Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Plant of the Apes

Just plain fun.  That's the best way to describe this perfect summer movie.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes has action, really good characterization and the best performance of the year.

That's right, I'll say it - Caesar the Ape (Andy Serkis and a lot of CGI) gives the best performance of the year.  It is heartbreaking, empowering and flat out exciting.  The rest of the apes as well.  It's amazing that most of the human characters blend together - but the apes are all so unique.  James Franco does a good job as well, but it is Caesar's movie.  Brian Cox is good, the kid who plays Draco Malfoy in the Potter movies plays a weirdly over the top villain (but it works for the movie).  Freida Pinto looks amazing, but her presence is rather pointless.

You wind up wildly rooting for the apes - and this turns into an all out brawl on the streets of San Francisco.  And it is a lot of fun.  Just watching the apes storm the city is breathtaking.  It's saying something when your heart breaks when apes die, but you don't even blink when the humans die.

Definitely worthy of the ticket price.  In fact, it may be my favorite movie of 2011 thus far.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Top 5 Heist Movies

To qualify – the movie must revolve around or culminate in a heist.  It can start with a big heist, but everything from there on out should be because of the heist (Riffifi). Something like Goodfellas, where there is the Luftansa heist, doesn’t count because it is just a small piece of the puzzle.  I would include Bonnie and Clyde, as well as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in that mix as well, where it is about the characters, not the heists they are pulling.

Top 5

Next 5:
  • Fast and Furious
  • Safemen
  • Three Kings
  • The Sting
  • The Saint

Honorable Mentions:
  • Ocean’s Twelve
  • Riffifi
  • The Bank Job
  • Italian Job
  • Confidence
  • The Inside Man
  • Duplicity
  • Killing Zoe
  • The Lookout
  • Nothing to Lose
  • Reindeer Games
  • Ronin
  • Street Thief (documentary)
  • Swordfish
  • Takers
  • Taking of Pelham 123 (original, 2009)
  • Thief

Monday, August 29, 2011

Top 5 Haunted House Movies

To qualify for this list, a film’s antagonist must be the dwelling or location from the film.  So, something like Psycho doesn’t qualify, because although the horror elements take place in one primary location – they are perpetrated by a human, not the house, or motel, itself.
Honorable Mentions:
  • Paranormal Activity
  • Darkness Falls

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bulderlyns Colorist - Dmitry Dubrovin!

And the Spoke Lane team keeps growing!  I'm really pumped to announce that, after an exhaustive (from NY to California and literally across the globe), we have inked a deal with Moscow-based artist Dmitry 'Lemon5ky' Dubrovin to color Bulderlyns, the young adult graphic novel which is currently in production.

Polish artist Igor Wolski is doing pencils, and Pawel is inking the book.  We're into the 40's (of about 150 pages)... all of which Dmitry can dive right in on.

There's just something about his colors that stand out.  They have a depth and texture that most who are coloring digitally just can't seem to match.  This guy rocks.  Here are a few of his samples:




Movie Review: All Good Things

All Good Things was something that came up as a recommend for me on Netflix and I remember it being made, but no waves were made when it eventually came out.  I can't stand Kirsten Dunst, but I am a big Ryan Gosling fan.  And what a great first name.  I liked Jarecki's docu Capturing the Friedman's and dove right into this.

It was well made - and the style took you right back to the time period (70's thru 00's).  That was really surprising and a pleasant surprise.  I actually researched this case, about a guy who is accused (but never convicted) of killing two women, after I heard about the movie.  Why?  Because I'm obsessed with serial killers and the first wife was actually from Long Island.  I'm also obsessed with Long Island.

The film was okay.  That's what I'll say about it.  The story was engrossing, but mostly based on Gosling's performance.  I knew where it was going, so I was waiting for the explosion - or how they would do it.  And watching this guy simmering beneath the surface from Gosling's performance was really something.  But the story itself was slow moving (I'm guessing intentionally)... and not as much of a mystery as I was hoping.  They basically paint him out to be the killer and leave no room for other culprits.

For those that are interested - he's accused of killing the first wife - but her body was never found and she's actually still considered a missing person (not a dead body).

My R.E.M. Re-Watch Movie List

As I prepare to push forward with my first feature as a director, R.E.M., there are a handful of films that I am going to re-watch a few times.  Either they have the look and feel that I would like, the pace is equivalent, they take place in similar worlds, etc...

They are (and the list will continue to grow):

Monday, August 22, 2011

Top 5 Revenge Movies

For this list, I'm discounting any sport rivalry movies. Because that isn’t revenge, it is more comeuppance. Or soldiers given order and/or sent on a mission (such as Munich).

