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 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 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).

 

Trailers, Trolls and Avengers

Media studies courses might be in short supply, especially now as high schools lose budgets and colleges trip over themselves to appease the fringes. For that reason, there might be some value to the youtubers who make some sort of living keeping up with the algorithm of that site by constantly posting rants or live-streams rattling off opinions on trending topics of the moment in pop culture.  Some of them like Midnight’s Edge manage a reserved, sane-sounding analysis of what is being sold and the context behind it while exposing what might alarm some of the potential audience being played.

Some of what follows is insinuated by reports but these are the dots likely to connect:

In March, Alita: Battle Angel was off to a good start before being muscled out of premium priced venues by Disney’s Captain Marvel which reportedly did not actually fill those additional screenings but managed to prevent people who showed up expecting to find Alita (by director Robert Rodriguez and writer-producer James Cameron) on the marquee from seeing what they came for and knowing that most average people would settle for whatever else was available.  Since the Fox sale to Disney had not been settled yet, Disney had an incentive to keep the Fox stock lower by repressing what might have been a larger hit.  It is theorized that they also didn’t want anything else to steal the thunder of Captain Marvel as the supposedly only female led action movie.  Alita was the more entertaining option, but the absurdity of propaganda against it included a few loud voices who claimed the character (whose body is a robot) is objectified and sexual-ized, even though she initially is revived with the body intended for the mentor figure’s paralyzed daughter who did not live to utilize it. Well, if you want to secure bookings for Avengers: Endgame coming soon and stay in Disney’s good graces, you had best bump Alita for the more PC Captain Marvel. And fans – if you root for the success of Alita and you have no interest in the Brie Larson starred Captain Marvel then you must be trolls living in your mother’s basement and you must hate women. And hands are clamped over the ears if you reply with a list of names you like, Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, Ripley, Sarah Connor (returning with Linda Hamilton this year) Jamie Lee Curtis (returning last year as updated Laurie Strode)…. and on and on.

Back in 1977, the adaptation of a novel The Other Side of Midnight was a Fox movie that exhibitors wanted to book. They were eventually fined for block-booking because they told some theater owners they could only book The Other Side of Midnight if they would book the movie they had no interest in – a movie that only managed to get about 40 venues by its debut May 25, 1977 – a flick that was then simply titled Star Wars.

So the cycle goes on.  The studios and their marketing budgets have the megaphone of talk show hosts who don’t want to anger them, movies stars that are welcome guests everyone wants to appease, millionaires talking from a high place.  And yet they are worried about youtube pundits and random people in the comments sections and Facebook groups that have no power and no money other than what they spend watching movies, preferably as mindlessly as possible and without question.

I’ll be curious enough to question how a section of the death star which exploded in Return of the Jedi (1983) ended up on Endor (as opposed to the forest Moon of Endor) after it exploded so spectacularly.  But then there is the possibility (that I’ve seen nobody raise) that it might be a section that was missing in the first place from that movie’s variation which was under construction.  And so I will leave it at that until I am proven wrong in December. I’ll have measured enthusiasm for a new Star Wars and I was okay with Episode VIII The Last Jedi although I merely accepted it and liked some of it while still gradually understanding why so many once built-in audience members have left the fanbase.  Brand appropriation should be taken more seriously.  As should, frankly, communication between creatives and outlines for narratives than span a few films. The Lucasfilm story group that consulted on the new trilogy was revealed to not have quite the dramaturgical dream team expected or people well versed in Star Wars lore but people with identity politics as the first priority concern.   So instead of having a message emerge organically from well designed characters in a story well told, there is ham-fisted focus on what is least interesting and ultimately filmmakers trolling the audience on twitter.  And related novelists also stirring the pot.  So they can turn a license to print money into a gamble by splitting the core audience – the most passionate – in half.

Word is (at this moment) that Daniel Craig and the James Bond character will be retired from features after the next movie, but that the number 007 will continue as if that much of the brand is enough, and that a lady spy will have been introduced.  So the posters presumably will have 007 in big letters and maybe the title of the movie to fish people in, but maybe underplay the fact that James Bond is not in it.  Good luck with that.

Back to spending money and who spends it. Star Wars merch and Star Trek merch have something in common:  It is mostly consumed by older fans from their mid-thirties into their early fifties.  That may earn a few slings and arrows, now that the terms nerd and geek are now benign and have been replaced by such hostile terms as incel. But the difference is that Lucasfilm/Disney may still have a piece of Hasbro so they can still crank out unsold Rose Tico action figures but Star Trek has to have its merchandising licensed by outside companies.  Those toy companies and model kit companies have sales data a this point that tells them designs based on the Original Series and Next Generation will sell and anything from the Bad Robot era will not.  They reject deigns from Star Trek: Discovery and derivations presented for the pending Jean-Luc Picard series.  That has held up production on the latter.    Bad Robot took on Star Wars and Star Trek for the possible additional profit that derives from merchandising and their changes that allow them to have a piece of that are the reason the market and toy companies have no interest.

That is one example, a canary in the coal mine, that might make it worth taking seriously the tastes, preferences and concerns of old school fans that Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm has stated publicly she owes nothing to.  In a time where it is easy to get free market research from reading the concerns of those they call trolls, maybe there would be value in taking advantage of that instead of being blindly top-down in their decisions.

From what I have heard, the directors of Avengers: Endgame have listened to fans or are in synch with fans and have told their story accordingly.  I will see it ASAP.

Hopefully Bad Robot will relent in their concerns for merch, and it would be great if the two split halves of Viacom came to a settlement to allow Star Trek to exist in its own sort of embassy and not have to be caught in the middle and torn apart so that canon can be restored.

Personally, In can only absorb so much of the animus that gets thrown around over these kinds of things on-line.  Free wifi and free content on youtube can also be costly to the mind.  There is a lot of anger over these issues, as dispassionately as they are presented here.  It is not enough for people to have a dream job on a Tiffany IP, but they have to make sure they can get a chunk of merch or push a social agenda without earning it in the narrative.  Kennedy may not get around to allowing a Kenobi movie (old white guy in the desert) or a Knights of the Old Republic movie (too many old white guys want it) but expects to eventually bring back the characters introduced in VII, VIII and IX.  Well, it’s fine for Rey, Poe and Finn and BB8 to ride the coat tails of the Original Trilogy cast, but there will NOT be the nostalgia for them in a world where the is so much more content and so less attention span than in 1977-1983.

