Mourning Portrait Interview

mourning-portraitFor the interested, here‘s a little email interview I did with the horror blog KDK12 on the subject of my upcoming movie The Mourning Portrait. They’re thoughtful folks who are concerned with quality horror movies being perceived as true art. I tend to agree with them.

KDK12, of course, is the radio name given to the Overlook Hotel by the Forest Service in that little indie film The Shining, by that one guy.

Wait For It

Block

Writer’s block, in lots of ways, is a myth. I don’t believe in it.

Aside from the fact that many would-be writers use ‘writer’s block’ as a lazy excuse for not forging ahead, it’s often cited as a reason to buy more How to Write books. In my view, it’s really a mask for not putting in the work. The cure for which, of course, is Ass in Chair.

If there is a legitimate reason for Not Getting Things Done (hey, I’m digging this capitalization motif), it’s the opposite of not having ideas. It’s having too many ideas. There are literally too many of them to know which ones to follow.

That’s known as a good problem.

But writing can be like threading a maze — you know there’s a way out, but the right path is tough to find. You know you want the girl to end up dead in a car wreck near the end of the first act, but how to get her into the car by herself and not with her clingy boyfriend? You know you want the thieves to destroy the valuable painting at the finale, but how to elegantly create that crisis without leaving your writer’s footprints — those are the real problems of writing.

There are no easy solutions, but two of them have worked for me quite a bit. My hero Ben Franklin taught me the first: He would put a ring of keys in his hand and let himself gently fall into that twilight area between sleep and wakefulness — the brain state in which ideas seem to jump out at you with the regularity of zombies at a county fair haunted house. When sleep would truly come, his hand would go limp, the keys would fall, and he would wake up and get back to work.

You don’t have to sleep with keys in your hand — just take a short nap, while letting your unconscious do the heavy lifting while you doze.

The second is perhaps more elusive. That’s the ‘Wait For It’ method. Sometimes it really is beneficial to put a project aside and work on another one — all the while your subconscious is sorting out the first one. Your brain is working to find that perfect key that fits that tough-to-crack lock — the one that supplies all the answers you need for your story to truly come to life.

This is not a new method at all, of course — people have been ’sleeping on it’ for centuries. But something about putting a project aside for a time (and getting busy with something else, that’s crucial) really works. Your brain is still occupied with the first story’s problems, but you’re maintaining forward momentum on the second project, thus having your cake and eating it too. Work is still getting done, but you’re not hurrying the process, not stuffing a ten pound solution into a five pound bag.

In this way, much work gets done in very little time, thus annihilating the so-called Writer’s Block.

You’re welcome.

The Tele

The-Tele3

Springsteen’s Tele. Coolest guitar ever? Possibly. Worst photo of me ever? Definitely. Who cares? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame won’t let you take photos in there, but we did anyway.

Seen up close, the guitar looks like its been in a few wars; it’s literally glued and duct-taped together, but I guess 35 years of night after night tends to do that …

Scratching Your Own Itch

The wonderfully pithy screenwriter John August has a great post up at his blog, johnaugust.com. I encourage you to read the entire thing over there, but the real meat on the bones is quoted below:

“Aspiring screenwriters will often throw a few loglines at me and ask which one they should write. My answer is always, “The one you would pay money to see.”

That’s … scratching your own itch. You’re writing movies you wish existed.

Looking at successful filmmakers — in particular, writer-directors — it’s pretty clear who is doing this. Tarantino makes movies to fill a special shelf at his fantasy video store. Wes Anderson makes movies his own characters would dissect over canapes.

If you have more mainstream taste, great. Embrace that. Scratch your own itch. But forget about “commercial” or “high concept.” If you’re writing a movie you yourself wouldn’t buy a ticket to see, you’re wasting everyone’s time.”

Your Ass Is Grass

Photo by kI-Ga

So, work on my new project Your Ass is Grass is gearing up. We’re firmly in the development phase, which means I can now talk about it and start getting the word out.

What is it? It’s my next next movie (after The Mourning Portrait), a post-modern neo-feminist retro-revenge tale — smart, violent, funny and dark. We’ve created a separate page to keep folks updated about the progress of the film. Thanks in advance for checking it out.

Can you tell I’m excited? (Photo by kI-GA.)

Kings and Queens

By Bill RhodesI’m usually behind the camera, but I managed to squeeze into Bill Rhodes’ photo of Ms. Brandi Hand, one of the fantastic dancers at the Ms. Gay Latina pageant doc in Asheville this weekend. Kudos to my friend Rowdy Rod Murphy for his mad directing skillz — he’s the king of low-drama excellence.

Look for lots more on that movie coming up — www.msgaylatina.com. We’re almost done with principal photography, with post to follow shortly. To read more about the show, check out this article

Ed Burns and the Future of Filmmaking

edward-burns-20050527-42370I’ve never really connected with Edward Burns, though we’re both Bruceheads and I totally acknowledge he’s an often interesting actor and writer/director. The Brothers McMullen was a watershed movie back in the ’90’s (“What? You can make a movie for $20K and not have it be as shallow as El Mariachi or as ugly as Clerks?”), but I’m not sure how well its aged. For me though, Burns has always been interesting because he thought outside the box regarding filmmaking and (particularly) distribution. (And for the fact that he’s married to Christie Turlington. Ahem.)

My own films so far have been small chamber pieces, much like his own. I enjoy the idea that movies can be about people, like they used to be back in the ’90’s – small films that may not capture the weekend box-office grosses, but were worthy and memorable all the same — Raymond Carver, say, meets Woody Allen. Burns’ films pretty much live there, too, and he seems to have a pretty cool way to keep going — to keep making art his own way. Maybe not getting rich at it, but keeping the flame alive, while maintaining complete creative control. In today’s movie world, that’s no small feat.

This interview from Ain’t It Cool News is an in-depth fascinating talk about this new model. It’s pretty much the same one I used when creating and distributing my latest movie, Alison — make small films, keep a low overhead, make a little money on the the distrib and keep going. Check it out — Burns has a lot of interesting things to say. I’ll definitely be taking a look at his newer movies.

In the meantime, I’ll let you know how things come out.

Alisonfest

Alison email Poster-4Seems my latest feature, the microbudget Alison recently swept the inaugural Los Angeles International Film Festival, winning Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and 2nd Best Feature overall. Crazy. We’ve done okay at some other fests around the country (Los Angeles Cinemafest, The Indie Gathering, Jamfest, LA Reel Film Festival), but nothing like this. Thanks so much to Jazz at the LAIFF for her support.

For those who don’t know, the LAIFF is a new, smaller festival with big plans. Keep an eye on these guys — they’re gonna be huge! Mark my words.

To learn more about Alison, go here. To read an article about Alison, go here.

A Film By … Lotsa People

by John CampbellFor better or worse, just as the proscenium arch is often seen as a writer’s medium, film is often seen as a director’s medium. The auteur theory posits that in the best films often there is one intelligence, one guiding individual who makes the majority of the decisions and is essentially responsible for the film’s … well, everything. Think Godard, Hitchcock, Kurosawa.

That theory is complete bullshit.

In movies you’ll sometimes see the title, followed by the oft-repeated words, ‘A Film by’ so and so. I can’t think of a more pure form of masturbation aside from just going into the bathroom alone and just making it happen. There are fewer attempts at communication that have less meaning. Most any live-action movie not directed by the weirdly-obsessive Stanley Kubrick is actually a film made by at least several, if not many, people. Countless decisions (thousands?) are made by the participants, only some of which are performed by the director. The rest are made by the so-called ‘crew’ — the ones who don’t get ‘a film by” next to their name.

These are the wardrobe folks, the stunt guys, the hair people, the cameramen — who alone make any number of in-the-moment decisions that account for the ‘look’ of the film. And this does not include the incredibly important — even globally crucial (in film terms)– contributions of the writer.

Its tragic that writers often get the short shrift in film, because as we all know, without a script there is no movie. Without the ideas behind the images, there’s no story. Without a story there’s no content. Filmmakers like Ridley Scott, David Fincher, even Tim Burton — incredibly talented directors who are often claimed as visionaries — don’t write their own scripts. The projects are essentially originated by someone else. The ideas come from elsewhere. Auteurs? Not even close.

Writer-directors like Kevin Smith or Paul Thomas Anderson are probably closer to auteurs, though Smith famously eschews the ‘a film by’ credit as well. He recognizes that even the ‘cable-pullers’ (as he calls them) contribute to a film.  PTA does include the ‘A film by’ tag on his movies, but where does that leave his Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit?  Was PTA responsible for that wonderful, almost hallucinogenic imagery that went along with There Will Be Blood?  Did he choose the F-stops and the lenses and the way the afternoon sun illuminated the dust just so?  Probably not.  Its fair to say that PTA didn’t shoot the film himself, thus accepting help from another creative contributor.  Thus ‘A film by PTA’ is simply a misnomer. Is Inglorious Basterds ‘a film by’ Quentin Tarantino?  Where does that leave the sublime Christoph Waltz, not to mention my buddy Manny Millar, who created Waltz’s hairstyle?

At best, directors guide, act as a stylistic mentor or point the right way for the countless craftsmen on a team to follow.  But hardly any micromanage so much as to make every decision.  Even Steven Soderbergh, the rare director who lights and shoots his own movies, must rely on countless others to make choices about how their own departments should run smoothly.  Even micro-budget movies (which I know all-too well) are full of decisions being made by the few other filmmakers on staff.  The actors alone are making countless on-the-fly decisions which ripple out to affect the entire movie.

Few art-forms are as collaborative as film.  That’s why most filmmakers like it — if we were truly interested in only our own vision, we’d be writers, who actually do chase a singular vision in their heads.  The rest is self-aggrandizement, ego and self-promotion.  The rest is, as John Campbell’s artwork at the head of this column so succinctly explains, a great big ‘Look at me.’