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).

 

Is Writing Caring ?

It is said that writing exposes what we care about.  That might be true, though I’d love to deflect it.  In High School, my most active writing started out as love letters to a girl who turned out to be the last person on earth who should ever read those notes. I looked them over and found that there were some turns of phrase and some word play that I wanted to salvage, and from there started a habit of writing poems. Even got some of them published in a few poetry magazines. I had started out wanting to vent something or document a feeling or a state I was in, and eventually the best of it was what was least personal.  The shape, the sound or the presentation ended up being as important.

They say ride the horse in the direction it wants to go.  I say no, because form follows function: Unless riding itself is your goal you have a destination in mind and a need to get there. Travelling in the wrong direction, even to appease a collaborator, is not following your own instincts or drives. It may not hurt anything, but it will cause a delay.

I have been involved with enough screenwriting groups over the years that I know what it is like to get the wrong advice and be so open to options and insecure that I follow a dead end that costs months and valuable energy.

They say never look a gift horse in the mouth.  But I say no, because the lesson of the Trojan Horse should be don’t drag the bait into the gates of your fortress and endanger your community before making sure there is nothing hidden inside the offering.

Your favourite kind of dialogue may come from Neil Simon, John Hughes, Daniel Waters, or Diablo Cody where the word choices are memorable and snappy or quotable regardless of whether a person in real life circumstances would be so quick or articulate. Another person offering advice or feedback might want everything to sound like a transcript of the most banal conversation, something that only the presence and physically of an actor can breathe life into.

My preference is for the former, so I might have a run of dialogue that involves short lines back and forth with each line setting up the next and one might argue that the characters don’t have their own distinctive patter or quirky syntax. I don;t generally like to lay down accents too thick.  Variations on a line might be repeated. But sometimes what is special and of value and serves as your artistic expression can be suffocated by the supposed standards and preferences of someone who is merely regurgitating something they have read as a rule or supposed principle of the craft.

What can be objectively measured is the architecture of a story or plot.  I can crank out pages of dialogue easily. Very little of it would make the cut, and without an outline and knowing where it fits in the dialogue will be a show stopper.  Rewatching the 1982 movie Diner, I appreciate the cast and I can sit and listen with ease but I also know I would not lean toward making that kind of movie myself. Much of it included improvisation, and for me before using comic actors to get them riffing I would rather achieve that kind of patter by secretly recording real conversations and then transcribing them without all the broken sentences.  But even then, this approach in the screenplay itself would seem to take up excessive pages.

I admit caring that my credit for either writing or directing be something I can own with total honesty. That simple statement might rustle feathers, especially with so many shows using a “writer’s room” approach.  I would rather have someone say my writing is bad than take credit for someone else’ work.  And if I direct I am fussy about the frame and the cut.  If it alienates a cinematographer or an editor to be presented with storyboard drawings that I want to follow, so be it.  There is a point of view, even if the word vision sounds too pretentious.

Some people want a director or writer to just get out of the way and simply present situations that inform a crisis or an issue that needs media attention. People who like that sort of thing can comfort themselves with countless awards given in sympathy for those issues more than for appreciation of a movie’s aesthetics.

At the time of this post, I have been binge watching season three of The Expanse. It is both entertaining and able to include in its setting any concerns about politics, conscience, or diversity.  These things are part of the soup of the environs. The storytelling drives us through all of that so there is no tedious wallowing in spoon-fed messaging.  It is efficient, pure storytelling.

Another thing happening as I type this is that youtube is full of recitations and evaluations of a leaked December 2016 draft of Star Wars Episode IX called Duel of the Fates.  It also seems to be pure storytelling.  It was dated just before the death of Carrie Fisher at age 60.  Apparently, the director at the time Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World) suggested having some scenes intended for Princess Leia be done by Luke Skywalker and that this would mean changing the ending of The last Jedi so that Luke would be alive. It seemed arbitrary that Luke vanished or discorporated at the end of The Last Jedi.  The more I hear about the production and resistance to having a male be the key leader the less pure the storytelling becomes and the less respect I have for the top-down Hollywood leadership when the top is not the director or writer.

I admit that caring about what adds up to movie trivia and behind-the-scenes politics means that my concerns are less focused on the larger injustices and ecological crisis of the world.  But I also know my limitations.  I know that I have little to bring as an environmental activist or advising on race relations. I would feel unqualified.  But mythology and character interplay, ultimately fun, are also worth caring about since they occupy time in an interesting way.  Some people do puzzles. I like to fuss over where an edit should land so it strengthens both shots. Much of that is intuitive, and so is the initial guess when planning it and I like to see my impulses vindicated at least within a craft.  I have cold feet about a few projects right now, so it is a matter of caring more about them than caring about my own discomfort in reaching out.

 

The Truth About Woody Allen (Part II)

The second part of the interview that summarizes much of the fact-checking on the Farrow saga. Lots of stuff I did not know. Please pass it on. Some people in high places could use the education.

This Mortal Coil

By Robert B. Weide

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 12.39.16 AM

For Part I of this interview CLICK HERE.


PM: You tweeted an offer to donate $100,000 to a charity of Ronan and Dylan Farrow’s choice if they could prove their accusations about Woody Allen. Was that just a publicity stunt?

RW: Not much of one, because I have a relatively small Twitter following. But the offer was real. I even called my accountant to make sure I could loosen up that kind of money if I had to. But I was trying to get Ronan to back up specific claims he made in a statement he put out on Twitter, all of which were entirely misleading or seemingly made up. I was asking for any documentation that could back up any of his claims. Of course, the offer met with radio silence. Too bad. If he had come through, I’m sure “Time’s Up” could have used…

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The Truth About Woody Allen (Part I)

There are often posts circulating about Ronan going after Harvey W. and that is fine but I can’t shake his blind spot (mommy) as suggested in these fact-check articles. Required reading for anyone who is determined to spout opinions about the Mia-Dylan-Woody-Soon-Yi-Moses saga.