 

 

 

 

Stuff Buried on the Internet

Some people have a strategy or an expert on getting new titles listed on imdb. I know someone who started a festival and once it got a letter from a deputy mayor making it seem official enough imdb accepted it and so the festival could be shown as the programmer who screened her films and a few others she appeared to be connected to. So suddenly there were at least ten more recent credits on her page, as pointed out to me by a friend who liked to rub my nose in bad news. I don’t know the ethics of that, but it worked.  Some might be given an official production code number, some get listed as union productions possibly. Worth looking into.  Otherwise you will have a short list of directorial credits like mine at the time of this writing.

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1077135/?ref_=nv_sr_1

I thought I may as well dedicate a blog entry to assembling a few key links to shorts that are still on-line somewhere and might be languishing without enough eyes on them, even if that may be for the best.  Some are done just for fun, others might not be up to any standard that would help me raise funding for something bigger.  But I think they are still amusing.  I guess I just don’t like to let anything die.

https://vimeo.com/user2402483

Stranded on the Sturgeon Stretch (Early Nineties)

 

Break-In

 

Big Babies (2004)

 

 

 

A Handy Guide to Hating Me

A Handy Guide for Hating Me

 

Why wait to dismiss all the things we agree on because you haven’t found the one issue or sub-issue that marks me as “the enemy” ? Here are some positions or observations I have that have been triggering or provocative in case you want to get the jump on dismissing my input out of hand due to my obvious “evil.”

 

Religion: Raised Roman Catholic and Star Wars fan. Worked in a Catholic parish a block from home approximately from age 13 to 18 as a sacristan opening and locking the church, folding bulletins and putting out the wine and wafers for mass. Rarely go to church but still retain Catholic hang-ups.

 

Trump: Used to be boring enough that I would zip past his interviews on Letterman, but now he has graduated to dangerous. He and his team are 100% garbage.

 

Doug Ford: Ontario’s Trump. Hate him.

 

Trudeau: I wish he followed through on his election reform to get rid of First Past the Post, and cracked down on environmental policy and renewable energy while getting away from pipeline projects. But while I voted NDP I otherwise like Justin and would like to see him continue even with room for improvement. After 11 years of Harper there needs to be a moratorium on conservative Prime Ministers and Trudeau may have more of a chance than the NDP option Nationally.

 

Mel Gibson: I like to see him acting in movies and most of all directing them. Total respect for his craft. On his personal issues, people need to get their facts straight first. Robyn Moore Gibson is the ex-wife of Mel who by all accounts is a wonderful person and who even testified in court on Mel’s behalf as a character witness to state that he had never been violent in all their years of marriage. This was the court case where his ex-girlfriend and baby mama (to Lucia) and composer of generic house music Oksana Grigorieva who recorded (and is responsible for allowing to be released to RadarOnline) Mel’s phone rants. When Joe Eszterhas (the Basic Instinct writer who looks like a biker) decided to take his little kid to Mel Gibson’s island and report that he had not done work on the screenplay he was hired for, did he expect that they were not going to hear some yelling and ranting from him? And is that why his innocent son brought a recording device? While, I enjoy some of he writing, Joe is a dick. As for what Mel said in his rants, I have no theory other than the one-person audience to whom he is talking and the likelihood that she uses derogatory terms herself. Whoopie Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr., Darlene Love, Danny Glover, George Miller, Robert De Nero, Jodie Foster and Richard Donner are those who defended Mel as a person and friend even if they can’t break down the actual words used and chalk it up to a function of his medication for bipolar disorder or lack thereof. It is also worth noting that when he announced The Passion of the Christ and nobody had even read the script he already had haters piling on. The film’s release resulted in zero anti-Semitic incidents and zero apology from the doomsayers. It also made a lot of money, which further annoyed those who had turned it down. While Mel’s next movie Apocalypto was in post production, a Rabi and others lobbied for Disney to shelve it because they were frustrated that The Passion had been a success. The pressure was the context under which Mel accepted a drink of tequila and fell off the wagon and got behind the wheel of a car. The drunk driving was the worst of it and thankfully nobody was hurt, but this record was expunged because arresting officers allowed the police report full of his rants about his current persecution get released to TMZ. This rightfully caused some blowback for the police involved, but nothing compared to the ammunition it gave to Mel’s haters. If he was noted as rambling, “Jews cause the wars of the world,” he might have meant, “Jews remade War of the Worlds.” I don’t know, but I remember playwright Brad Fraser unfriending me on Facebook for defending Mel. When I got through explaining how telling the story of The Passion is not inherently anti-Semitic any more than being Catholic is, he then revealed that his real opposition to Mel and enjoyment of his downfall was Mel’s irritation at a press conference where someone absurdly asked if he was gay. Some took issue with King Longshanks throwing his son’s gay lover out a window in Braveheart, and may fan the flames of the anti-Semitic angle because it is easier to enrage people. The fenestration scene from Braveheart got laughs. I liked the commemorative rant plates skit Billy Dee Williams did on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and some youtube videos using the rants in Ransom re-edits, but I was happy to see Mel nominated for Hacksaw Ridge and back in movies. As much as I liked Mad Max: Fury Road I admit I would have preferred elderly Mel to follow through. All he had to do was drive and be strapped to a mast for most of that movie.

 

Woody Allen: 27 features, a few shorts and a TV series have been directed by Woody since the break up with Mia Farrow in 1992 during Husbands and Wives over the affair with Soon Yi and Mia’s vengeful and vindictive manufacture of child abuse charges in which she used her daughter Dylan to lie for her – a strain that has caused real harm to Dylan well into her thirties. I believe Moses Farrow, and I come to this by fearlessly reading the accounts and the fact-checking articles by Robert B. Weide. Any serious broadcaster with reach, including Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gale King, should have read in full and contemplated the writings of Robert Weide on the matter before jumping onto the bandwaggon following the onset of the #MeToo movement. The Woody-Mia-Dylan conflict is not a case that should be held up as an example if your goal is to ensure that society listens to accusers. That case is bound to fall apart on scrutiny and hurt the benefit of the doubt that one wishes a serious abuse accusation to be greeted. Even those who engage on-line in casual debates need to read through the Weide articles, which are called open letters to Ronan Farrow (who himself as a serious journalist has also apparently ignored).

There is no doubt that Ronan has had a positive impact overall in many investigations but he has this one huge blind spot: his mother.

