Saturday, September 03, 2011

Sky & Sea, Boston - August/September 2011

Theatrical Reviews:
The Shining (1980) ****
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) ****

DVD/Home Video:
One False Move (1992) ****
Norwegian Wood (Japan) ***1/2
City of Hope (1991) ***1/2
The Killing (1956) ***1/2
Sexy Beast (2000) ***1/2
Out of the Blue (1980) ***
Dark Passage (1947) ***
Five Corners (1987) ***
Fear City (1984) **

The Booth In The Corner (Hulu) ****
Half in the Bag (Red Letter Media) ***1/2

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Style and Execution

July 17th, 2011

It's been a few beautiful, dry and cool days lately, during which I had to work. (Of course.) Now the 90 degree heat's come back again... and on my day off. (Naturally.) The humidity wasn't scheduled to arrive again until nightfall though, so I grabbed my notebook, Diet Coke & cookie and went to my spot at the Park. The swelter didn't phase me in the slightest as I started the outline for the story, proper. All the backstory work I'd been doing lately fell right into place. The story was originally going to be a real-time investigation sort of thing, but now I see the value of flashbacks and imagined realities in this particular story and they seem to flowing in their places pretty well. It has to do with what the Hero has grown up thinking is a particular truth or two about his past, only to have the actual truth given to him from two or three other people, even as we suspect that those people might be coloring their own particular meaning of the truth in their own way... Flashbacks and such really are the only way to make this come alive visually. I guess noir films use them for a reason, after all.

The key, if I'm allowed by fate to direct this film, is to differentiate between the actual/real past material and the imagined past material, visually. Soderbergh used color temperature in Traffic to split up his Washington/Mexico/Los Angeles based storyline. I'm thinking "locked-down camera" for the false/imagined past and "handheld but not shaky-cam" as the actual/real past. I've long felt that the great films of the 60's/70's always had that handheld you-are-there news camera sort of realism (Medium Cool, for one). Maybe this is a way to go. Or maybe the other way around would be more interesting, almost turning the convention on it's own ear. Will have to think about that...

At any rate: I felt the first, real sense of accomplishment today. It feels like I've planned out the entire film now, from the opening shot to the closing credits, on paper. After four-plus years, the story is now finally all laid out. The tough part's over. Next is the mostly-easy part. The actual writing of the first draft.

August 7, 2011

Spent my last few days off getting life stuff done. Finally relenting and putting the air conditioner in, paying bills, cleaning the room, seeing the occasional film, house and cat sitting. These all cut into my creativity time a little. I did get around to gathering all my little notes on scraps of paper and color-copying them to 8.5 by 11 inch sheets, so now I have fresh new versions to refer to, should I need them. Maybe I should digitize them and keep them on the laptop and iPod Touch, too. Having them available to me at any given moment sounds like a decent idea.

I've also decided to have another sort of back-up plan. The story I'm working on, you see, is sort of a remake. But not really. That is: there is a terrific old thriller that I've always enjoyed. To film-people it's a classic, however to most average audiences it's largely unknown, which is a tragedy since, at least in my opinion, it really should be as recognized as The Big Sleep, Cape Fear, White Heat and a host of others. The thing that always struck me about it was it's amazing opening scene. Not to give it away but it's a tough and sparse slow-burn of dramatic perfection. Beautifully written, directed, photographed and performed... and it's probably my favorite opening scene of all time.

Some time ago, I figured it would be a great idea to keep that amazing opening scene, line by line and shot by shot, exactly as it is in the original film, then veer off into uncharted and deeply personal (to me) territory, as a way of both paying homage to the classic original, while striking off on my own and telling a story that only I can tell.

Only recently did I consider this: What if I were not able to get the rights to the original material? That could be a huge problem, since I couldn't really start with the Scene Two and expect to have the same dramatic or emotional impact. If you can imagine, say, what Reservoir Dogs might be like without the pre-title sequence with the "Like A Virgin" conversation in the diner where we meet Keitel, Madsen, Buscemi and the rest, you might get the picture. The film would just start with Tim Roth crying in the backseat of a speeding car. You'd miss out on the impact of the moment, the shock and some of Tarantino's most well known dialogue. You'd just jump headlong into screaming and blood. It wouldn't work nearly as well. The same would happen with my story.

