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Friday, 30 July 2010

Whose Screenplay Is It Anyway? How Screenwriters Go Insane

You're seven years old, and you think "I really love laughing, hahahahahaha." You're 11 years old and you really really like Mary-Jane, who lives down by the place near the big tree, and you think "I really really love her and I want to be in love forever yeah it's great." You're sixteen years old and you look up at the sky and you're just amazed by how clear the stars are and how big and beautiful the moon is and you think "Holy marbles! The world is incredible! It's a miracle! I can feel it. Wow. Wow. Wow." And then you laugh hysterically, hahahaha. Not because you're insane, but because you really love laughing.

And then you become a screenwriter. And you write your first script in seven minutes. How you did it, nobody knows. But you did. You wrote a 100 page script in seven minutes, and it's wonderful because it's got soul but it's awful because you've never written a script before.

And then your friend Patrick says "dude, it's way too romantic. Nobody likes that cheesy bullshit," so you take out a bit of the cheese because maybe it is a bit touchy feely. And then you meet a guy who wrote two episodes of that thing on that channel nobody ever watches, and he says, "the joke about the pencils isn't funny. Pencils aren't funny. Lemonade is funny." So you take out the joke about the pencils and replace it with a joke that isn't about pencils.

The thing that is great about your script though is that you captured that really incredible feeling you had that time you and that girl went to that bench by the field near where the hill overlooked the big tall building near your old school, when you were looking up at the big beautiful sky. But Mr Singh who works in the shop near the place where they used to sell like a million different types of envelope says to you "I think you're being a bit silly if you think the sky is magic, there's so much pollution, and films that are about the sky don't really sell unless you have a machine blow up and fall out of it."

You know you're right, deep down, you love going hahahahaha and you love that girl and going to the bench near the thing and you love how amazing the sky is. But then you meet a guy called Zack who worked as an extra on that pretty funny thing that used to be on after that famous show and he also directed one episode of a webisode called "LOL @ Life!" which had at least a viewer, so he knows his stuff and he wants to 'develop' new ideas with you but he says "don't write about the moon because it isn't marketable," and he reminds you that pencils don't put people's asses on seats and what you really need are big guns. You're not sure about the big guns but Zack has lots of weird shit in his hair and he has a nice wristwatch so you figure he must really know his stuff so you say "okay, so you don't want the moon?" and he says "no, fuck the moon, that's bullshit," and then you take out the moon and replace it with a scene where the chick with the big breasts blows up the village with her nipples.

But the film never gets made because your script is really shit and the guy with the gunk in his hair is actually an undercover underachieving understudy in a play called "Chipmunks on Skates," so you stop listening to him and go about your day.. and you start to think again about working on a new screenplay.

You have this idea in your head but you don't have much clarity but you think maybe it's something to do with the moon and the magic of the night and a pretty girl with a smile but there's this voice in you that says "that's not marketable you fucking shitfuck!" and then you meet this guy in a suit who says "if you want funding, then you need to know that we need a script that can be branded towards a person who would wear clothes made out of iPhones and eat food made out of Facebook statuses, so you really need to write something current." You keep trying to write it but it's really fucking terrible and you keep asking yourself, "why can't I write?" and you keep trying to feed the magic into your writing somehow but it. just. isn't. there.

You keep looking and you keep trying and you keep hoping that you'll stop being such a bad writer. And some guy who's a big shot says "we really need a film where a guy in his twenties owns a gun and overcomes obstacles by saving the girl from the cheer-leading thing and then he falls backwards in slow-mo and a black man delivers a line about choices and then a woman gets her breasts out in close-up." You write it and it's exactly what they asked for but they don't make the movie-- and you don't know why and they don't know why and nobody knows why and instead someone makes a sequel to that thing with the Vampires.

This part of you starts jumping up and down and screaming at you --- and it's saying, "write a movie about a girl and a tree and the moon," but there are a thousand voices of everyone you ever met saying, "it's not marketable, it's not brandable, there's no breasts, what are you doing, don't you want to be marketable?"

You take a moment to look at your heroes, you look at the essence of what they did and how they achieved it -- and every sign points to people stepping out and saying "HEY, I AM ME, this is how I SEE THE WORLD!" - and you realize, you need to do that very thing.

And it's your choice and it's your choice and it's your choice. You look at your writing over the last few years and the only time you say hahahaha is when you realize the absurdity of the crazy pointless adventure you've been on. You run around, and you search your home and you realize there's just one thing you need and then it will all come together. You run downstairs, you look under the pad next to the table by the chair; and there it is, exactly what you need: a brand new pencil.

Hahahaha you say to yourself, as you write your new screenplay.

What do you want, Mary? You want the MOON? Just say the word...

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The Film That Waited Down The Road

The film was just three roads away. It sat on top of the TV in a girl's house, there in its DVD case. The film was in many other places too. It was on a DVD rack in France, on an old VHS tape in Japan and being downloaded by a pensioner in Tennessee. The movie existed. People all over the world had spent time with the characters and had gotten to know them well. But I had never met them.

I knew about them, I'd heard about the movie - but for some reason, had never seen it. What a sad fate - to have one of your favorite movies sitting on top of the TV, only a six minute walk from where you are, without ever taking the time to acquaint yourself.

I'd been to the girl's house many times. I'd lent her films, she'd given me books. All the while, the film I needed to see was sitting there, on top of the TV, not even getting played. Meanwhile, the character's came out in a cinema screening in Norway, and they got chopped up into chunks on YouTube; they lived on, but not for me, I didn't know them.

And then the girl glanced at the things sitting on top of her TV. She mentioned something about the film. I responded, "For some reason, I've never...," she knew where I was heading. She was shocked. So was I. I knew I should have taken the time to get to know the film and characters by now, but I hadn't.