Someone had to wrong you and you had to go out of your way to get payback. And/or the lead wronged someone and they are coming for payback.

My Top 5:

Braveheart - all because they killed his love.
Young Guns - all because those bastards killed John Tunstall.
Out for Justice - all because Richie killed Bobby.  
Conan the Barbarian - James Earl Jones and a bunch of jacked dudes killed Conan's mother and father.
Old Boy - this is some serious revenge. If you haven't seen it, you really should.  Don't want to give anything away.

Next 5 (Top 10):

These could have easily been the top 5.  Really tough list to make.

Revenge of the Nerds 
The Bourne Identity / The Bourne Supremacy

Next 5:

One Crazy Summer
Rocky IV
The Limey
Kill Bill Vol. I

Honorable Mention (alphabetical):

Boondock Saints
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo
Death Wish
El Mariachi
Friday the 13th
Mean Girls
Nothing to Lose
Office Space
Point Blank / Payback
Red Hill
Road to Perdition
Robin Hood (Original)
The Crow
The Firm
The Player
Thelma & Louise
Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What to Write Next?

After coming off producing White Space, it has been hard to motivate to write something new.  But now I'm back in the game and ready to pull the trigger.  I just can't decide where my focus should be.  Well, to be honest, my focus is on the R.E.M. feature.  But that only occupies a section of my brain each day, as I can only do so much in one day on it (without the cash in hand).  I've also had a lot going on with the graphic novels in the last two weeks (Bulderlyns, R.E.M. (4.2.3. prequel book) and Chasing Rabbits).  But again, it is different from writing.

Right now I'm deciding between the following:

-The Beast novella.  The script is written and I have a very, very loose prose translation.  It needs a tremendous amount of work.

- Penny Black script. Since I'm focusing so heavily on R.E.M. right now, although this is cool - the idea was a project I could do for around $100,000.  I'm also having a hard time getting in the lead character's head.

- Undercover Cop Show.  This would be like a cross between The Wire and Sopranos.  Like a Donnie Brasco/Departed (although I prefer Infernal Affairs) television show.  Each season would be a new 'case', much like each season of The Wire focused on a new element.  The idea is that the first season's overarching storyline is that this one cop's partner got killed and he's dead set on finding out who did it, no matter the cost to him or his family/loved ones.

I guess right now it would be between The Beast and this TV show.  It's probably easier for me to write The Beast, and more efficient.  However, I then have to begin the long process of printing the books (or shopping for a publisher) and promotion, etc...  and for little in return (potentially).  Since White Space didn't really pay me much (or anything), this has the TV show in the lead.  But, it too is daunting because it's not one script - I have to develop the series/characters behind it.  And probably plot out the whole first season.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

31 Questions for New Filmmakers - Part VI

The Ethics of Creating is what these last two questions pertain to. Once again, these questions were posited by Ted Hope and I've had a lot of fun answering them.

I will start by saying that I don't believe in ethics.  They are just prescribed morals.  I have morals that guide me, but loathe anything to do with 'ethics'.  The word itself irks me.  That said, here you go...

Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? 

No.   They have a responsibility to tell good stories.  If those stories are about a specific culture – then they should be giving the most honest glimpse into that culture they can.  But, this is a business and things are changed or sensationalized to pull the most profit.  There is nothing wrong with that – but eventually I think cinemagoers will see right through those filmmakers.

Do you feel that being a creative person requires that you give back or tell a particular story or not do something else? Why or why not?

I don’t feel that I need to give back or tell a particular story for the reasons that this question is implying.  I do feel the need or yearning to tell specific or particular stories because they have embedded themselves into my head and are, for lack of a better phrase, bursting at the seams to get out.  The only one I’m responsible for pleasing in an ethical or moral way is myself.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chasing Rabbits Artist - Sigit Nugroho

To say that Chasing Rabbits is my personal favorite in terms of scripts I've written would be an understatement.  I've gone through a long, bumpy journey to find the right artist in regard to the graphic novel.  And I'm pretty excited to announce Sigit Nugroho is the man.

Although I have nothing from the book to show, he's already hard at work on the character designs...  What I can share are some of his samples.  Enjoy.

31 Questions for New Filmmakers - Part V

Today I answer Ted Hope's questions regarding The Changing Film World.

When I got started, if your film got into Sundance, it meant people would see it in America, and maybe the world. I used to be confident that my partners and I could get two or more major distribution slots a year. Now that control and scarcity don’t define the Entertainment Economy, but superabundance & access do, how does that change things for creators? There are 45,000 films generated globally annually, and the largest consumption market in the world – the US – currently consumes only 1% of the output. Recognizing that, are you changing the way you work, changing what you create? How? Why? Or why not?

In regard to the stories I’m interested in telling – no.  In the way I tell them, yes, slightly.  With that in mind we have to be more conscious of our budgets.  With more choices and platforms, things are more easily digested and therefore more disposable.  There are very few ‘classic’ films made nowadays (and if they are, they are coming from oversees).  It is harder and harder to recoup your budget, so the way we make films must change. Also, it pays to tell your story over a few mediums (this stupid word ‘transmedia’ comes to mind).  I just happened to love comics/graphic novels, so was getting into this field anyway – but I think I could be doing a much better job branching off and telling more stories within that same world (Harbor Moon comes to mind, as does REM – my second graphic novel and what will be my first feature film).  Just telling the same story in a different medium is boring.  What excites me, and what I wish I caught onto sooner, is using each medium to tell a different story within that world.

I am a big believer in the importance of social media in many aspects of the film process.  Are you on social media and do you use it in your work? Why or why not?

I am on social media.  
  • I keep a blog (you’re probably reading it right now:
  • Twitter @spokelane
  • Facebook: Spoke Lane Entertainment
  • Digg: citydoglax
  • LinkedIn:

I use my Ryan Colucci facebook account for actual friends and family.  I don’t do business on there. Same goes for my personal twitter account @ryancolucci, where I post more personal updates.

I think social media is a great way to stay connected to your audience (or if you are the audience – filmmakers you respect), and more importantly stay current with what they are doing.  I get more of my news from Twitter feeds than anywhere else nowadays.  The key is being selective with who you follow so your feed doesn’t get overrun with nonsense.  That said, if you follow me at @spokelane – I will follow you back.  I’m good like that. 
When I got started there were two screens: the movie screen and the television screen.  Now there are also computers, tablets, and phones. And screens are everywhere: the home, the bus stop, the elevator, the taxi cab. As a creator how does this effect the stories you tell and how you tell them?

I find this exciting.  Of course, I think that as a whole – I would love to have been coming up in a time when movies were actually made on film and appreciated, rather than digested and forgotten.  But I think having all of these ‘screens’ opens the world of storytelling up.  I’m not a big fan of the term transmedia, but I love what it stands for.  I have always been captivated by the world of Star Wars, how it started as three films and quickly grew to encompass books, comics, toys, video games and animated series – all telling different stories within that universe.  There are so many projects I think benefit from that – I think the danger is believing that every project can benefit from that kind of storytelling. 

I guess my one gripe with all of these screens, and ease of access is how easily forgotten digested media is. And with that comes a lack of production value.  Because it is cheaper to spit these things out – knowing they have a short shelf life.  I wish we would care more about how things looked overall.  It’s not just about telling a story sometimes – it’s about providing people with a visual experience.

If there is one or more thing you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?

Regulate managers like agencies are regulated.  They are, I believe, the cause of a lot of problems within the ‘system’.  It would also make agents actually do their job (trying to secure work for their clients), rather than just being a screening service. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top 5 Damn It's Hot Movies

More top five goodness. This one is Top 5 Damn It's Hot Movies.  For a movie to qualify, the heat (or sweltering heat) must play some part in the story - even if it is visual.  Films that take place during summer or in the sun don't count, unless that summer sun is really roasting. Also, the entire movie should take place in the heat, with no scenes of winter/etc...

I found that most of my choices were actually war movies.  We tend to fight a lot of our wars (at least modern wars) in locations with sweltering heat.
  1. City of God
  2. Friday Night Lights
  3. Lord of the Flies
  4. Predator
  5. Kids
Honorable Mentions (I got a lot of them - and I think some of these can be disputed if they can be considered 'damn it's hot'):

Flamingo Kid
Dog Day Afternoon
In America
Lawrence of Arabia
Apocalypse Now
Amores Perros
Cool Hand Luke
Black Hawk Down
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Barton Fink
Hurt Locker
12 Angry Men
Laurel Canyon
Laws of Gravity
Sin Nombre
Three Kings
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Tropic Thunder
White Men Can't Jump

31 Questions for New Filmmakers - Part IV

The fourth series of questions posed by Ted Hope deal with The Structure of the Business.

Is the film business fair? Why or why not? How do you make the apparatus work for you?

I’m going to pass on this question, as I think it is a personal question – not an industry question. It’s fair if you work hard and produce good material. I have scripts I think are amazing that haven’t broken through – do I blame the system?  No, it just hasn’t hit the right eyes yet. It has nothing to do with race, color, religion, sex, etc…

Is it the filmmaker’s responsibility to find and develop your audience? Why do you feel that way? How will you collaborate with your audience, and how won’t you?

Yes, it is.  Even if your film lands at a studio with an eight figure marketing budget – why would you abandon it when it needs you most? You can be out there on social media talking about it, engaging your audience, giving interviews, soliciting press, doing whatever you can to get eyeballs on your product. You can’t rely on anyone to do your job for you. Don’t regret anything.

I will make myself as available as I can to my audience. I am a pretty private person (this blog is fairly open, but if you know me – you know I’m very quiet, go about my business, etc…), but if you are a creator of any kind – you have to deal with the fact that you are now in the public eye and people may want to know about you, your life, etc… The best part about going to conventions and stuff isn’t talking about my book per se, it is just talking to like minded people and making connections. That’s really hard for me because I am not super out-going, but I’m open and excited about people. I’m not the type of person that looks down at the audience, I am my audience to a certain degree.  I’m a fan and I know what I want/expect as a fan – and hope to provide the same in return.

What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I can only answer this as an audience member myself.  I usually want one of two things – to escape life for an hour or two or to experience a new culture/society/part of the world. Yes, I think it is our responsibility to worry about that, only because if you don’t deliver on one of those two then why exactly are you telling your story?

Is it possible to sell out? What would that mean to you and would you like it to happen or not? What do you do to encourage the professional approach you want?

Yes, taking on any project for money.

Sometimes it is necessary to actually live and pay the bills.  As long as you are aware of this, and don’t ever forget it – you could be okay. John Sayles has made a career out of getting big bucks for studio writing work and then using that money to make his own movies. I’ve been broke for so long I don’t know what it is like to have money, so recently I put a movie into production as a cash grab.  It had also been 3 years since I have produced a film, so the clock was ticking. It was a necessity. I still want that film to be the best it can be and have made it my top priority. If I’m going to do something, I try to at least give it my all. I am pretty confident I won’t get sucked into being a sell out though.

If I was asked what was the most important advice I could give a filmmaker starting out, it would be “Try to manage your life so that you will feel as good about the film industry in fifteen years as you do now.” In your experience, is that true, and what can filmmakers do to achieve that challenge?

I don’t think I’m experienced enough to answer this question. I guess I can say that if I ever do this to make money, rather than because I love film – then yes, I would agree. 

What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

My early film life was more immersed in the festival world. I watched a lot of shorts and indies at festivals from college through grad school and my early film career, working at Snoot and looking for projects/directors. I found the short The Freak – by the director of the short Terra, which later became my first feature film as a producer, Battle for Terra, at a film festival.

I don’t spend much time at them now, but they are necessary curators of projects, especially now that everyone has access to a camera and editing equipment. Some  (eventual) mainstream movies start at small festivals and grow from there.  Where would those films wind up without that exposure or launching pad? 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Top 5 One Spot Movies

In an effort to generate more writing and film discussion from myself, I'm going to start posting my reactions to the polls they do each week on the podcast Filmspotting.  If you like film and don't listen, they have some great and insightful discussions there each week.

The first one I'll hit up is the Top 5 One Spot Movies - movies that take place almost exclusively in one location. This can't be a sprawling location (like the town in 30 Days of Night or Bad Day at Black Rock, or the jungle in Juarassic Park or Lord of the Flies). Or take place in one location with a lot of different flashbacks (Reservoir Dogs) or dream sequence type events (Beetlejuice).
  1. The Shining
  2. Clerks
  3. Night of the Living Dead
  4. Alien (and Aliens)
  5. Clue
Honorable Mentions:

Murder on the Orient Express
Rear Window
Open Water
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Disney version)
Panic Room
The Abyss
Bad Boys (Sean Penn version)
Hands on a Hard Body
Klute (original version)
Murder on the Orient Express
The Name of the Rose

Saturday, August 13, 2011

31 Questions for New Filmmakers - Part III

Here is the third set of questions from Ted Hope's 31 Questions for Filmmakers, which deal with The Process of Creating.

Generally speaking, when we want to learn about a film, we talk to the director.  But those that make films, know how much they are really collaborations. What makes a fruitful collaboration? What do you do to enhance the collaborative process?

Respect.  It is hard to collaborate with someone you don’t respect. I’m not going to lie and tell you I respect everyone – I don’t.  I think there are a lot of morons out there, and I tend to wear my feelings on my sleeve.  I’m condescending and somewhat sharp-tongued, so if I don’t respect you – there’s a chance you know it. And if I don’t respect you, how on earth can I take insight from you?  I can’t. There are things that can elevate you if you are not necessarily the top at your field – hard work. I can respect that.