I then decided to write a back-up first scene. If I couldn't get the rights to the material I needed, I wanted to cover myself. I kept the same general idea but altered the setting, time of day, the players, moved some of the characters around like chess pieces. I brought in a character, someone who wasn't scheduled to show up for another ten or fifteen pages. I'm trying to keep the same slow-burn feel of the original but bringing it another, more shocking and possibly more contemporary place. The only difficulty is that I can think of at least two other movies that start in a similar way, yet different enough - I think - to be considered separate and unrelated pieces. In a genre story, it's surprisingly difficult not to repeat (or even unintentionally steal from) what you've seen and loved in film before. Tough guy dialogue, familiar settings... I'll have to keep a close eye on this. I'd really love for this to be something wholly original, emotional and special.

At any rate, now I'm on the fence in that I really like the new opening. The way I see it in my mind visually, the way that I imagine it lighted, edited and performed... I think it might actually suit the rest of the story better than that classic scene that inspired it. It seems more of the same world, more fitting. Maybe I'm deluded. Or, maybe that's a sign of some sort of artistic maturity. Something the makers of remakes and reboots should try to feel: that it's all wonderful to pay tribute to those who inspire you, but it takes more courage to go your own way...

I guess we'll see.

Theatrical Reviews
Blue Velvet (1985) ****
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part Two ***1/2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes ***
Captain America ***

DVD/Home Video
To Have and Have Not (1944) ****
High Sierra (1941) ****
Naked (UK, 1993) ****
Stanley Kubrick's Boxes (Documentary) ***1/2
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) ***1/2
SubUrbia (1997) ***1/2
Spartan (2004) ***1/2
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part One ***
It Came From Outer Space! - 3D (1953) ***
Outrage (Japan) ***
Blow Out (1981) ***
Judgment Night (1993) **1/2
Times Square (1980) **1/2

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting Comfortable

July 9th, 2011

Yesterday was my birthday. Meh. Forty-one and precious little to show for it. The older I get, the less this stuff means to me. Maybe next year I'll manage to get myself a little something useful for my birthday: a screenplay sale for my current project. Another goal to strive for.

After being away for a few days visiting my Mom (which is always nice), I've come home to more heat n' humidity and am finding it impossible to get anything done, I had the suspicion that getting out of the apartment to get some work done might be a good idea. And in that instant, I had a flash: a complete vision, which included all the particulars of where and under what conditions. I felt that I needed to get my notebook -- and a Diet Coke and chocolate chip cookie for the proper caffeine and sugar regimen -- then travel down to this great Park off of Beacon Street, lay down in the grass on said hill and just let the creative spirit take me where it would.

I'd never really done that before, in terms of trying to write, and have typically felt a little awkward whenever I try to relax or "lay out" like "regular people." It's like, sometimes I see people just relaxing and enjoying the day, throwing their Frisbees back and forth and cavorting with their gorgeous friends and significant others, and sometimes I feel sort of uptight, in a way. Exposed or vulnerable or something, as if I were going to be attacked or made fun of for some odd reason. As if the Wolves walking by would see me as the Weak Sheep in the herd and therefore sum me up as an easy target.

Part of it comes from being a local resident working in retail; in that where ever you go, you typically end up seeing someone you know or have regular dealings with when all you really want is some space. Sometimes it's someone you like, someone you enjoy seeing and talking with... but sometimes it's the Douchebag Kid That Comes From Money who, for whatever reason, tried to shoplift from your store and now wants to screw with you to look like a big-shot in front of his friends. Or the Angry Drunk you had to kick out for being a public nuisance who you still see around town giving you the evil eye as if to say, "Someday it'll be your turn, buddy." It's also partially something I (dis)affectionately refer to as Fat Guy Syndrome. Comes from being made fun of a lot as a kid. If you grew up popular or well-adjusted, you probably wouldn't understand. (No worries, though. I came around, eventually.)