This Mortal Coil

By Robert B. Weide

WoodyAtTypewriter ©B Plus Productions, LLC

INTRODUCTION:

With only a few exceptions, I’ve always turned down requests to be interviewed about the Woody Allen case. First of all, it’s a very complicated and unpleasant subject, and outside of writing a book, it simply can’t be covered in a way that’s comprehensive enough to do it justice. Every time I’ve written about it in the past, I’ve felt like I was just scratching the surface. Also, I do have a life and career outside of advocating for Woody Allen, so occasionally I have to devote my time to something that pays the bills. But among friends of mine, I have no problem talking about it – if they ask.

One such friend is a freelance reporter who writes a lot about film and media, and the few times a year that we have lunch, the conversation often…

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Astral Projection, the Force, and Logic

My generation could accept the idea that Force users could sent a thought, as a voice as in, “Run, Luke, run” or, “Hear me, Leia.” We could accept that a dis-corporation – the collapse of a garment that once had a person in it – and a ghost vision giving advice. The next level in mastery of the Force, full Astral Projection and the ability to transfer an object, was a bit harder to swallow in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I have spent many an hour from teen years into middle age defending anything in Star Wars that I could. If we have to accept this new force power, then retro-actively it solves as many problems as it creates. Especially knowing that a force user can choose their avatar seen by whomever they are contacting.
Luke chooses to show himself with a trimmed beard that is more pepper than salt. Leia locates a character as a silhouette and merely says his name to distract him in a fight – and either you believe the exertion of that brief flash of time takes much of her energy … or more likely it is extra effort of moments later manifesting the form of another character expected to have persuasive impact. So retro-actively it makes sense that in the prequel era Palpatine’s polite human-like mask might have been located directly over his actual form, which Lucas says is more the Darth Sideous look with disfigured forehead and yellow eyes. That veneer dropped when Mace Windu deflected force lighting back at him. In Return of the Jedi, in hindsight, it might make sense to say that The Emperor Palpatine did not even have to be physically in his throne room during Luke’s confrontation with Vader. Yoda as a ghost has been shown to summon lightning from the sky, so it is not much of a leap that an astral projection of Palpatine could attack Luke with Force lightning. The man himself might not even have been aboard the Endor Death Star while that was happening. There is that gray area with transfer of matter. Some fun is had with that in The Rise of Skywalker. I remember it being a head-scratcher in The Last Jedi when water droplets or a solid object like Han’s dice were handed over and later dissolved to nothing. That might explain how a physical body of Palpatine could be lifted and dropped by Darth Vader. We might not know just how much that astral projection weighted.
As I reach to excuse how the atomized space station had a surviving chunk, I might theorize that while the explosion is in full bloom as a fireball we can’t see the other side where the chunk might be hurling off into space and it is out of sight by the time we are only seeing white embers. When it landed perhaps the desert and ocean we see might be on a different planet than the forest moon of Endor. The chunk might have floated as debris for a while. Wherever it landed, it was still big enough that it might have caused an extinction event as described in another Jeffrey Jacob Abrams screenplay Armegeddon.
There is an industry of youtubers and columnists either defending these movies for ideological reasons or picking at them for assumed writing oversights due to behind the scenes information or things openly stated. Speculation could be eliminated if we had the opportunity to read whatever has been discarded. George Lucas had written outlines for the sequel trilogy. Some say that Bob Iger despite buying the outlines didn’t “buy” them because they dealt with elements of Star Wars lore that had little nostalgia and were more abstract. The original novelization and early drafts refer to Star Wars coming from The Journal of the Whills which are a microscopic network of beings that give witness to things. In a Japanese interview Kathleen Kennedy was asked about those discarded outlines and she said George had just written, “a couple of paragraphs.” I’d like to see those outlines even if they are just paragraphs. And not because I feel entitled to it, or that as a fan I have “ownership” of Star Wars (that spin has gone way past being tired). We know from the earliest Star Wars drafts Lucas referred to The Force of Others, which was a term that Rogue One ended up using and Ashlan and Bogon were terms for the light and dark side which eventually were used in the series Rebels by characters from yet another culture. I’d also like to read what Michael Arndt wrote for his pass at an outline for the new films. Those had been supposedly intended to cover all three sequel episodes. I’d sure like to read what Colin Trevorrow intended for Episode IX when he thought Snoke was to remain as the Big Bad and Carrie Fisher was still around. I would even gleefully listen to the recorded breaking of story between Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams if someone were so unethical as to hack JJ’s iphone.
The most angry sounding youtubers hoping for Lucasfilm to fail are those who have a hate-on for Rey (Daisy Ridley) and if someone does not like her chances are they won’t like The Rise of Skywalker. Much of the resentment comes from the suggestion that she is a Mary Sue who enjoys aptitude without explanation or struggle. She is said to represent the “participation award” society. If this were true, that might fit the concerns about trends toward not only calling Meritocracy an illusion created by white straight males but also suggesting there is no such thing as merit at all and it just a matter of jockeying for position and making connections to game the system. But I think Rey has merit. She is helpful to BB-8 and when tempted to sell him she respects his AUTOnomy and does not.
As for discovering her force abilities, they are a matter of visualization and focus. For years Rey might have assumed that she just has a knack for finding components of electronics that are of some value and safely dislodging them and understanding what things do, and how they connect. Much the same way that the little boy Annie Skywalker knew how to build vehicles and repair them on the fly and how Luke Skywalker (in less politically sensitive times) used to bulls-eye womp rats from his T-16 in Beggar’s Canyon. Rey’s mental focus had been exercised during that time. And it seemed clear to me that she knew the history of Unkar Putt’s acquisition of the Millennium Falcon and the condition it appeared to be in because the Force-back sequence shows her as a girl having her arm tugged by Unkar Putt so he must have either adopted her or more likely bought her as the sort of slave Annie and Shmi had been to Watto – doing tasks like fixing, testing, or piloting various vehicles or tackling mundane chores. In other words, such a tame version of slavery that in The Force Awakens the word is not used.
This is without having read the answers in other media. I started reading the novelization but there is enough to connect the dots in the movies. Even though Kathleen Kennedy irked a lot of fans with a “The Force is Female” spin, we’ve always wanted to see Leia using the Force so that seems organic (or Organa) and we miss Mara Jade who was most deserving of a TV series and a place in established lore. We have Ahsoka Tano, Ventress Asajj, The Seventh Sister, and the coven they come from as well as various Inquisitors who are force users. Like many elements of Star Wars (desert planet, sand worms, exotic spice) the Jedi have some inspiration from Frank Herbert’s Dune. We will be seeing more of the Bene Gesserit “witches” on TV after the Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Dune Part One in 2020. Movie producers might want to wave a flag of progressive intent, but as we saw with Simon Pegg announcing his ret-con of Mr. Sulu as gay and JJ Abrams trying to coax the LBGTQ crowd by saying there is representation of them in Rise of Skywalker, these things get people riled up on both sides and then it is a blink and you miss it kind of thing. Same with feminism in Star Wars. Princess Leia is now General Organa, fine. Like Jar Jar Binks was a general. Disney discontinued the “slave Leia” action figure immediately, and Carrie Fisher’s response was to remind them when asked for a reaction that story-wise the costume was Jabba’s imposition and that the slave chain came in handy to strangle him.
The Democratization of the Force is something people talked about after The Last Jedi, with the broom boy and with Rey’s background presented as supposedly having no lineage of consequence to the universe. This may be the a reversal of the Midichlorian count in the blood we heard about in The Phantom Menace which described organisms that allowed a person to use the Force. But it also stands to reason that while everyone can enjoy music and benefit from it very few have a clear talent for playing instruments or singing or composing. Whether or not they discover they have that skill or develop it and focus it is yet another issue. Everyone and everything may be one with the force and part of the force, and for me that is fine, and there will also be people with exceptional abilities and disciplines.
My own Star Wars interest is generally the Original Trilogy. I did not care for the Prequels, although Revenge of the Sith is the least weak of those. The current Disney trilogy is entertaining enough, although The Last Jedi wasted valuable running time with Canto Bight as Finn and Rose went on a wild goose chase so we Luke’s third lesson to Rey became a deleted scene on the BluRay bonus disc. There was a false conceit there that we want to spend out time on a side-bar jaunt that doesn’t pan out. They could have met their thief code breaker in the Rebel Brig where Rose was presumptuously dragging Finn after stunning him supposedly as a suspected deserter (from a volunteer Resistance Han, Chewie, and Lando could come and go from without being considered deserters). The character or Rose Tico (the mechanic who seems to know everything about the casino planet but routine protocol about permission to land) seems all about talking down to Finn, while Vice Admiral Holdo talks down to Poe Dameron and Rey often talks down to Luke from the superior positive position after Luke has been ret-conned as somewhat mentally ill or in a funk that robbed the target audience of a change to really see Luke at full power. So it is natural that half the fan base withdrew from Star Wars until the recent Mandalorian show brought back a familiar tone. The Last Jedi has entertaining moments but it lays its ideology on pretty thick. The Rise of Skywalker is not so antagonistic and not as off-putting, even though damage done by Episode VIII has turned some people off of seeing Episode IX just as it did with Solo in 2018. Kathleen Kennedy did assemble a “Lucasfilm Story Group” that reportedly disliked JJ but loved Rian Johnson and the most passionate fans and youtube pundits have carefully named and looked into the work history and background of each member to a scary extent to prove that ideology and not a mastery of the genre or storytelling is what got them hired. So to that extent there is blame to go around where anyone has baggage to bring to a brand. The hyperspace coordinates to Mustafar are twinkling with good intentions.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is worth seeing if you have seen the previous entries in the Saga. Nobody overstays their welcome. (Can’t say the same for this post, I know.) The role of Ms Tico is reduced, causing some Last Jedi fans (many of whom did not call themselves Star Wars fans before they put the J in SW to make it SJW for that movie) to complain that the character wasn’t as prominent as the one that inspired punks on Instagram to unfairly go after the actress Loan “ Kelly Marie” Tran.
So the eye-roll discourse resumes. Now the director of Crazy Rich Asians has tweeted
that he would happily make a Disney+ series for Rose Tico. Somehow that gets reported as news.
The Mandalorian from what I’ve seen so far seems worthy of the name Star Wars. The Kenobi series with Ewan McGregor will also please a range of fans. Alan Tudyk will play K-2SO in the Cassian Andor series set before Rogue One so that might be fun. But a Rose Tico series just seems to be encroachment of sensibilities of people who typically have not been Star Wars fans but just want to pee in the soup. There is nothing we know about that character that screams a story must be told…. God damn it…. I suppose she said she wanted to destroy Canto Bight and those of us “man babies living in out mother’s basement” want to see that. If she deliberately found a pretense to go back to Canto Bight or get revenge against DJ and then instead of freeing Neverending Story horses ( fathiers) she could conceivably organize broom boy and the other slave kids to revolt. That kid has the ring and maybe can signal for help? I don’t know. I just hate the fact that I thought of something useful Tico can do in a show. Luckily, Disney will never read this rambling “note.” If you made it through to the end, you have more discipline and merit than I do because I failed to resist typing up my manic opinions. May the Force be with you, assuming you have a choice about it if it is in your blood.

 

Too Many Cooks, I.Q. and Merit

Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media’s Half in the Bag youtube review series has pronounced that anyone who loved Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker must have a low I.Q..  So just putting those cards on the table so you can take my opinions with a grain of salt factoring in my intellectual limitations as estimated by Harry S. Plinkett himself.

Some viewers may be impervious to the aesthetic and energy of a movie, and may not be able to get past a story revision where a space station that was atomized at the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi – turned into embers with a concussion ring added in the 1997 special edition – had a section of it survive and land. Some of us will not accept the idea that The Emperor Palpatine who was thrown down a shaft and further killed in the above mentioned explosion somehow returns having been a busy bee for thirty years amassing an implausible and cost prohibitive new armada.  No matter how much people enjoy the actor, as negative reviews often admit, we know too well from leaks about script revisions and reshoots and actors being deleted that this was not the original plan.

