My Short Film Adventure – Post Production Editing

What could be better than squeezing into a tight editing room with a professional editor and the director of a short film for many hours? If you ask me, the writer of said film, nothing could be better. ūüôā

Paul, our editor; Hiroshi Hara our director and me ... intently editing a scene from Jordan's Jackhammer

Paul, our editor; Hiroshi Hara our director and me … intently editing a scene from Jordan’s Jackhammer

This week, I was invited to participate in two multi-hour editing sessions and it was thrilling to watch all the footage being crafted into the final product.

What’s especially satisfying is seeing how we are able to use so much of the wonderful work our actors gave us in take after take while the film was being shot. There are some really incredible moments based on the performances.

Ramon at the editing session

Ramon at the editing session

And although I won’t give away any of the jokes in the film (because it is a comedy, after all) what I can tell you is that some of the jokes are full on belly laughs. The pacing seems to be coming together nicely too.

There were some important lessons learned for me during this process too.

For example, when the script is X number of pages, it doesn’t account for any organic creative ideas that can spontaneously arise on set and might add to the total length of the piece.

Also, it’s probably obvious but … the number of days of shooting have a huge impact on what you have to work with in the editing room. We were extremely fortunate to have had four full days of filming for this short. And you’d think four days is a lot of coverage, and it is, but when it comes to the number of takes, the angles of a shot … all of that contributes to the choices available when everything is being pieced together.

For anyone that’s never been in an editing room, the process is fascinating. You are literally going through the film second by second. I’m not exaggerating. All four of us (see photos above) had an extended discussion about a 35 second “mini-scene” in the film and debated over whether or not that segment should be shortened to 29 seconds. We were split 50/50 for a while, but eventually decided to keep the full 35 second version in the film.

Yes, it’s that specific.

And while we got very close to a final version, we’re still not 100% completed with our editing yet. We’re going to have additional viewing time to provide feedback.

Once we have a “film lock,” it means the final length of the film is locked and set. Once that happens, the footage can be handed over to our sound design guy for sound and sound effects (which are numerous throughout), and our composer for the music, and also for voice over talent too. (Yeah, we are pretty fancy shmancy!)

I was extremely encouraged by our editor’s comments that “the production values are very high” on our little film. If they are, it’s due to the wonderful backing of our executive producers Ramon and Mike, of course supported by the cast and crew. (The script may have had a little to do with it too. ;-D)

Now, if we’re very fortunate, once everything is done and ready to be shown… our executive producers will be able to get this short film into some film festivals too. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself; that would be another posting in the future!

 

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More Short Film Adventures – Filming the Short!

I am grateful that the Executive Producers Ramon Torres and Mike Karp¬†have given me the go ahead to share top-secret backstage candid shots with you all on the making of our film project. ūüôā

First, the cast is amazing! We have a talented set of actors playing the five roles in the movie. We had a table reading of the script on April 23rd. Here is the complete cast:

L - R: Ramon Olmos Torres, Jessica Zinder, Lou Martini, Barbara Ann Davison, and Kristoffer Infante

L – R: Ramon Olmos Torres, Jessica Zinder, Lou Martini, Barbara Ann Davison, and Kristoffer Infante

 

And then, this past weekend I was on the set to watch and participate in the filming. It was SO exciting!! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a film being made, nevermind a film that I wrote being made.

 

It was surreal to see actors speaking my lines, and then when the take was over, having the crew cracking up (the film is a comedy). I was humbled to have several of the actors tell me they loved the script and thought it was funny. I can tell you the actors brought so much to the interpretation, they made whatever I wrote funnier.
Also our director, Hiroshi Hara, is doing an fantastic job!
Here are some candid behind the scenes shots:
Me in the middle being flanked by Kristoffer Infante (Doorman Ralph) and our wonderful Director, Hiroshi Hara!

Me in the middle being flanked by Kristoffer Infante (Doorman Ralph) and our wonderful Director, Hiroshi Hara!

 

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Lou Martini as Allen, the boss!

Lou Martini as Allen, the boss!