It is said that there are only six stories. Maybe twelve. It’s all been done before. And we have seen it all. What do you do to keep it fresh? Is there anything that you can do to subvert the process to keep it original?

That may be true, but there are many ways to tell the same story.  I think the most drastic is where you choose to set your story.  Look at two movies about human organ trafficking – Turistas and Dirty Pretty Things.  The former is based on a bad script, with a mediocre director and crew set in South American jungles.  The latter is an amazing script, with a top notch director and crew set in London.  

To keep it original I try to write about locations I know.  That way my characters feel more real and authentic.  I like to think that when I watch a movie, no matter how fantastical, that I’m being shown a glimpse of that world – almost like a documentary.  And if those characters and places don’t feel real, the movie crumbles for me.

We get noticed because of our successes – but we create them on the back of our failures.  We learn best from the experiences where it doesn’t work.  And yet we still only discuss the success, not the failure. What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?

This is a hard one to answer without throwing certain people under the bus. I will try. My first feature is at the same time my biggest success and biggest failure. We were able to build an animation studio from scratch, get an animated film made from start to finish, put together a really solid A-level cast, and get serious theatrical distribution (and be on the first wave of 3D). It was also short listed for a Best Animated Feature Academy Award. At the same time, it’s not a movie I can even sit through. It’s boring and tedious – and I hated the script. I also think the directing is somewhat flat, with fairly weak production design.

I learned to not get into business with people I wasn’t on the same page with creatively – always talk about the end goal.  Don’t get caught up in the process – always keep your eye on the final film. If you do, you’ll be able to vet all decisions made. And if you’re not seeing eye to eye at the beginning, it will only get worse. More than anything, it taught me to spend as much time on the script as you can (same goes for my recent film White Space – which was being pushed forward by two (or three) differing ideas on what the script should be).

I often say one of the best methods of producing is “engineering serendipity.” Have you encountered serendipity in your work and do you think there is anything that you can do to bring more of it into your creative process? Why or why not, and if so, what is it that you and your team can do?

Research. I find serendipity – or happy coincidences – in my writing almost every script lately.  That is because I do a tremendous amount of research.  And I find that the more I dig into a topic, the more things start tying together.  Do your homework. Become as well versed in the subject you’re writing as you can.  From the big things to the small. 

If each member of the production keys does their homework and research – then you can engineer serendipity at a higher rate and with more ease.

Films evolve through the creative process – sometimes most dramatically in the  editing process.  It’s often really hard to reconcile the difference between what we desired and what we achieved. How have you encountered this and how do you move through it?

When I sat through the last short I directed. The first assembly was brutal. It was cringe worthy and had me thinking – ‘man, I suck. I can’t write and I can’t direct.’ In the post process it was cultivated into something I am proud of.  Even the final product isn’t exactly what I envisioned – limitations with lighting, set, camera equipment (which all boil down to money). Part of it is discovering that what reads well on the page doesn’t always translate well to the screen. I’ve learned this a lot when translating my scripts to graphic novel/comic form. That process has actually helped me tremendously.

You move through it by accepting that it will never be what is in your head from the start. That is perfection, and nothing is perfect. It may even be better than what you had in your head, but since it is different it won’t matter to you – however, you need to accept it and as Brock Lesnar says, ‘turn chicken shit into chicken salad.’

“It all starts with the script.” Maybe not, but when do you know a script is ready to shoot, and what is your process of getting it there?

Hard question – because for me, personally, I’ve went into both my features as a producer with a script I wasn’t that confident in. Battle for Terra especially.  I hated that script. But sometimes you just want to make a movie so badly, you put that aside.  And the most important thing I’ve learned is – that is a huge mistake.  You should always be able to fall back on the script.  And if you are working with a director who tells you – the script is a blue print – unless he’s seriously proven himself – walk away. 

As a writer/director, I have one or two people I completely trust in terms of their opinion.  If they tell me it needs work or something doesn’t make sense, I address it.  Usually they are calling bullshit on things I took a shortcut around, and deep down I know it needs to be fixed – I just need to be called out.

Everyone will have an opinion about every script out there – no matter how good.  You have to have confidence in what you’re doing and again, be confident that if anything happens, you can fall back on that script.  Poke as many holes in it as possible.  Dissect it. 

Most of my scripts are becoming graphic novels, so I have these visual guides to help me – and there will inevitably be sections that are boring or lame and I can see that pretty readily.  It’s a luxury to have that – but if you can find someone to storyboard your script for you – do it.  You can cut those storyboards up and edit them into a movie on your computer (getting anyone you can to provide the voices).  You will definitely find the rough patches and holes – at least the glaring ones you may miss in the read.  Just don’t fall in love with your own writing.  I make this mistake all the time.  Then a few months pass, I reread it and ask myself, ‘What the hell was I thinking?  Why do I think I’m so sweet?’

Several directors have told me that most of directing is actually casting.  Regardless of whether that is true, some actors have “it” and sometimes they need something to make “it” pop.  You’ve spotted that “it” and captured “it”. What is “it” and how do you find “it”?

For me, realism.  Do I believe the words coming out of this person’s mouth? Some actors just say their lines – and they can be said well.  Other actors actually understand what they are saying and get you to believe them.

I often wonder why anyone would want to direct. Why would you want to always have 100 decisions in front of you and have over 100 people waiting on your answer?

If you’re a storyteller – it is the ultimate medium. Plays are in the moment. With films you can create this everlasting story that has more dimensions than a book – and you can use so many more techniques to tell your story.  You have the color palette, the actors you choose, the performances you pull from them, the production design itself, the camera you choose, the stock of that camera, etc… they all play a part in how the story is perceived.  They all matter.  Who wouldn’t want to have access to that kind of storytelling ability?
Film, perhaps more so than any other popular art form, is the compromise between art and commerce. How has your art been shaped by both the money you have had or not had? Do you create with budget limitations in mind?

I used to never write to a budget – but over the last three years or so, all of my projects have been written with a budget in mind. The fact is, you can’t get your projects made over a certain threshold as a young producer/director. 

That said, two of my scripts – Chasing Rabbits and Bulderlyns – are big, but are being produced as graphic novels.  So, I have that going for me. Which is nice.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

31 Questions for New Filmmakers - Part II

Here are my answers to Ted Hope's second set of questions, which relate to The Love of Cinema.

What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

It’s almost too hard to quantify.  I would love to say – the cinematography, the acting, the shot choices, the sound, the visual effects, the music… but I would put the writing and the story above all of those. Did I connect with the movie?  A great film for me is one that I don’t want to end.   It definitely happens and it is a magical feeling.   I think of a movie like Once, which was so simple, but it just hit a special nerve.

What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

Everyone in this business has a film they saw and said to themselves, ‘I can do that’.  There were two for me - Brothers McMullen and Pi.  Pi because it was so engrossing and so different – and yet cost so little (comparatively).  Brothers McMullen was special for the same reasons, but also because I’m from almost the same background as Ed Burns. Irish Catholics from Long Island – and the movie was not only a world I know, but a world I lived in.

Over and above those, the two that had the most profound effect on the stories I want to tell and how I want to tell them would be Good Will Hunting and Star Wars.  I want to make films that spawn worlds like Star Wars, and I can only hope to achieve that level of filmmaking (the first three, not the most recent three).  It is epic filmmaking at its best.  And Good Will Hunting was just a perfect movie in so many ways.  It looked great, the score was amazing, the performances were all as good as can be – and the script was tight and refreshing and spellbinding.  I didn’t want that movie to end.  I remember seeing it for the first time in a theater while at Villanova and his red car races down the highway and I was thinking, ‘Please don’t end.  Not yet.’

When you get angry at a movie, what sets you off? Are there common qualities in cinema today that you dislike? Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?

Over exposition.  I am a fan of subtlety.  I really like Black Swan (I’m an Aronofsky apologist), but there were moments I could have done without – such as describing to us (at the beginning) what the play – and thus the movie – was about.  Don’t tell me what’s coming.  Let me figure it out for myself.  I think there is a lot of this in cinema today – playing to the lowest common denominator.  I try to not do this in my writing.  I know that at some point things need to be explained – but I guess I’m guilty of erring on the side of not explaining too much.

We are all here presumably partially because we LOVE cinema.  How did your love for movies get sparked and what can we—as a community—do to help others discover a similar pleasure?

I watched a lot of movies growing up in the 80’s.  A lot of John Hughes and Savage Steve Holland movies.  They shaped who I was as much as any other factor.  We were lucky enough to have HBO when I was growing up (it wasn’t as prevalent in homes as it is today) and if anyone from that decade remembers, they used to play movies over and over and over again.  Movies like Better Off Dead, North Shore and – my favorite film of all time – Rad.  These became part of my childhood, and eventually adulthood – quoted nonstop between my family and friends.  I also have fond memories of watching a lot of old movies with my dad.  For some reason he rarely watches new movies, but was always watching black and whites from back in the day.  I didn’t really even know what I was watching at the time, but as I fell in love with movies in my late teens, early twenties – this appreciation definitely came pouring out and shaped what movies I gravitated towards.