"Take this," she said, as she thrust the DVD into my hands. I went home, and within two hours - my life was a little bit better. Even though I've never met them, there are people walking out of a screening in Norway who I have a bit more in common with, there are girls down the street who I am more similar to than I realise, there are people in Japan who don't speak the same language as me, but we've shared the same experience, gotten to know the same characters, and had our lives changed in small ways.

Isn't it amazing how there are all these characters out there just waiting for you, who may end up being important to your life? They're waiting on DVD shelves in New York, they're being defined in the editing suite in London, they're being penned by a teenager in Germany. They exist for you. I hope you find them.

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

A Brief Guide To Early Cinema

On A Tuesday morning in 1867, William Lincoln patented the zoopraxiscope. Whilst many people thought it was a form of anti-depressant, it was actually a device which enabled people to watch moving images. Despite Lincoln being the first person to invent a movie camera, Louis Lumiere went on to be yet another first person to invent one. People decided to credit him as the first, on account of his being French.



Lumiere soon realised the true power of his invention, and immediately ordered a medium bucket of popcorn. It's interesting to note that up until the invention of the movie camera, people had been sitting in empty halls eating popcorn for no particular reason. What's even weirder, is how they were constantly moaning about the prices. Lumiere had wonderful theories about developing a style of filmmaking called 'The French Old Wave,' which went on to influence a creative period in the 1950's when a bunch of French directors who'd grown tired of the Old Wave struggled to find a name for their latest style.


Within a few years Lumiere and Edison (another person who was definitely the first person to invent the movie camera) were both screening silent moving images to the general public. Early films were very simple. Some of the classics include "Man Standing Still Looking At Camera," "Small Dog Sleeping," and "Two Middle Class Men Talking To Each Other Whilst Smoking Cigars." These were all big hits. Sadly, Edison soon began to struggle after audiences claimed that "Small Dog Sleeping 2" lacked originality, and at the very least - could have involved some movement.


Lumiere was once quoted as saying, "The cinema is an invention without a future." It's fascinating to know that he came to this conclusion before seeing Eddie Murphy's latest releases. It's important to remember that all of the early films were silent. As technology changed in the 1920's, 'talkies' were introduced. This was generally perceived to be a good thing, but recently there has been a surge in producers clambering for a return to silent cinema again after witnessing a Miley Cyrus monologue in 'The Last Song.'


By 1902, venues were being built specifically for showing films. People would fight for a seat in the packed movie houses to see films like "Fat Lady Walking Along The Platform" and "Jolly Fellow Swinging A Golf Club." These two films, shown together; would only amount to seven minutes of screen time. This would have been a concern for customers, but luckily, just like these days, they had to sit through thirty minutes of trailers.

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Sequels, Remakes, Reboots & Reshoots - The Day The Film Blogosphere Came Together

Wow, that was fun. The finest film bloggers in all the land (no offence to film bloggers who live on sea) came together to write on the topic of 'Sequels, Remakes and Reboots.' It was a pretty open ended assignment, just a chance for everyone to express their feelings on the topic. Much fun was had, some of the articles were detailed and informative, others were light and hilarious.


It all began yesterday morning when The Kid In The Front Row got into a confused mess as he struggled to get a grip of his feelings on the topic, "Will a new 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' stop people re-watching the original? Does anyone lose sleep over the fact Gus Van Sant did a shot for shot remake of 'Psycho'? No, everyone just watches the original."

Luckily, that wasn't the only post of the day, and the sequels provided a lot more insight. Over at Memoirs Of A Word Nerd, Manda Diaz delivered possibly the funniest moment of the blogathon with the worryingly spot on analysis of 'Oceans 12,' "It still makes me angry that the general public paid money just to watch a bunch of celebrities on holiday in Europe."

The Sugary Cynic makes her point bluntly and honestly, "In practice, these usually suck because they are slapdash, shitty, with no respect paid to the source material and done for the money."

A Nerd Like Me makes a simple point which, to be honest, sums everything up pretty well; "Good sequels, remakes and reboots are good. And bad ones? Well, at least they’re fun to argue about!""

"History is destined to repeat itself. Hollywood just gets around to it faster than most," mused Mike Lippert, from
You Talking To Me?; who was probably the most pro-remakes blogger in the blogathon.

Patrick O'Riley and Sofluid both took the time to break down each section seperately and share their opinions on Sequels, Remakes, and Reboots. Patrick stands up for the point of view you'd hear from a studio head, with "Sequels have an undeserved negative stigma. From a producorial standpoint, the reason a sequel is even considered for production is because an original film proves successful." Similarly, upcoming screenwriter Sofluid brings awareness to the dreaded word that anti-remake/reboot people hate to hear, 'franchise.' Solfluid explains, "Shrek in particular is an impressive franchise. It's got a loveable set of characters (perfect for merchandise!) and the writers manage to keep it fresh and exciting."

The Intermittent Sprocket gets straight down to business and makes a list of films that he thinks should be remade, and one point in particular I couldn't agree more with, "ANYTHING WRITTEN BY SHANE BLACK DESERVES A SEQUEL WRITTEN BY SHANE BLACK." Four Of Them wrote a simple yet heartfelt article which many people will relate to, "You see, they're all too glad to attach the original's good name in press releases, but when it comes time for execution, well, what they do can land anywhere between ineptness, scorn, and all-out hatred."

We end on two distinctly different takes on the topic.
Wellywood Woman, from New Zealand, took the conversation away from bantering back and forth about 'Shrek' and 'Toy Story 3' and focused on something more fascinating and important; "I've chosen to focus on gender and audience, and on the reboot-and-remake of the New Zealand Film Commission, following its review by Sir Peter Jackson and David Court," which makes for a fascinating read. 


I hope I've mentioned everybody. If I've missed any blogs out, please get in touch, and I'll add them in. Feel free to copy and paste this round-up onto your own blogs-- it'd be really great if we can spread awareness of each others work. as much fun as it is to mount up your own reader base and shield them from everyone else; I think community is far more important. I can supply the HTML code of this blog if it helps you enter it into your own blogs.

Thanks for joining in, and thanks for reading. Until next time.

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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Sequels, Remakes and Reboots - A Kid In The Front Row Blogathon

Sequels, remakes and reboots completely polarize opinion in a variety of ways. There are those who are vehemently opposed and think they are ruining the industry, and then there are people who think the retelling of stories has always been an important part of culture, or, perhaps-- they think the advancements in technology mean that there is even more scope for greater movies, and believe the tales of Batman and Spiderman can finally be done justice.

These polarizations exist, and nobody seems to occupy the middle ground. Of course, there is the apathetic middle ground. The "Just take my $12 and show me a movie" crowd. But aside from that, there's little agreement.

And then they made 'Toy Story 3,' which everyone loved. What does this mean? Unfortunately, this didn't bring the two camps together. Whilst the latest 'Shrek' was proof that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt and in need of original characters, 'Toy Story 3' was a lucky fluke. Or "It's Toy Story. That's different."

For everyone to suddenly celebrate sequels just because 'Toy Story 3' was near genius would, of course, be completely stupid. But it suggests this is not a black and white issue.

I am generally against sequels, remakes and all of that stuff. That they're 're-booting' Spiderman like two weeks after they last did it seems ludicrous to me. My instincts are that it's purely based on business. Indeed, why wouldn't it be? This is one of the biggest franchises going, an undeniable pot of gold for the film studios. But then, maybe there's something I'm missing.

I like the new 'The Karate Kid.' It's a lot of fun. I felt bad feeling this, like I had gone against my own belief system. How dare I like it? Why does it bother me? Why should I not like it? It's things like "they shouldn't mess with the original," "it shouldn't be about Kung Fu," etc. But does it matter? Will a new 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' stop people re-watching the original? Does anyone lose sleep over the fact Gus Van Sant did a shot for shot remake of 'Psycho'? No, everyone just watches the original.

If My friend Pete sees the new 'Karate Kid' and thinks it's the greatest movie ever, and refuses to watch the original.. Why does it matter? I have a feeling it does, but why? Does it matter for me, or for him?

When Spielberg announced he would remake the Jimmy Stewart classic 'Harvey' I was genuinely heartbroken for days. When he dropped the project, I rejoiced, and gave up my hunger strike (I may be slightly exaggerating). But here's the thing:- the majority of people in my life, especially around my age and younger, have no intention of watching old black and white Jimmy Stewart films.. So if they're not going to watch 'Harvey' anyway, what difference does it make if they watch a new version?

I hope you realize my questions are literally that, questions. I'm not saying it isn't important, or isn't different. But I feel that when we get angry about the remakes, we're not entirely conscious of why. Or maybe I'm just talking about me.

So why does it bother me so much when they remake stuff? And why does it bother me when I enjoy the remakes? Maybe it's just part of my personality. I like things to feel fresh and original. I place value on who came first. As for why does it bother me when I like them? That's a more complex question. Or maybe it's very simple--- I've been proven wrong. I enjoyed the the Karate Kid film and I LOVED 'Toy Story 3'-- and in fact, it felt great to be revisiting Woody, Buzz, and co-- and that familiarity is a good thing.

It's easy to take some supposed moral high-ground about how they should only re-make films for reasons of heart and story, instead of money. But, newsflash: 'Toy Story 3' was about money too.

To summarise, in case you haven't realised: I haven't got a clue what I'm talking about. I don't know where I stand on this issue. I identify with the outraged side, and I identify with the part of me that enjoys remakes when they're done well. In fact, maybe I just am the apathetic middle ground after all. (but if anyone in Hollywood ever remakes 'The Apartment,' I will actually kill them.)
This is the first of a Kid In The Front Row blogathon where many wonderful bloggers will be writing about 'Sequels, Remakes and Reboots' throughout the day. At the end of it all, I will be posting links to all of the bloggers who are involved.

Care to share?

Monday, 26 July 2010

The One Where Tom Hanks Was Like "What The Fuck???"

I bring you an exclusive behind the scenes look at what happened on the set of the Robert Zemeckis film 'CAST AWAY' when the sanity of two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks was seriously put to the test. After half of the shoot, Hanks was convinced this was going to be his best film to date. And then the director started making some strange requests.

DIRECTOR
Great work today, Tom.

TOM
Thanks.

DIRECTOR
I have some new dialogue for you.

TOM
Great.

DIRECTOR
I think you need someone with you on the island.

TOM
I'd like that.

DIRECTOR
I need you to say, "You wouldn't have a match by any chance, would ya?"

TOM
Who am I saying it to, Helen Hunt?

DIRECTOR
Um. No. To Wilson.

TOM
Who?

DIRECTOR
A volleyball. Say the line to a volleyball.

A few days later.

DIRECTOR
Tom. I just watched 'APOLLO 13.'

TOM
I love that movie.

DIRECTOR
Me too. I love when Ed Harris is arguing with everyone about trajectories and re-entry.

TOM
Yeah, very powerful stuff.

DIRECTOR
Don't you wish you'd been in those scenes?

TOM
I guess. But I was in the spaceship.

DIRECTOR
Well, we've come up with a similar scene for you. You map out the plane crash and detail the land that surrounds you. You can write it all on the cave.

TOM
That could be cool.

DIRECTOR
So you'll do it?

TOM
Sure, Rob.

DIRECTOR
Great. I'll get the volleyball.

TOM
Not the volleyball thing again?

DIRECTOR
It'll be great.


TOM
I thought that scene went well.

DIRECTOR
Me too.

TOM
I'm going for a nap.

DIRECTOR
Hold on, we need you for Wilson's close up.

TOM
Are you sure it was you who Directed 'Forrest Gump'?

DIRECTOR
I get a better performance when both actors are there for each other.

TOM
It's a volleyball!!

DIRECTOR
And it's his first role in a movie, you should be more supportive.

TOM
It's a Vol-ley-ball. This is crazy.

A day later, Tom was back on set for another night shoot.

DIRECTOR
Okay Tom. I need you to say, "I can't take much more of those coconuts. Coconut milk's a natural laxative," whilst you're eating crab.

TOM
Great line. This should be good.

DIRECTOR
Just bare with us - we're waiting for Wilson to arrive on set.

TOM
The fucking volleyball again?

DIRECTOR
Is there a problem?

TOM
I've done three films with Meg Ryan.

DIRECTOR
What's wrong, Tom?

TOM
What's with the volleyball? I signed on to act with Helen Hunt.

DIRECTOR
She's not in this scene.

TOM
Can't we get Tim Allen?

DIRECTOR
The ball is more natural.

TOM
I have two academy awards. I've worked with Denzel Washington.

Coming soon. More completely true untold stories from Hollywood movies.

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UK Film Council To Close

It was announced today that the UK Film Council is to be abolished. However, it may take twenty years for them to clear out the masses of failed funding application paperwork sent in over the years from talented film director's across the British Isles.

I loved the idea of the UKFC. A Government led organization that funds and encourages homegrown talent. In reality, for many legitimate filmmakers with great projects and screenplays; it was just endless rejection, after giant heaps of paperwork, only to find that the Council had, yet again, funded another film about people living on dodgy council estates with their alcoholic parents.

I have no personal experience with the UK Film Council. I always opted to stay away. The love for bureaucracy and form-filling, script input, etc, is enough to make me vomit. Not only that but, they were always producing BULLSHIT like 'Enduring Love' and 'Doogal'. And if not, they were funding the big guys like Mike Leigh and Danny Boyle.

So, I have mixed views. On the one hand, it's disastrous. Even though State-funded art rarely produces a masterpiece, and they generally seemed insecure about taking risks with unique projects - I like that it existed, that the idea of being funded by them was real to people. But the reality for most was that it was less than helpful.

It's strange that this news has come only a week after it was announced that the British Film Industry is doing rather well. It seems to be that the Government sees the arts as a low priority. But to me, the opposite is true, especially during times of recessions, job losses, and having to put up with David Cameron for five years. People need somewhere to escape to. They need the piece of film that can make them dream. Look at the effect 'Toy Story 3' has been having on people. Admittedly, TS3 wasn't made on Government money, it was of course made in America, with American film studio money-- but my point is that the true power of film is how it can give people hope, belief and happiness; which is needed in society. And that gets completely marginalized when the main body of a nation for funding such things is instantly scrapped. It's not a good sign.

But then again, as I was saying previously, the Film Council generally funds complete bullshit. So who's losing out, I don't know.

I'm sure there are many pluses and many, many minuses to this happening-- I have very limited knowledge about the workings of the UK Film Council. I'm sure many of you thought 'Severance' was a good movie, and worth producing.

What are your thoughts on the abolition of the UK Film Council? What does it mean for the future of British filmmaking?
"There is a connection between progress of a society and progress in the Arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo Da Vinci. The age of Elizabeth was the age of Shakespeare."
-Toby Ziegler, in 'THE WEST WING'

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Saturday, 24 July 2010

LAWRENCE SHER - Director Of Photography Interview.

"If you can not have a back up plan, then I think you’ll just HAVE to make it, you’ll have to survive and find a way to make a living," mused cinematographer LAWRENCE SHER. It's an attitude which goes a long way to explaining his success. In the year when he shot 'KISSING JESSICA STEIN,' he made only $7,000. It was a risk, he took it.

Ten years later and his credits as a DOP include 'THE HANGOVER,' 'GARDEN STATE,' 'DAN IN REAL LIFE' and 'I LOVE YOU, MAN'. Not only that, he's just finished shooting the much anticipated 'PAUL' (Directed by Greg Mottola, starring Simon Pegg & Seth Rogen,) and 'DUE DATE' (Directed by Todd Phillips, starring Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis).

He's an expert at the subtle. It's what I call 'deceptive simplicity,' the type of thing that's been hard to find on the screen since the days of Billy Wilder, but it's a big part of what made 'GARDEN STATE' and 'THE HANGOVER' so special. Lawrence Sher has the unique talent and restraint to be able to use the camera in a way that brings out comedy, adds extra layers of emotion - and manages to make it look simple. What follows is an extensive interview, where I tried to find out more about how he shoots, who his influences are, and what advice he can give to upcoming cinematographers.

Are you shooting something at the moment?

I am, I’m shooting this movie called 'The Big Year.'

What’s that about?

It’s a really cool movie, it’s about bird watching. It’s based on a book from 1999 called 'The Big Year,' about this competitive bird watching contest that these birders do if they can afford it or if they have like the wherewithal to do it - which is they try to see the most species of birds in north America in one calendar year. It’s really really really difficult and in '99 these three guys all from different backgrounds went after it in the same year cause it was the year that had the right circumstances, and so it’s a movie based on that book, that kind of deals with these three guys and the competition to try and break this record.

How important is the script to you? Do you tend to do things that you relate to or that fascinate you or is that not important to you?

Yeah, it’s very important to me, for sure. You spend so much of your career, so much of your life in this business and for me particularly, just trying to get hired on any movie you spend these different plateaus of your career you know, you sort of spend-- I certainly spent a good ten years at least just trying to become employable then spent the next five or six years being employed and just trying to work up any sort of resume to allow myself to get opportunities to shoot bigger movies, but also better movies. In the last three or four years I have had the fortunate opportunity to be a little bit more selective, I’ve been able to sort of, you know, choose things based on script, who’s doing it and who you're working with and all that. Last year I did two movies that I had a great time on. I wasn’t burned out but I was like, maybe we’re going to take some time off.

But I actually had a lot of interest in bird-watching when I was a kid cause my Dad was super into it when my brothers and I were five, six, seven, eight years old. So, I had known about this book through him and so when it came up it was a great opportunity. David Frankel is directing it, the guy who did 'The Devil Wears Prada', and 'Marley & Me.' Owen Wilson plays the current record holder, and Steve Martin plays the other guy and there's Jack Black. So you take these three really great comedy actors that all star in their own movies and now they're all sort of sharing basically three separate stories in this movie, so it’s a cool cast, great director and a good subject matter, so it was a really nice opportunity.

You seem to do a lot of comedy. Is that something that you tend to go towards, or is that just the way it’s worked out?

I get offered a lot of comedies, and fortunately I like doing them and I like working on them. The one thing with comedies is that they're not always the greatest opportunity for cinematography, but it’s also the nature of where my career is at and there’s no question that you know, I’m sort of trying to branch out a bit but also I’ve had such opportunities of late to continue to work with people I really like, and the bottom line is, it’s hard to get any movies made these days, even in the studio system. They happen to always make comedy.

Looking back at your films, something that I’ve liked about your work is that there seems to be a kind of, almost like a deceptive simplicity to it, where you don’t draw attention to the camera. Do you think that’s something to do with your style or is that perhaps to do with the genre you’re working in?

I think it’s probably a combination of both. Even though I really respect and admire a lot of cameramen that are a bit more flashy - I think my personal aesthetic and my personal style of working comes more from real life things and then that style of simplicity also lends itself to the genre as well, and also to working quickly. It’s something I aesthetically like and whenever I start to feel I can see my hand in it, it always runs a little bit uneasy, but that’s not to say that style doesn’t have its place, it certainly does, it just happens not to necessarily form as much of my style.

I watched 'Kissing Jessica Stein' recently. I saw it years ago when it came out, and in my head I remembered it like a very typical New York rom-com kind of film. But Looking back at it now you definitely had a distinct style, where the camera moves a lot - what are your memories of shooting the film?

Well, a lot of it is also dictated by the actual nature of making the movie. That movie was a twenty day shoot in New York with very little money. But I do think that represents something that I continue to do even though it’s an early film with very, very little money, which is, it has some of the same aesthetics that I still fall through on, but also a fair amount of hand held. I mean I was a little bit influenced by Woody Allen and those kind of things too.

--I think that you can notice that, looking at the film it has a real immediacy to it - I guess it’s the handheld, there’s a lot of movement.

Yeah, I really like handheld. I was excited by Steven Soderbergh and a couple of other filmmakers that were able to sort of bring some of the independent philosophies into studio films, or whether it’s like Doug Liman and Soderbergh or those kind of guys that gave credence to putting handheld into big-budget studio movies. It’s funny, I went back and watched a little bit of 'The Hangover' on TV and I had forgotten how much of that movie was handheld. And I like to do handheld that’s quite quiet and doesn’t really draw attention to itself like, it’s not like a 'Husbands and wives' kind of thing.

But that was great as well, you look at 'Husbands and Wives' and 'Manhattan Murder mystery' (both Woody Allen film's, DOP: Carlo Di Palma), there was something really great about that energy and that kind of camera work.

I think it’s exciting when you can take that kind of energy that normally was associated only with independent films and bring it to bigger films. Now you see it all the time but at the same time it can be abused and treated in a way that’s very self-conscious and annoying. You can certainly find examples of that as well, but I certainly obviously do it quite a bit so I like it, you know.

Thinking about 'The Hangover,' when you were shooting, did you guys have a feeling it was going to be as successful as it was?

Not as successful as it turned out to be. We did think that we were making something that was pretty funny and we were feeling like, oh good! we’re actually doing well by the script and maybe we are elevating the script. It felt quite easy and loose and all the things you kind of wanted to feel. It wasn’t a very difficult film to make per-say, it had it’s challenges like every movie, but it had this kind of ease of working that felt good. I think it wasn’t until maybe the last couple of weeks that I thought this could be really good, but you still don’t think a movie with three guys that aren't really well known; you still don’t know exactly how it’s going to find its place into the market, you know.

It wasn’t until like, certainly Todd Phillips the Director had made a cut and the first time he screened it he realised the movie could be a wild success and I think I saw the next screening and I thought, Oh My God this movie might be massive because I’ve never seen an audience react like that before. Now mind you, that was even a cooler way for that audience to see it in a way that no audience would ever see it because, you know obviously once you market any movie but particularly a movie like 'The Hangover,' it's predicated on a bunch of surprises throughout the movie, but once it's out there - even if they don’t know the context they know all the surprises, and the audience that I saw it with had no idea of any surprises and literally, each surprise from the beginning to the end they really couldn’t even catch their breath. So when things like the tiger or the guy jumping out of the car or Mike Tyson or any of those things, the tooth, they don’t even see it coming. But obviously once people go and see any commercial they know that’s coming.
A film like 'The Hangover', being how successful it was, has that given you a new level of opportunity?

Absolutely, absolutely. Like everything, 'Kissing Jessica Stein' was the first movie to give me an opportunity simply because I think I did five movies before that or close to it, which isn’t a lot but the biggest thing was that nobody had ever heard of them. I mean, they were like these terrible little B movies, C movies, or D movies for that matter. But they were opportunities for me to learn and to sort of cut my teeth. At least Kissing Jessica Stein came out in theater's and was in Festivals and did fairly well. It was at least a title that people could go, even if they didn’t see it, they knew what it was, right? And then that allowed some opportunities and then 'Garden State' probably allowed the next set of opportunities. And then I did a studio movie, which wasn’t a very good movie, but it was certainly like...

Which movie was that?