 

https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-woody-allen-allegations-not-so-fast

 

https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/qa-with-dylan-farrow/

 

https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/moses-farrow-speaks-out/

 

This link actually contains hotlinks to several other articles on the topic:

 

http://woodyallenmoblynching.com/2018/02/25/robert-weide-woody-allen-innocence/

 

In summary, the narrative I believe is that Mia Farrow messed up Dylan by drawing her into her separation with Woody and using her as a weapon by inventing an abuse the circumstances of which have been refuted point for point in terms of logistics and contradiction. To assert this is not “blaming the victim” or making any sweeping statements about abuse or victims. It is an assessment of one case, and a bizarre one at that. I don’t especially respect the lemmings who have come out and expressed regret for acting in Woody Allen movies. Ellen Page can regret To Rome with Love because it is one of Woody’s weaker movies. But she would be wrong to assume that Dylan and Mia are right and that Moses, Woody and Soon-Yi are wrong.

I respect Dianne Keaton and Alec Baldwin for defending Woody when so many actors have jumped onto the bandwagon of #believeher blanket judgement.

 

Alec Baldwin: The one good thing that came from the Trump era is that it gave Alec something to make a high profile splash after a brief period where he lost a talk show deal as a result of being videotaped calling a paparazzi who had stalked his family and picked through his trash a (paraphrased) “Fu*king British Cigarette!!” If anything, I have respected his outrage against paparazzi and ambush journalism and I reject the idea that there is a contract that says being a public figure or entertaining means unwanted attention must be accepted. There are plenty of common targets for gossip magazines who have not benefitted in their careers from such focus. I don’t have to agree with every opinion of Mr. Baldwin to enjoy many of the films and TV shows he has done (30 Rock, Mission: Impossible Fallout). Image rights and audio rights should have to be secured in a release waiver which would make paparazzi pests less common.

 

Star Wars: I prefer the Original Trilogy (1977-1983) before the 1997 special editions changes (for which 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back is the least compromised) and before the 2004 DVD version or the further changes on Blu Ray a few years later. I did not care for the Prequel Trilogy, which was not the same tone or balance of jeopardy and humor and which did not have a strong enough narrative overall. That trilogy starts off just for children with Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace and ends with a fire, lava and mutilation of its PG-13 Revenge of the Sith. I like the Disney era which some outspoken fans and former-fans are up in arms over because they see it as being too progressive and because producer Kathleen Kennedy had said some things in public like, “The force is female” and “I don’t owe anything to the original white male fans of Star Wars” which of course they found inflammatory. It is odd that some who are most critical of the current Disney era of Lucasfilm defend the objectively inferior cinema of the Prequel Trilogy. Padme should not have died in III, which contradicts adult Leia’s memory of her mother in Return of the Jedi. I agree with many complaints about the Disney era even if my conclusion (acceptance) is different. Why can’t Luke Force-push Rey when she aims the lightsaber at him?  And I have to thank the “Fandom Menace” activists who looked into exactly who comprised the “Lucasfilm story group” that Rian Johnson bounced ideas off of.  I had imagined maybe Timothy Zahn and other writers who know their Star Wars would have that distinction, or maybe the finest dramaturges. But it was quite loaded with SJW motivated people with thin resumes. Guidance in storytelling that comes from those sensibilities is bound to throw things out of whack and land with a thud as it did for so many.  I am curious to see how Lando Calrissian is used in IX and happy for Billy Dee Williams. Wonder how Luke is worked back into the story and I’m guarded about how footage of Princess Leia will be repurposed after the death of Carrie Fisher.  They will get my money but I understand the boycotters like Doomcock who say #WithoutRespectWeReject when it comes to Disney product.

Movie Directors: I have no concern whatsoever about the gender or ethnicity of a movie director, only that the person is actually conceiving the shots – the psychology of the frame itself and the displacement impact of a cut and how those are chosen. The director ideally directs the attention of the audience. If it is true that, “once the screenplay is ready and the casting is appropriate Ninety percent of the director’s job is done” then all discussion of direction should take those elements as read and only concentrate on that remaining ten percent which makes at least as much difference as an extra chromosome. If the director leaves the use of the frame to the cinematographer, the cinematographer is a de facto co-director and I don’t celebrate that kind of dynamic. I have infuriated people because I have utmost respect for Robert Zemeckis and I am critical or dismissive of Robert Altman. I don’t like an improvisational hodge-podge. I like a deliberate use of the camera.   I respect what might be called the storyboard sketch approach, so that thought is put into how shots follow each other or echo each other throughout a movie.

 

Abortion: There are people I care about who have had abortions and I have not rubbed their noses in my opinions but they know I am not the person to ask for a ride home from the clinic. I am against the criminalization of abortion because in pragmatic terms it can not be enforced evenly – rich people would still find access and poor would not. The promise of “stopping” abortions is a carrot used by conservative politicians to play on emotion of their base voters but there is little they can do to prevent it. They can only pull punk moves like closing a clinic because it does not meet physical specs of a hospital in terms of hallway width. But people are catching onto those sneaky moves as well. Having said that, as much as I do not want to be the person trying to police people and make sure they go full term with each pregnancy I don’t spin-doctor abortion itself to make it more palatable. To me it is “magical thinking” to say that a life only becomes human or “quick” when the umbilical cord is cut or when the baby breathes oxygen instead of amniotic fluid. It is not – in my view – magical at all to say that when that spark of zinc happens as the 23 chromosomes from the sperm is deposited into the 23 chromosomes of the ovum and the start of a 26 chromosomes life begins that this is the process of becoming and that the same process continues if it attaches to the uterus and grows into adulthood.   Giving birth is a brave action for a mother and some do not survive childbirth, so I can’t condone forcing anyone to go through this process but I admit that I admire it and I would be lying if I said that I admired abortion.

 

Alfred Hitchcock: I admire his process of visualizing a scene in advance, and this is the approach I most respect as “real” cinema direction. People may diminish his name because in the modern era his behavior with Tipi Hedron on The Birds and Marnie has more attention. A TV movie The Girl with Tobey Jones and Sienna Miller explored this dark side of his character during that period of his life. Hedron attended his funeral and continues to give him proper respect as a director despite his inexcusable and dangerous decisions. What he contributed to film language is essential and may be overlooked in the rush to dismiss those with character flaws.

