations, do keep the page numbers.
But any quibbles are minor considering the caliber of scripts represented in this series; classic screenplays faithfully published are quite difficult to find. That makes these volumes well-worth adding to the gift list for any aspiring screenwriter or film history buff. I applaud Applause for doing right by some great material.
David Mamet has distinguished himself as a playwright, screenwriter, director and cultural essayist for nearly four decades now. I've always loved his well-crafted screenwriting, and over time I've also come to appreciate his unadorned style as a director. Because he believes actors should "say the words" without "inflection," he's a bit of an acquired taste, I'll admit. But well worth the trouble.
Where should the Mamet novice begin? Which films will endure? What follows is my own personal ranking of what will A (Always) B (Be) C (Classics) of D (David) Mamet...
Premise: A drifter (Jack Nicholson) falls in lust with a waitress at a roadside diner (Jessica Lange) and they plot to murder her husband. Adapted from the classic noir novel by James M. Cain, it is widely considered to be inferior to the 1946 film version starring James Garfield. Mamet's then-wife Lindsay Crouse was trying out for a role and Mamet encouraged her to mention to director Bob Rafelson that Mamet was a fan of the novel. Rafelson and Nicholson had been attempting themselves to adapt it, unsuccessfully, and jumped at the chance to work with Mamet, by then an established playwright.
John says: Not having read the original novel or seen the 1946 Garfield version, it is hard for me to judge Mamet's work here. Certainly the script and the directing by Bob Rafelson create an environment for some excellent and sexy performances. I do know that the novel continues the story for an additional trial at the end. I'm not sure if it was Mamet or, more likely Rafelson, who decided to leave off the book's ending. (Rafelson loves ambiguous endings.) But the movie feels incomplete. It also has an intrusive score. Worth watching for the performances and for the cinematography by Swedish master Sven Nykvist, but overall... unsatisfying.
The Verdict (1982)
Mamet's role: Screenwriter (based on the novel by Barry Reed, a draft by Jay Presson Allen was apparently not used)
Mamet tropes: Noble lawyers, one-sided phone conversations, political incorrectness, nepotistic casting
John's Rank: #2
Premise: Alcoholic, washed-up lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) lands a medical malpractice case that offers him a final shot at redemption.
John says: Mamet's first Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, The Verdict is a deliberate (I won't say slow) character study and legal drama. The script is as fantastic as is reputed -- every moment is building character or moving the plot forward, with huge emotional payoffs. The story is greatly assisted by director Sidney Lumet, d.p. Andrzej Bartkowiak, and the performances of the actors, most notably Paul Newman, who imbues the character of Frank Galvin with real flaws and real hope. This movie was well-acclaimed upon release, but I get the sense that it is not seen or discussed much of late. That's a shame. This might be the best courtroom drama ever put on film.
Look for: Mamet's first wife Lindsay Crouse in a small-but-crucial role.
Premise: Treasury agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) forms a group of "untouchable" cops (Sean Connery, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith) to pursue the unofficial mayor of Prohibition Era Chicago, the gangster Al Capone (Robert DeNiro).
John says: Mamet's first major screen script after winning a Pulitzer for the stageplay Glengarry Glen Ross, Untouchables is a classic script and a classic movie. I'm sure it's the reason Mamet ended up writing a number of other gangster movies for Hollywood. Scene after scene is a textbook of Mamet dialogue and mis-direction. Watching it again recently, not having seen it for probably 15 years, the famous (and largely dialogue-free) scene involving a baby buggy on a staircase seems a bit over-wrought under Brian De Palma's direction, but the rest of the movie holds up better than I had remembered -- largely due to Mamet's tight and action-packed script. "They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way." A definite favorite.
House of Games (1987)
Mamet's role: Screenwriter (and co-story credit with Jonathan Katz), Director
Mamet tropes: Long cons, close-up magic, knife-based plot points, switched briefcases, metaphorical games of chance, eloquent criminals, nepotistic casting
John's Rank: #6
Premise: David Mamet's directorial debut finds eminent psychologist Dr. Margaret Ford (Mamet's then-wife Lindsay Crouse) drawn into the world of a gang of confidence men (Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, Mike Nussbaum and more). Are they offering her the thrill her life needs, or is she just a pawn in one of their elaborate schemes?
John says: People think of Mamet as a macho director, but this is a movie that passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. I liked this movie okay when I first saw it, but was a bit turned off by the ending. Watching it again, I see that Mamet and frequent d.p. Juan Ruiz Anchia have layered in a ton of Freudian imagery and provided some distinct clues for why Crouse's character behaves how she does. Crouse, following Mamet's direction, chose to play the character very close to the vest, which makes her more interesting to watch when you see the film a second time. But you don't need to watch this film more than once to enjoy Joe Mantegna who, as the "honest" confidence man Mike Mancuso, steals the show.
I'm a sucker for watching large construction or painting projects come together in timelapse, so I loved this video. The filmmaker Selina Miles also makes use of some nice motion control and stop motion animation techniques as well.
There's another film along similar lines on the YouTube channel. It looks like a dry run for the above:
I can't find any information online about how long these took to film and compile/edit. You could probably make an educated guess by watching the rise and fall of the natural light sources, or if you knew how long it would take to paint such complex, large-scale tags.
Co-writer of Gravity, Jonas Cuarón, directed a short in Greenland that shows the other side of Sandra Bullock's character's distress call. If it gets nominated for an Academy Award for Live-Action Short, it could mark the first time both a film and a spinoff short are nominated together, according to the Hollywood Reporter. You may recall that "Hotel Chevalier" and The Darjeeling Limited formed a similar movie/short pair, though neither managed to get nominated.
The reported budget for the shoot was $100,000 and drew upon both Cuarons' love for the desolate landscape of Greenland. Jonas apparently learned of the inhabitants' attachment to their sled dogs and incorporated that into the plot.
Bob Fosse, legendary Broadway choreographer and stage director, was also one of the great film directors. Even though he only made a few films, after seeing Lenny and All That Jazz (Cabaret not so much), I became convinced he is one of the masters.
Biographer Sam Wasson, likewise, fell into his Fosse obsession through the autobiographical riff on Fellini's 8 1/2 that is All That Jazz. The result is this new book, Fosse, a novelistic tour of the man's life worthy of Updike.
Wasson begins with Fosse's funeral — beautifully depicted with lots of witty tributes from the talents of stage and screen, ending with a heartbreaking dance from the women in his life, his wife Gwen Verdon, his daughter Nicole, his many girlfriends — then flashes back to review his life in chronological order.
Fosse began young, hoofing it in a child's double act in some seedy night clubs. It was here that he was sexually abused by strippers, an event both Fosse (in All That Jazz) and Wasson invest with Freudian supersignificance. An incredible dancer but a shy actor, Fosse finds minor success in New York before a short tour in Hollywood under contract with MGM.
He washed out at MGM, but not before choreographing and performing a 45-second routine in Kiss Me Kate that stands out as something new and exciting even today. It was this little clip that helped convince Broadway impressario George Abbott to give him a shot at choreographing The Pajama Game. Although established choreographer Jerome Robbins also helped on the show, the numbers featuring Fosse's style, like "Steam Heat", made his name and won him his first Tony. He was just 27.
While Wasson is also a film critic, he does not shortchange Fosse's stage career. It makes up the bulk of the book. I was most interested in Fosse's filmmaking methods, and how he became, as critic Pauline Kael said, "a true prodigy." Wasson puts it down to an almost maniacal obsession with technique. On his first film, Sweet Charity, Fosse pestered d.p. Robert Surtees continuously about camera technique, even making flashcards of film terms. Later, working with editor Alan Heim and assistant editor Trudy Ship on the TV special "Liza with a Z", he dove deep into the art of editing, experimenting with form and movement in an obsessive-compulsive manner.