'Dukes of Hazzard.' That was probably the next set of opportunities because it at least allowed me to be in the studio world and even though it wasn’t this blockbuster it still got out there was number one in the box office, so that provided some opportunities.

I do have one question about 'Dukes of Hazzard' - right near the beginning there’s a big fight scene and a lot is happening and there’s a lot of information that’s being given to the audience. I always wonder how you go about shooting things like that. Do you go for a lot of coverage so that the editor has got a lot to work with or does it tend to be put together more precisely?

Is that the bar fight?

Yes, that’s the bar fight right at the beginning.

Yes, definitely go for a bunch of coverage. That specific instance, a lot of that bar fight, unless I know that other films have done but I’ve never done it, but I, I’m trying to recall....

How many cameras would you be using for that kind of thing?

That was mostly two, I think everyone thought we had three but at a certain point, because of the nature of how that bar fight was shot, you can’t really sit three cameras into a lot of the shots because some were quite specific. In that instance an actual stunt co-ordinator developed what the sequence was going to be at the rehearsal. He’s a great stunt co-ordinator; this guy Dan Bradley who did the 'Bourne' movies, 'Spiderman' and 'Superman,' he’s now directing this movie ‘Red Dawn, the remake of ‘Red Dawn.’ His whole team is quite good and his second in command was the stunt co-ordinator for us and he basically got into the bar and he shot the whole scene on a video camera and we used that as a template to shoot the rest of it. So, something quite specific, like the bits of it were already laid out quite specifically and then it was a matter of attacking each piece, like the pool balls going across the table. We just followed through and executed it.

What do you enjoy shooting more, big action things or the little subtle moments with characters?

I think it’s really the whole bit. I like taking a script; looking at it, dissecting it, and figuring out those subtle things within the script, and to make the whole thing flow as one piece. Within every movie that’s the fun part. If the whole movie was just day after day of action I think that would be just as boring as if everyday was just two people sitting across from a table. I like that in every script there’s a little bit of it all, and every day has a different opportunity to use your experience an come up with new things within that. So, it’s a little of everything, you know.

The relationship between the Director and the Director of Photography is very interesting to me. In 'The Hangover,' two of my favourite shots are; one at the beginning when Bradley Cooper’s character is calling the bride to be from his cellphone, and there’s a second scene when the friends arrive at Stu’s house and call out, ‘paging Dr. Faggot.' What I find so funny is how you’ve got these out of focus character's in the background, the way it's staged is really funny, do you know what I mean?

Yes.
I was just wondering if that is the Director’s vision or something you developed? Like for example when Bradley Cooper is making the phone call to the bride and you’ve got these guys out of focus in the background standing around awkwardly, It's hilarious. I’ve asked this in a complicated way, but do you know what I mean?

No, no, no, I totally get it. In that specific instance, I actually think that was written into the script. In a lot of things even if they're not written specifically into the script, the material will really drive so much. It becomes fairly self-evident. You look at the scene the way it’s written and it becomes pretty straight forward as far as what’s the best way to tell the story. If I recall I feel like it even says like, 'in the background you see three guys and you don’t really know what they’re doing'. I remember we shot it knowing that it was broken up into two parts but, for the first time you see the scene, you’re seeing Bradley in that profile shot and a real close up; you don’t know where he is. You see some guys back there but don't know what they're doing. Later we do the exact same shot, and cut to those guys in the background, and then you learn a new set of stories, which is them talking to Mike and all that stuff, so. In that specific instance that’s how Bradley was written. It was obvious that’s the frame you’d want out of that shot, you know.

And then when we scouted that little location for Stu’s house I think it was just in scouting, Todd said "oh I’d like it if like we had it such a way that we can have a window here and then in the background as he’s talking to his girlfriend those guys pull up." I like to think all the ideas are the Director's ideas ultimately, even though I’m given a fair amount of leeway, to place the camera and do all these things perhaps more so than some DPs. All’s being driven by the Director because, first of all a lot of them have written the script or lived with the script for a long time, but also in preparation I go through with the directors and just talk to them about what they imagine, even if they're not talking specifically about where the camera wants to be and all these things. We talk in general terms and from those conversations I feel like all the specifics and all the information I need from the Director and then when I’m able to place the camera or create the coverage for the scene ultimately it’s all, it’s all from the Director. With 'Garden State' we shot the storyboard, whole scenes, even though I do a lot of the shot listings and story-boarding it’s all based on a conversation I had with Zach for about six hours where we went through the script and it’s all very specifically Zach’s stuff and I feel like it’s very much Zach’s point of view. But I’m just executing it to some extent on a bigger scale.

Have you ever had difficulties with Directors, like the relationship between you and them? Cause obviously it can be a very tense relationship?

Yes, it could be terrible, you hear these stories. Fortunately I haven’t had any really bad, any things where I felt we were really off sync. There are Directors like Michael Mann or Spielberg, a whole handful of Directors where the cameraman basically just lights the movie and the Director's place the camera on every shot. There’s a lot of really successful Directors that work that way. Fortunately for me, or just by the nature of the movies and the Directors I work with I do have a fair amount of play as far as my opportunity to contribute as to where those things go. But even with that said, I really do genuinely believe they're all still very much the Director's movies.

How do you typically get involved in a project, how does a new project come to you?

In the beginning, I would hustle. I would do a lot of research on my own, trying to find movies that I thought I could do well with, that I could contribute to and not be competing against some huge cameraman. Now I get scripts sent to me by my agent and those scripts usually have a Director involved already, so I’ll take that into account, as well as read the script obviously and see if it feels like something I can connect to and something that I feel I could do good work on. If it’s even sent to me now, that usually means that they would like to meet with me. So then if I choose to meet on the film as well then the next step is having a sit down meeting with the Director and/or Producers and then I’ll prepare for those by going through and coming up with something; often looking at still photography or paintings or anything that I feel is appropriate. Something that feels like what the movie should feel and look like, I’ll bring those to the meeting and then we talk through the script and talk through ideas. I hear their ideas and you see if it jives and feels like something you want to do. Then you see if they pick you, like you were auditioning as an actor. It used to be that they’d send out my reel and then people would decide, 'Do we want to meet with Larry?' My agent would hustle a lot more as far as you know, having to push me on a lot of projects. Now I get sent a lot more and I have a little bit more opportunity in deciding on what feels right. Also now there are a handful of Directors I’ve worked with and thankfully they come back to me on their new projects.

When we were talking last year I was just doing another movie with the Director of 'The Hangover' that comes out in November. (When Larry and I first got in touch, he was busy shooting 'Due Date,' Directed by Todd Phillips and starring Robert Downey Jr)

Thinking about younger filmmakers and upcoming cinematographers who want to be doing your job.. obviously now with digital filmmaking; thousands of people are out there wanting to do what you do. What advice can you give?

The main advice I have for anybody is: I never had a back up plan, and I think that’s kind of the only advice I can give. I moved out to LA half-way through college. I got super into film and then because I always had an interest in stills photography I got really interested in camera work and I just decided I really want to do this for a living. I wanted to be a cinematographer. I had the benefit of knowing what specifically in the film industry I was interested in, which certainly helps and not everybody has that. Some people really need to figure out exactly what it is. I moved out to LA with no real contacts or anything, but I also didn’t have a plan to do anything else. I tried as best as I could to stay away from the Joe jobs. I still needed to make a living but I would do things still related to film as best as I could. That’s not to say I didn’t have one or two Joe jobs, but I read scripts that would allow me to earn a living and I obviously had the benefit that I could work as a camera assistant. But everything I did as a camera assistant, whenever I earned enough money to make rent I would go try and shoot stuff on my own. So I was really disciplined about not getting too stuck into working as an assistant. I was constantly trying to shoot. I think if you want to shoot then go shoot, that’s the best thing I could say, and find any way to make a living but continue to do it and everything you do will provide experience that will allow you to get jobs. It just takes time. The year that I made 'Kissing Jessica Stein' was one of the first years where I decided I would not do any more camera assisting even though that was basically how I was earning a living. What a miserable year, it was my only job all year and I think I made $7,000 on the whole movie. So, here I was, a 30 year old guy and I made $7,000 that year.

But it paid off!

Yeah it allowed for other opportunities, yeah exactly.

It’s almost like just by making the decision like you said; the decision to move to LA, the decision to say you’re not going to do any more camera assistant work, that’s the important thing there, right? Do you know what I mean? It’s making the brave decisions.

Yeah, and really cutting off the safety net. I’ve seen my friends go through the same thing to some extent. Everyone has their real responsibilities, like family and they have to earn a living; those are all real things I’m not dismissing them but as best as you can if you can not have a back up plan, then I think you’ll just HAVE to make it, you’ll have to survive and find a way to make a living you know.

Do you think that there is a character trait in successful people in the industry - that separates those who are working from those who aren’t, or is it luck?

No, I think partially, it's luck, there’s no question. Even with my own personal career; I look at these other cameramen and some of them don’t even have the opportunities that I have right now and these guys are amazing and frankly more talented than me. But I think the main character trait is the attitude, really; it’s attitude and enthusiasm. I still believe movies are a Director’s medium first and foremost. I hold the Director in great regard. They really have to carry this major load of all the decisions on a movie. So I feel that every job, whether you’re the costume designer, production designer, you name it-- every little department head or even the people working underneath each department head.. everything you can do to help the Director facilitate their vision; you’re going to be a valuable asset on the film.

Treat every film as if you are the Director, as if it was your film. I think that’s an important thing. If it’s as important to you as it is to them, then you’ll become a valuable asset. It helps you do your job better because you care more. I’ve really loved every film I’ve worked on because of the opportunities provided to learn and have these experiences. It’s not even like it’s faking it, I genuinely get so engrossed in every film I choose to do, that, they feel like my films. They feel like something that’s so important to me, that I want them to succeed. I want to do well by the Director and Producer and all those people. It's not even just bullshit, it’s genuine, and I think that ultimately if I’ve had any success it’s probably because of that.

Are you shooting today?

Yes, yes we started like 10.30am our time.

Lawrence is currently shooting 'THE BIG YEAR,' and 'DUE DATE' is due out in November.


Care to share?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Kid In The Front Row Summer Acting School.

Hello and welcome to the Kid In The Front Row Summer Acting School. This is an online course for any aspiring actors out there. The course is free. It lasts for three months. It consists of three tasks.

Task 1: Shut the fuck up for once.
Task 2: Sit down.
Task 3: Watch Jimmy Stewart films. Watch his acting. Watch it closely. Do it again and again and again and again.

Any 'actor' who says, at any point, "I'm too busy these days to watch any movies" will instantly fail. Or worse, they'll be sent on a constant loop of auditions where they'll never quite get the role; and will be forced to look around bemused as they try to figure out why the hell it is they're such terrible actors, never once thinking it might be because they don't study study study the very magic that they're wanting to exude.

At the end of September you'll be fully graduated. And you'll be amazing.

Care to share?

Toy Story 3: Advice Needed.

Shall I watch the first two again, or go into the third one fresh? I remember the first two, kinda. I mean, I probably watched them about a year ago. But my memory is terrible. Do I need to watch them again? Even if I don't, should I just watch them anyway, to get me back in the zone and to make sure I get any subtle in jokes that might occur? Or is it best to save my 'Toy Story freshness' for the new release? Did I need to put a ' and a ' between the phrase 'Toy Story freshness'? I'm not really sure why I did it, and in fact; I failed pretty bad at English. So any help would be useful.
My question is (I know I already asked, and now I'm rephrasing, perhaps repeating, which is probably pointless, perhaps) SHOULD I re-watch the first two? Not do I need to, I know I don't need to, just like I didn't need to italicise those words just now. But I could watch them again if I wanted to just like I could italise a word for a random reason just because I can. I guess what I'm asking is: do you want me to watch the first two again? Will it enhance my viewing experience?

