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.

Buddha holding Lotus

That Progressively Luminous Clarity

I am a devotee of dream interpretation, a gaga-brained, cymbal-clanging, dancing-and-clapping Hare Krishna singing its praises in the streets, oblivious as to whether anyone thinks I’m a fool. If you know how to read dreams, if you track them diligently, if you learn how to interact with them, they offer a perspective into your current state of being like nothing else. And, provided you don’t have a personality disorder or other mental issue that requires professional guidance, if you do it right you can conduct your own psychotherapy right from the comfort of your bed.

Jennifer Lawrence and The Great Fappening

America’s sweetheart had quite the Labor Day weekend. The nudes leaked of Jennifer Lawrence and a bevvy of lesser female stars and models grasped the hardons of most men around the world and still haven’t let go. The instant they exploded from 4Chan on Sunday, the geeks on Reddit created a subreddit devoted to an event so cataclysmic they dubbed it “The Fappening,” a portmanteau of ‘fapping,’ the post-Recession word for jerking off, and ‘happening.’

Has JLaw gone Kardashian on us? Not quite. This will only increase her exposure, so to speak, and her popularity with the demographic that Hollywood salivates over most. If the Lord of the Rings crowd wasn’t exactly storming the box office for Hunger Games before, they will now. Lawrence’s reps doth protest too much, running around online swatting naughty re-posters with cease-and-desist orders and empty threats; in reality, they are thrilled and gloating. The cash cow from whom they skim a percentage just got fatter. And stand back Edward Snowden! Bryan Hamade, the hacker who leaked the nudes, has been canonized overnight, his icon an inflated dickhead with a halo.

James Foley

Why America Is Culpable for the Murder of James Foley

An article in The New York Times yesterday revealed that ISIS demanded a ransom for James Foley’s release, according to his family. The U.S., along with Britain and Israel, refuses to pay ransoms to terrorists; kidnapping is a main source of income for Islamic militants. Al-Qaeda and splinter groups like ISIS have raised around $125 million extorting Western nations.

The Obama administration has admitted that it tried and failed to rescue Foley and other American hostages this summer. Attempted rescue is the correct course of action, but it is so much riskier than simply transferring money into a numbered account in some shady country. Foley paid the ultimate price for that risk as well as for our no-negotiation-with-terrorists policy.

Pucci F/W 2014

Fall Forward: Women’s Fall 2014 Fashion Trends, Pt. 2

Gentle reader,

In the final phase of preparation for the top-shelf luxury Cancun trip that the folks at Nerium are sending us on, I popped into a few shops today in hopes of finding a pair of light turquoise-colored shorts that would perfectly complete my poolside wardrobe.  Even though I know that all the high-end boutiques having been carrying only the fall collections for a month or more now, I was hoping that someplace like Zara or Urban Outfitters would still have some summer clothes, especially in the midst of the flip-flop and shorts clad Saudi and European hordes that have descended upon L.A.  Alas, I walked in from the 90-degree heat to be thwarted by flannel shirts and chunky sweaters at each attempt.

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.

Phoenix Rising

SCARLETT’S LETTERS: Phoenix Rising

Dear James and James

I’m sharing a comment someone made about my last piece, in which I was being a little hazy about my love life. Mopey Reader wrote:

Firstly, thank you for thinking of me. I do have some questions. Sometimes, if people use a number of metaphors and/or similes, or if they confuse the two the same way many mistakeningly [sic] use the term ironic in place of coincidental, I get confused and miss the main point. Is there a new lover or is this a metaphor for the art fairs? At first I thought the article was about a new person that you met but then it turned out to be about other things so I don’t know if that person is real or not.”

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.