Wasson tells a great story about Fosse, editing one of his famous TV commercials for his stage shows, finishing a cut at two in the morning, then insisting the editor go back through all the outtakes to see if anything had been missed. When he finds a slightly better leg position in a take, he insists it be cut in, throwing off the timing for the rest of the cut, necessitating a recut of the whole piece.
Fosse's attention to detail and epic workdays were facilitated by a methamphetamine addiction, his psychiatrist's prescribed Dexadrine, which he chased with downers — barbiturates and alcohol — and late night sexcapades.
It's not easy for me to separate Nathan Johnson's work from his collaborations with his cousin, director Rian Johnson (Looper). After all, my introduction to his scores started with Brick, and, to be fair, I was more intrigued with the director at the time than the composer. But a few years went by, and I saw The Brothers Bloom. It was here that my attention was drawn specifically to the vastly dynamic score. I loved it (and still do; it's arguably my favorite of Johnson's work to date), and ever since then, I've paid much closer attention to Johnson's beautifully unique, developing voice.
Johnson's work on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut feature Don Jon is a demonstration of just how dynamic he can be. The score elevates the film from an average romantic comedy to a poignant tale of disillusionment and rediscovery. Often times scores and soundtracks are criticized for telling the audience how they should feel, yet in Don Jon, Johnson properly reinforces the conflicted internal struggle that Levitt's character Jon continually experiences as he attempts to conquer his addiction to pornography and idealism. Sometimes tongue-in-cheek, mocking romantic comedy -- other times genuine and dramatic -- the score vacillates from playful to bombastic, clubby to fable-esque. There's a lot of heavy lifting to do, and the score seems to do it with ease.
"My Ride" is a great example of how efficient the score can be; it's a mere 23 seconds. Not only does it provide a quick callback to Jon's "addiction" musical motif, but it also perfectly conveys Jon's emotional high and exactly how good he feels about his coveted car and being ruler of the road. When Jon finally meets the girl of his dreams, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the score swoons, somewhat reminiscent of Brothers Bloom. It swells effectively and references the romantic comedy genre, but at the same time, makes fun of it a bit. Take the track, "Facebook Stalker." You can almost imagine Pepé Le Pew pursuing Penelope Pussycat while listening to it without the rest of the movie. The playfulness helps to maintain a tone that's comical, but restrained. It helps to make the bitter parts of Jon's journey easier to accept. Without these vital cues from the score, I wouldn't have found the character or story nearly as endearing.
Keeping in tradition with Johnson's previous work, the score for Don Jon feels fittingly introspective, warm, and personal. I have to admit, though, that I'm looking forward to more opportunities for him to work on larger scale with bigger orchestrations. More musicians and more instruments, please. I don't doubt that those very opportunities are already in play, and I can't wait to hear what Nathan Johnson does next.
Appropriate for the week when the U.S. sets clocks back, gaining an extra hour, I saw the latest film from writer/director Richard Curtis, About Time. I am conflicted about this film, and an extra hour won't solve the issue. On one hand, it is a genuinely charming and moving meditation on the joys of everyday life and acceptance of loss. On the other, it suffers from gaping logic flaws, even by the brain-bending expectations for a time travel film.
Most frustratingly, many of these flaws could have been easily fixed in post by recording about thirty seconds of additional voiceover explaining some of the ground rules of the central character's ability to return to an earlier point in his life (over and over, like, say Groundhog Day, a movie that already shows how to do this right).
For fans of Curtis' other films (Love Actually especially), there is much to enjoy here. Domnhall Gleeson is a winning lead and Rachel McAdams is winsome as ever. While the film is full of romance, it is also a father-son story at heart, something the marketing has scrupulously avoided. So men, bring your hankies too.
Now, about those logic flaws... (spoilers ahead). (more…)