We may wonder what Rey’s originally intended backstory was, back when the new villain Snoke was supposed to survive to appear in all three episodes of the new trilogy. Were we only supposed to HEAR about who created Snoke and who might have been the grandfather of Rey? And have people been overly delighted by the idea of Rey as the patron saint of Participation Awards? There are some who feel the democratization of the Force illustrated in The Last Jedi (and a deleted Maz Kanata scene in The Force Awakens) is a good thing for society to ponder.  You too can make things float with your mind powers!! Just concentrate and you can do it. Those who feel this way might be especially let down to learn that Rey has biological lineage tying her to a powerful force user. She has been called a Mary Sue because her aptitudes and abilities don’t appear to come from struggle or training.  Some of those issues are retroactively dealt with as she learns the ancient Jedi texts and gets some formal training.  The outrage from critics who liked Rian Johnson’s entry The Last Jedi may come from the popular belief that not only is there no Meritocracy (a structure designed by white straight males to shut out other “voices”) but that there is in fact no such thing as merit.

For all its faults, The Rise of Skywalker is a better film than The Last Jedi and it is about as good as The Force Awakens. The Disney era offers objectively better feature films than the prequel era.  But the areas where they are flawed expose too much of the creative process and political push and pull between creatives and executives.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe the official word and posted recollections of Lucasfilm or youtubers quoting sources.  There are enough plausible dots to connect.

The Force Awakens had a production disruption when a door on the full scale Millennium Falcon was accidentally closed on Harrison Ford’s leg. While he took time off to recover, and Disney collected insurance, the time was used for Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams to do some rewrites.  Among them was answering Oscar Issac’s request that his character Poe Dameron not die. So had there been an outline for JJ’s planned Trilogy, there would not be much of any substance for his character to do down the line. In The Last Jedi he is demoted and sidelines, lectured, and given one redeeming moment of intuition. In The Rise of Skywalker he does something called Hyperdrive skimming, which should not be done, meets an old flame to establish his heterosexuality, and basically does nothing as if he may has well have died as in the original script of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Rogue One is a one-off prequel (which will have its own Disney+ prequel) following the daughter of the original designer of the Death Star.  It finds its narrative legs in the second half as a heist film.  Scenes of Darth Vader steal the show.  It has heart for the father-daughter relationship, and even has a blind semi-Jedi played by Donnie Yen who may or may not have a love relationship with his sighted male side-kick. This movie was directed by Gareth Edwards who went from the impressive and subtle Monsters to Godzilla to this Star Wars film and has no further credits on imdb since 2016. He has kept quiet about Lucasfilm bringing in Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy officially to rewrite the script and unofficially to direct some new scenes or reshoots. Directing a Star Wars feature should have launched Edwards.  Maybe it broke him. It brought Peter Cushing back from the dead with CGI and also showed a digital 19 year old Princess Leia on movie screens a couple of weeks before the heart attack. Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy immediately reassured people that CGI would not be used to bring her back in the final film.

The Last Jedi displays Rian Johnson’s formidable direction but also tangents in storytelling to the casino planet that eat up running time and cause familiarity to breed contempt for new characters Finn and Rose.  Finn’s “former stormtrooper” had the most promising premise to build on, but instead Rose treats him as a suspected “deserter” of the volunteer Resistance when he tries to use a pod in order to find and alert his friend Rey. When Carrie Fisher died before a planned set of reshoots could be done, this caused people to look at the finished film with an expectation that Princess Leia would be killed off.  Some moments have unearned poignancy because the actress had passed. There is plenty of entertainment to be had in the film but it antagonized have of the presumed built in fanbase by inter-cutting between three sets of women talking down to men, and the fact that in order to contrive those relationships the male characters had to be dumbed down or worse. The flashbacks of Luke creeping to his nephew’s quarters with intent to kill him and the general depiction of Luke as surly and cynical seemed to exist only on the whim of Rian’s typing and the blessing of a Lucasfilm Story Group appointed by Kathleen Kennedy whose membership has been exhaustively explored by youtubers looking into their backgrounds and credits and finding only woke ideology and presumably a third or fourth wave feminism that was to be interjected beyond any other consideration (ie: storytelling skill). And yet, Leia starts by slapping Poe literally in the face when demoting him and by the end says, “Why are you looking at me?  Follow him.”  The high-handed Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) doesn’t even discuss or consider placing a robot on her flagship to pilot it instead of sacrificing herself by crashing into the bad guys, so how intelligent was she after all.  Luke Skywalker as the unenlightened Grinch for most of the movie, retroactively darkened so that Rey seems like the glowing beam her name suggests, finally does deter the last stages of an attack by the First Order and his nephew in a character arc (back to something resembling the character we knew) that seems contrived by the implausible mental state he was introduced in. So any ideology brandished early in the film to alienate the fanbase gets flipped. No story progress is made with the main characters. Yoda wants Luke to think the Jedi texts are destroyed, so he zaps the tree where they had been stored with lightning. Why he needs Luke to think the texts are destroyed is not explained. The legacy of this movie is that Rian Johnson engaged many disgruntled audience members on Twitter and perpetuated the idea that to reject his movie or its characters is to be a sexist, a bigot, or a Trump supporter.  This radicalized a loose group of audience members called The Fandom Menace who mostly rant on youtube and share spoilers.

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3452021/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t30

Solo: A Star Wars Story is instructive in terms of breaking down audience reaction and how it is that a decent Star Wars movie can lose money at the box office. Was its failure due to a May release when the “traditional” May releases of Star Wars films were only every three years from 1977 to 1983 and then after a gap from 1999 to 2005 ? Lucasfilm had stumbled into giving families a new tradition of Christmas Star Wars which Bob Iger could have perpetuated by holding onto Solo six more months to keep a year between films. Was the box office disappointment also due to disgruntled activist Star Wars enraged by The Last Jedi and the looming threat of Rian Johnson potentially being still employed for further Star Wars movies despite stirring bad blood on Twitter?  Some people had hoped Anthony Ingruber who played a young Harrison Ford in Age of Adeline thanks to impressions he posted on youtube would be chosen to play Han Solo. Lawrence Kasdan had apparently signed on to this project before The Force Awakens, asking only that his son Jon also write on it. His name was a promise of authenticity.  The script would be a plus.  The most likely turning point might have been the hiring of Lord and Miller as the directors. There had been a brief Millennium Falcon cameo in The Lego Movie, which seems to be the only connection. Had anyone vetted them, it might seem strange to hire improv wranglers who made 22 Jump Street for a movie where following the script might be essential.  They went overtime daily, and one would expect the producer would see those reports and the additional expense incurred by indulging in improvisation. Here is where there is a difference of opinion among fans.  Those who are wrong believe that firing Lord and Miller and hiring Ron Howard to take over and reshoot much of it was the mistake.  Those who are informed and correct will say that hiring Lord and Miller and not having communicated as to their working process or intentions was the problem.  Ron Howard made the film as good as it could be.  In addition to those avoidable problems, a leading question by someone at a Q and A over-analyzing a flip line of dialogue in the trailer, like Lando calling Han “baby” as a jazz person might call everyone babe, caused Jon Kasdan to give the somewhat forced answer that it is okay to view Lando as pansexual and that he might have something going on with his female-voiced robot L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). His father Lawrence shrugged that off as maybe meaning nothing, but the younger Kasdan seemed more concerned about woke signalling. The trouble with that is that it only appeals to those who are not likely to see a Star Wars movie anyway and it is a misstep that alienated older fans incensed that after two movies and three novels and also comics that gave no indication of Lando being anything other than heterosexual now someone was ret-conning him with characteristics that might not be as much of a draw. Some had said that nobody ever asked for a young Han Solo movie.  Well, many people of Generation X did want one.  In the early Eighties there had been three novels by Brian Daley who had adapted the Original Trilogy to radio for NPR and a trilogy of Lando novels by L. Neil Smith which Jon Kasdan is aware of because he refers to them as Lando records his memoirs. There were three Han Solo novels in the late Nineties by Ann Crispen and various other novels like Scoundrels or Millennium Falcon.  There was demand.

The Rise of Skywalker is more fun than it should be.  It also has moving moments and grace notes that are quite worthy of the name Star Wars.  Despite all sorts of leaks via Midnight’s Edge, Doomcock, and World Class Bullshitters, among others there were still some surprises and there were moments that I might intellectually reject but emotionally and unconsciously accept or delight in.  Scenes interpreted as having occurred in space are shown in context to happen inside the atmosphere. Threepio is not turned into a battle droid.  Someone just draped Chewie’s ammo belt onto him. There has been active spoiling and a push to turn people away from even checking out this movie, purely out of rage for Disney Lucasfilm and the Disney Trilogy especially, despite the acceptance of Disney + series The Mandalorian and the child that is referred to as “Baby Yoda.”  The ideology championed by Kathleen Kennedy and Rian Johnson especially may have been designed to alienate the original built in audience. But there are some younger disgruntled fans who say they would have preferred these new films to just recast Han, Luke, Leia and Lando with younger actors and adapt some of the books.  The books that are now considered non-canon and “Legends” do have stronger stories, but the excitement of the new trilogy was to see the legacy cast members return.  The potential disappointment has been in how they were used. Luke became a destination in VII more than a role, then an antagonist for most of VIII, and a ghost in IX that actually at least feels more like the Luke we remember. Mark Hamill was given a bonus to say nothing about the minimal screen time he would have in Episode VII.  And he was candid about his objections to the changes made by Rian to Luke in VIII. He had to walk those remarks back in the meantime, but clearly he was as frustrated as the core fanbase that Luke, Han and Leia never has so much as a coffee together in VII or even the tail end of one small mission while all the characters and cast were still alive.

Did everyone want to make the same movies? Was there a lack of oversight by Kathleen Kennedy, or was it just her priority to make sure people were politically falling in line and the daily reports on filming didn’t have to be monitored and the directors carefully chosen?  JJ himself was the one who hired a female second unit director for The Rise of Skywalker. It seems that if someone doesn’t love a particular intellectual property or series films and perhaps looks down on the core demographic it traditionally appeals to then getting that right becomes less important than using it as a vessel or delivery device for social programming.  I like Rey and I think this last film is entertaining, so I’ll take the fun and the feels where I find them and frankly overlook the messy stuff.  Maybe half an hour was trimmed from the beginning. Maybe that is why the pacing is too fast for some. I had no problem following it and shrugged off the sillier stuff.  I was pleased by the lack of woke scolding and obnoxious posturing.  The film has also revealed critics to often be 100% motivated by perceived politics of a film and not whether it is well done.  I do hope this movie does well but at the same time I have no interest in seeing what “original” and “unconnected” new films carry the Star Wars brand in years ahead.  The belief of Disney Lucasfilm seems to be that once the baggage of nostalgia for the original characters of what they call the “Skywalker Trilogy” then they will be free to explore anything they like.  The trouble is that they have tarnished the one thing they cared about: the brand.

They had a license to print money but they reached too far for ideology.  I cant just blame Kennedy, since it took a lot of enabling to make a movie miss the mark.  It is scary to think how many films and TV shows on many levels put woke posturing ahead of screenwriting and directing skill.  You can be on the left, but not far enough to the left.  It is too bad that learning those lessons (assuming they can be leaned) came at the expense of a true extension of Star Wars.  But the one thing I agree with Red Letter Media about is that no matter how flawed the new films are they do not make the Prequel Trilogy look good.  The Prequels, especially Episode I and II, are pretty bad.  I will most likely see The Rise of Skywalker again in the cinema and eventually get the Blu Ray, even if that means I have a low I.Q.

