Wednesday 9 September 2009

Understanding Your Dreams - A Weird Short Story.

A Short Article By The Kid In The Front Row

Dreams are strange. People who like country music are also strange, but have been subject to less scientific research. My personal experiences on this matter have indeed been noteworthy. In fact, the content of my dreams were once planned to be the basis of a 20,000 word scientific study, but the scientist instead opted to do a Twitter update only. Dreams, we have long been told, are an absolute mystery. However, through my own studies, I can reveal they tend to happen at night and when sleeping.

I once fell asleep whilst wearing my glasses. This was unfortunate as for the next few hours I dreamt I was waiting for a consultation with my local optician. I only realized I was dreaming when a large gorilla walked in and praised me for being a great single Mother and an award winning acrobat. The amusement was short lived as he immediately charged me $50 for a contact lens examination.

Carl Jung, Freud and numerous other dead people believe dreams are the doorway to learning about our subconscious wants and desires. If this is true, why do I keep dreaming about Stephen Hawkins giving me foot massages? To get to the bottom of all this I enrolled in a three year psychology degree. This went great until three days before graduation when I woke up in a sweat; and realized it had all been a dream.

I have since learned that most of the time you can tell if you are in a dream because things seem completely unrealistic. For example, I can always tell I'm dreaming if people are polite, a girl remembers my name, or George Bush completes a full sentence.

In recent years there has been a distinct lack of research into what happens when people go to sleep at night, but Dr. Ralph Piffell from Oregon, USA, is determined to bring the matter into the public consciousness. The last heavily-funded study into the effects and meaning of inner dream life was in 1967 in Neuschwanstein, Germany. Unfortunately the study had to be called off as participants were found to be drowsy and close to nodding off. Dr. Piffell says that he dreams of the day they can do another in depth study. But he also admitted to dreaming of naked Albanian wind-surfers joining him for barbecues, so is fraught when it comes to deciding which dream to bring to life.

One of the main ways dreams are analysed is by looking closely at the meaning of symbols and objects within the visions witnessed during sleep. For example, if you dream about pasta, that is actually your subconscious desire for sexual activity in your life. However, if you find yourself dreaming about sex you are more than likely to wake up with an urge for penne pasta.

One of the most common concerns is that of the recurring nightmare. Throughout centuries the greatest minds have done their best to find ways to stop them. Only now are they realizing the simplest way of halting them, which is by not sleeping.

In summary, there is still much to learn about dreaming. The good news is that many myths are now being debunked. For many years people believed that to die in your dream meant that you would die in real life. It turns out this is true, but often the death does not happen until 50, sometimes 70 years later. Another key thing to remember when looking into dream interpretation, is that it is not completely accurate. For example, if you look up the meaning behind your dream about a piece of cheese; it is often difficult to tell exactly which type of cheese it was in the dream. This type of thing is of major importance, as dreaming of mature farmhouse cheddar cheese means you are coming to a new, positive stage in your life, whereas dreaming about moist blue cheese indicates you are likely to have limbs amputated if you ever travel to Scandinavia. It is for reasons like this that I strongly recommend only dreaming in supervised situations.

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Tuesday 8 September 2009

Joe Leonard - Film Director Interview

Some of you may remember me excitedly posting a film trailer a few weeks back. It was the trailer for a new film called 'How I Got Lost,' an independent feature about two disillusioned, twentysomething New Yorkers; written & directed by Joe Leonard.

I was intrigued to find out how such a personal project came to fruition, and how an independent movie can, in this day and age, find film festival recognition, as well as distribution. Luckily, Joe Leonard provides us with some fascinating and insightful answers.

'How I Got Lost' seems like it's come from a very personal place. How did the project come about? What inspired you to write it?

Yeah, it's a pretty personal project, which is what I love about it. A lot of it came from a certain time in my life when I was living in the East Village trying to figure out where I fit and what I was looking for. I came up with the title early on, and I was trying to write a film that captured a feeling. It was after 9/11, and none of us wanted to leave the city. But at the same time, it was a hard place to be.

That's when I read "The Sun Also Rises" for the first time. It felt like it had just been written. It felt like it could be me and my friends. So I was inspired by that.

I think you can really tell that the film comes from a Writer/Director, your voice is all over the film. Do you worry that will get lost if you start doing bigger-budget projects, funded by the studios?

That's a fun question, and one I should test out! Realistically though, my interests as a writer and a director tend towards independent, lyrical films. I'm interested in people more than plot. I don't have much control over that, as much as I'd like to.

Right now I'm working as an editor on "Glee," a new show on Fox this fall, and I think it has already taught me a lot about working on bigger-budget projects and making strong decisions. It's been an amazing experience, and terrific after finishing "How I Got Lost." It doesn't hurt in this case that it is an incredibly creative show, or that I work with incredible people.

Do you think there's a place, commercially, for films that are more interested in people than plot? I'm like you, these are the types of films I crave-- it just seems unfair to me that someone who does really moving work like you might struggle to get films funded and to make a great living, whereas a filmmaker making 'Scary Movie 9' prospers?

I do think there's a place commercially for good stories that are character-based -- but it's a hard business, and the more arty you get, the less likely you are to find your way into a big budget or big return. I do know that actors want to do good work, though -- and that's an ace in the hole. Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't necessarily want to do "Scary Movie 9." So if your script is good enough and he gets his hands on it somehow, I like to think that you have a shot at making an ambitious character movie. Then suddenly, if Jake Gyllenhaal is involved, raising money and finding distribution works with an extra set of zeros.

In terms of survival and success, you have to define it for yourself. There are quicker ways to strike it rich. As a filmmaker, you have to figure out how you can make a living to survive long enough to make your movies. I stumbled into editing, and it's actually helped me a lot as a filmmaker. So I actually feel lucky that way.

I've read that you won an award; and that grant formed a big part of the film's budget. Could you tell us a little bit about that experience and what it did for you?

Well, it was a make or break point for the film. I had written the first draft in 2002, moved to Hollywood, shown it to everyone who would look at it, and gotten essentially nowhere. But I couldn't give up on it. The more I faced rejection, the stronger I felt about the material. The more I heard other people's takes on the project, the more it came into focus. I started asking questions when I hit each wall to try to figure out a way to make adjustments, so that the next time I would have outflanked their concerns. It was a tough project because it wasn't very structured, so I had to back my way into a sequence that would feel structured. So it was a great service, hearing "no." I was persistent. I applied to the Sundance Lab -- 3 times. And to the IFP LA (now Film Independent) Labs -- 5 times. Never got in. I did get into a lab through IFP NY with Scott Macaulay, which was a great resource. And then one day I got a mailing from NYU -- where I went to film school. There was a grant set up for filmmakers making their first feature. The Richard Vague Production Grant. You had to send in the script, and a budget, and a proposal -- and you had to fly to New York to pitch it if you were a finalist.

The first year I was a finalist, I didn't win. But I thought about it afterwards, about the questions they asked me after my pitch, and about how it could be better. So I went back to the drawing board, beefed up the budget in certain areas, hired some producers, and pitched everyone I knew in the month leading up to the meeting to practice. The day I got the grant, I felt like Muhammad Ali. Now I was able to lay all of the groundwork for the film -- and I had a ribbon to point to proudly, saying someone important believed in me. That was all the permission I needed, and I didn't ask for any more for the rest of the production. We ended up raising all of the money privately, with the most incredible set of investor/producers you could hope for.

What was the budget?

We made it for under a million bucks with a non-union crew and a SAG cast. Most of the money went to our 4 week shoot, to pay our amazing cast and crew, to renting trucks, and to getting people from New York City to St. Louis.

I like what you said, 'I had a ribbon to point to proudly, saying someone important believed in me.' As independent filmmakers, I think we can often go for an awfully long time on self belief, never really having the proof that anybody cares what we have to say. Had you ever felt that?

You're right. We have to be pretty hard-headed, and in this case I think that's a good quality. You have to have that us versus the world mentality. And if you know you have something to make you've just got to stick to your guns. On the other hand, you don't want to shut yourself off to criticism, or to collaboration. It's a tough balance to strike. But being self-motivated, and believing in yourself -- you can get far on those fumes. It's worth noting that actual encouragement (from teachers, friends, parents, film organizations, festivals) is still the actual fuel. Mom, dad, thank you! My list is actually quite endless.

The film has garnered a lot of recognition at various film festivals. How important are these for the film, and for you as a Director?

Well, similar to the grant, the festival exposure has been great for us. What we're trying to do now is build an audience and build awareness of the movie. Each time I can post on my blog or Facebook page that we've gotten into a new fest, or won this or that award, we gain some momentum. It's sort of like navigating New York by following the walk signs at each intersection. We know basically where we're headed, and we just don't want ever to have to stop.