Most of the time I can let these feelings go. Between the heat of the previous few days, the feeling that I'd been squandering my vacation time and the hyper-personal nature of the story I'm working on, though, I was surprised that this vision of this particular where-and-when-to-write came to me in the way that it did. So, wanting to be creative no matter what, I got my things together (that is, my supplies and my head), packed my stuff and headed out there.

Turned out, the Park was a great idea. Two Dudes were in the spot on the hill that I wanted to be in, so I found a nearby bench. Not too comfortable, though. After about a half hour the Two Dudes left and I grabbed my things, went over to my originally preferred space and found what seemed like my Optimum Creation Zone. Stretching out on my stomach and facing the field, baseball diamond and tennis courts beneath, I went to work. It went perfectly. I cranked out about six pages of all-new material for the backstory, right on the fly; things I needed to really make the crime plot work. Nothing Earth-shattering in the screenwriting world sense but very valuable to me, personally, and my story structure. Between moments of brainstorming, I smiled as puppies played in the nearby grass. I watched those Frisbees flying between those gorgeous friends and significant others and all those things that gave me pause earlier that day became wondrous and beautiful.

I started to realize just how negative thoughts can kill one's creativity. I almost didn't go out there at all, I almost didn't do anything that day. But once I did and once I decided to let those concerns of mine go, and once the words started flowing, I was able to relax and make progress.

I'd forgotten how good that could feel.

July 14, 2011

My week's vacation ended a few days ago. "Back to the daily grind" means "less time to create." But then again, that makes the time that much more valuable. Today was a day off. Not wanting to waste it all, I decided to get more backstory done and set up how it progresses into the current timeline narrative. Couldn't go back to the park today, though, due to rain. I know now that it's much easier for me to work on the project away from my room. Far too many distractions here amongst the DVDs, vinyl LPs, books, Atari games and Internets. I figured I'd try the local (and air-conditioned!) Library instead, grabbed my notebook and umbrella and headed over.

I'd never looked for the best spot for writing in there before. I made a few laps around the halls, desks and hidden corners. Looking for the perfect combination of relative silence, lighting, solitude and a window view of the outdoors, I settled into a quiet corner near a soothingly-ticking grandfather clock and started in. After about an hour and a half, I'd gotten close to four more pages of the main outline completed. Next will be the real work. The narrative proper. I should get my notes together and Xerox them for easier travel. Might need them in the coming sessions.

Theatrical Reviews
Taxi Driver (1975, 2011 restoration) ****
Down By Law (1986) ****
The African Queen (1951, 2010 restoration) ***1/2
Page One: Inside The New York Times ****1/2
Hobo with a Shotgun **1/2
Jaws 3D (1983) **

DVD/Home Video
Coma (1978) ***
Firefox (1982) ***
Big Rig (Documentary) ***
The Gauntlet (1977) **1/2