 

 

Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title and The Catastrophe of Success are two books worth reading, in that order, about Capra. The latter is partly an evaluation of the former and speculates as to how much of Capra’s recollections were exaggerated. Regardless of his politics as a somewhat conservative populist with corny endings, his movies were well done. I do not know fully what his working relationship was with cinematographer Joe Walker but Capra’s earliest storyboarded short film The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House has a discriminating choice of shot. Although he came from writing, his visual sense was authentic. As for content, people might be critical of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and it was poorly received by certain insider press at the time but the idea of the “Taylor Machine” enforcing a rigged situation in Washington DC rings true today. But the key is how he used the frame and the cut with personality that punctuated scenes and kept his choices on point.

 

Roman Polanski: I can take or leave some of his movies, which tend to be slower paced. Ever since I was a child in elementary grades we knew the joke, “Roman Polanski cruises in a school bus.” I did not know he survived the holocaust when his parents did not. And it was a while before I learned that his pregnant spouse Sharon Tate was killed by the Manson family. But even learning the details of the rape he committed upon a 13 year old girl I see it in context as atrocity breeds atrocity in shaping and staining a human mind. His insight into evil and moral failing might inform some of his better works as a director. Carnage, Death and the Maiden, Chinatown, The Tennant, The Ninth Gate, The Ghost Writer, and to an extent Repulsion – various movies of his that I actually liked I will continue to enjoy regardless of his indefensible use of that girl who has since forgiven him even if legal activists have not. I thought Frantic was boring and slow back in the eighties and somehow have it on DVD but have not re-watched it as yet. Harrison Ford starred in it and had the dubious honor of accepting Polanski’s Oscar for the Piano years later, so an admirable person can appreciate the man as a director and not define him entirely by is personal failings.

 

Rape and Terrorism: These are two subjects often argued about on social media despite the fact that neither side in a debate will be in favor of either crime. One cannot condone rape or terrorism, and we hope to never have these horrors visited upon those we love or ourselves. And yet there are sub-issues in which people can argue to a point where they forget that the other person is also not in favor of these acts. People have an all-or-nothing sensibility sometimes which is not constructive to adult, sane discussion. I remember the term, “without passion or prejudice” as an advisory for jurists. People tend to throw that out. If I defend a parent saying that a daughter should dress warmly or conservatively, I will be accused of “slut shaming.” If I say here is a photo of Brock Turner, don’t go to the late night party with him or accept any drinks beside a dumpster because he is the Stanford rapist, again I might be accused of putting the responsibility on the prospective victim.   But I would then also argue that to say to the rapist, “don’t rape anyone” would be a joke. Nobody has to be told not to rape. And fear of being caught does not stop people with a behavior control disorder. People do have to practice defensive driving and defensive living. It is wrong for a terrorist to release a gas valve into a public area. It is also wrong for someone who has been advised of this to insist on lighting a match for a cigarette because it is his/her right. People do have to look out for each other. It is fine to say that yes the rapist or terrorist is the problem but are there ways to moderate behavior to reduce their success rate? Do you continue shopping, flying, dating in the same patterns because “otherwise the terrorist/rapist wins” or do you attempt to participate in keeping the odds of safety in your favor to an extent? These are reasonable questions I might ask if I want to get my head bitten off on social media.

 

Guns. I like the Australian ban solution and would like to see this in North America. At the same time I do not want guns banned from movies because the best movies usually have guns in one form or another. I also object to ambushing of Tom Selleck by Rosie O’Donnell or Charlton Heston by Michael Moore, even if their intentions for the right reasons or the big picture. It tends to diminish the seriousness of the matter and make it hypocritical. I could not scold Selleck for liking guns when I spent so much of my youth watching Magnum P.I. and celebrating when he shot that bad guy after asking, “Did you see the sunrise this morning?” (Because his friend Mack had said he was going to see the sunrise before the bad guy killed him.) Such is the complexity of the gun debate. No doubt that too many crazy and sad people have access to them and people are not held responsible enough who decide to keep or sell them when they end up being used for violence.

 

Why.  What if the reason so many white males have gone on shooting sprees is that simply any action creates an equal opposite reaction? What if progress itself agitates the unbalanced and alienated mind? December 6, 1989 14 young women, engineering students around my age, at Polytechnique wawere shot dead by a gunman whose manifesto or suicide note blamed women for his failure.   At Colmbine ten years later, two young men who felt alienated and insulted and called gay by classmates ordered some firearms and shot up the school. The internet and social media definitely accelerates this. As does the wave of outrage culture and ine infiltration of SJW language into the vernacular since 2014. Every action, however well intended, creates an equal opposite reaction. I remember a friend of a friend first using the “word” mansplain on me on Facebook around 2014 – among other shade throwing and insult – and I can fully understand the desire to kill because of it.

There are some reprehensible and abusive people who wrap themselves in white knight armor and virtue signal constantly without actually having ethics.

 

LBGTQ2S issues: In favor of allowing same sex marriage rights and the wedding cakes that they entail. Absolutely need to put a stop to policies in the world that allow formally or tacitly the execution or murder of LBGT people, including the concentration camp that was reported to exist in Chechnya. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41645281 And at the same time, despite a strong stance against bullies in any form, I will laugh at humor that points out the adjustment and awkwardness of interaction between people who have an aversion to something in the other’s life. I don’t see a problem with language that is called “othering” because people do place themselves in their own categories. While I recognize that it would be upsetting for some people to hear an early Eighties routine from Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, I can still watch it for nostalgia and find it free of the caution and falseness of most modern entertainment. In my own writing, I do not see any group as being in a permanently critic-proofed victim category. A character who identifies as gay or LBGTQ should be allowed to be unsympathetic or a villain or errant in some other way and not bound to be the wise guru that straight people ask for advice. As reasonable as that sounds, there are some who consider any verbal argument lost by a gay character to be “punching down” and I am against this. I can understand writers avoiding diversity if they are going to have to inherit unwanted co-writers enforcing codes reminiscent of the Hays Code that was enforced from 1930 to 1968 – a shockingly long stretch. http://www.artsreformation.com/a001/hays-code.html

When you watch DVD extras for The Silence of the Lambs or Basic Instinct you learn of how GLAAD really went after those productions and tried to shut them down and protested the movies. Years later, no doubt the activists of today are embarrassed by those actions. People wanted the antihero Michael Douglas played in the noir thriller Basic Instinct to say the equivalent of, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” upon discussing his girlfriend’s bisexual past. When Jerry Seinfeld had an episode using that line and running it into the ground, we should be able to assume that the enforced quote is now exposed as perfunctory virtue signaling.

 

Do the Right Thing: Although Mookie is later seen still delivering pizza for Sal in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer, I don’t think he is necessarily wrong. I blame Buggin’ Out for all of the disaster that happens, for Radio Raheem and the pizzaria. The right thing of the title, for me, is not putting black celebrities onto the wall to appease Buggin’ Out — who does a double take at the wall as if he has just noticed it after eating in the shop since he was a kid. I expect to see Chinese decor in a Chinese restaurant and Italian trappings in a Pizza shop. Sal should be allowed to put up whatever photos he wants. A store is like an embassy in whatever area it is set up.

Sal made a mistake in letting Buggin’ Out and Raheem into the shop after hours. He should not have bashed the radio but they also should not have been provoking the situation. As for the police brutality, nothing has changed since 1989. When the title is spoken in the movie, the “Mayor” tells Mookie, “Always do the right thing.” Mookie says, “That’s it? Got it.” and he moves on.

 

Dexter: I have read the comic books and all eight Jeff Lindsay novels. I like the Early Cuts animations and I have the complete series on DVD. It should be viewed in chronological order but I rate the seasons in quality as follows: Fourth Season, Second, First, Fifth, Sixth, Third, Seventh, Eighth. I’m critical of the Assistant D.A. being allowed to know so much when Dexter’s sister had been close to the Ice Truck Killer and a the Bay Harbor Butcher suspect had been working at the same precinct. I’m critical of Deb’s later belief that she had a romantic attachment to Dexter, something that rings false like a quip someone made in the writer’s room that someone else thought should pay off. It only undermined her character. If they do a follow up, I hope Dexter who is logging in Oregon will track a killer along the Oregon trail and that Deb will be his new conscience. I have no idea how Hannah and Harrison can be reunited with him without it seeming contrived. Unless Hannah has been following news about murders in Oregon and looking for a pattern and deciding to risk return to the States from Argentina where Harrison might have already begun building a life. Maybe Dexter hears about a former Nazi or rogue priest and other criminals being poisoned in Argentina and knows Hannah is still around and maybe he has a second goal on the Oregon trail of crossing the bridge at the end into Canada and taking a flight from there. I’d like Michael C. Hall to have a shot at playing Batman, but then I’d like him to give Dexter a satisfying wrap-up.

 

Controversial Movie Preferences:

 

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a better film than 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

Genndy Tartakovsky is talented but Andrei Tarkovsky sucks.

 

Ghostbusters should have remained in continuity and not remade. The 2016 Paul Feig remake pats itself on the head for showing “women scientists” despite Beatrice Straight having played a credible academic and scientist in Poltergeist two years before the popular Ghostbusters came out. I’m happy and hopeful to learn that Jason Reitman is returning Ghostbusters to the original iteration and continuity with a 2020 movie. I actually like the fact that he is not especially committed politically, because knee-jerk ideology plays poorly in movies.

 

These are the issues that leap to mind at the moment.

 

Also:

 

I’m introverted

 

I like to avoid wading through crowds if I can.

 

I have Jawsphobia but continue buying the movie.

 

I think of myself as a writer-director but not a producer, which may turn off a

producer who prefers directors to take some of the producing burden.

Ironically, I end up often having to do things a producer should do, i the absence of one, and my movies are limited in resources because of that.

 

I don’t play games. Video or mind games. “I’m not your puzzle to solve,” says Sally Allbright in When Harry Met Sally. And that is a good stance. I don’t like solving puzzles when direct, clear, effective communication tells me how important a message is. I would not want to be so needy as to run around asking people if I have stepped on their toes. I’d rather say in advance what I hope to do and see it through.

 

I write this kind of blog to clear the clutter from my head and put it into someone else’s head.

Movie Manifesto

The biggest hurdle to communication in the early stages of building a cast and crew on a small film especially is the desire to draw people in. Some people will treat a polished final draft of a screenplay as if it is a stem cell that doesn’t know what it is and allow each new member of the team think a proposed movie might have any number of contradictory goals. This can only delay someone withdrawing after having invested his or her time and your own. So it makes sense to be as clear as possible.

 

It is preferable to make no movie than to make the wrong movie. We must all want to make the same movie. From a writer’s perspective, all cards are on the table so there is no mystery about what movie the writer wants to make. The script will decide who is appropriate for it.   Everyone has a copy of the script available to read. If anyone declines to read it, they may as well not be involved rather than be a place holder for someone who might be a better fit. If they read the script and find elements “problematic” or “punching down” by their definition or “triggering,” the writer or director can be advised of this but most likely nothing will be changed to align the project with each actor or crew member’s personal or peccadillos or level of “woke” sensibility.   The movie may even intend to subvert the controlling ideas of the day. To ignore character and context, and to assume that anyone who identifies with a segment of the population is a critic-proof permanent victim class rings false. Just as a victim of assault may feel a loss of autonomy and control over a situation, that person may act out in future years trying to exert an over-correction of control both on intimates and on society in general, as word-police or worse. Just because a movie or a song is interpreted negatively by the triggered individual does not mean it should be banished from the public sphere. The presenter or author of the work and fans of it may not own the public sphere but neither does the loudest minority who seek to erase it from their awareness. Instead of a psychiatrist, a generation of people (not just the young Millennials and post-Millennials but a sizable number of late thirties and forty-somethings settling into their bitterness).

 

If the director has storyboarded the movie, using the beats within each scene as currently written to determine the correct use of the frame – and by extension set and location layouts – any prospective cinematographer will have to be okay with that kind of direction, the direction of the audience, in other words actual movie direction as opposed to simply running the office or the set and talking to the actors. It has been said by a Marvel director that sometimes he is given storyboards generated by someone else and told, “Just shoot this.” At the other end of the spectrum, you have Zemeckis who might include second unit close-up cut-ins like feed at a drain but they are considered “Bob’s shots” because they are part of his storyboarded design of the sequence and Tarantino who doesn’t even have a second unit because he claims something like, “If it is shot without me there then it is inherently inferior.” As arrogant and self-serving as these matters might seem, I delight to hear about them.  Your sacred duty is to the work you actually generated, whatever came from a sweet spot in writing and preparing to direct, what some

people call the vision. Comedy groups, especially improvisers, believe in the hive mind or group connection of those involved in a show so they can listen to each other and be attuned for their own place in the flow of an exercise. This would have little or no relevance to my own movie projects, except that each person involved should have read the script, liked it, and be able to make an informed choice as to whether to collaborate and be my accomplice in perpetrating a movie. This means not riding the breaks (being tentative) by the time the shoot is scheduled.