As a director, festivals are just fun. People get to see the movie. You've already done the work. I always get worried about things like the projector quality or the sound levels. Once I've relaxed about that, or given up on it, it's a blast.

How do you decide which festivals to enter?

Well, we had a list. The theory is that you go for the "important" ones first, then trickle down to the regional fests. This is a great theory, but we finished our movie after Sundance and Tribeca -- where we were rejected based on our rough cuts.

My theory is that theories are just... theories. Good movies should get into good festivals. I look at the festivals and I try to track their reputation, but I don't think there's any point in not applying to a festival because it isn't on the highest tier. At this point in the game, I am most interested in how filmmaker friendly they are. I also sort of look at our festival run as our theatrical release -- though we are planning a theatrical release this Winter as well. So I apply to festivals in places where I imagine folks might be who would like our movie. Places like Austin, and Chicago, and Portland. New York and LA, San Francisco.

My favorite fests, based on the screenings we've had and where I've screened shorts before, are Dances With Films, Austin Film Festival and the St. Louis Film Festival.

If I have a short film I want to get into festivals, would you recommend focusing on the main ones or just sending them to absolutely everywhere? And would a bigger festival want to screen something that's just be screened in a little film festival in Nebraska?

With a short I don't think your premiere status really matters. I'm no expert, but I'd advise sending it to fests that you really want to go to. Fest applications can be a huge waste of money if you send it everywhere. Apply to your regional fests, apply to your dream fests, and apply to one or two that you hear great things about. That's my advice.

Why did you decide to shoot on the RED camera? How was the experience for you and the DP?

There was an economic reason. We wanted to shoot a high production value arty movie on 35mm lenses, but we didn't have the budget to do it the way we wanted to. But the real reason: we were excited about it. It fit the motto's on the door of our production office in Brooklyn: "No Surrender," and "ambition beyond our means."

We had a great experience. We tested it a little... not much. Chris Chambers, my amazing DP, did a beautiful job of adjusting to it and creating some amazing images. And my editors Sarah Broshar and Sam Mestman (who was kind of our RED guru, and also our colorist), designed a practical workflow. We had no real problems.

You worked with a really incredible crew, full of talent and experience-- how did you pull them all together?

I had the best crew in New York City in April of 2008 -- fucking (pardon me) amazing. I found them working on projects over the years. I collected them as I went along, because I knew I was going to make this movie. Chris Chambers and I shot two films together. Jared Parsons and Sam Mestman produced films with me going back to our NYU years. I met Massoumeh Emami working on a film by Danny Leiner called "The Great New Wonderful." I just did my best to find talented people, I gravitated toward them, and try to come up with an excuse to work with them. Like JR Hawbaker, our costume designer and one of my favorite people in the world who literally created from scratch several dresses for the film. And Lexi Cuesta, who was a jack of all trades MVP on set even when I had totally exhausted and frustrated her. Then Massoumeh brought in some of my favorite new collaborators (everyone who makes movies in New York, by the way, will attest to how incredible Mass is -- as a human being and as a film collaborator). Chris DeAngelis, our co-Producer, was Rainman with a schedule, and remains the only guy I would personally follow into war. And Matt Munn and Katie Akana made me want to be a production designer. Or at least hang out with them and help out however I could (not much). The list goes on. Our gaffer Corey Eisenstein went to high school with me! They were incredible. And the movie is what it is because of their hard work. What it boils down to for me is that I like making movies because I love the people you get to work with. I love that you are in it together, on this crazy journey. And I love how hard it is, and how far everyone gets pushed (including me of course), just as much as I love how fun it is.

Do you have a distribution deal? Are we going to see it on a wider release?

It's up in the air. It's pretty interesting right now. There's been a total collapse of the independent film market in the last year or so, and now everyone is trying to find a new model. I like the Soderbergh model actually -- a simultaneous theatrical, cable, DVD and digital release... There's a whole new landscape now. Internet, VOD, the iTunes store... we are planning to have a DVD distribution deal in place by the beginning of next year. And right now we are pursuing a limited theatrical distribution this winter. We'll see how it goes. It took me five years to make this movie, so I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it gets out there.

You've done what many aspiring filmmakers only dream about. You put a project together and you went out and shot it. What advice can you give to upcoming writers and directors, how do you take that leap to going out there and getting a project made?

I had a film teacher, the documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who said "if you're a filmmaker, get out there and make a film, every day." It sounds extreme, but I think it's right. I think that's the mindset you have to have. Pick up the camera, of if you're working that survival job, keep a notepad with you. Movies start within you -- unless you're using heavy machinery, let your mind wander. Look for the people you want to work with. It's easier to make a feature with a die-hard collective of ten filmmakers than it used to be. Support each other -- you can't do it on your own. And don't ask for permission... unless it involves fireworks.

Joe, thank you so much for taking the time for this. One last thing. Is there one little piece of advice, or one little nugget of information you could give that might help writer/director's like you who are about to embark on making their first low-budget feature?

Well, keep it in perspective if you can. Making a feature is a long haul, and you want to love your movie and still have a few friends a year or so later when you finally get to your festivals. It's an amazing mountain to climb, but oddly it doesn't feel like what you might think at the end. The joy is really in making the movie -- there's is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But I don't think that makes it any less worth chasing.
I think a great way to end this interview, in fact, a great way to end any interview, with anyone, is to mention Bruce Springsteen. Here, I have the perfect reason. The picture below was taken in the 'How I Got Lost' production office during shooting-- and sums up Joe and his crew's work ethic, and is as good a phrase as any to live by when working long hours on a feature. In the words of Mr. Springsteen...

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Friday 4 September 2009

random thoughts at 1am on a saturday.

District 9 is pretty cool. It's actually not what I expected, but was cool nonetheless. The Purple Rose Of Cairo really is a perfect little film. I am uploading a short film privately to YouTube to get some feedback from people I trust. I'm tired of editing. I think I'm really going to indulge in some Woody Allen films in the next few weeks, I watched 'Hannah & Her Sisters' again today. Michael Caine kind of annoys me in it, but it's an amazing film. Woody really is a genius. I think you should all watch the documentary 'Tyson,' even if you don't like boxing. Diablo Cody is a good person to follow on Twitter. Looking at the analytics for my site, somebody found the site by googling 'is the kid from Home Alone dead?' Rest assured, he isn't. I will be announcing the book winners very very soon. I am going to make a gritty New York film soon. I am also going to write a rom/com, but don't worry nothing too cheesy. I love LoveFilm, what a great idea. (The equivelent of Netflix for most of you), I have some old Ernst Lubitsch films to watch soon, I think it's about time Tom Hanks went back to making special movies, not just mehh movies, I have some really exciting interviews coming up here soon, I need to sleep, I'm up early.

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Thursday 3 September 2009

Recurring Film Nostalgia

One of the best things about this blog has been finding many other people who are just like me. It turns out, I'm not the only Kid In The Front Row. There are a lot of us, and we're filling up the isles. So it gives me great pleasure to be able to hand over the writing reigns today to a guest author, someone who truly embodies the spirit of being a Kid In The Front Row. He writes about something close to my heart, nostalgia.

'Recurring Film Nostalgia' - by Jack Wormell
Film sneaks into our lives in different ways. I grow fond of a film not just for what it is, but because of how we met. Associations sit so strongly in my head that a movie becomes entwined with certain occasions or periods of my life, and a select number of films maiden voyage into my heart was through television. Seeing them beamed out to me from the TV screen for the first time has left them intrinsically connected with a certain period of my life, and, for some strange reason, has reinforced my love of them.

When I was younger, before I owned any DVDs, and only a few videos stood on my bedroom shelf, there were certain films that seemed to be broadcast regularly, as if, after looking at the calendar, the broadcasters exclaimed, ‘We haven’t shown Jaws in three months! What can we free up on Friday night’s schedule? Pronto! Pronto!’ My nostalgia, whether correct or not, tells me these films were always on the weekend, no earlier than Ten PM and usually on BBC 2. They were films of varying quality, but always immediately gripping, films where you could jump in halfway through and grasp what was happening with no trouble (although perhaps this was because I’d seen it about 3 months earlier on the same channel).

Catching Goodfellas a quarter of the way through, round about the Copacabana tracking shot, or finding the opening credits of Undersiege reaching an end, and with a thrill settle in for guns, cooking and Gary Busey cross dressing (Busey, by the way, featured heavily in my childhood, as the king of the supporting part in dubious 90’s films: Underseige, Point Break, Predator 2). Yes, Undersiege seemed to be on TV almost every weekend when I was 14.