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Close up of Lou's lips on the monitor for a very funny moment in the movie

Close up of Lou’s lips on the monitor for a very funny moment in the movie

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It takes a LOT of equipment to make a film, and our crew has been really great including Andy Zou, our Assistant Director in the background

It takes a LOT of equipment to make a film, and our crew has been really great

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Ramon getting a make up touch up and his mic attached. (His character isn't sleeping which is why he looks like that!)

Ramon getting a make up touch up and his mic attached. (His character isn’t sleeping which is why he looks like that!)

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This coming weekend we will shoot the rest of the scenes and complete all of the filming. Everything has been shot on location in New York City, which is such a great backdrop for this story.

Then it’s off to editing for the final “making of the movie” along with the addition of the soundtrack and score and all the other bits needed for final polish.

More on this amazing, wonderful and exciting adventure soon!

Movie Review: Under the Skin is Underwhelming

Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer, starring Scarlett Johansson and written by Walter Campbell is the kind of movie you want to like, but can’t for many reasons.

The film opens with a highly abstract Kubrick-eque series of images that let the viewer know something is askew with reality from the start. It’s a kind of 2001 A Space Odyssey meets Aeon Flux meets I don’t know what.

Anyway, pretty soon we get to see Scarlett Johansson naked, while she undresses a corpse of a girl. Ms. J gets dressed in her clothes (hey, they fit!) What a way to go shopping…

Oh yeah, incidentally the whole film is shot in Scotland.

SPOILER ALERT… (don’t read beyond here if you don’t want spoilers)

Then her character (who has no name throughout the film) starts driving around in a van (not down by the river) looking to pick up guys. You think she is maybe trying to prostitute herself, but quickly realize she’s actually looking to seduce men into getting into her van so she can drag them off to a kill house.

All of the “killing” scenes are wierdly abstract. It shows her getting undressed, and them getting undressed. Yes, there are several scenes of full frontal male nudity and I will add the gentlemen in question are in various states of arousal which is, to say the least, not what you see in Hollywood.

In any case, the guys get nekked and then they walk toward her on this glassy black surface. Eventually they sink into the floor and disappear.

Kinda wierd, no?

Yeah.

Okay, well she does that a few times… and by the time it happens for the third time it’s really boring. The pacing of this movie is SLOOOOOOOOOW.

The couple sitting in front of me got up and left before the third guy “died,” and even I was sitting there thinking, when do we get to see the plot unfold?

Answer … the plot unfolds about¬†2 minutes before the end of this two hour debacle.

Rather than torture you the way the movie tortured me, I’ll cut to the chase. Mind you, this is literally the last 2-3 minutes of this film:

The character is an alien being from another planet. I guess the alien was seducing the guys to feed on them, maybe. (Who cares?)

In the very last scene the alien peels off Scarlett Johansson’s body and underneath is a shiny black skinned bald creature – that still somehow has Scarlett Johansson’s face. Then the alien gets doused in gasoline, is set on fire, runs into the woods, falls down, dies and burns up.

The last shot of the film is the black smoke from the body rising up into the sky. Ooooh, very moody.

And freaking annoying as hell.

Do not bother to see this film unless you are some guy who wants to see Scarlett Johansson naked, then in that case you can contribute to the paltry $1.1M box office this film is pulling in. Good luck with that…

My short film adventure, continued

About a month ago I posted My Short Film Adventure, So Far and this is a follow up post to that.

Lesson number one – just when you think the script is finished, it’s not.

It’s been really interesting to see the process unfold on this project, which I have to imagine is very similar to many film projects.

I was brought on board by the two producers of the film to write the script, but none of the rest of the crew had been hired yet. Including the director. Since I’m a newbie in this space, I figured once I delivered a script the producers liked, that’s what would be used. Not quite.

What I came to understand very quickly, is the relationship between the Director and the writer is extremely important.¬†In fact,¬†for future projects I’d want to know who the Director would be and meet that person before undertaking the writing of a script because the Director has to be comfortable with me as a writer and what I’m bringing to the table, and I have to be comfortable with that person as the Director and incorporating elements that person wants to ensure there is a meshing of the vision for the film.

Thankfully, the Director on this film project has been easy to work with and made some good suggestions about script changes and changing the order of scenes I wrote to enhance the overall flow of the film.

Then, the Director of Photography (DP) also made some modifications to the script based on the fact that the way I wrote certain descriptions would have been very expensive to shoot. (Oops, I didn’t realize that one description would have required a fancy crane shot!)

Then, the producers asked me would I mind terribly changing the ending because the location I’d written for the end scene was expensive and was proving difficult to secure. And if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could I change the nature of the pet of one of the characters because of other complications. Sure, I said. No problem. ūüôā

And so it is that I’ve now delivered version 15 of the rewritten script, which might just be final. Maybe. Probably.

Except that…

I’m going to go out on a limb here (it’s not much of a limb) and guess that no final script, no matter how perfectly written, is exactly what’s delivered on screen. That’s probably a good thing in many cases.

The director and actors will do their job during the shooting of the film which will enhance and modify whatever is in the script, and then there will be an editing process which I’m sure will shape whatever comes out in the end as the final product for the entire crew’s efforts.

But while I’ve been pondering the script and laboring over whatever changes were needed, the producers have been really hard at work doing everything else. That included hiring a casting agent and casting the five roles in the film. I’m SO EXCITED by the amazing cast they’ve hired. These people are incredible actors with impressive credits to their names, I’m sure they will bring the characters I wrote fully to life!

The locations have mostly been nailed down, the director, DP and sound guy are onboard, and the producers keep going. I can’t even imagine how they are getting all this done so quickly.

But for me, the writer, my big event which is scheduled for next week, is a table reading of the script by the actors. It will be the first time the cast has been fully assembled and hearing the actors reading my dialogue will be thrilling.

Just a few days after that, filming will begin! If I’m given permission, I will bring a camera to the shoot and take photos of “the making of” this film.

So, up next, the actors reading my script together as a group for the first time. How exciting is that?!

Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a charming marvel. It’s a masterful¬†combination of great acting, great dialogue with an absurd and humorous plot, and unbelievable attention to detail.

Production designer Adam Stockhausen is a miracle worker. Every moment in the film is so carefully designed, it’s beautiful to watch for that reason alone. Even with the sound off,¬†I think the movie would be¬†so visually arresting the viewing would create its own pleasure. (My favorite “sound” moment in the film is when there are two cable cars that stop on a wire, and the squeaking of the cars on the wire is in time to the soundtrack music in the background. It’s pure genius.)

Every moment we spend in the Grand Budapest, both in the “past” and in the “present” are delights, right down to the cracked plaster, orange curtains, pink-boxed pastries, and purple and red uniforms for the Grand Budapest staff.

In typical Wes Anderson style, there are tons of cameos from his regular buddies, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and a few small parts played by well known actors that are new to the Anderson pantheon: Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton as an ideosyncratic 80-something dowager, and F. Murray Abraham as the narrator who steals every scene he’s in with Jude Law.

Jeff Goldblum is also amusing as the lawyer overseeing the dowager’s last will. Other star turns are put in by Edward Norton as a police chief, Willem Dafoe as a psychopathic killer, and Adrian Brody as the evil son of the deceased dowager.

The star of the movie, though, is Ralph Fiennes as the divine Monsieur Gustave. He plays this role with just the right touch.

Without giving the film away (this will be a spoiler-free review) I can highly recommend this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching the amazing performances of such a huge and distinguished cast, as they romp all over these incredible gorgeous sets.

I saw the movie in New York City, and much to my dismay, the film is only playing in two theaters in the city right now. I don’t know why this movie is in such limited release. That baffles me.

But if you are a Wes Anderson fan (and who doesn’t love movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve¬†Zissou¬†and The Fantastic Mr. Fox?) you should rush out to see this movie before it’s gone.

A New Way of Looking at Sex: My Thoughts on Don Jon

I highly recommend the new film Don Jon, which marks the directorial debut of well known actor Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Levitt plays the lead character, Don Jon (with the obvious reference to Don Juan,) a devout Italian Catholic guy from New Jersey who is a gym rat, has dinner with his family every Sunday after church, and spends Saturday nights clubbing with his “boys” and finding a random woman to lure home to his pad to have sex.

Oh yeah, he also has a rabid addiction to internet pornography. This addiction is the central issue the character must deal with in the film and come to understand how it is affecting his relationships with women.

And while this sounds like it could be an episode of Jersey Shore, there is something more to this character that we come to understand toward the end of the film, about his vulnerability as a man.

Both of the primary women characters in the movie are played brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson as the “10” he meets in the club and who becomes his girlfriend; and Julianne Moore, a woman damaged by life’s circumstances who Don Jon meets in a class when he goes back to school. Tony Danza also gets a star turn as Jon’s father, and although Danza’s performance is spot on, the character is written as an “macho Italian old-fashioned NJ guy” sterotype.

What I liked about the film was its unflinching look at how a guy like Don Jon relies on pornography, despite the fact that he’s having regular sex with real women and how he explains (in voice overs) that he still believes the pornography is better than the women he is having sex with (since real life cannot compete with the perfection of a fantasy on a screen.)

And what Don Jon finds out, in the end, is that the new way of looking at sex is the old way of looking at sex: it means most when it’s with someone you care about. And while that may sound like a sappy hollywood ending, I assure you its not.

In the new world, sex is about caring, but it doesn’t come with the trappings of fairy tale weddings, babies and perfection… it comes through a deeper emotional understanding which means Jon’s giving up the one-sided nature of being a voyeur in his own life.

Film Review: Pina, a film by Wim Wenders

Pina is an art film by Wim Wenders dedicated to Pina Bausch, a German choreographer who has given the world some amazing avant garde dance … which is very hard to describe.

I’d like to share this clip from the soundtrack by talented musician Jun Miyake. It’s called Lilies of the Valley. It gives you a sense of how upbeat some of the music is, although many of the pieces were also dark and deeply emotional to watch.

This piece, from the Opening, I felt to be the strongest of the entire film. You immediately know, when you watch a piece like this you are going to be watching something extraordinary.

What you don’t¬†see in this clip though, is how the¬†dancers start the scene – by spreading¬†dirt on the stage to dance on as their surface.

There is a lot of use of open air settings, using “props” like dirt or water, or other natural elements… leaves, grass, etc to convey something larger than just human beings interacting with one another, they are interacting with the entire world and its environment.

Here are some other arresting images and music from the film:

I have one criticism of this film¬†though. First, Pina was presented in 3D and it was the concensus of me and my friend, along with the chatter of others in the audience when the film was over, that the 3D didn’t add enough to the presentation of the film to justify its use. When going to the art house for one movie costs $16 or $17 bucks in Manhattan, you know your audience is expecting you to wow them if you’re going to bother with 3D.

You’d think a clip like this would be enhanced by 3D, but I swear, what you see here is basically the same thing I saw in the theater:

Finally, I’m not a big dance afficianado, but I enjoyed this film. My friend, who loves dance, came out of the movie on a cloud, she really loved every minute of it. There were spots that dragged a bit for me, and because some of the dancing is deeply emotional, it’s quite difficult to sit through two hours of dancing with no plot and essentially no dialogue.

I would recommend going to see this film if you enjoy dance, especially contemporary avant garde dance, but be prepared to pay that extra bit for 3D glasses you don’t really need.

Film Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a lovely movie. It’s about an 85 year old sushi chef who owns the only 10 seat sushi restaurant in the world to be given 3 Michelin stars. More importantly though, the film is about a lifelong quest for perfection in this food art.

I don’t eat sushi, so when I saw all the food being prepared my thought wasn’t, oh that looks delicious, but more about how beautiful it looks.

Some of the very rare tuna (toro, in Japanese) is a gorgeous shade of transluscent ruby red, glistening with the veneer of soy sauce applied just before the patron consumes their meal. If it wasn’t food, you might think it was a precious jewel sitting atop a perfectly formed piece of rice to support it.

The movie also gives us a look into Jiro’s family, his relationship with his two sons, the younger of whom left to open his own restaurant years ago, and the elder son, now 50 years old and who has worked for his father since he was 19, and will inherit the business when Jiro retires or passes away.

This movie is incredibly zen. Jiro’s pursuit of sushi perfection has made him strict in his daily routine, and he never takes a day off (except national holidays.) He does the same things ever day, day after day, and has done so for 75 years.

I’d recommend anyone see this movie if they enjoy watching an artisan who has achieved a level of mastery very few, if any, have done.

Film Review: A Separation

A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for the 2011 season. I saw the movie yesterday, and it was fascinating to watch, although perhaps a bit long as the film clocks in at a whopping two and a half hours. I’d recommend¬†Americans¬†watch the film because it provides some insight into Iranian culture.

The set up for the events is a wife decides she wants to separate from her husband because she has applied for travel visas (it is¬†implied to leave the country and perhaps go to the United States – it’s never made clear) but the husband changed his mind and no longer wants to go. The wife goes to¬†live with her parents while the husband stays at home and cares for his elderly father suffering from Alzheimers and the couple’s 11 or 12 year old daughter.

Once the wife leaves, the husband hires a woman to come in and care for the father during the day while the husband is at work. The woman that comes in is pregnant, and brings along a very young girl, maybe 5 years old.

After that the storyline gets very complicated, and if I say much more I’ll spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

I will say this, there are a lot of scenes in the movie where we see how “justice” is served in Iran. There is no such thing as a court room as we understand it in the United States, and no jury either. The magistrate (not a judge) overseeing the cases does some interviews with “witnesses” or people who might make character references for those being accused of crimes, but in the end the magistrate just decides whether or not he believes the person is guilty and then assigns the punishment. The scenes in the film showing these segments always show the magistrate sitting at a desk in a small office, and the parties being accused sit in chairs in front of the desk, along with their spouses (who often say stuff and interfere during the proceedings.)

I saw the movie with a friend, and her observation was that every character in the film (including both young girls, who are called upon to make their own observations about what happened) winds up withholding information from everyone else. (The exception is the elderly father who doesn’t speak.) Ironically, the characters in the film often try to tell the truth but on the way to telling the truth, things wind up getting very convoluted. Religious belief systems¬†are implied as at least one of the reasons this happens.

In the end, we’re left with a deep impression of how challenging life in modern Iran can be, and the entanglements of families, religious beliefs and societal norms all have a deep affect on the quality of life available.

My Oscar Predictions – Sort of

Here are my Oscar predictions for tonight. Oh yeah, I haven’t seen all the movies, but do you really think that’s gonna stop me? Also, this past year wasn’t exactly a series of knockout films either. But the show must go on!

Best Oscar Host: Billy Crystal, who else? Yes, I want to watch him dance around and hear his cheesy “It’s a Wonderful Night for Oscar” song about the best picture flicks, so sue me.

Best Actor – George Clooney for The Descendants. Yes, I think he’s going to beat that French guy no one has heard of for The Artist. In my opinion, George Clooney did a much better job in Out of Sight than The Descendants, but I think he’s a favorite to win for sentimental reasons.

Best Actress – Viola Davis for The Help. I haven’t seen the movie, so this is a guess based on everybody saying Viola Davis. Everyone keeps saying -as usual- it was Meryl’s to lose for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, but apparently The Iron Lady¬†wasn’t that good so Meryl gets another rubber chicken dinner and she can smile at the camera and shrug, as if to say, oh well…I’ll do it again next year, so don’t worry about little ol’ me.

Actor/Actress in a Supporting RoleWho cares? I haven’t seen any of these movies, although I really wish I had had a chance to see Bridesmaids, damn it. Maybe Melissa McCarthy will win, but I doubt it since she is up against 2 supporting noms for The Help. Also, have you noticed how nobody has been talking about these categories at all. If Jonah Hill wins for Moneyball, I’ll laugh my butt off. It’ll probably be sentimental favs either Christopher Plummer or Max von Sydow.

Best Director – it’ll be a little sad to see that in a category this year with both Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen that neither of them will win. Maybe the director of The Artist (again who no one has ever heard of and by no one I mean me) will take this one, then again, it could go to Alexander Payne for The Decendants, but it’ll definitely be one of the two of them.

Best Picture – The Descendants. I actually saw this movie, and I didn’t think it was all that great. It was “okay” with decent plot twists. It’s really a reflection of a not-that-great year in movies. I need to go see The Artist. You know The Artist has The Weinstein’s behind it, and we all know what Bob and Harvey can do for a movie (Shakespeare in Love, anybody?) so I guess it’s possible The Artist could pull it away from The Descendants, but I don’t know… a silent, black and white movie starring French people? Nah… come on.

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Post Oscar re-cant – so clearly it’s¬†a bad idea to not watch movies and then try to predict what’s going to happen. Here’s who actually won:

Best Actor – Jean DuJardin, The Artist

Best Actress – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady (Yay!)

Best Director Рthe French Director from The Artist

Best Picture – The Artist

What movie do I need to go out and see immediately? The Artist.

Thank you and good night!

Top 10 movies I’ve never seen

In doing all these lists, I realized there are still movies out there I haven’t seen from beginning to end that I probably should.¬† Some of these are big, famous films that I’ve somehow never gotten around to…and others I’ll have to admit I’ve avoided.

  • Gone with the Wind (I’ve just never been all that interested. I saw Dr. Zhivago and I thought “eh.” Zhivago seems 60’s and dated now, in my opinion.)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (I’ve seen parts, but not the whole thing from beginning to end. I’ve also never seen Charade or Roman Holiday either, oops)
  • The Maltese Falcon (Seen parts, but not the whole thing)
  • Last Tango in Paris (this was controversial at the time it came out, I remember that much)
  • Dial M for Murder and Strangers on a Train (which Throw Momma from the Train was based on, and I loved that comedy with Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito)
  • The Birth of a Nation (yeah, I know I “should” see it for historical reference purposes, I just never have…)
  • The Seventh Seal (the only reason I want to see this Ingmar Bergman flick is because Marty Scorsese and Woody Allen say it’s like the best movie of all time, but it seems like an acquired taste)
  • The 400 Blows (same as #7, Truffaut is one of those film makers I know I should watch)
  • Nashville (I love all things Altman, I’m embarassed to say I haven’t seen this one)
  • Dr. Strangelove (I’ve seen parts, of course everyone has seen the shot of that guy riding the bomb, but I’ve never seen the whole thing beginning to end.)

What movies should you see that you haven’t (yet)?

More Top Movies – Devastating Performances

I woke up this morning with my head swimming with movies I forgot to mention…fantastic movies that are crying out to be here, and again, I’m sure I could keep going and going… these dozen represent high water marks of talent and performance in my mind.

  1. Amadeus (Tom Hulce and of course F. Murray Abraham are amazing)
  2. Breaking the Waves (what an amazing performance by Emily Watson!)
  3. Marathon Man (Dustin Hoffman and Sir Lawrence Olivier, could you ask for more?)
  4. The Boys from Brazil (Gregory Peck is haunting)
  5. The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (the ORIGINAL with Walter Matthau thank you very much)
  6. Ocean’s 11 (not the original with Frank Sinatra, the new one with George, Brad, Matt and co. Okay, okay – lots of hunky guys who are easy on the eyes)
  7. Little Big Man (another incredible performance by Dustin Hoffman)
  8. Bound (Gina Gershon knocks it out of the park)
  9. The Big Chill (what a cast!)
  10. The Apartment (Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are delish)
  11. Gandhi (Ben Kingsley won the Oscar for this one, as he should have)
  12. Less Than Zero (Robert Downey Jr. is devastating in this, and it foreshadows aspects of his struggles with drugs in his own life…)