 

Too often, something that seems unrelated can derail a project. Does the girlfriend or boyfriend of a collaborator have an influence over their participation? Chances are that if you are saying anything interesting or provocative it will be enough of a find if you are communicating well with a handful of people and it would be asking a lot to expect that every influence in a performer’s life will reinforce it. I think it is only fair to put the controversial or incendiary stuff up front and not hold off on it like layers of the onion to test everyone’s limits. Better to have the script in its best form and make sure that any group reading is not a cold reading. Any speed bumps should be known to the actors and by the time there is a table read it should be to help get the juices up and get everyone even more sold and pumped for the finished movie. If the flow is halting and people are texting and missing cues, the energy of the piece may be lost and the potential not represented in its best light. Some scripts are meant to be heard or performed, and some that make bland movies because they have too much dialogue make for great readings and cinematic scripts that are almost entirely visual make for poor public readings.

 

I once wrote a place-holder for a cleaning lady character who hated to get dirty. I had meant to say pristine but instead described her hand as “perfectly white” and forgot to put ** marks on either side of the place-holder so it would leap out when looking it over before submission to a readers group. Unfortunately that little kind of misstep was misinterpreted. As bold as I like to be with subject matter and jokes, I have to be especially careful to scour the pages for anything that is not pristine.

 

Right now I am at a stage where I have bursts of clarity and focus to generate pages and get closer to what I want to complete but I have also let myself be demoralized having in the past relied too much on the seeming interest of others in whatever project I was putting together. It is vital to make sure that the work stands on its own because the writer won’t be doing a running commentary every time the film is shown and cinema’s very underpinnings and references that hold it up as a form of communication with grammar have been compromised by the influx of audience members who simply by their year or place of birth will not know the prerequisite references that support a story or trope or joke. So much of my own work has been in flux trying to accommodate that and keep it simple.

 

It used to be that the number to beat was the youngest age like a Steven Spielberg or Xavier Dolan wunderkind but it is getting so I might be a contender for oldest breakthrough. I know that I won’t be satisfied with anything less and there won’t be a time to put it aside anymore than I can put life and identity aside. But it is also time to collate and file and retype what is already promising. That might mean I can not afford much more indulgence of movie watching. I may not even be able to enjoy movies fully again until I have made more progress. And at the same time I am so up in my own head that I sometimes can’t even be sure I am crossing paths with someone I know out of context.   And a small interaction or non-interaction can cycle around in my head and rob me of more pragmatic output.

 

This blog post is pretty much the kind of thing I have to say when I have nothing to say. To compose an actual manifesto for a film just might read as insulting to all concerned. Even though it might weed out anyone who really wants to infiltrate the writing or directing or steer it off course in terms of ideology. It might just attract a more subversive tact. I would not want to pass the buck about a project I complete. I’d like to know it reflected me. But I can see that if team building or casting is outsourced or even the duties I would attribute to a producer, then it will come back to my laziness or naive approach to the areas where I am weak. Obviously if writing and directing are my only focus I can’t throw a wrench into the production end with my mediocre math or logistics. I know even trying to round up six people for a table reading and lining it up for schedules or switching a date around fills me with fatigue. Maybe because I don’t like living on a telephone, and also because it is a taste of how easily one element or person can fall out ad prevent it from happening.

 

Better to have someone else make the calls, even if they have to be formally employed. Also, I have a couple of people I am aware of with toxic interest in me and who have actively persuaded one or two people from abandoning a project. Until I have a hit man on retainer, that can be an X-factor on any project I do. So there has to be a work-around. Anyway, still pushing forward. If I feel writer’s block, there is no shortage of stuff to proof-read.

Honoring Your “Problematic” Muse

A boost of inspiration might come from an anger or a moment of clarity but it will still require getting out of your own way.  We all may have to push ourselves and get over a fear of rejection and especially today fear of being demonized for an image or a perspective or even a reflex. You may hear people speak of your presumption that people should read what you wrote or your sense of entitlement that would allow you to picture yourself as an author of any kind.  That is the view from the outside in.  It is chatter and noise.  The imperfect author Thomas Harris wrote, “The worm that kills you is the temptation to agree with your critics.”

As far as I can recall, all of my writing has been with the conceit that maybe somebody else will identify with what I have written and feel that I have put it in an interesting way.  I’ve never been quite sure if I have a target audience, because I’ll accept a compliment from just about anywhere. Read someone’s novel, and chances are that you will wear whatever skin is taking you through the story. At no other time has it been easier for everyone to anyone in the free world to write as they like.  Getting an engine behind it or publishing or distribution – let alone marketing – is another matter.  Too often what we hear about it about who is being given something, hired, awarded, and who belongs to what permanent victim status or permanent privilege status. Most of that is noise that might be dialed down by staying off of Twitter, Facebook, and some youtube channels.  Much of it is clickbait over-simplification.  The rest is big money corporate spin from movie studios who can afford to pretend a mediocre movie is a vital social movement that will change everything for you and yours.

Hi.  I’m the old white guy whose opinion Brie Larsen doesn’t want to hear about what didn’t work for me in A Wrinkle in Time.  The good news for her is that she likely won’t see this post.  Also perhaps good news that I have at the time of this writing only seen about fifteen minutes of that film on Netflix and never got back to it.  Had to binge all of Russian Doll and get started watching The Umbrella Academy. The bad news is that nobody cares what an actor or any creative or executive wants to hear about a movie – one they are involved in or one they are just using as an example.  Who a movie is “made for” doesn’t matter.  A movie ostensibly “for kids” can be enjoyed by adults or not. Shaft may not have been intended for me, but I’m happy Roundtree was brought back for both the 2000 version and the 2019 version where he is the grandfather (and importantly the same John Shaft he was in the Seventies movies).  Your food may be another person’s poison.  That might mean no peanuts for you in the school cafeteria. I can take or leave Star Trek Discovery (STD they call it), having seen the first season, but I fully understand some of my fellow classic fans objecting to the caliber of writers being brought onto the team. In another galaxy, the Lucasfilm story group quietly dropped one of its members while there has been a firestorm in fandom closely examining the imdb listings and qualifications of each member to prove that in some cases ONLY a commitment to identity politics got some of them their job in the first place.

In my own work I have stewed lately over the current climate and the idea that those who like to use terms like relevant and decide what is relevant may shut out much of the material I have a passion to champion or generate.  I’ve written and ranted about the (for now) demise of my feature The Adventures of Porno the Clown, a live-action cartoon that would have been whimsical and cheeky.  One threat to it was that a number of prospective collaborators wanted to infuse it with improvisation and I did not. The other issue was that it was, after all, about a horny old white guy.  And a clown at that.  Throw in the fact that it was conceived ten years before the PoundMeToo and identity politics explosion, to pick away at it and make the square peg fit into the round hole of outrage culture would not have been satisfying.  My novelization of it may not have much more luck, but it at least would preserve any satire I had refused to buff off or dull down. One well know actress suggested I dumb it down, but I’m not sure how much dumber I could make a live action cartoon about a semi-retired porn clown.

Some people hate Blazing Saddles, Tropic Thunder, The Dictator, Team America: World Police.  Molly Ringwald, when PoundMeToo was at its peak, spoke out against elements of The Breakfast Club. This creates a pickle for those of my generation who love her for The Breakfast Club.  She mainly objects in hindsight to Judd Nelson’s criminal character Bender behaving like… a criminal.  He does and says highly inappropriate things, but the movie itself and by extension the writer-director John Hughes does not condone it.  Some may even object that it is an American Eighties movie and as such tends to have a white cast. Others may say it is too “hetero normative.” Whatever peccadillo may be placated for an interest group or on-screen representation, it would be an interesting exercise to ask people to recast a remake of The Breakfast Club – the Janitor, the Teacher, the criminal, the princess, the brain, the jock and the basket case.  What new problematic paradoxes can be created?  You have to be as inclusive as possible.  Which one is LBGTQ, black, Asian, or Native?  I don’t know if anyone ever showed up for a Saturday detention, or whether today the students would all be allowed to have their cell phones and sit in silence for the duration.

No writing or a movie needs to last forever, and one person’s food will be another person’s poison.  Others may click with it.  If someone from a Native community becomes a filmmaker, the stereotype might be (judging from what filters down through social media)  that their work will be documentaries about water contamination, suicide and glue sniffing. I would rather that person be less a social issue activist and more in love with cinema itself.  I don’t agree with Cronenberg that a movie “about movies” is about nothing at all.  The whimsical style of Robert Rodriguez may be what comes to mind when I think of Mexico, regardless of whether it gives real insight into goings on there. I think of a cool Desperado, a cool spy family, cool vampires, a cool revolutionary with a machete, and a cool cyborg. A Native Rodriguez is something I could cheer for. Each social group could contribute to the cinema of cool.  If you love to craft a joke or place camera frames in an interesting and exciting order, then it is worth putting blinders on to the fuss and false compartmentalization and shade throwing that goes on ostensibly in the name of progress.  They say that writing is caring, about yourself, your family, your community (outward in that order, according to the Dali Llama).  Your craft and your passion, your voice and yourself (even if you are descended from “the bad guys” of history) are what you must care about before you can honestly care about anything else.  Leave it up to the world to negate what you do – and expect that from some of them – instead of preemptively doing that to yourself.

 

Working with Murphy: Volunteering B

What can go wrong will go wrong, but it will be in that blind spot where it is unthinkable that the best intentions could pave the road to hell.

Working as continuity on someone’s film, I saw a couple of jovial crew guys proudly demonstrate how they had used the UHF dial of a television in a hotel room to watch the signal of the video tap for a nude scene in the next room.  I spoke to the hair and make-up guy who had no problem looking into it and scolding the problem away.  That kept the director and the producer out of the loop and nobody got fired. But the day had just begun.  The lead actress was in the make-up room for touch ups at one point and the make-up guy (he had a great name but I don’t want to tip off which production this was) asked what I think (of how the actress looks).  I quipped, “Great, you can’t see any mustache.” I got a scolding from him for saying, “the wrong thing.” I fully expected her to laugh, because it was outlandish to say that she would have that problem.  But you never know. Later, an actor was killing time waiting around and the actress joined us in chit-chat.  The actor suggested a game of “pick-up lines” which she could judge.  I had nothing.  I don’t believe ice-breakers are anything more than that.  I started to make fun of the politeness or vulgarity of one when it was my turn and chickened out half way through uttering my proposition.   The actor understood and didn’t help relieve the awkwardness.  I shouldn’t have participated.  I could have begged off and left.  Well, the director moments later took me outside and said, “You’re not helping me out if you’re saying disturbing things to the actress.”  I told him the context but he had to be concerned for how the young woman felt and so I spent the afternoon catching a matinee of U.S. Marshals.  Years later, the director would describe that actress as a psycho, but there is an art to walking on eggshells and I was naive at the time.

***

In more recent years, I found myself with down time and noticed a Facebook post asking for volunteers to help with a project that seemed to involve holograms or lighting illusions. I e-mailed and volunteered to bring a camera and this person listed me as being there to document.  So my contribution would not have been the load bearing pillar of the project, if logic means anything.  I had known this woman from play readings years before and almost being in one of my short films but I had only interacted on FB lately so I thought may as well be of use.  I decided to bring two cameras, the first for said documentation, the second maybe as back up but I hadn’t used it for a while despite being expensive.  It recorded on HDV tapes at 1080p but had to have its footage captured in real time onto the computer.  It was good for long, unbroken takes.  At the home of the hostess/producer, I shot images of her other volunteers setting up support posts related to the technology she wanted to demonstrate.  But she then mentioned that her own camera had a problem with shooting long takes (or some other issue) and suggested using the second camera for three hour-long takes looking at the back yard. I let her place and frame the camera each time and we let it record on three separate tapes. After the shooting was done and volunteering was winding down, it was easy enough to transfer images from my Canon Rebel card to her laptop, and then I had to delete my own personal pix that had to be copied, including some tests with action figures that fully proved my nerd-hood.

Capturing the video from a Canon HX-A1 tape was more of a challenge.  Now it turns out that she did not have a capture card or firewire and we were stalled for a while.  She suggested I leave the camera and tapes there and maybe by the next day she would have figured it out.  So my camera, stock, and tripod stayed there overnight and when I returned the following day nothing had been solved so I brought it home and spend another three or four hours trying to capture and then burn onto disc material from those three hour-long shots. I discovered that there was some pixellation flashes in the footage meaning that my camera heads might need cleaning. As well, the shape of HD-shot material on a regular DVD burn gave it a bit of a curve that had to be recorded.  I also had trouble with the third disc.  The first two were fine. I decided the expedient thing would be to make high-speed five-minute files of all three and post them on youtube so the footage could be viewed in HD and decided upon.  As well, I noted that I could be seen conspicuously walking around the yard to document which might spoil the effect. I sent a text to this effect, as well as e-mail, voice-mail, and facebook.  I also sent links to the three youtube uploads.  I noticed that at least two of them were actually watched or got a click despite not being shared elsewhere but I got no feedback or instruction as to the next step.  I figured I had sent a number of messages and so I should wait to hear back.  She didn’t even ask for the two discs that worked.   The date of the demonstration must have come and gone and no reminder or update or concern from this person.

