Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist

Film Production: Why The DP is Your MVP

I’m mentoring a young friend through the process of writing and directing his first feature, which he’ll shoot in a year; he’s still in development tweaking the script before it goes out to cast. His executive producer, the former president of a major studio, said to him the other day, “Your cinematographer is the most important person on set after you.” I couldn’t agree more.

There’s nothing like working with a great DP, it makes all the difference in the world to the outcome of your film on many levels. The most important level for me is the personal, the experience of making a film. I don’t get to direct often, so when I do I want to enjoy it, to be carried away by, yes, the quasi-spiritual experience of creating something worthy in harmony with my crew, as cheesy as that might sound.

Jessica Chastain Tree of Life

Filmmaking: Is Voiceover Narration Always a Weakness?

A couple of weeks ago I was in a preliminary meeting for a TV series I am being commissioned to write. One of the associated producers, who has hitherto exclusively made reality-TV fare, suggested the characters break the fourth wall and talk to the camera, in mockumentary style, which works to great effect in both TV and feature-film comedies — note the word “mock” — but not in drama.

As a purist, I was taken aback by the suggestion of deploying this unnecessary device. I reigned in my kneejerk contempt for it by nodding and muttering, “Hmm, interesting idea.”  It just didn’t suit my vision for this particular piece at all, but I’m also coming in later in this project’s process. I’m changing it from a comedy to at most a dramedy, although by the time I’m through it’ll likely be an outright drama with comedic hints now and then; one of the main characters has a personality disorder that is too often the butt of jokes, which isn’t so bad as it is tiresome and inauthentic to how both people with the disorder and their caretakers deal with it in real life.

Cary Fukunaga

Content Creation: ‘Endings Are So Difficult’

The most controversial topic strafing the Net this week hasn’t been Putin’s grab for the Crimea; after all, since the dawn of the Industrial Age every Russian emperor’s mandate has been to secure access to a warm-water port, so is this really controversial? It hasn’t been the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, either (however, if I were Boeing’s PR department, I’d be in preemptory damage control mode right now — I’ve got a sneaky feeling that plane wasn’t flying right.)

Nay, nothing has ruffled more feathers this week than the ending of HBO’s True Detective.

If I were to imagine a word cloud rising from the chatter about the finale on Sunday, the leading adjective, the one in the center in the biggest font in the brightest magenta, would be “DISAPPOINTING.”

Channing Tatum Foxcatcher

Oscar Race: The Uphill Battle of the Physical Genius

I first stumbled on the theory of multiple intelligences around a decade ago while training at a boxing gym in London. I was a competitive swimmer as a youth, then into “power yoga” as it was called when the craze first hit these shores, then weight lifting, all solitary sports that requite little interaction with anyone else. Learning how to box was transformative, empowering; fighting other men in a rather primal sport forces you to overcome the innate resistance to violence that most people are born with as a survival instinct. Contact sports like boxing teach your body that fight is as viable as flight.

REVIEW: How Hollywood Won the Marriage Equality Battle. And Made a Great Film About It.

I was privileged to attend a screening of The Case Against 8 at LACMA the other night, hosted by the New York Times, followed by a Q&A with the cast and filmmakers. If it isn’t the best documentary I’ve ever seen, it is certainly the most emotional and among the most effective: my head from my eyes to my throat stung and throbbed with the weep-ish feels for most of it.

This is saying a great deal; I’m a real hardass, especially if I feel I’m being in the least bit emotionally manipulated. Manipulation there is in this film, aplenty: the score by Blake Neely grabs and wrings you as much as the words and images on the screen. The superlative editing brings out performances from the cast reminiscent of 70s and early 80s political activist dramas like Silkwood.

Jeffrey Tambor Transparent

Keep It Simple, Showrunner

Let me start with the obvious caveat that I am deeply and inherently prejudiced in favor of the particular form of narrative filmmaking that I specialize in: fictionalized biographical and autobiographical dramas. I do on occasion dabble in the magical, either with overt supernatural themes or the more subtle magical realism, which is my preferred cut-off; I don’t like to stray far from authenticity. But the unreal isn’t my forte because it isn’t what I’m passionate about.

This wasn’t always the case. When I was younger and mired in a miserable childhood in a gilded cage, I escaped at any opportunity by turning inward and daydreaming a world I could control by magic. When I taught myself screenwriting in my early twenties, my stories were entirely supernatural; as I like to say, “Twenty-somethings are only adult teenagers.”

Michel Gondry

La Vie en Verlan: How the French Literally Lost the Plot

Let me immediately digress onto a tangential subject that will hopefully serve as an intro to my main topic. It occurred to me the other day, when I was discussing with Scarlett Rouge the alarming fact that almost nobody in the English-speaking countries is reading contemporary French writers in translation, that there are no female auteur filmmakers. In any language. None. There currently isn’t, nor has there ever been, an autrice filmmaker, as she would be called.

I don’t consider Sofia Coppola an autrice. The only thing that distinguishes her films as her own are the willful lack of adherence to dramatic convention and the obsession with the inane antics of privileged white female teens and twentysomethings. Her niece, Gia, is doing exactly the same thing, but upping the now signature Coppola Family pretension by working with proto-wankers like James Franco. At this point in the history of filmmaking, the only place I can bear to see the Coppola name is on a wine label.

Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Golden Age of Television: A Summer of Madness and Sadness

Here’s what you think about HBO’s The Leftovers: You have no idea what to think. It’s the weirdest show outside of Adult Swim or some other willfully esoteric programming segment, if that’s the proper term for it, on a channel few people watch. It’s absolutely fucking weird and as addictive as the relentless smoking by the white-clad members of the show’s nihilistic Guilty Remnant cult.

Most people I’ve spoken to about The Leftovers haven’t made it past the first few episodes. That’s okay: I’m standing outside your window like a Guilty Remnant member, puffing away, waiting mutely, emotionless. You will succumb eventually.

Richard Linklater

REVIEW: ‘Boyhood’ Is a Subdued Portrait of the Modern American Everyman

Ever since he helped lay the foundations for the American indie film with Slackers, Richard Linklater has experimented with narrative form and structure more than any director. In defiance of every dramatic convention, his personal films, such as the Before Sunrise series and Waking Life, have willfully discarded plot in favor of dialogue heavily weighted with dialectic. Slackers, for instance, follows a group of young misfits and bohemians around Austin in a relay of conversations, never lingering on one for more than a few minutes — one character hands off the dialogue to the person he’s speaking to, she shuffles off to the next person, that person picks it up and takes it on to a fourth person, and onward until the film ends.

Like all inventors, Linklater’s experiments have been hit or miss.