Film Essent Archive for November, 2011

The First! Crix Awards and (yawn) Indie Spirit Nominations

Been pondering and Facebook posting about this all morning while waiting out the world’s longest dental appointment for my four kids, so now that I’m finally home and ensconced under a warm blankie and a cuppa tea, I thought I’d jot a few things down. The big news of the day in the film world are the Independent Spirit Awards nominations, which are somewhat … befuddling, and the NYFCC awards (First! We’re first!) which are less befuddling, but also pretty much a total, mostly predictable snoozer. I’ll get back to the Indie Spirits in a minute, but first, let’s take a look at those New York Film Critics Circle awards … you know, the ones the group decided to get out super-duper early this year? Here’s the rundown:

Best Picture The Artist
Best Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life
Best Screenplay Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball
Best Director Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Foreign Language Film A Separation
Best Actor Brad Pitt, Moneyball & The Tree of Life
Best Actress Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Best Supporting Actor Albert Brooks, Drive
Best Supporting Actress Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life, The Help, and Take Shelter
Best First Feature Margin Call
Best Non-Fiction Film Cave of Forgotten Dreams

So, there’s a few good things about the NYFCC picks. I’m glad to see they’re not fawning over The Descendents, which I personally am pretty “meh” on. I’m glad to see Moneyball get a couple nods; not sure it’s the best screenplay of the year, but we can agree to disagree on that. And it’s hard to argue with Emmanuel Lubezki for cinematography, because Tree of Life is just absolutely stunning in its visual imagery. And hey, good for Albert Brooks, maybe this will give him a well-deserved boost. But Cave of Forgotten Dreams (which I like okay, don’t get me wrong … ) over Being Elmo? Over The Interrupters? I think not. And best first feature … eh. I can’t really argue against Margin Call, but rather I’d argue for some other films that (to me) are maybe more deserving: Martha Marcy May Marlene. Pariah.
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Things for Which to Give Thanks

Two years ago right about now, I was less than two weeks out from the major surgery that would remove 2/3 of my pancreas along with the little tumor that thought it was going to hang out there, tucked away, until it got big enough to really cause some damage. Two years ago right about now, I was going through a wretchedly painful divorce at the same time.

By any measure, things are SO much better now, so I am first and foremost thankful to still be here to write this, and do other interesting things with my life.

I’m very thankful to still have MCN as a place to write, to have such a great team of colleagues, and mostly to David, who has always supported me in writing whatever most moved me to write about, whether that’s movies, or life, or the places in which those two things intersect. And I’m grateful also, that when I said, “Hey, I want to start transitioning into filmmaking, but I’d like to still write here,” he just shrugged, nodded and said, “Sure, okay, whatever you want to do,” and supported me completely as I ventured out of my safe little nest of film journalism into the kind of scary, unpredictable world of making movies. Anyone who gets to work in this industry in any capacity is lucky to begin with; to have the opportunity to work as a critic for so long, and now to see it through the lens of how to go about making movies, is ridiculously lucky.
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A Word (or Several) on the Technological Renaissance

Happy Wednesday, folks. For your pre-Thanksgiving pleasure reading, I’d like to share with you this most excellent interview with my old friend Hank Stuever, twice-nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, TV critic for the Washington Post, author of two books (actual books! printed on real paper and everything!), and all around brilliant, dapper fellow. And just to clarify, when I say “old,” I don’t mean that Hank is old, per se (although I guess at 43 we kind of are approaching oldness), but that I first met Hank our freshman year at good old Bishop McGuinness High School in Oklahoma City waaaaaaay back in 1982, back when I was still a good-girl preppy chick, before I discovered ditching school to party and hit my “Desperately Seeking Susan” fashionista phase (and in spite of knowing me when I was dressing like that, Hank still at least pretends to like me).

Hank has a lot of smart things to say about being a working journalist and author at a time when the very existence of print is threatened by this whole internet revolution, and I thought that you, like me, might glean something useful out of it. Here’s a little excerpt:

I don’t think things like the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prizes are going to survive the renaissance. That’s another tradition that’s going to have to be solved by people 100 years from now — how to discern quality from everything else. Also, there will be this notion that nothing is ever done. You can always go back and improve a novel and re-upload it, based on reader suggestions. You can keep building a non-fiction piece after the first upload, when new information comes to light. You can’t give a Pulitzer to a moving target.

You can read the entire piece right over here.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, don’t overstuff yourselves with turkey and such. I plan to have a very productive weekend involving much watching of awards season screeners, and much writing on a new screenplay. Or maybe, just much being lazy and napping and taking hot baths. Probably that’s more likely.

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Adventures in Filmmaking: Embedded in Post

Bunker Production Journal
November 20, 2011

Last Sunday, after three months of intensive pre-production work, and two 12-hour days of filming, we wrapped shooting Bunker and are now busily working on post. Whew.
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A Little Go! Team to Start Your Monday

I came across these little promotional films for The Go! Team tonight while diligently avoiding getting to my to-do list working away on editing notes. I love me some Go! Team — their music is at the top of my daily playlist, especially on days when my mood is dipping. Anyhow, I found the contrast between the two videos — the first uploaded in 2006, the second shot in 2009 and uploaded in 2011, kind of interesting. What can I say? I get into listening to band members talking about their music. If you do too, check it out.