Two weeks later I did finally get through apart from voice mails and she picked up.  I asked what happened and she said, “You have strange timing.”  I misinterpreted that and said I’d call again later and she said okay.  Voice-mail and… nothing.  Eventually, I wondered did she build up a specific date for demonstration and then blame me for not delivering the material?  She couldn’t possibly mean I waited too long to call — I had immediately done hours of capturing and disc burning the day after the shoot and updated her via text, phone (which went to voice mail), e-mail, and Facebook. How much more communication could I have contributed on my end?  I don’t know.

Months later, I see a post on FB about her having gone out west to recover from a project that apparently went wrong.  Still no communication though if she harbored anything against me.  I’m still looking at discs she never asked for and I was wondering if I should delete the youtube clips. I saw another FB post this time about the Wackowski series Sense8 and I only chimed in the same opinion as another person there – that I like their directing but I expect the show to be too preachy. More months pass.  Then I comment some quip under a link she posted about The Male Gaze in photography.

There was some back and forth and she seemed to have an edge far beyond the issues being talked about.  I pointed out that the blog she linked used as its three examples Fifty Shades of Grey, directed by the woman who shot the International Women’s Day PSA a few years back, and Avengers: Age of Ultron directed by a vocal feminist, and as its example of a movie that manages to avoid the male gaze toxin Mad Max: Fury Road which the article bent over backwards to claim had some “scientific” framing plan that forced women to the center and….. all the while ignoring that the movie was shot for shot the product of George Millers Seventy-Year-old Male Gaze and that if you liked Imperiator Furiosa she was his creation. This discussion (which I lightly engaged in while watching a movie at home) deteriorated into minor debate of the announced 2016 Ghostbusters remake and in hindsight I should have left one comment and unfollowed rather than be strung along and appear “sexist” by challenging the narrative. A fellow I had unfriended the year before chimed in.  I should have thought to block him.  He helped throw shade on me and provoke more back and forth despite my detached politeness.  Someone sent a few screen shots of the guy’s page and some hostile things said or intended to lure further fighting. Also a scene from Robocop where the villain tells women to leave the room before he assassinates one of Robo’s creators – to demonstrate the kind of hostility he had.

I complained on my page about the toxic person chiming in – leaving out names – and the woman I had helped build that up and put fuel to the fire.  I saw the next day that a direct message to her was not answered, and that she just wanted to have this open flame war so I removed my posts. (Should have saved a screen shot first) and the next day she was posting about it.  She tagged me over and over as she tried to paraphrase the discussion or argument about (for me) movies but for her maybe other things.  Her goal was to make sure others on my facebook were drawn to this and for her to play victim. She then tried to draw me into a confrontation with the guy I blocked.  I finally unfollowed her so I wouldn’t be provoked by any more of her time-wasting “woke” posts. Next day, I was going to check that mess of re-telling she posted and she had unfriended me.  So I remarked at least that is some kind of answer to my message thread after radio silence.  We had some back and forth of her characterization of me and her errant memory of a project from the year 2000.  She didn’t like being told her history was incorrect and was demanding some sort of apology for….. arguing about movies on her wall?  Anyway, she ended with “do not contact me again.”  So I blocked her and that should have been the end of it.

Very few people had the e-mail address I used when replying to her call for volunteers. So when I started getting alerts for Instagram profiles made in my name and Facebook accounts using that address, it narrowed down who might do that: one person. When I posted a commentary track on youtube about a guerrilla short from 2000, part of the account was about an actress who showed up and walked in protest despite knowing the script was about “women fight over an abandoned cigarette.” It was about the silliness of cigarette addiction.  Well this is the woman who walked and whatever she told herself I was still able to make my movie thanks to another actress stepping in.  So I had not harbored resentment over that, only caution.  Maybe not enough caution.  On that hardly used e-mail account I got a notice for a false profile with a message that said, “I have a podcast” or something to that sarcastic effect.  Granted, the first time I tried to record my commentary about that short I did a poor job lighting myself against a greenscreen and my face was dark and the sound was muddy.

That was likely the version she saw (monitoring my youtube after unfriending me). I deleted that and put up a better version but the second time I could not find a prop VHS tape that was part of my comment on the protest-minded woman.  She thought the girls fighting was sexist as a concept, and I brought up (this once) having set my VHS to record a movie she had been in where she went topless for a second. I said, “‘I’ll show you the shot,” and then opened the tape guard and pointed to the physical tape.  End of joke.  Not showing an image of nudity, only the plastic. The next time I attempted the commentary I had misplaced the tape so without that visual joke I didn’t bother.  While it might seem unusual to keep that tape, when DVD took over a lot of us got stuck with tapes we stored without ever watching them again, let alone taping over them.  And it had been recorded in the first place because of news that, hey, a “friend” was in a movie!  But I later learned that even that element of the feud resulted in open badmouthing and spin about my even mentioning a flash of chest in a low-budget movie to someone so political about the Male Gaze these days.  I know that at least one friend and his wife ghosted me after that, which I admit makes me sad.

On a personal level, I may have let myself waste a lot of time better spent on creative output sorting through some of the abuse from all that.  What can start as a harmless, helpful gesture of volunteerism can result in someone’s undisclosed expectations building into something super toxic.

***

To top it all off, I had to take my Canon HX-A1 in to Mississauga’s Canon tech office to get the lens and heads cleaned – and clearly stated that over the phone and at the intake desk – only to have an over three-hundred dollar deposit enforced and an equal charge on top of that because likely they would not make money simply cleaning the heads and lens.  Lots of life-wasting back and forth. And then I had to journey to a FedEx to pick it up. They had sneakily put more on the form than the straightforward question of what was being asked for.  They got people to agree to an overall diagnostics of the whole camera, which gave them an excuse to supposedly replace the main guts of the camera.  Like taking your car in for an oil change and having the transmission replaced. I looked for the Better Business Bureau and another intermediary and the dropped the additional $300 + but kept my deposit of the same amount.

A fool and his money.  A fool and his time.