Helping others?  I guess by sharing the movies you love.  I am constantly recommending movies to friends.  If someone asks me what they should watch, even if I love a recent studio release – I will recommend a little known gem in the hopes that it sticks and they at least watch it at some point.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

31 Questions for New Filmmakers

About a month ago, Ted Hope posted 25+ Things He Wanted to Know from New Filmmakers.  I'm going to share my answers to these 31 questions, but in sections...

The first set of questions relate to 'Getting Started'.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?

I was studying abroad at Cambridge University in England… and there was all of this life outside of the bubble of the North East around me.  It was the first time I realized that there was more out there in the world than just the world of finance, being a cop or teacher – which is what you do on Long Island.  And at Villanova University everyone was pretty much clones of each other.  I fit in socially, but I knew I just didn’t fit in for some reason.  And I was bursting at the seams to do this – reading voraciously everything I can get my hands on film related.  When I came back I dropped out of Villanova and started to pursue film.

Is it harder to get started or to keep going?  What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

For me, the initial act of getting started was by far the hardest thing I had to do.  In many ways I made this decision alone.  I actually went back to Villanova the next semester – after three days I was completely miserable and wanted nothing to do with being there.  It felt like the whole scene passed me by.  So I walked to the bursar’s office and told them I would like to withdraw.  I remember being white as a ghost and I must have been shaking – cause the woman behind the counter knew something was wrong.  Me doing that and not telling my parents was the no turning back moment of my life.  It was right then that I decided I was going to choose happiness over money.  Over the fallout my decision would create.  Keep in mind, I was a pretty high ranked finance/accounting student at one of the better north east schools in the country – which is a feeder for Wall Street.  Fresh off studying economics at Cambridge.  My parents weren’t too happy.

Once I made that decision, I jumped in pretty full force.  It was pretty liberating.  Going to school and actually caring about learning – not caring about what grade you got.  It turned a light bulb on for me.  I did really well from the start, all the way through USC’s Peter Stark Program. So it wasn’t a huge struggle.  The struggle happened as I was producing Battle for Terra and then left Snoot Entertainment.  Because you realize quickly – making money at this is very hard.  It’s been a real grind.  But I made a decision that day I left Villanova – I was going to choose this over money.  So my choices have been dictated by that (much to my parent’s dismay).  It makes my life much harder – but if I wanted to make money I would have worked on Wall Street.  I’m not in this for that or meeting with stars, etc… There are stories I want to share and my goal is to share them exactly how I see them in my head.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life creating film?

Make sure this is truly what you want.  Because real filmmaking isn’t glamorous.  Writing is a lonely art.  Editing is a lonely practice.  Being on set is laborious and the days are long and taxing.  You’re not curing cancer, but it can be stressful.  Ask yourself – are you doing this because you absolutely love film/tv/storytelling – or are you interested in meeting famous people or being famous yourself?  If the answer is the latter – go get rich doing something else and then invest in movies.  We need you too.

What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

That you can’t control everything.  Once you understand that film is a collaborative medium and let go – you can focus on what you can control. 

It happened at a screening of a short I directed.  It was okay, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.  And it was there that I thought – I need to stop hiring my friends.

You are a collaborator.  How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

This is way too broad of a question.  As a filmmaker you have many members of your team, and thus many different avenues to them. 

A few of my collaborators have come through school (USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program), or through functions at the school.  A large majority of my collaborators have come through the internet.  Seems weird to even type – but I found my artists on all my books online.  And they are scattered around the globe.  Mark Newbauer from Mike the Pike (The Skin Trade, White Space and the company financing my next 3 graphic novels) found my email online and just shot me an email.  I met Ken Locsmandi and the team at Filmworks the following way – Dane Smith, a Producer on Battle for Terra, knew I was looking to direct something… he set me up with a DP for one of the short films he produced, Kev Robertson.  Kev had just DP’s a feature directed by this guy Rufus.  I met Rufus at Kev’s house randomly.  He emailed me and I went to meet him and a partner of his on a project called Island of Diablo Madre.  That partner was Ken.  We met and started talking about fighting, etc… and kept in touch and then our relationship grew from there.  Since then I just produced White Space which he directed.  The production designer on that film is someone I hope to use on everything I ever do, Jessee Clarkson.  He responded to an ad I posted on  It turned out he worked out for a company that shares space with Filmworks/FX called New Deal Studios – and they gave him the thumbs up. 

You are here at the Universe’s Grand Temple Of Cinephilia.  You are here because of your work and how you do it.  What are personal attributes that make for a good filmmaker, and what do you do to foster them?

The first is perserverance.  You are going to be told no a lot.  You are going to be rejected a lot.  People, lots of them, are going to pass on your scripts/work.  You can let that get you down, or you can keep getting better.  The best revenge is success. 

The other two are somewhat conflicting – an iron will and open mindedness.  You need to believe that what you are doing is right.  Correction, you need to know that what you are doing is right (difference is – go in educated.  Always be the smartest person in the room).  Someone like James Cameron doesn’t break or bend.  But with that, you need to accept that film is a collaborative medium.  Here’s where it gets tricky – how does any of what I said make sense?  The first part is surrounding yourself with people who are good at their job.  Even on low budget films – they are out there.  Don’t hire friends.  Hire good people.  Hire knowledgeable people.  Hire people who are better than you at their position.  You’re the producer/director – you should know how to talk about lighting, production design, wardrobe – you should know exactly what you want – but you need people to carry that out.  And sometimes, often times if they are good – they will have great ideas in terms of adding or enhancing your original idea.  I just had a talk with Jessee about production design for my next project – he pitched me something awesome that completely changed the way I saw the script, not even just that scene.  He also pitched me something I didn’t buy because it didn’t fit with what I was trying to accomplish.  I explained to him why and he accepted that.  Which I guess makes for a number four – be able to express yourself.  If you disagree with someone or something, explain why.  If you’re an asshole, you better be the next coming of Orson Welles or you will have a shitty career.

When I wanted to devote my life to making movies, my first decision was NY or LA.  How does where you live influence how and what you make, and how do you think NY currently effects your work and process?

Funny this is a question for Ted, because I have faced this decision my entire film career.  Being from NY, my entire family is from NY so that is my home.  It will always be my home.  Obviously there is a lot more going on in LA in terms of movers and shakers – but you can definitely do this from NY.  I have to be honest, I personally feel more creative in NY.  In LA, everyone is in entertainment – all of your experiences are based around entertainment or people involved in entertainment.  You aren’t experiencing unique/different people, doing different things.  I draw from the real world and being in NY just opens that world up.  Being outside of LA also keeps you a bit more grounded.  No one is blowing your head up, and you’re surrounded by non-industry people.  Industry people tend to think what they’re doing is the greatest and most important thing in the world.  Let’s be real – we are doing movies/tv.  We aren’t curing a disease or saving lives, etc… It’s a big universe and we are small specs in it. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

No More Haircuts

I turn another year older today. Apparently another year wiser and more experienced. It was definitely a year of learning. About my body as it crumbles because of years of damage due to sports, about filmmaking as I produced White Space, about myself as I continue to struggling with my wants (becoming a fighter and director, somehow at the same time) vs. my needs (keeping money in the bank). About life in general from my girlfriend and her daughter. And death from my grandfather, Frank Eidmann.

We buried him yesterday. Not the greatest birthday present a guy can ask for, but such is life. My grandfather (the only one I got to meet) and I were never that close while I was growing up. He was a pretty heavy drinker and had been since my mom was growing up. He was a WWII hero and later a fireman... but he was never really interested in the lives of his children and grandchildren. I don't necessarily fault him for that - that was his decision and it was his life to live (he was sober for the last 10-15 years). But since I moved back to help out with him and my grandma, I have spent a lot more time with him and we have grown pretty close. I will never regret for a second moving back home. My career sort of stalling a bit (financially at least) was the best thing that could have happened to me. I got to spend more time with both of them.

I was primarily responsible for taking him to all of his doctor's appointments, and for a while his physical therapy (until he kind of gave up on it).  Some of which were quick and easy, and others that had us waiting for hours.  He never wanted to leave the house, and would look for any excuse to duck out of an appointment - but I could usually get him to go. While there he usually bitched about the wait, or the old people around (he was about 90% blind)... and most of the time it was pretty funny. At least to me.

The one thing that I think I'll always keep with me when I remember him were our trips to the barber, which was another task of mine.  He hated going, but hated when his hair got too long even more. He also couldn't stand his barber, Sam.  It made the trips that much more interesting. My grandfather wasn't much for words and Sam didn't shut the hell up. Whenever we got there and there was someone in the chair, and Sam was talking his ear off - my grandpa would go off about them shutting the hell up (he was pretty much deaf as well and would speak in his outdoor voice at all times). Sam also wanted to cut his hair too short, and my grandma was very specific with me in terms of how she wanted his hair to be (sideburns not too short, etc...) so I would have to stand over his shoulder as he cut the hair. It was all pretty funny.

He told everyone who drove them that they were his favorite chauffeur.  But I'm pretty sure I was his favorite for real, and that's how I'll remember my grandpa.

Baby Joseph (the youngest great grandchild) and Frank Eidmann