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To Serve and Protect … ?

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Adventures in Filmmaking: Making a List, Checking it Twice

Bunker Production Journal
November 11, 2011

Last time on Adventures in Filmmaking, I told you all about the awesome crew we’ve lined up to shoot my short film, Bunker, and promised that I’d write another journal entry about the art design and such. Then things got a little busy, what with going off to NYC a week before my shoot, but I thought I’d take a few minutes out of my day to catch up on this before I disappear into the netherworld of last-minute pre-production and shooting for two 12-hour days this weekend.

One of the things I see lacking on a lot of low-budget indie films is production design. I was reading an article in Filmmaker Magazine about how the economy and budget crunches are affecting below-the-line spending and how art direction is one of the areas taking a hit with this, and how more and more filmmakers are using their own furniture and such in their production design to save dollars. Certainly this has been the case with Bunker. We’re spending a lot of money on this film, for a short film (and we’re still looking at doing a crowd-funding thing to help defray some of our post costs, even though we’ve managed our expenses as well as I think we could have while getting the level of crew experience I wanted), but when it came down to the bottom line, I felt like I needed to focus our spending on those areas in which I have zero experience or knowledge (all the tech stuff, basically). If I wanted to get the best folks for those jobs, something was going to have to give.
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A Little Something to Make Your Wednesday

This is the weirdest thing I’ve seen since the Japanese Yatta Yatta video — which is saying a lot, since that one featured half-naked Japanese comedians wearing nothing but giant green leaf loincloths. Today from Asia, we have a group of Chinese senior citizens enthusiastically covering Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” accompanied by young girls in short skirts and white go-go boots playing traditional Chinese instruments made of glass. No, I don’t get it either, but hey, it made me chuckle on a hectic day of pre-production, and maybe it will make your day too. I’ll warn you, though … once seen, it cannot be unseen. You’re welcome.

P.S. Just in case you’ve never seen Yatta Yatta, I’m including it below for your listening and viewing pleasure. Consider it a free bonus gift to get you through your humpday. There’s some folks in this industry that I like to imagine covering this song while wearing the green leaf loincloths, when I’m having a particularly irritating day. Try it yourself … it’ll make you smile, though you may have a hard time looking those folks in the eye next time you see them.

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Dear Santa: I Want This Book for Christmas

Hey y’all! Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, has a book coming out next year (you can pre-order it now). She’s one of my favorite reads; she’s totally screwed up in a way that’s very comforting to the rest of us who are also weird, because we read her stories and we think, “Hey, I’m not so bad!” No, seriously. She’s awesome and whenever I’m stressed out from dealing with the minutae of pre-production leading up to shooting Bunker, I can take a break, read Jenny’s latest misadventures with Victor, her long-patient husband, and laugh my ass off. Today’s entry nearly made me snort chai all over my MacBook. An excerpt:

In the elevator, Bob explained that this is a “transient hotel” and I was all, “Like a flophouse?” He just looked at me and I assumed maybe he didn’t know what a flophouse was, so I clarified, “You mean, like a crack house?” He was still quiet, so to fill the awkward silence I said, “Because this is the swankiest damn crack house I’ve ever been in.” Then more people got on the elevator and they stared at me and I assumed they were staring because they only heard the last part of our conversation, so I further clarified “Not that I’ve been in a lot of crack houses, I mean. I was just being polite.”

In hindsight, it’s possible that they staring at me because I was carrying a dead mouse and because the hotel porter had a hot-pink purse on his shoulder, and not because I was bragging about all the crack houses I hadn’t been to. It didn’t really matter though because we got off on the next floor, and then Bob explained that a “transient hotel” is one where people stay overnight. I explained that normal people just call that “a hotel.”

You can read the full entry right here, but you should not probably not drink your chai or coffee or vodka while reading it, lest you snort it all over your MacBook from laughing.

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Whirlwind

Whirlwind weekend.

I flew into NYC on a red-eye flight Thursday night, arriving at JFK at about 5:30AM, so as to have Friday to unwind and see some friends. I wanted to fly Virgin, but there were no direct flights on Virgin from Seattle, and it would have cost a lot more, so I ended up flying JetBlue on the recommendation of a frequent East-West commuting friend. JetBlue was great, as far as long-ass cross country flights go. Slept most of the way, other than when Anxious-About-Flying Woman next to me kept freaking out and wringing her hands; when we hit a bit of turbulence she freaked out and started yelling, waking the sleeping 2YO behind us, which everyone on the packed flight very much appreciated.

Landed, grabbed a cab, got to John Wildman and Justina Walford’s very stylish digs about two blocks from John’s office at Film Society Lincoln Center. Their apartment would make a nice set for a short film about a smart, hip, professional couple. John and I grabbed breakfast with my good friend Karen Gehres, a filmmaker I met a few years ago at Ebertfest when her film Begging Naked played there. Ebertfest is a great place for making lifelong friends. I wanted to go for a long walk around town, but I was SO tired that I really just needed a bath and a short nap before meeting up with Jennifer Merin, Joanna Langfield and Thelma Adams from Alliance of Women Film Journalists over happy hour. I brought Karen along with me, and a good chat was had by all.
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Quote Unquotesee all »

“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook