How Are Directors Chosen (when it’s a job) ?

Putting aside the fact that most movies, especially independent productions, are conceived and directed by a director and that it would be generally a mistake to have that person step aside so someone else’s “vision” of their script can be accommodated, most of the discourse on the issue of directors has to do with hiring statistics and money – the director as coveted job.  Some of the conversation or the new norms just seem to be unsustainable and not merit based. Peter Farrelly has said, “If you think you are Kubrick the crew will make your life a living hell.” So on Dumb and Dumber he and his brother had to play dumb, so to speak, and ask the crew to cover their asses.  But then how does that advice work when you actually do have a vision and – Kubrick or not – want to at least strive to follow your own taste and figure out the directorial approach yourself?

Why are Directors Hired and what are the qualifications? When asked what a director does, I say if there is only one person on the crew doing everything, that is the director. What does the director direct? Most importantly, the audience. But in the current climate, who the hell knows how people get hired to direct.  I may praise or pick on a few names trying to connect the dots on this idea and what it might mean for devaluing the skill of creating images out of story.
Jennifer Kent the director of Babbadook is therefore qualified to direct anything.
Ari Aster directed Heredity, therefore he is qualified to direct anything.
Jodie Foster is a solid director, whether or not the content of The Beaver appeals to you. She has said she believes in ideally the best shot for each moment and having it be motivated, which a TV schedule rarely allows time for, making some shows about generic coverage or mere recording and documenting of the content.
Ava DuVernay was benighted by Oprah and others in the film industry to be the next big Diversity hire as a director after 20 years of imdb credits in promotions and marketing exclusively. Maybe she made a lot of positive connections promoting the work of other filmmakers. Her documentary about the Prison industrial complex and disproportionate black inmates made her even more friends because of the importance of the subject matter. But even though the casting of Selma is good what the audience might notice is her distracting habit of crossing the camera axis in otherwise straightforward dialogue scenes. That she then got a potentially complex project like A Wrinkle in Time is almost inexplicable if shot progression is a factor at all. With her pending project New Gods for DC, there might be even more need for fans and film pundits to explore in more detail just how certain directors work.
Ana Lily Amirpour wrote and directed two dark-themed films, her skateboarding vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and her sort of Escape from New York or Walking Dead without Zombies movie The Bad Batch and is supposed to do a new version of Cliffhanger. She talks about having a “boner” for a shot. She is a hands-on director, and whether someone likes the content or story being presented, the directing itself is thoughtful and full of personality. The way she reveals or conceals an element of a scene is deliberate and authentic.
Lord and Miller like the simple coverage approach and no storyboarding and are improvisational, therefore they were the wrong choice for a Star Wars movie.
The Russo Brothers came from the point and shoot, talking heads world and the hand held improv world of The Office where every episode looks the same no matter who directs, so it is inexplicable that they got to direct MCU movies. It is said that fight scenes for the Avengers movies are done by second unit directors like David Leitch who co-directed John Wick. What were the other factors and how much of the directing comes from the director(s)?

Jon Favreau was acting in a young man’s youtube short, an improvised western, and behind the scenes he confided, “You at least have a lot of freedom here. Marvel will give me storyboards they’ve come up with and say Just shoot this.” As important as story and character are, those can be SET by a writer or writing team before the director is brought in. I think if someone else, a storyboard artist or cinematographer is the de facto co-director it is bad in the long term for our perception of direction as a craft and the director as the primary creative on a movie. I think it is safe to give Favreau full credit for Chef which is a personal allegory from his other interest, cooking.
Frank Darabont did his best directing on Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. After doing an episode of The Shield, handheld, where you can’t tell who directed without reading the credits, he applied that slapdash approach to The Mist — but even within that he found places where expert directing does shine through. There was still some stillness and steadiness allowed. His Walking Dead episodes are solidly directed, as is his Mob City series that was short lived. People may consider him too specific and too perfectionist and willing to send overly honest (rude) e-mails. Still, he is qualified and should be directing more.
Jane Campion has made well storyboarded movies on topics that don’t excite me but I appreciate her confident use of the frame.
Steven Spielberg has compromised his brand as a director by being a producer credited on Michael bay Transformers movies and other films. The general public might make less distinction between producer and director, even if Spielberg lately as a rule will not even look at the cut until it is done. But Spielberg is the master of using screen grammar and applying it in the interpretation of a script. He also has the intuition to see what might be improved by new writers on a script, as with bringing in Josh Singer the Spotlight writer to improve the Liz Hannah script that came through Amy Pascal.

James Wan is getting into a similar boat, with many projects announced as being produced by him and nothing said about he director(s). It is like if someone is a talented dancer (the director) and there is an expectation that he or she must also be able to secure a stage and auditorium in which the dance can occur (the producer). Frankly a phone call from a Spielberg or Wan may be all the producing they have to do and then they can delegate the phone calls and hiring and make notes on the scripts.
As an exercise, if you can make it through the Fifth and Sixth Fast and Furious movies directed by Justin Lin, and you take some smelling salts to wake up and you can watch Furious 7 directed by James Wan you might feel in your unconscious at least a strong shift in how the frame is used. For me watching 6 and then 7 it was like night and day. I pushed myself to make it through 6 which felt very delegated and arbitrary. Furious 7 remained engaging and had a more strict adherence to film grammar. You might think Lin did a good job on Star Trek Beyond, but I think that movie was helped by a pretty solid script by Simon Pegg and we don’t know how much was delegated. Maybe the rear shot of the impulse drives before they took off was the equivalent of a smoking tail pipe shot in his car chase movies. But in terms of overall body of work Wan is the one whose name as director will instill confidence.
Tim Burton has admitted he would not know a good script if it hot him in the head. His movies are admired for the art direction and his direction. Ed Wood is a great script, as is Big Eyes, and maybe Beetlejuice. The main criticism of his movies will have to do with plotting and script.
Kevin Smith has said that you don’t need talent to be a director. He has said of his jobs on The Flash and Supergirl that those crews will make the show with or without a director and so he just brings doughnuts for them and people like having him around as a reassuring presence but the nuts and bolts of covering a talking heads dialogue scene are basic and action scenes are mostly predetermined by a team who already have a name for any “new” shot ideas he might come up with.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are set to be all-powerful overlords of Star Wars (maybe Knights of the Old Republic) while under the thumb of a woman who thinks of anything white or male-targeted as problematic. Are these two writers going to join the Director’s Guild? Or will they be looking at someone with proven visual punctuation skills to direct? In the current trend, it seems like writers can just be “team leaders” who delegate a lot of what we consider directing. If a Rian Johnson comes in to direct, it is possible that we would have to be less worried about his input than Kennedy’s input and that of her chosen Lucasfilm Story Group that may analyze plot the way Salon or theMarySue analyzes it, with identity politics as the primary concern. A Luke that responds to Rey aiming a lightsaber down at him with a force push he had demonstrated moments before would be logical and dramatically correct but not part of the old-man-wrong, young-woman-right nonsense that was being sold.

A movie that is mostly visual should travel better than one that relies on dialogue and and word awareness or word-play.  But a chatty script will survive a public table reading, the more it is like a radio drama.  This might also attract the sort of director who is content to do an establishing shot, over-shoulders for each character and close ups of each actor for the whole scene top to bottom – the equivalent of burger flipping.  But a visual and cinematic script will sound dry in a table reading and nobody wants to read a dense description of actions.  Images and the way they follow each other in a sequence will separate the directors from the pretenders.  It is also risky to be caught wanking with style and not having it tied to the advancement of the story.

I don’t know the solution, because either a trend or the popularity of an actor or a social movement might cause someone to be credited as a director.  I just personally cheer for those who really are creating what we see.  A Spielberg may be able to say he accepts ideas from everyone and that he finds the scene in the moment, but he also doesn’t have to prove himself now.  A new director coming up might want to be able to point to a storyboard and say, “Yeah, I’m happy to say I worked it out on paper so I wouldn’t waste anyone’s time and I was able to anticipate the equipment and the tools to achieve those shots.”  There can be a reason to hold a shot without cuts and without laying the image bare trying to be a languid “arty” indulgent director like Tarkovski.  I swear some directors have a contract for a certain running time so they will punk the audience by just letting the camera run or watching someone walk along through the desert (Gus Van Sant’s Gerry) or through the woods (Stalkyr).  Rarely is it forgivable (Lynch’s Eraserhead, where you expect to be punked and where it should be seen with an audience who gets long pauses and elevator doors that take absurdly long to close).

A mentor of mine used to say there is the film industry and then the film community.  I wouldn’t begrudge anyone to grab a camera and make some sort of movie.  It may build relationships even of one’s craft doesn’t grow in a measurable way.  But in the high profile discussion the dominates pop culture, I think it matters who is just a big personality or coasting on a third issue and those who are excited about the frame and what it can do, people who might legitimately be called movie geeks.  I want to see the artist’s hand on the brush, not someone else being talked through about how to move it. I admire the Rodriguez approach – capable of any crew position but knowing the whimsical or dramatic impact of each frame or move or cut.  And regardless of what walk of society someone comes from, if they have a grasp of that then they have a handle on movie direction.

People who come from theater too often conflate the cinematographer with the director.  They may think the director is the storyteller and that the choice of frame is something else.  They might see Ana Lily’s The Bad Batch and angrily trash it for the content but concede “The cinematography was good…”  even though the images were clearly planned by the director.

Someone like Altman would say, “I don’t like to direct.  I don’t show you what to look at.  I will stay loose and let you choose what to look at like a play.”  And that kind of thought is the enemy of cinema, as far as I’m concerned. You can let someone like that cast a movie or find a script but then let a DIRECTOR direct.  Pauline Kael controversially propped up Altman’s loose approach because it was at a time when movies were too glossy and slick. Actors prop up that approach because if they get to improvise they feel more engaged and less utility players being functional and it is the principle of conversation where if you only ask the other person what they think or to talk about themselves and you say nothing about yourself they will come away thinking you are interesting and brilliant. And it you just pontificate – even if you are right and saying something useful – they may just think you are full of hot air and a know-it-all (like, er, someone who does a blog like this – cough).

 

Halloween Season Must Sees

They don’t all take place at Halloween time, or October, and they are not all horror. I am surprised that no Hitchcock films made the list.  Maybe Frenzy might have made it, but Psycho felt obligatory. The intention is to get people watching these films that enrich the viewing of anything that follows. The Babadook by Jennifer Kent didn’t make the list but it is very well done. Maybe that should be adjusted.

https://www.imdb.com/list/ls097576907/

 

Old Ramblings

I may or may not have posted this – or a version of it – before. Housecleaning and moving forward.