 

 

 

 

Reviewers as Trolls – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve seen the movie and my first reaction was lots of smiles and even some surprises despite having been exposed to spoilers from Midnight’s Edge, Doomcock and other youtube pundits. I liked it, and admitting I liked it comes with a side order of crow because I wasted some time on social media and comment threads hoping it would fail because it was part of the mess that came to a head with The Last Jedi which itself lavished running time on a side trip to casino planet Canto Bight and annoyed many viewers by indulging in at least three sets of woke-scolding. That would be substitute teacher figure Vice Admiral Holdo lecturing pilot Poe Dameron, Motor pool mechanic Rose Tico assaulting and arresting war hero Finn for suspected “desertion” from the volunteer resistance and then providing knowledge of everything other than routine protocol about where to land a space ship, and of course novice Jedi Rey lecturing Luke Skywalker about right and wrong.  In this movie, unless you have a hate-on for Rey (Daisy Ridley) you are likely to enjoy this new movie. No matter what you’re read.

As of this writing. Rottentomatoes indicates only 56% of 277 critics gave it a recommend so it has a green splat whereas 88% of two thousand one hundred and sixty-three audience members gave it a recommendation.

Contrast this with how the controversial previous entry The Last Jedi was greeted.  A whopping 91% of the 455 critics submitting reviews recommended it so it has a fresh tomato. The Two Hundred and Fourteen Thousand two hundred and seventy-nine audience members who weighed in gave it only 43 %.

Look at the number of people contributing to voting in each category, critics or audience. To me, that is whatever number of INDIVIDUALS who are either satisfied customers or not, and audience members don’t have to worry about how the thumbs up or down looks to their peers. We are way past the point where we can kid ourselves that professional or rotten-tomatoes-certified critics are an elite with special qualifications for submitting an evaluation of movies, especially when many of them are youtubers and bloggers and from any number of outlets introduced during the influx of new official reviewers intended to give more diversity to the field of critics. Few of us have the time to sort through the review samples available, let alone explore the background and preferences of each critic.

Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson might hold the code key for why such a difference between ratings for Episode VIII versus Episode IX. He has described himself as a card carrying SJW of outrage culture and celebrates the more ham-fisted messaging of The Last Jedi.  But he does not like The Rise of Skywalker. One remark rings false, “I expected this to be a well made movie I would not like but it is also a badly made movie.”  Well, objectively it is not badly made at all.  And it looks fantastic. He anticipated that Lucasfilm was going to have to acknowledge the split in the fandom that was caused by The Last Jedi and steer the tone back to a brisk pace that isn’t dwelling on messages but letting the story speak for itself. The movie has done that, so it is not regarded as a win for Mendelson’s ideology or tribe who dismissed a huge segment of the fans as “man-babies” regardless of gender (so mis-gendering many of them) for pointing out shortcomings of the Rian Johnson written and directed entry of the Disney Star Wars Trilogy.  It would not be a huge leap to suppose a similar connective tissue is shared among other critics who were among the 91% who loved The Last Jedi and the 44% who denied the recommendation to The Rise of Skywalker, leaving it with only 56% positive reviews.

One would expect the audience member score to be down for The Rise of Skywalker because there is such a grassroots campaign to bring down Disney Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy who is regarded as having prioritized identity politics over all other elements of storytelling and certainly over respect for legacy characters. But looking at the film itself, clearly there has been a course correction in that regard. Yes, there is a social justice nod to “representation” of LBGTQ as advertised in interviews by director JJ Abrams, which (not a spoiler) amounts to a few seconds of the Resistance Commander D’Acy (Amanda Lawrence) referred to by fans as the “bird lady” kissing a woman in a wide shot during a crowd scene. There is nothing that felt out of its way or heavy-handed or intended to alienate the once built-in fanbase, typically Generation X and white male.  The #WithoutRespectWeReject or #StayAngry movement would like this film to fail financially so it looks bad for the record of Kathleen Kennedy and the Lucasfilm Story Group she hired to consult with creatives.  But it looks like Episode IX is mostly the work of Chris Terrio and JJ Abrams doing their best to pick up the ball and run with it.

My inclination is to withdraw from several Facebook groups and unsubscribe to youtubers who have been riding a wave of tribal griping and cheering on any rumored setbacks of this project and gleefully claiming #SoloLostMoney because of backlash from The Last Jedi and that the Star Wars brand is damaged.  It is not easy to make a movie, let alone a good one, so actively hating filmmakers for making something that wasn’t quite up to the standard is like hating a musician for not being Mozart.  I don’t know that it breaks down into politics although there are some youtubers like Jeremy of Geeks and Gamers or EVS of Comic Book Artist Pro Secrets who refer to the Peachy Orange Man in glowing terms as a way to dismiss certain media outlets.  That hurts those of us who might want to see audience feedback as being purely about an entertainment product and whether it delivers or whether it has gone astray. Rather than dismiss these voices as “toxic,” it would be more fair to say that they work the algorithm of youtube and maintain a sort of community and relationship with scribes who will contribute to their Patreon page or send in donations during long live sessions usually with other guest youtubers.  The content itself may be about the same as listening to a college cafeteria chat about movies, except that when an article is being read it is not unusual for some well established youtubers to stumble over basic words and names that are familiar to movie buffs.

People may be wanting to connect with someone who shares their frustrations over brand appropriation and some of the poor ideas the studios and creatives have to appear “aware” of issues by piggy backing intellectual property that has one traditional target demographic and try to either trash it entirely and render it uninhabitable for future directors or writers or to make it appealing to the demographic that typically recoils from its trappings and who do not buy merchandise.  Ideally, we could recognize that one person’s food is another’s poison and that any individual can click on Dave Chappelle’s Sticks and Stones while a neighbor clicks on RuPaul’s Drag Race and ne’er the two shall meet.  (Except that Dave Chappelle and Lady Gaga were both in A Star Is Born so both audiences might watch that.)