Monday, July 04, 2011

Back To Business: Gaining Clarity and Focus and Keeping It

Some time ago, I was fairly creative.
Starting in 1984 until about 2001, I'd been involved with or dabbled in everything from cartooning, photography, high school newspaper journalism and film criticism, local cable access news and entertainment, film school, screenwriting in both personal study and formal classes and video production and linear video editing. I managed to cobble together two full-length scripts -- one, a silly Hollywood action-comedy; the other, a smaller independent crime comedy -- which gathered some kind words but failed to earn me local literary representation. Stepping up to the plate and prepping for something big, I penned a short forty-pager for a video-film that I'd written and planned to direct and perform in.
Sadly, the project failed to get off the ground due to the usual bad luck, poor planning and misunderstandings. Following that and the lamentation of my lack of personal wealth, I concentrated on the writing aspect of film making which made sense as it just doesn't get any cheaper than pens and paper. Then life got in the way, as it often does, and a combination of unpleasant life experiences, emotional depression, lack of personal belief -- and even general laziness -- kept me from creating anything more than than an occasional blog posting for the subsequent few years. But not completely...
About four years ago something clicked and I had the inklings of a new storyline. Something very... no, extremely... personal. It was far from fully-formed, and is still in fact taking shape. Over these recent years, I had to put a few things to bed, so to speak. Feelings, worries, misgivings... Call them what you will. But finally, one thing has led to another and it's pretty much all there in what could finally be considered a workable form. As of this moment, it exists only as fragments. Pieces of notebook paper, storyboard drawings and torn corners of napkins are tacked to a bulletin board above this laptop. MP3s of appropriate pieces of music, effects, photos and memories from my childhood and young adult past pepper my room, my hard drive and my mind. Just recently, a specific piece of information that I was given provided the true necessary spark to get moving again. And now it's time to take it to the next level.
Growth and maturity rarely come easily. And as no less than screenwriting guru William Goldman has said, "The easiest thing on Earth to do is not write." So, this note will hopefully serve as a method of keeping track of myself and the New Project. The goal is to finish at least a first draft by the 2011 holiday season. And they say that if a writer fears that they might not keep focused, they should tell others of their progress in an effort to keep a sort of goal; that the more people who know about it, the more likely the writer is to continue with it. Starting here and now, I'm doing just that. I thank you in-advance for your interest and any encouragements offered.
I'll try not to let any of us down.
Concepts, theories, investigations and emotional preparations. Studying: in theory and practice, through reading and viewing the lives and works of those who have come to be spiritual and professional influences. These influences on the current project include, but are not limited to...
Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Richard Siodmak, William Shakespeare, Humphrey Bogart, David Mamet, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann, Kenny Rogers, Haruki Murakami, Kevin Weeks, Jack Kerouac, Andrew Vachss, Elmore Leonard, Carol Reed, Henry Rollins, Toshiro Mifune, Tom Waits, Ernest Hemingway... and my Nephew, Father and Mother.
July 4th, 2011:
Hammered out most of the main backstory at last, which is necessary to continue any further. The narrative is a crime mystery and a large element of the narrative lies in the past. Feels good to see how all these things that have just been concepts for so very long are flowing together in what appears, at least for now, to seem like a natural, organic and believable flow. The idea is to take a genre story and give it an emotional depth usually only seen in our most deep and personal everyday lives. Getting down the protagonists' pre-story lives is crucial and key. Laying the foundations. No fireworks tonight. There's work to be done.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Night & Day, Boston - May, June 2011

And oh, yeah... Reviews and stuff. It's been a while.

The Tree of Life ****
13 Assassins (Japan) ***1/2
Midnight in Paris ***1/2
Blank City ***1/2
X-Men: First Class ***
Super 8 ***
Thor ***

DVD/Home Video
The Deer Hunter (1978) ****
Unforgiven (1992) ****
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World ***1/2
The Thin Red Line: Criterion Collection ***
Youth of the Beast (1963, Japan) ***
Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981) ***
Another Stakeout (1993) ***
Night and the City (1992) ***
Under Fire (1983) ***
Kick Ass ***
Hero At Large (1978) **1/2
Monsters **1/2
Defendor **1/2

Films of the "1980's"
Smokey and the Bandit (1977) ***1/2
Smokey and the Bandit, Part 2 (1980) **1/2
Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3 (1983) **1/2
Police Academy (1984) ***1/2
Max Headroom: The Complete Series (TV) ***
Porky's (1981) ***
Porky's II: The Next Day (1983) **1/2
Porky's Revenge (1985) **1/2
Wanted: Dead Or Alive (1986) **1/2
American Drive-In (1985) **1/2
The Last Dragon (1985) **1/2
Action Jackson (1988) **1/2
Quicksilver (1986) **1/2
Zapped! (1982) **1/2
Scarface (1983) **1/2

The Man Who Saw The Future (Edmond Hamilton) ***
City Pier: Above and Below (Paul G. Tremblay) ***
They Live: Deep Focus (Jonathan Lethem) ***
Boy (Takeshi Kitano) ***

Video Games
Team Fortress 2 (PC) ***1/2