Why are Directors Hired and what are the qualifications? When asked what a director does, I say if there is only one person on the crew doing everything, that is the director. What does the director direct? Most importantly, the audience. But in the current climate, who the hell knows how people get hired to direct.
Jennifer Kent the director of Babbadook is therefore qualified to direct anything.
Ari Aster directed Heredity, therefore he is qualified to direct anything
Jodie Foster is a solid director, whether or not the content of The Beaver appeals to you. She has said she believes in ideally the best shot for each moment and having it be motivated, which a TV schedule rarely allows time for, making some shows about generic coverage or mere recording and documenting of the content.
Ava DuVernay was benighted by Oprah and others in the film industry to be the next big Diversity hire as a director after 20 years of imdb credits in promotions and marketing exclusively. Maybe she made a lot of positive connections promoting the work of other filmmakers. Her documentary about the Prison industrial comlex and disproportionate black inmates made her even more friends because of the importance of the subject matter. But even though the casting of Selma is good what the audience might notice is her distracting habit of crossing the camera axis in otherwise straightforward dialogue scenes. That she then got a potentially complex project like A Wrinkle in Time is almost inexplicable if shot progression is a factor at all. With her pending project New Gods for DC, there might be even more need for fans and film pundits to explore in more detail just how certain directors work.
Ana Lily Amirpour wrote and directed two dark-themed films, her skateboarding vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and her sort of Escape from New York or Walking Dead without Zombies movie The Bad Batch and is supposed to do a new version of Cliffhanger. She talks about having a “boner” for a shot. She is a hands-on director, and whether someone likes the content or story being presented, the directing itself is thoughtful and full of personality. The way she reveals or conceals an element of a scene is deliberate and authentic.
Lord and Miller like the simple coverage approch and no storyboarding and are improvisational, therefore they were the wrong choice for a Star Wars movie.
The Russo Brothers came from the point and shoot, talking heads world and the hand held improv world of The Office where every episode looks the same no matter who directs, so it is inexplicable that they got to direct MCU movies. What were the other factors?
Jon Favreau was acting in a young man’s youtube short, an imrovised western, and behind the scenes he confided, “You at least have a lot og freedom here. Marvel will give me storyboards they’ve come up with and say Just shoot this.” As important as story and character are, those can be SET by a writer or writing team before the director is brought in. I think if someone else, a storyboard artist or cinematographer is the de facto co-director it is bad in the long term for our perception of direction as a craft and the director as the primary creative on a movie. I think it is safe to give Favreau full credit for Chef which is a personal allegory from his other interest, cooking.
Frank Darabont did his best directing on Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. After doing an episode of The Shield, handheld, where you can’t tell who directed without reading the credits, he applied that slapdash approach to The Mist — but even within that he found places where expert directing does shine through. There was still some stillness and steadiness allowed. His Walking Dead episodes are solidly directed, as is his Cob City series that was short lived. People may consider him too specific and too perfectionist and willing to send overly honest (rude) e-mails. Still, he is qualified and should be directing more.
Jane Campion has made well storyboarded movies on topics that don’t excite me but I appreciate her confident use of the frame.
Steven Spielberg has compromised his brand as a director by being a producer credited on Michael bay Transformers movies and other films. The general public might make less distinction between producer and director, even if Spielberg lately as a rule will not even look at the cut until it is done. But Spielberg is the master of using screen grammar and applying it in the interpretation of a script. He also has the intuition to see what might be improved by new writers on a script, as with bringing in Josh Singer the Spotlight writer to improve the Liz Hannah script that came through Amy Pascal.
James Wan is getting into a similar boat, with many projects announced as being produced by him and nothing said about he director(s). It is like if someone is a talented dancer (the director) and there is an expectation that he or she must also be able to secure a stage and auditorium in which the dance can occur (the producer). Frankly a phone call from a Spielberg or Wan may be all the producing they have to do and then they can deligate the phone calls and hiring and make notes on the scripts.
As an exercise, if you can make it through the Fifth and Sixth Fast and Furious movies directed by Justin Lin, and you take some smelling salts to wake up and you can watch Furious 7 directed by James Wan you might feel in your unconscious at least a strong shift in how the frame is used. For me watching 6 and then 7 it was like night and day. I pushed myself to make it through 6 which felt very delegated and arbitrary. Furious 7 remained engaging and had a more strict adherence to film grammar. You might think Lin did a good job on Star Trek Beyond, but I think that movie was helped by a pretty solid script by Simon Pegg and we don’t know how much was delegated. Maybe the rear shot of the impulse drives before they took off was the equivalent of a smoking tail pipe shot in his car chase movies. But in terms of overall body of work Wan is the one whose name as director will instill confidence.
Tim Burton has admitted he would not know a good script if it hot him in the head. His movies are admired for the art direction and his direction. Ed Wood is a great script, as is Big Eyes, and maybe Beetlejuice. The main criticism of his movies will have to do with plotting and script.
Kevin Smith has said that you don’t need talent to be a director. He has said of his jobs on The Flash and Supergirl that those crews will make the show with or without a director and so he just brings doughnuts for them and people like having him around as a reassuring presence but the nuts and bolts of covering a talking heads dialogue scene are basic and action scenes are mostly predetermined by a team who already have a name for any “new” shot ideas he might come up with.
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are set to be all-powerful overlords of Star Wars (maybe Knights of the Old Republic) while under the thumb of a woman who thinks of anything white or male-targeted as problematic. Are these two writers going to join the Director’s Guild? Or will they be looking at someone with proven visual punctuation skills to direct? In the current trend, it seems like writers can just be “team leaders” who delegate a lot of what we consider directing. If a Rian Johnson comes in to direct, it is possible that we would have to be less worried about his input than Kennedy’s input and that of her chosen Lucasfilm Story Group that may analyze plot the way Salon or theMarySue analyzes it, with identity politics as the primary concern. A Luke that responds to Rey aiming a lightsaber down at him with a force push he had demonstrated moments before would be logical and dramatically correct but not part of the old-man-wrong, young-woman-right nonsense that was being sold.

Even after typing up or pasting the above, I can take it or leave it.  What comes to mind is the admonition to a juror to judge, “without passion or prejudice.” One can be true to one’s own voice, which includes a prejudice.  One can be motivated enough by our tastes and concerns over trends, but then relax and walk away from an issue in a sense of resignation.  The point is for someone else to read it or hear it and then see if anything is stirred in their own perspective.

New Voices versus Visions

When there is a call for “new voices” in film and television, somehow directors are the focal point and not writers despite the fact that a “voice” comes in at the writing stage.

So much energy has gone into dissolving the auteur theory of direction and yet because a director is considered an authority on set the attibute of “voice” gets folded into his or her disciplin even when it comes to television where typically the writing team and producers are the deciders and the directors are considered guests.

If the entertainment industry was serious about injecting new voices into it, funding contests would focus on screenplays alone and not references from established professionals or attachments of producers or directors. More screenplays could come from people who are doing nothing more than writing, far from the epicentre of TV and moviemaking, with a distinct and sometimes even rural slant on life.

The screenwriter who genuinely brings a new voice could be someone who has no producing knowledge, doesn’t schmoose, and may not have directed shorts in obscurity but has access to a keyboard and can crank out wonderful material. Meanwhile there are many movers and shakers working as directors and producers, taking meetings and working ling hours who are great at self promotion but can’t write – let alone anything with a new voice. But there are two key problems with that:

a) Those with power and influence want to see their own babies born and are motivated by a sense of authorship which they won’t get from genuinely trolling for untested talents who only have a draft of a screenplay to judge.

Also, b) For good or ill, the perceived centers of show business are in big cities and carry the expected urban liberal bent of one degree or another, the most extreme being averse to giving a platform to anyone from an area that is potentially burdened by the stigma of geography and the associated political and social attitudes associated so the “heartland” or “flyover” country might be easily discounted. Both of those concerns are part of the overall reluctance the establishment has to be the first to endorse or discover anything or anyone because there is no heat and assumed value to give it status.

If a screenplay is matched with the style or approach of an appropriate director, this must imply that the director’s choices and processes are deliberate and that a genuine vision is part of the equation. If the director does not believe there is a visual grammar of cinema, and that choices with the frame are random and not part of conveying and emphasizing anything, then that person is unqualified.

If the director is only willing to step on the toes of the art department by preparing a “look book” but not willing to imply a cut and confine the editor or restrain the cinematographer by preparing storyboard sketches of each shot, this person may be a wild card and may attract a strong editor or cinematographer who are attracted to being de facto co-directors. That person might be chosen for personality. (Which leaves me out of the running, having not much to speak of.)

Kevin Smith has said that he feels like his job is not necesary when directing a TV show episode, because the crew all know their jobs so well and have tried every shot variation. He has been told the reason he gets assignments is that people are happy when he is around. That may be false modesty, but it must have a ring of truth.