My concerns are:
  • I'll have overdosed on Toy Story stuff if I watch the first two immediately before seeing the 3rd.
  • The first two are so good that it may make the 3rd one seem poo, even if it's not poo.
  • I have a pain in my right knee*
  • If I don't watch the first two, I'll be pissed when I sit there during the 3rd one and the Potato guy says something amusing which is a reference to something from the first two films and I don't 'get' it.
*This is a general concern, not related to Toy Story. Although, the knee problem did arise shortly after they began production on the 3rd movie.

** It would be difficult to prove, and the legal fees would be costly - so I am unlikely to sue Pixar over my knee injury.

Tell me what to do! (Just regarding the Toy Story questions, not regarding general things in my life. I don't like being told what to do.) Thanks!!

Care to share?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

STAFF BENDA BILILI - Hackney Empire, Review - 20th July 2010

Some of you may remember me talking about STAFF BENDA BILILI previously, after I saw the documentary about them which will be in some form of cinematic release later this year, beginning in France. Tonight, I got to see them perform live at the Hackney Empire, London. When you know about the band's backstory, it makes evenings such as this especially poignant. It's hard enough for anyone anywhere to achieve anything -- so the fact these guys went from living on cardboard boxes in the Congo, to playing international music festivals is truly remarkable.

But they don't want your pity. They don't want you thinking "aww, good for you.." in a condescending way-- although I'm sure many do. In fact, I felt a bit uncomfortable just before the concert was starting. It seemed to me that the audience was predominantly white and middle class, and it kind of bothered me in ways I can't fully explain. I had this feeling that here are this incredibly powerful, deep and truthful band --- and the audience is a bunch of do-goody-wanna-check-out-the-cool-disabled-African-band trendy white students. Whether I thought this about the audience, or about myself, I don't know (not that I'm a student). But the audience was not diverse-- I don't totally know what my point is..

..And I guess that point doesn't matter too much, because as the concert began, all of those things faded away. Whether you were black or white or able-bodied or disabled; you were taken in by the magnificent energy and magnetism of the band. A near capacity Hackney Empire where everyone was dancing. Unless you're painfully self-conscious like I am prone to be, in which case, you subtly tap your feet but only when you're certain no-one will notice.

But this is the magic of the music. Eventually, they GOT me. They took me from one mental state to somewhere entirely different. I went from being me, full of commentary and thoughts and judgements and ideas; into instead being this body that heard, felt and became one with the music on stage. Finally, I was there. There was a woman not far from me who was dancing from the very beginning-- completely swept away by the music, she can seemingly just switch off and switch in. I wish I were as lucky as she. But like I wrote in my recent blog about writing, it's rare that I can be completely taken in by someone's art, especially as I get older (for reasons we'll investigate another time).

The point I was getting to is that eventually I was completely in the moment with the music.. it was all that mattered. I was full of joy. And it's at those rare, almost religious moments when you truly realize the power of what you're witnessing. It's a strange kind of oneness (Jesus, I used the word oneness. Shoot me), when musicians, the audience, the floor, the roof, the insects in the corner; when they all meld into one and become an experience, this thing you are all feeling together. And that is the power of music. Of art. Of films. Of all this stuff. This is exactly why we do it.

'Benda Bilili' means "look beyond appearances." And that is exactly what the Staff Benda Bilili concert experience makes you do. Regardless of your thoughts on race, disability, economics, privilege, etc--- you need to look beyond them, that's where the truth lies. Whether you're an idiot blogger judging a concert audience, whether you're a guy making crude jokes about disabled people or someone with a prejudice against black people, looking beyond it will do you a lot of good. The messages tonight were loud and clear. When a band member jumped out of his wheelchair and began to shake his body around and dance, without the ability to stand, there were gasps from the audience.. gasps that mean 'I didn't expect that.' It's a gasp no able-bodied person would ever have to hear if they started dancing.. but that's the point, nobody knows what anyone is capable of. If we think we know, we're wrong.

The band members always knew they were destined for great things. When you see 'Benda Bilili!,' the documentary about them - you see their confidence and attitude-- they knew even then, before anyone gave a shit, that their music was important, that they were destined to be the most famous disabled musicians, if not the most famous musicians, period, in the world. And it might be best not to rule out that happening.

The stand out star of the band is, without doubt, the young Roger Landu - who plays an instrument which he invented, aged only 12, before he knew any of the band. He calls it the Satonge; and he invented it so that he had something to play on the street, to make money, so that he could feed himself and his family (It's made of an old tin can, a piece of wood, and a string.) The sound of his instrument is unmistakable. He's incredible. And he's also the future leader of the band. The current leader of the band Ricky Likabu, is very aware of his and his bandmate's ages-- they are living way beyond the life expectancy of Congolese men - and their wish is for the boy prodigy to carry on the band long after they're gone.

We can only hope those days are a long way away. Staff Benda Bilili are one of the most exciting, compelling and inspirational bands ever to grace the planet. They have beaten the odds that life and society had stacked against them -- and they inspire you to want to do the same. Unless you're familiar with the language, you won't know what they're singing about. At least not consciously. But the energy, emotion and pure HEART that permeates everything they do on the stage will leave it's mark on you.

"Can you define what is handicap? Everybody's got a 'handicap' of his own. We don't consider ourselves as disabled. We are musicians first, all of us are gifted craftsmen, we do all types of jobs to survive. We got many children and do our best to feed them. We don't care what people think of us. The only judgement is on stage, and we will rock the place."

Care to share?