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.

Under the Skin

REVIEW: ‘Under the Skin’ Does Just That

It’s a testament to Jonathan Glazer’s singular, jagged-collage storytelling technique that I didn’t realize I’d read the book from which his Under the Skin is adapted until midway through the film. In fairness to me, the adaptation is so unfaithful it’s a wanton slut who’s been fucked so vigorously and pleasurably she’s unrecognizable.

(Like every reviewer, I’m going to have to give away who the lead character really is and what she does. If you want to experience the pure fine-art experience of Glazer’s masterpiece, the surprises as they unfold, stop here. Know before you go that it is a masterpiece — not a movie, not a film, but cinema — therefore immune to subjective negative-or-positive opinions. Okay. That’s all. Good-bye.)

Young Orson Welles

Filmmaking: It Never Pays to Be an Asshole

I had a blast yesterday on the set of what should have been an arduous student-film shoot I was mentoring. The location was outside Barstow, in the high desert midway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. It was total Breaking Bad territory — you almost expected the occasional BOOM! of a meth lab exploding in one of the trailer parks that dotted the lunar landscape.

A lot of the fun was set early in the day by Tabi Farnsworth, the owner of the “picture car” that was being driven on camera by the protagonist of the short film. An eighty-one-year-old former hairdresser who has redefined ‘flamboyant’ by being the human equivalent of a fizzy ice cream soda, Tabi insisted on driving it to the location himself,

Kimberly Peirce

Nobody Sets Out to Make a Bad Movie

There was a silent cheer that went around the collective hearts of all my fellow creators of drama content after the Carrie remake bombed last weekend. We’re an impoverished, underworked segment of the entertainment playground, given to drooling schadenfreude in unseemly ways when the more popular, bullying genres fail. It didn’t matter that this misfortune happened to one of our own, Kimberly Peirce, the writer-director of Boys Don’t Cry, a film we all cried over,

REVIEW: The Worst Little Chainsaw in Texas

Since I’ve been writing for this website, going back two years, I’ve seen plenty of bland and uninspired – yet competent – films. Those are the worst to review, because their chief sin is to be dull. I can’t endorse them with passion, nor can I roll out my best adjectives to warn you away. To an entertainment writer, mediocre movies are like a house salad with no dressing: There’s nothing to sink one’s teeth into. So if a film isn’t going to be good, I want it to be bad. Really bad.

Texas Chainsaw 3D is the movie I’ve been waiting for.

You want something to sink your teeth into? Texas Chainsaw 3D is a big, old bucket of KFC super-crispy, extra-greasy fried chicken boiled in pure lard. It makes the 2003 reboot with Jessica Biel look like The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. We’re but a week into the new year, and I’m already comfortable declaring this the worst film of 2013, knowing full well that Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is still in the offing.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D

A new take on an Abercrombie & Fitch campaign?

Bradley Cooper Details Magazine

OSCARS 2013: ‘Promised Land’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ As a Duet of Americana

As we barrel towards the Oscar nominations on January 10, I wanted to get as many of these reviews and essays about the possible contenders out of the way, which is why I’m stacking these two together.  They also happen to be companion pieces in many respects: both figure American men in early middle age struggling with both internal and external issues; they are directed by indie stalwarts; both are macro examinations and celebrations of non-urban America, one rural the other suburban; they are love stories.  I’m sure I can build other flimsy bridges between them, but I’ll leave those four themes as reason enough for this twin review.

While trying to persuade a friend who wanted to see Les Misérables to see Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land instead, he asked, “What sort of a Van Sant film is it?”

“The Good Will Hunting/Milk kind,” I replied.  In other words, the more mainstream social-issues-driven variety, rather than Gus’ own private Idaho of pretty male teens and the trouble they get into, which is the sort of film he prefers making, but can’t make a living on.

The production back story with Promised Land is this was meant to be Matt Damon’s directorial debut, from a script he wrote with John Krasinski, based on a story by Dave Eggers.  Damon had to step down as director due to scheduling conflicts, and asked Gus to step in, which explains why the film has so little of the auteur director’s imprimatur on it.

Rent.  Ain’t it a bitch?

Hugh Jackman Les Misérables

REVIEW: ‘Les Misérables.’ Life’s Tough. Yeah, Well.

It should be noted right from the start that I am an unusual Ghey, but a typical filmmaker: I am entirely contemptuous of musical theater.  Having said that, more often than not I have enjoyed the few Broadway or West End productions I’ve been to over the years immensely.  It can be rocking great entertainment, but so can a magic show or figure skating or Cirque du Soleil.

To give you an idea of how bad it is with me, the few episodes of Glee that I’ve watched (most of its first season, actually), I fast-forwarded over the musical numbers.  I cannot sing a whole show tune, just bits and pieces of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” because it has that mawkish Christmas carol quality that makes you all emotional, although you don’t know why.  In fact, the more melodramatic and successful musical theater songs seem to have a lot in common with carols.  I’m sure this has to do with some common key, or chord, or melody that brings out the weepies.  I’d like a musicologist to explain the phenomenon to me one day.  No rush, though.

In a way, show tunes are the Negro spirituals of the Gheys.  They sing of our hopes, our sufferings, our dreams of appearing in fierce outfits high-kicking in front of an adoring audience, of finally being accepted as the fabulous creatures we really are, of being Liza and Judy and Patti.  I personally might not feel any of that, but I certainly get it, and appreciate the important cultural role musical theater plays in Homolandia.

An award-winning Tattoo of Yoda from Star Wars

Help me, George Lucas. You’re My Only Hope.

About three seconds after Mitt Romney ceded the presidential election on November 6, the major news outlets began posting articles about GOP contenders for 2016. So used to around-the-clock election coverage were they that it became impossible to stop talking about it (despite the rest of us begging otherwise).

Within hours, the alleged contenders were taking to the microphones to trash Romney. Why, he was nothing but a rich, old white guy out of touch with everyday American’s lives! Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was first out of the gate, talking inclusiveness and hoping in futility that people would finally forget about that bizarre speech from 2009 that ruined his aspirations for national office.

Florida senator Marco Rubio also jockeyed for position in the party, trying not to scare away evangelicals while still appealing to swing voters by saying he doesn’t know anything about science, so he’s not in a position to talk about evolution and stuff. Meanwhile, the governor of my home state and pre-Sandy darling of the GOP, Chris Christie, said, “Mitt Romney is a piece of shit. Tell that fucker to watch his freakin’ back if he stops foot in Jersey. You gotta prollem wit dat?” Or something.

Yes, it appeared as if we were all doomed. Just like Christmas is slowly becoming a year-round retail event, the news media intended to make election coverage an unending four-year cycle of speculation and prognostication from a bunch of highly paid morons who are never held accountable, and Nate Silver.

Then it happened. The real news story broke. The event that will alter the course of mankind for the next millennium.

George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney.