All Making the Same Movie

Boilerplate for Compatibility:

Investors, crew and cast, before anything else, have to be willing to make the same movie as the director. Each person might have a different movie in their mind’s eye or might choose or omit a different shot or joke than someone else.  There can be as many approaches as there are people, so first thing’s first: Know what the movie is, who has defined the project, at least make peace with whose vision you are helping bring to life. If the director is trying to be the servant of many masters, chipping away anything that someone else might not like, it will be an empty final result.

If a director believes he or she is Kubrick, the crew usually will make that person’s life hell.  So I don’t think I am Kubrick or Spielberg.  I want to make sure that I am giving myself the best chance to to get across the movie that is in my head and in stages of imperfection like the script and storyboard sketches. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot trying to prove how I’m unlike the best directors and unworthy of directing the attention of the audience.

My plan for a low budget film is to respect the fiscally responsible Roger Corman approach and lock the script, storyboard every shot, and know before we arrive on set or location what the camera is going to do and what equipment will be needed to facilitate that.

The opposite would be to go forward with someone who either hasn’t read the script or doesn’t like it or outright objects to something in it and doesn’t believe in the director. In which case the writer-director doesn’t have a leg to stand on with that person, and who wants to walk into that burning house?

If someone doesn’t believe in the script and wants to infuse it with improvisation, it should be noted that any commentary track for a Christopher Guest movie mentions how long it takes to explore material through improvisation and then the year it takes to find the movie in editing.  If the main point of initiating a movie is that you want your screenplay to see the light of day, and you want to feel authentic about your writing credit, make sure it is known that you ban improvisation. Things will be discovered on a day even with a prepared and well rehearsed cast that might not be in the script, but the expectation of happy accidents do not have to define the project or put the director in the frustrating position of reigning people in to get them back on book.  You want to weed out people who do not like the script, or you will fall behind and go into overtime not for your shot list and the care of setting up a sequence but to placate the egos of actors who want to be de facto writers.

It will be interesting to learn the details of what happened on Solo: A Star Wars Story before Ron Howard was brought in to right the ship.  The version most circulated is that the original director Lord and Miller being improv wranglers on their previous live action movies were not used to storyboarding their shots and merely considered their process about riffing on scripts and generating material on set through improvisation.  This despite the fact that they were graced with a screenplay by Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jon.  Each day, the budget went over because the directors went into overtime and held the crew due entirely to the indulgence in improvisation. The actors played along but one reportedly eventually mentioned to a producer (maybe Kathleen Kennedy) that this was going on and that Alden Eirenrich as Solo was being called upon to do a sort of Ace Ventura energy level that seemed contrary to the laconic Harrison Ford characterization. What is puzzling might be that producers would get continuity reports each day that would have stated for 90% of the shoot that they were going into overtime each day and this could have been caught and rectified. As an executive producer and co-writer, after reviewing the footage that had been shot, Kasdan objected to the freewheeling approach and wanted the directors to stick to the script.

It is vital at the outset, either overtly or covertly, to discover whether a collaborator believes in the project or the script.  In my own case as a writer-director I have had to nudge people towards telling me what they thought or exposing some other reason they might want to infiltrate the movie.  The last thing you want is the ground moving under your feet. Someone may object to a well-earned joke against an arrogant character.  I would rather take the heat of someone expressing outrage over a joke than let someone else’s sensitivity pre-emptively make it go away.

It is asking a lot to say tentatively to a prospective actor or crew member to read the entire screenplay, maybe 100 – 120 pages, to make an informed choice.  But that work pales by comparison to everything you will ask them to do in pushing through the schedule of shooting the movie.  This mostly applies if you have a subversive sensibility.  I today’s climate, that is bold.  But any element of a script can be upsetting to a crew or cast member or a segment of the audience, and they may as well address and confront that in advance.

It is one level of difficult to draw people with a general idea of making a movie, but the more specific your goals and in terms of locations and props and number of cast or the kind of script you want to get away with it will be more of a challenge. There is no point putting off that challenge and waiting for a conflict somewhere down the line.  It is vital to want to make the same movie, or to be willing to.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says, “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Straw

Anticipating the release of The Rise of Skywalker, Episode IX of Star Wars, this might be the right time to join the chorus and have a last rant.

Before The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson had been quoted as saying that he didn’t write in isolation but bounced ideas off of something called the Lucasfilm Story Group. I thought wow, they must be the cream of the dramaturgical crop to be in that circle of experts! We could speculate about some great writers that might be consulting there.  In the aftermath of The Last Jedi, Star Wars fans went on a mission to expose each member and examine the credits and education of each Story Group hired by Kathleen Kennedy.

Like  JJ Abrams’ wife Katie McGrath who went on to found the TimesUp movement on the heels of MeToo blowing up, Kathleen Kennedy is driven by identity politics.  In a movie like Lincoln or Schindler’s List, a social message is so central to the story that there needs to be no labored imposition of it.  Looking at something like Star Wars, is someone is not genuinely a fan of it and looks down on the genre at all, it might be seen as nothing more than a delivery device.

At no other time in the history of cinema has it been easier to find out what the core built-in audience for a brand wants to see.  By 2012, the bitter aftertaste of the Prequel trilogy meant that Star Wars fans could see room for improvement and the possibility of a fresh take if George Lucas was not 100% in control and jaded about his creation.  All Disney had to do was get the main characters back together.  The worst thing to do would be to sideline or disrespect them and taint the Original Trilogy.

Let’s look at intentions and whether the logic works.

They wanted to lure audiences with the possibility of getting the band back together. Mark Hamill was paid a bonus to say nothing about how drastically Luke Skywalker was sidelined in The Force Awakens, being a destination more than an active participant.

Harrison Ford’s career as a leading man had a lot of longevity, so his agreement to play Han Solo again opened the door to certain mischief. They would want Chewbacca to be in the movie, which is fine. Chewie died in a much publicized Lucasfilm-approved novel called Vector Prime, being on a planet when it exploded, around the time Han would have been 55.  This opened the door to totally abandoning over a hundred previously approved novels and beyond that also comics that were now branded Legends instead of canon.  Many fans, especially post-Last Jedi, would prefer to consider those novels as representing what “really happened” after Return of the Jedi as seen in 1983.  Some remember the old Marvel comics run that somewhat extended the story, and most refer to Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy.

What we got had the priority of setting up a few new heroes for the future, propped up by the classic Star Wars characters.  Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose Tico, and Kylo Ren were functional enough ciphers and the actors are talented but the writing – thanks largely to the priorities of the Lucasfilm Story Group – ring false.

Finn was raised as a storm trooper and chose humanity and abandoned the First Order, but The Last Jedi portrays his character as if he is an all-round deserter.  This partially through Rose Tico a mechanic who takes it upon herself to spend her hours loitering around escape pods looking for people to stun and drag to to the brig – including a known Resistance hero surely outranking her.  And for this, she is allowed to tag along on a mission.  The whole way, she is the person in the know about the meeting point Canto Bight and informing Finn about where he is wrong and sending them on a wild goose chase or two. She has to be in power and leading because TimesUpMeTooGirlPower.

Princess Leia / General Leia Organa says no to a magnetic bombing run Poe wants to do, so Poe switches off his intercom…. thus making sure he can’t hear her, but why the hell doesn’t the GENERAL have direct communication on the open line to all of the fleet, including the BOMBERS she could call off?

After Poe’s demotion, and aiding a covert mission that fails, and finally leading a mutiny, Leia asks people why they are looking at her and “Follow him.” Which confuses the woke narrative a bit.   Admiral Holdo decides that only she should be left in the rebel flagship, which is known to be a flagship and a one way trip whether she thought of ramming initially or not.  How brilliant is she that she couldn’t pick a droid to sacrifice itself? Rose Tico the mechanic who likes to zap war heroes considers saving the Fartiers (Neverending Story type horses) from the abusing racetrack by helping set them free gets onto a ship with Finn and leaves them in the fields to be easily rounded up again and brought back to their stables.

General Leia is sidelined by recuperation from FLOATING IN SPACE without oxygen.  Her replacement is Vice Admiral Holo, and one would think there would be great comedic potential if a great leader had to be replaced by an incompetent one but that can’t happen because she ALSO has to appear to know better than Poe and keep him in his subordinate place as a male.

Finn is reduced to pining for Rey, ostensibly concerned for her safety but – especially in this universe – isn’t she capable of looking out for herself?

Rey gets to be the enlightened and optimistic, right, and sympathetic one compared to Luke Skywalker’s ret con as a grumpy old Jedi gone to seed.  This is the most disappointing change to Star Wars.   IT ONLY went that way because Rey can’t be mansplained (what we used to call trained) by a white old male.  Master, schmashter. It strains credibility on the script level by finally having Luke (once his force connection is restored) collapse a shelter using “force-push” technique only to have Rey chase him down and fight until he lands on his back supposedly helpless and lets Rey stick her (formerly his) light-saber in his face to pin him down. He could use the very same force-push to flip the saber from Rey’s hand and then suspend her upside down. Instead he gives us his side of the most useless backstory about himself and his nephew.

If he thinks Ben Solo (Kylo) is going to turn to the Dark Side, WHY CREEP to his bedside in the night with a light-saber ready to kill him? Why not ask his mother, Leia, to go talk to him?

And no mention of what uproar happened politically when Luke and Leia’s parentage (Darth Vader) was outed ? There is a Disney-era novel called Bloodline that covers that, but they couldn’t be bothered to make that a pivotal point in the movies.  It makes sense if Ben distrusts his parents and his uncle for keeping a big secret from him.  But if it makes sense, it could not belong.

So there is much to account for.  The woke Lucasfilm Story Group, their boss Kathleen Kennedy, and Rian Johnson especially but also JJ Abrams.  When Lawrence Kasdan was co-writing The Force Awakens, at least the Han Solo material had humor and focus and felt like Star Wars.  And that movie at least flowed, even though it had its own share of head-scratchers and questions never to be answered.

And now they say retroactively that Luke trained Leia in the force and swordsmanship before the events of these new movies.  Okay, fine.  But we know it was not the plan all along because in The Force Awakens Leia refers to Luke as “a Jedi” when talking to Han. That might have been an opportunity to give SOME hint that she is also one.  Maybe Luke is a “better” or “lesser” jedi than her.  But even THEN, I’m sorry but I can’t buy even a Jedi waking up in the vacuum of space and force-pulling herself to safety.

I don’t know if the Sage – or what’s left of it – can force pull itself to safety now.  Too many of the most ardent fans already see Star Wars in a vacuum.  That is to say that – other than the unaltered Original Trilogy – it sucks.

 

 

 

 

Customer Service

(Edited to add.  I noticed that the title of this post was replaced with “Untitled.” Maybe it stirred something controversial.  Maybe I used a brand or tabu word?  I forget.

Also, recently Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasflm has been quoted as saying (Hear-say, mind you), “Why should we give the 50 year old fans what they expect.  We should focus on the newer fans.”  She has also supposedly said of The Mandalorian upcoming seasons, “If I don’t get my way I will burn down this silly nonsense.”

The natural answer from the once built-in fanbase would be, “burning something down after you have personally already killed it is not much of a threat.”   The word circulating (as of late May 2020) is that despite  Temuera Morrison (Attack of the Clones) coming back to play Boba Fett, Kennedy wanted/wants the character to be revealed as a woman once the helmet comes off.  The cheat would be to have Boba in flashback crawl out of the sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi and then collapse in the sand and die so that a character from Rebels (Sabine) finds him and salvages his armor and gizmos. This then would be the springboard for the otherwise undescribed “female-driven” project Kennedy and year-long Harvey Weinstien assistant Leslye Headland has leaked to Variety behind the back of Bob Iger to get “Twitter” enflamed. End of edit.)

A facebook page asked the question of “what should we do” about “toxic fandom?” This will be short:

The concept of “angry fandom” is a mislead. It is a distraction. Don’t be fooled. The idea that fans (AKA the once built-in audience) is the problem makes no sense.

There are hardcore U2 fans for 30 years that can speak at length about why they don’t like the newer songs or which albums were the best. To be informed and deep dive into any brand is to also intimately know its flaws.

I’m a first generation Star Wars fan and I can still respect the Original Trilogy even if I don’t see much to respect in the follow-ups. I can love Terminator and T2 and be annoyed that Cameron decided to kill off the point of those earlier films. And that irritation is not something to shade with pathology.

If movies are a delivery device for clumsy social messaging, that shows a disrespect for all of the other elements that go into good storytelling. Toxic this and toxic this and man babies…. all part of a playbook for spin and misdirection. It is about big money movie studios with huge marketing budgets for tent pole projects punching down at the average potential moviegoer, sometimes with a dash of gas lighting to make a percentage of audience members afraid of speaking up against what is being pushed, the movie or the blind preemptive insults from actors, writers or directors who promote the myth of the truly racist, sexist, homophobic troll who is the only sort of person who would respond to Ghostbusters 2016 (sometimes marketed as Answer the Call, except in the movie itself where it is still just called Ghostbusters) or who would dare celebrate Jason Reitman reverting to the continuity of the 1980’s iteration that actually had a built in fan base, possibly Generation X but also built from decades of home video formats and releases and a cartoon series featuring the original characters.  It must be a horrible misanthrope who would dare prefer the pre-Disney novels of the Extended Universe, like Heir to the Empire, as opposed to an appropriation of Luke Skywalker that would creep up to his sleeping nephew to possibly kill him and then to opt out of any positive action he could contribute because now he believes all good actions will be greeted with an equally opposite reaction in a galaxy far, far away so why bother fighting the good fight.