Whether someone is a paid pundit or an amateur, published in magazines or merely blogs like this one, the designation of “troll” can come from anywhere. The “respectable” columnists are often trolls with better reach or more followers than the average moviegoer.  What might be called the woke media overstepped infamously while interviewing Billy Dee Williams in promoting this new Star Wars where he returns as Lando Calrissian.  He made a remark about having soft qualities and while being the icon of the suave male he also had his feminine side.  Certain outlets ran with that and said he was “coming out as gender fluid.” This got back to him and he had to set it straight by asking, “What the hell is gender fluid?”  He had to spoon feed them a description of anima and animus from Carl Jung to describe what he meant about human nature.  He also then remarked that it was a mistake for people to focus on the humorous insinuation that in Solo: A Star Wars Story the young version of Lando played by Donald Glover has some sort of love for his droid L3-37 voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and was therefore considered “pan-sexual.” He said this likely hampered the success of the movie with initial audiences draws.

Those of us who feel a sense of relief and sanity at the impeachment of the 45th President of the United States may not be on the bandwagon of making sure that science fiction or space fantasy/Samurai/Western/Cliffhanger/operas are free of current year sociopolitical messaging or genre-busting subversion.    Some youtubers crowed over trailer images of Rey leaping supposedly through outer space or the Resistance armies on horseback in space but in context it is clear that the scenes are set in the sky over a planet. We could quibble over the oxygen content in the atmosphere and the pressure at a certain height but this is a universe where humans and Wookees come and go from any planet without environment suits and manage not to carry so much as small pox to the new worlds or take on viruses or suffocate themselves.

We can suffocate ourselves with constant exposure to decompression by youtubers and the community of disgruntled former fans or those who may feel disenfranchised by some of the new content….  streaming their content on free wifi seems like a harmless kind of radio background white noise, so to speak, except that there is a scent of unrest that may or may not influence movie studios.  Box office may be more influential.  Enough has been said about knowing a target audience and not taking anything away from them.  The bad fallout of Ghostbusters (2016) has been resolved with 2020’s promising restoration of the original iteration or universe audiences wanted to revisit. The return of Linda Hamilton to Sarah Connor in the new Terminator had great promise, as did the idea of a Terminator showing his age on his exterior and the return of Eddie Furlong as John Connor. But that was a bait and switch to steer the movie away from testosterone and more to faux images of girl power. There was over-reach. The Elizabeth Banks update of Charlie’s Angels was a presumptuous victory lap without a victory. Oceans 8 looked like a great idea because it was in continuity with the other three recent Oceans movies, following the sister of Danny Ocean and her team. When a boss of mine told me that she stayed through the end credits and there was no sign of Linus because indeed Matt Damon’s scenes had been cut after he made the mistake of saying something truthful and fair about distinguishing between grades of crimes in the MeToo era.  That was an eye roll and another title I was able to enjoy a few months later for free. It was an entertaining movie that deserved more financial success but lost my ten dollars by pandering to the herd mentality of the moment.

The Youtubers like to say #GetWokeGoBroke but it is fair to say that Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker while not regressive is also not going to alienate people who actually go to see it, unless they have an ax to grind like many professional reviewers and internet pundits.  Nobody wants to admit being wrong. When I first saw The Last Jedi I kind of accepted it.  I laughed in the right places and cried a bit and enjoyed certain scenes like Luke saying, “Nothing you can do will change my mind” and Artoo Detoo plays back the original SOS hologram from the 1977 film, “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”  I certainly can’t hate Rian Johnson for that, nor for lifting the ending of John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. and trading out Snake Plisken’s hologram for something else faking out the bad guys.  But this movie manages to have eschewed much of the baggage in between cool moments.

 

 

 

What Am I Doing Wrong ?

I’m being distracted from doing my own work. Lectures on Transcendental Meditation talk about the busy ocean surface and the quiet stillness of the depths beneath.  When we spend any amount of time on social media or the internet in general it is the surface, choosing our words carefully but knowing that inevitably someone will challenge, reduce, misinterpret or misrepresent what you have said.  You can end up communicating more with people you dislike than supporting people you love. You can debate whether or not a movie studio deserves your admission fee and whether you should boycott Star Wars because JJ decided that the Death Star you saw incinerated into a cloud of tiny cinders has chunks that landed intact on Endor without bursting into flame entering the atmosphere and that the Emperor you saw dropped into a shaft and explode is still alive.  Even in these blogs, I have mentioned that too much.

You can enjoy the new trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife which seems like a respectful follow-through on the 1984 and 1989 films, perhaps the 2009 video game that involved the same cast.  Or you can be further distracted by dimwits who are now taking their turn at sour grapes upon realization that the 2016 Paul Feig iteration – a remake that pretended the events of the Eighties had not taken place – is wiped from canon with the corrective measure of the new Jason Reitman film. It is not worth engaging. There are some witty youtubers riding the coat tails of anything that has a marketing campaign, anything trending on Twitter. They have to because that is their full time job, uploading something with a headline that might get clicks.  It doesn’t mean that any of us need to know the judgement or expectations of these pundits.  A significant number will lure me in to listen about Hollywood trying to coax non fans of various IPs traditionally appealing to males by flipping them or using them as a vessel to carry an eye-roll ostensibly feminist message expecting to alienate the original built in fan base or shame them into accepting the change “because it is good for society.” I don’t think as a movie buff since about 1980 I have ever paid to see a movie for the good of society.

I once belonged to a screenwriting and script reading circle in which I was eventually asked to leave because I had not taken the same course as the rest of the group.  I had sat in to help read as a guest and they liked my reading and input; I had shot a film in the home of one of the members. It was years later before I learned that the reason someone in the group spoke against me was that I had written something that was not P.C. or was not advancing a progressive agenda.  This is both horrifying and comforting.  At least it wasn’t necessarily the work itself.  But I don’t know – especially in Canada which tends to lean to more ostensibly progressive and insular in terms of the left – whether I will get the traction required to beat the system and get my stuff out there.  Self marketing is the worst part of any creative life.  I have a book to publish, but have not yet reached out. I have several screenplays, but I don’t know for the life of me why anyone would invest money in them.  Even a good film is a huge risk. And am I willing to play ball, to change the nature and intention of a work to appease the taste or politics of an investor or collaborator?  Not really.  And that may well be a character flaw on my part.  It may also be the saving grace that allows me to continue seeking out and properly vetting collaborators who want to make the same movie or create the same final result or enjoy the same challenging process.  I don’t thrive on chaos. I don’t even trust what people call chemistry. I’d rather go from unknown to known.

I don’t have the power to say:  The next Star Wars movie will be Mace Windu starring Samuel L. Jackson. He has been consulting The Whills about an incident where someone has violated the World Between Worlds and messed with time portholes to throw off the balance of the universe and the birth or death of the wrong players.  Master Windu accepts their challenge to enter the World Between Worlds and set events back to to the way they play out in the (now non-canon “Legends”) books.  Mara Jade properly is allowed to meet Luke Skywalker as in Heir to the Empire.  Leia ends up having twins with Han, so she is already pregnant at a time when she might have conceived Ben Solo. When Windu is done setting time into proper motion again and undoing the damage, he destroys the tample that houses the World Between Worlds so nobody can infiltrate it with mischief again.

That would be my pitch to set Star Wars right. It would infuriate Kathleen Kennedy and the Lucasfilm Story Group that she hired.  But if I had the power, I would find a way to politely fire them anyway.

I don’t know what the result will be of changes to the James Bond world in its upcoming new film No Time to Die.  A woman taking the 007 designation may or may not work. I would have been happier to see what Danny Boyle would have done as a traditional Bond film.  You don’t pick up a sleeping baby.  Sometimes people get restless with formula. Mork and Mindy season one is great, and naturally fish out of water. Dexter season one has him seeming far more alien than following seasons.  Time is bound to soften a premise or eliminate the strangeness that defines it or even compromise the reality around it.  Some ideas can’t be sustained for a long haul.  That is a drawback of the Daniel Craig iteration of Bond using a continuing story and stretching to create connective narrative tissue. It will then feel the pressure of time.  When Bonds were barely connected (maybe having Richard Keil as the hit man “Jaws” in two movies), the episodic approach kept the character eternal.  An actor would age out and someone new could come in.  Dame Judy Dench as M was actually a smart move that in no way compromised the series.  She was able to bring a scolding tone to Bond without seeming like a reach.  Previous men as M were taken for granted and could not make much impression.  Desmond Llewellyn as Q, and eventually John Cleese were able to express irritation with Bond over the likelihood that he will destroy whatever gadget they give him. After this iteration of Bond, if there is a reset it should be to explore whatever Danny Boyle had in mind.

I would have accepted a Naiomi Harris Eve Moneypenny standalone film or a Jeffrey Wright Felix Lieter standalone.  Some wouldn’t but they could have been done for Netflix. It would be a leap to spend $200 million on a movie about the new actress playing an agent that takes over the number 007.  That would be a bridge too far. The brand is James Bond 007, not ________007. And if sexism is part of the appeal, frankly that should not be a concern.  Bond is a fast living character and may attract men who read Maxim or “bros” as you want to call them.  Even “assholes” should be allowed to enjoy your movie.  They shouldn’t have to pass the Phil Donahue Character test. And much of life’s humor is in the theme that the best laid plans of mice and men may not work out.

As I stare down the barrel of my own writing work, I admit I am spooked by “the moment we are in,” as Stephen Colbert once repeatedly put it to each guest.  Do I have to wait until the bubble of progressiveness bursts?  Is there a road back? Do I just sit back and enjoy my DVDs of movies from the Eighties?  There are still three major feature projects immediately on my plate.  One is in progress but being re-configured, another was cancelled but is still on the back-burner.  These, arguably the most important goals of my life, get sidelined from time to time either out of work or those ever-present surface distractions of the turbulent ocean.  Time to, as they say in Fight Club, turn down the volume on all of that.  When I am in process, and scrutinizing something in a scene or letting the urgency of a moment push it into shape I am feeling on track and engaged in something meaningful.  I am also in my comfort zone.  I know that actually making a movie is outside of that comfort zone, because of time pressures and coping with what might go wrong.  So before the crunch I have to stick to my principles and make sure that I am defining the project and not let it be set off balance by the interjection of inorganic input.  Engaging people can be the real challenge, because the project makes it conditional. We have to be up to compatible mischief.

Right now it is about dealing with what is in front of me, the things I can control, the progression of ideas and the shaping of a coherent premise and narrative people can grasp and dialogue that might amuse. I feel like I should roll back the clock 30 years. Don’t say “someday” to yourself.  Time is of such value. I love watching movies and TV series and tell myself this is all productive but even that needs to be a reward for making progress in my work. I might be doing a music video in coming months, and might help someone tidy up a long gestating script.  But these things will have my focus when they need it and I can’t be in suspended animation waiting for a shoot. If I had money tomorrow I likely would easily prep my suspended clown movie. That is in the best shape. And the novelization would be published with some of that money.  But even basic housekeeping has to be tended to.  I have old scripts and other writing on floppy discs (hard ones from late Nineties and early 2000’s). Have to extract files from Microsoft and Mac discs in a world where those slots for floppies just aren’t available so much. I have to also convert more VHS material to DVD or data with a new VHS to DVD machine. I have to sit through some poorly labeled tapes and get some of that done.  All big things are made up of little mundane things.

It could also be argued that I should get my personal life in order or all of my writing is about – one way or another – having no life.  But I’m prepared to accept that.  I mean I have no interest in just getting by.  There is that scary part of the brain that could dispassionately step off the planet earth at any moment unless there is a concrete follow-through on all the work I’ve done to this point.  So even if I have set some things aside from time to time I have not given up.  I am however prone to being seduced by the killer of time and the sapper of energy and vitality, wrong viewing, wrong reading, wrong food, wrong exercise.  I can be supportive of other artists, but even that has narrowed somewhat thanks to ideological divides and potential pissing contests that get in the way of the intricate goals on the horizon and not revising what is in the mind’s eye as excellent and worth working toward.