If a crew feels the director thinks he or she is the next Kubrick, Peter Farrely has said the crew will make his or her life hell. There-in lies the frustration for those of us who absolutely prefer to draw our storyboards and know the psychology of every chosen frame and cut and build each sequence to direct the audience.

There must be a skill to seeming loose and being like Lt. Columbo, looking like you need help and that you aren’t a control freak but at the same time having a firm vision shot for shot and cut for cut where every beat of a scene may have a best angle or lens or framing.

Some say there is no movie syntax, even to the extent of crossing the camera access and letting the audience be confused by who is facing whom. But certainly we must agree that there is psychology and we understand personal space or comfort bubbles and what can be read into proximity of characters and how we view someone who is framed small and overwhealmed by surroundings or sitting sharply in a close-up with all activity around them soft and blurry as if the person is tuning it all out.

 

Joker, Knives, Chappelle: All is Connected

I may start a new tradition of just recording a youtube rant and pasting it into these blogs because I’m not sure people want to read.  But since I have a moment and a few marbles rolling around in my head, I’ll dash off some current and easily dated remarks about the State of Cinema and its relation to the State of Society.  Even though nobody asked for that.

Joker looks interesting.  Maybe a spiritual cousin of Taxi Driver or King of Comedy, given De Nero’s involvement.  That alone might allow it to overcome the brand “Joker” and the fact that it is not related to Batman’s nemesis, or Michael Ironside in Top Gun, or Mathew Modine’s Private Joker from Full Metal Jacket.  Some critics and general idiots are sounding the alarm that the story of an alienated, sad character losing his mind might radicalize what they call incels.  There is also a movie called Cuck opening the same day that is more explicitly about someone drawn into the alt-right. But it is unfortunate that “the discourse” is a bi-product of movie promotion, in the same way that rancid poop is a bi-product of eating tasty food.  Incel is applied to a) gun toting loners who commit massacres, b) people critical of Disney Star Wars, and c) anyone less than enthused about virtue signalling (as opposed to virtue having).  It means “involuntarily celibate,” a condition with which many married people might be familiar. It is not okay to dismiss an annoying opinion by calling the speaker a British cigarette or a pansy, unless that person is closeted or passing for straight which apparently nullifies all protection or empathy.  If someone is truly the personification of an incel, vulnerable and on their way to some sort of suicidal or self-negating gesture, how “woke” it must feel to bash them.

The Toronto International Film Festival had Joker, as well as Knives Out Rian Johnson’s new take on Agatha Christie parlor mysteries. The latter is getting more of a break from critics, owing to its reportedly ham-fisted politics. By all means, bash Trump sensibility. Please don’t let him have a second term. But those of us in the cheap seats, the huddled masses, hope rich folks in a mansion don’t get to represent all white folks and our assumed privileged. Though it is okay if they represent millionaire Rian Johnson who has had no problem “punching down” from his twitter pulpit at customers of The Last Jedi who didn’t quite accept rude Luke Skywalker, space breathing Leia, or a scene for scene strategy of dumbing down of male characters to falsely prop up under developed female characters.  All of which causes us to believe we are not seeing an account of what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away but instead seeing what Rian typed and what met with approval of the “Lucasfilm story group” chalk full of SJWs hired by Kathleen Kennedy instead of dramaturgical experts who can point out how easy it would be – at script stage – to get rid of Canto Bight the casino planet and just have Rose and Finn meet DJ in the rebel brig… so Rian won’t have to cut the third Jedi lesson of Luke from the real estate of a two and a half hour movie.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dramaturgy

RottenTomatoes listed under “popular” titles “David Chappelle” as opposed to the actual title that was generating popularity at the moment, David Chappelle: Sticks and Stones.  When someone clicked on his name they would be taken to a page made to represent two of his older Netflix specials, Collection 1 and Equanimity and the Bird Revelation.  This misrepresents “Dave Chappelle” as a series with two episodes boasting 67% and 92% fresh ratings.  That way they were not bolstering Sticks and Stones for which their site showed a low critic score.  Even then, when that most recent show had a zero splat it was from only 5 critics. At the moment it has an average of 31% from 16 critics.  Still a splat. But it maintains its original 99% positive responses from 36, 418 audience members verified as having seen the show. So it is denied the simplicity of a fresh tomato symbol due to a portion of the 16 critics, but the much greater number of opinions – perhaps not fearing a job loss with a publication – were willing to recommend it.

Dave Chappelle: Sticks and Stones was a refreshing Netflix special that agitated those who wish to control all discourse. There are those who count themselves as allies of the downtrodden or the victims themselves who can be expected to act out controlling impulses as a result of having had control withheld or taken away at some earlier point. There is a long documented dynamic of the oppressed becoming oppressor, but this seems to have been quietly swept under the carpet lest it slow down the rush of progress.  Even the PoundMeToo movement is touched on, a very daring target.  But when you think of it how much good really came from that hashtag?  Cosby was snagged not by that movement but by an unlawfully recorded and uploaded cell video of Hannibal Burress telling it like it is about someone who doesn’t curse in his act or wear droopy drawers but has a number of rape allegations kept under wraps. Burress, Gawker, and Gloria Allred pretty much took down Cosby.  Harvey Weinstein was  reigned in by Ronan Farrow, a worthwhile journalist with only one terrible blind spot – mommy.  Maybe Kevin Spacey got snagged because MeToo encouraged the Star Trek Discovery actor to tell his story, and that ball got rolling.   But for every justified take-down there were a number of people who caught flack for lesser infractions that were the true result of the wide net cast by PoundMeToo.

Both Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss drew long dormant stories – each from a different Production Assistant who now identifies as a “writer.” Their infractions: rudeness and vulgarity or flirtations on set.  Having not witnessed any of that in context, one can only imagine a movie star in the eighties goofing around and not realizing their attentions are especially unwelcome. Matt Damon made a reasonable remark when asked about the movement and made distinctions between rape and lesser tiers of trespass; the result was the removal of his scenes from Ocean’s Eight. The worst casualty (excluding some that resulted in suicide) was Senator Al Franken whose scandals were swept up in the #BelieveHer blanket policy of many Democrats despite his initial complainant being a woman he knew from USO shows who was a frequent Fox News guest and a known Republican.  In one of Al’s books, maybe Lies and the Lying Liars to Tell Them or The Truth with Jokes, he refers to George W. Bush constantly trotting out reference to 9/11 terror attacks as his “little black dress” to deflect criticism by painting himself and America as a victim and creating a solemn new context.  It seems cold-hearted to call any and all victim story a “little black dress” but that is often – in practice – the purpose it serves.  To speak to a therapist about a trauma is one thing, but to micro manage the language and music (ie: Baby it’s Cold Outside) of others crosses a line.

I am reminded of the time as a kid I visited relatives who rented a movie I wanted to see, The Verdict, and a friend of my uncle piped up that a Jack Warden character swears a lot, which resulted in the volume being muted whenever Warden appeared on screen.  My solution was to excuse myself and go for a nap.  A year alter I would rent the movie myself and see it as the profane screenwriter David Mamet intended. I don’t remember if there was a grandstand on my part or a huge argument.  But the absurdity of that – one person in the room who is offended by something determining for all that nobody can hear the dialogue – flies in the face of “one man’s food is another man’s poison” which I have always taken to mean everybody doesn’t have to like something for me to appreciate it.  Outrage culture and cancel culture follow the same principle as that friend of the family who could not bear to hear Mamet’s profanity.  (But apparently was not offended as a Catholic that the movie is critical of the church covering up malpractice case in a hospital it runs.) I can’t imagine following The Verdict without knowing what Paul Newman’s sidekick has to say.

If we consider the source of keyboard warrior campaigns, it can’t be ignored that many people who are gung ho about “burning down” what exists or “smashing” the so-called Patriarchy are facing middle age as I am and taking stock of how many goals have been achieved and how many have not.  Not to mention some unrequited romances that have begun to pile up.  So part of out “first world problems” mentality includes fat shaming, body shaming, slut shaming called out by people who don’t have anything against age shaming people who date younger or more fit people than themselves. It all has to do with artificially inflating the perceived stock value of whatever attributes you have.

If I am directing a movie, what I bring is a strong sense of how to use the frame for each beat of a scene and an instinct for transitions.  I like the storyboard approach.  Currently there is a trend toward people pushing an idea that “there is no such thing as film grammar or film language.” The idea being that “new voices” can step into the role of director more easily if direction is merely the generic recording of what Hitchcock referred to as pictures of people talking: five angles of the whole scene top to bottom that the editor and producer can shape later, establishing wide shot, over shoulder of each character, and close up of each.  In that case, arguably, it won’t matter if the director has any talent. If the material is visual, then there might be a more obvious difference between someone who applies the psychology of the frame and the cut versus someone who is just in attendance while someone presses record.

Writers have a voice, directors don’t.  A director in the power position might impose changes on a writer based on personal taste or may choose not to shoot everything as written, but especially in TV where the discourse dominates – where producers and writers are in charge and the director is generally a guest working with the in-house cinematographer(s).  That said, when I look at an episode of The Deuce and see Michelle McLaren or Ernest Dickerson’s name as directors it puts me at ease that we are in good hands and worthy people are directing our attention. If I hear that a director got a job merely as a diversity hire or I think that person is careless about the axis and maybe connections and personal charisma got that person a directing job I might feel depressed as I am not a schmoosing type or bouncing off the walls with personality.  I have to quietly go about making my little movies and all but ignoring the industry the way it seems to be slanted at the moment. You do have to be able to engage and interest at least one other person, maybe a few, and risk the investment of time and maybe money on what you want to see and how you see it.

Society will connect the dots between what you create and what can be inferred from it about the issues of the day, but that can paralyze the process of writing and also directing or any output.  We can only be so careful.  The unconscious and instinct are not interested in taking a poll on Twitter. And consensus is no substitute for authorship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things to Do

What I call finding confidence, facing fear of rejection and risking my ego someone else today might call “straight white male entitlement.”  Each person has one degree or another of the still, quiet voice in the back of the mind urging on a nugget of an idea or something larger, a poem, a script, a joke, a short film, a longer story.  Ignoring it until it goes away or becomes just a thought or a memory of a vague dream just might be acceptable for some people.  If it won’t go away or you feel it nagging and wanting to live outside of your head, as custodian of that impulse or plan or whimsy it will be a challenge to wade through the noise and clutter of today’s outrage culture and the more amusing distractions of each day to keep an eye on that goal and keep on attempting the messy version of it or the interim version as it becomes more and more what you mean. It is the transition between the euphoric spark of an idea, which is perfect, and the execution of it which involves one or more stages of imperfection.

Right now I have some boring goals that might allow me to better get a handle on the work I have to do, even the work I have enjoyed and that is a part of me.  I have to 1. Lose weight, so that I can 2. reduce the medication I take, so that I can 3. better focus and hold a thought and think several stages down the line to complete creative works that had years before been my compulsion.  That’s a disclosure nobody needs to know, but maybe one with which others have to grapple.  I have to tie a lot of ideas together.  I have a considerable in-box of projects that have to be wound up and resolved into something entertaining to others.  But I also have to push past a sense of drifting and excessive relaxation.  It is deceptive.  And when I do drag my middle-aged butt to the gym early enough to avoid the crowd and get the right stationary bike that functions properly and then get into the pool while I can claim a lain for myself and feel like I have kick started my day in a responsible way maybe I’ll avoid foods that bog me down and make me sleepy and kill half my productive hours.

A blog or a comment on social media takes less energy, so it can be a lot of superficial remarks and half-baked thoughts that add up to nothing but make me feel as if I have done my duty as a citizen of the internet in correcting someone else’s information about whatever controversy or director or movie or politician.  And then I will still be left looking at that in-box of partially complete and existentially vital work to be done.