The way to deal with “angry fans” is make note of their market feedback, and avoid characterizing them politically. Because some Coke fans hated New Coke, and some are knowledgeable enough to say the New Coke/ Coke Classic was a marketing genius strategy to disguise the switch from cane sugar to corn syrup. Right now we have entered the corn syrup age of cinema.

Terminator maybe Self-Terminated ?

This post is not necessarily a review but a reaction with a dash of fan fiction. I can wait to see the movie for free, as I did Genysis. Terminator: Dark Fate looked like it had promise, with Linda Hamilton coming back and lending a sense of continuity, as well as Arnie.  I thought it was great news that Edward Furlong would also apparently be back. Not such a good sign that his imdb credit just says “John Conner Reference.”

As Red Letter Media mentioned, the principle of T2 was, “No fate but what we make.” Unfortunately there is a fatalistic sensibility behind the sequels that followed.

Except for the vital core that gave purpose to Terminator and T2, the idea that John was important (and by extension, his mother Sarah) to leading the human resistance against the machines.  But apparently in the “Time’s Up” era, even time machine stories are doomed to be infected by pandering ideology. A male cannot be the savior of humanity, because… misogyny?  I don’t know.  Disappointing especially because it casts a shadow on Linda Hamilton who was one of the go-to examples whenever studios or pundits cried sexism over fans rejecting a female lead.  We do like Leia Organa, Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, Laurie Stode… any number of women in fun genre films.

People are asking about – and some calling for – the possible end of this brand.  When does the currency of a brand or franchise become counterfeit?  I don’t know.

If there is another, they should unceremoniously kill off Dani right at the beginning. Then old Sarah disables that Terminator and opens its head to hack its CPU for memory and determine where the future location of the resistance will be, where the time machine for the terminators is located, whether it is the same one used by the resistance, who are the known leaders of the human resistance, and a list of organic viruses from that time period that do not exist in modern day.

She takes note of the viruses and places the deactivated Terminator T-800 where it should be found by the future resistance with a detailed letter about how and where her son was killed. The letter is to Kyle Reese and Kate Brewster or current resistance leaders. In it, she warns that multiple terminators have been sent back and advises that the resistance find the location of the time machine in development and destroy it after sending a fighter back to save her and John. She obscures and shields the T-800 and returns to a graveyard where she cannot find John Conner’s grave.

44 year old John (Furlong, physically trained and with court appointed drug monitor to keep him sober) shows up and reminds her that although her memory has to catch up and let the dominoes fall from corrective time events, a resistance fighter (Brewster) urged him to hop a steamer to Europe. He has remained off the grid. He has sent her by mail shipping samples of his new tech. Brewster gave Sarah antidotes to the viruses introduced in this era’s environment so they can be inoculated.

They could not give it to the CDC for distribution without a ruse to avoid people dismissing the prospect of time travelers bringing over the new variation of small pox. The claim was made that the compound injection would be against present viruses caused by climate change and loss of rain forest. They can’t undo damage already done. Unless Sarah returns to change or add to her note and request but that would interfere with events that have shaped herself and John and even allowed John to be conceived. She says she prefers to deal with the present as it is and she is better off knowing there is no further time travel possible from the future to the present.

John reminds her that she carries in her backpack a device he made that can track and detect terminators of any variety. He has personally destroyed hundreds of models of them over the last few decades, give or take. Even if both of them die there should be no more travelers from the future to deal with.

The tracking device goes off, so they know there is still one Terminator nearby. They will compromise or destroy Legion after finding out who invents time travel tech and destroying that. They discover that the inventor is himself a cyborg only after John and Sarah agree it is okay to kill him off. They have come full circle, capable of Terminating, and yet the target turns out not to be human after all.

The final T-800 is liberated of his CPU and the process of being hacked for updated information but they discover his age and that his self destruct is due to go off. John and Sarah fail to get out of the tech building before the blast.

Firefighters tell TV reporters there is no trace of cause or survivors from the blast, let alone what was being worked on.

I don’t know if that would be enough closure, or what rights holders would allow.  But it would encourage a fresh start not coasting on the nostalgia of those of us who saw Terminator in the Eighties.

 

Halloween Season Must Sees

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

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

 

Old Ramblings

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

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

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