So anyway I present to you my little list of films, which repeatedly came into my life through the medium of television, now something I hardly watch, plagued as it is by mediocrity. When I was younger TV acted as a trusted friend, one who exhibited exciting, reliable films for me time and again. Films that, when I look back on it now, I just had to see. I think I would have grown up a different person without the knowledge that every Friday night I could sit down in the comfort of my own home to be further educated in the violence that one giant shark can do in a weekend, or why you must never say ‘Candyman’ five times in front of a mirror, or why the future of mankind rests upon a lippy teen with a knack for breaking into ATM machines (in my memory Terminator 2: Judgement Day was actually on every week. I will stand by this).

Everyone has their own selection, with films of varying quality, as well as those films on video bought by your parents, but that’s a whole ‘nother recollection entirely! Anyway these are my childhood TV films, in no particular order:

Midnight Run
(Bit of a cheat, I think I was a little older when this started recurring on TV, but it was, and is, always on.)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day

I was drawn to these films because of their violence, their dramatic dialogue and their phenomenal music (Terminator 2’s mournful industrial clanging is still one of my favourite movie themes). Since those tender years I may have watched subtler and more intriguing films, films which have become my all time favourites no less, but whenever I find one of the above on TV, I still have to sit down and watch it, hypnotised. I may have it on DVD but I still have to watch it, then and there, because it is being broadcast to the public. And even though there are more obscure films I love which are rarely broadcast, it’s still a special moment when Undersiege or Candyman invade my living room. And I’m pretty sure it has to do with me at the age of 14, sitting in the television’s electric glow.

--Jack Wormell is a filmmaker and writer with a degree in Film & TV. You can also read his poetry at

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Wednesday 2 September 2009

'The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus' Review

When Heath Ledger first appears on screen, he's hanging by a rope on London Bridge, dead. In the minutes that follow, a passing travelling circus act, the main players in the story, try their best to save him. It's powerful viewing, given that you've been watching for thirty minutes waiting for Ledger to arrive on screen. So when he does finally appear, it's uncomfortable but compelling.

I must first begin by saying, I am not the best person to review this film. It's not my type of film. Just like, if you wanted someone to review the new Sex & The City Movie, you wouldn't ask Quentin Tarantino, it's just not his thing. But then, that's not my thing either. 'The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus' is a film that will undoubtedly leave a bigger mark in filmic history than originally anticipated due to the unexpected death of Heath Ledger. The Director/Co-Writer, Terry Gilliam, found himself in what he describes as an 'unprecedented' position of having a leading actor dead with half of his scenes left to shoot. Due to what can only be described as a stroke of good fortune, or fate, the scenes that were left to be shot gave Gilliam a way of finishing the film and putting it together in a way that allows for the same character to be played by different actors. To go into detail about this would perhaps cross over into spoiler territory, so I'll leave it at that for now.

The most remarkable thing about the film is how full of ideas it is. The film is, by and large, about imagination-- and that's exactly what it has an abundance of. My thinking was, "how the hell did he think of this?" whereas my friend put it more interestingly when he asked me, "what do you think he was smoking?"

The problem for me is that a creative mind and ideas only go so far by themselves. When I wrote about Charlie Chaplin's 'Modern Times' recently I spoke of how amazed I was by how full of inspired ideas it was. There were hundreds of ideas that were executed, without doubt, by a genius. The same cannot be said about '..Imaginarium,' as sometimes you can't help but feel it's all a bit colourful and creative just for the sake of being different.

The performances in the film are magnificent from all. Lily Cole stands out in a role that Terry Gilliam freely admits was a risk. Aside from a small role in 'St Trinians,' the acting experience of the professional model was limited, and her taking on such a complex role could have backfired. It didn't.

Without question, the thing that fascinates people about this movie is how they dealt with finishing the film without their lead actor. As most of you will know; Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped up to the plate and finished what Heath Ledger started. Did they do a good job? I'll begin by saying that Law and Farrell did more than adequate jobs. There's no reason to get too excited about it -- they stepped in, and did okay. They didn't reach the level that Ledger had set, but they did the job.

Johnny Depp, on the other hand, is an interesting one. Let me first start by saying, I loved him in 'Donnie Brasco.' Aside from that though, for reasons I have no real excuse for, I don't know that much about his work. For reasons of fluke, coincidence, and other random excuses-- he's just not an actor that's particularly on my radar. Don't get me wrong, I've seen 'Pirates..' and a bunch of other stuff, but I don't have much to say about it or his acting. I've always assumed and ignorantly believed he's a cut above the rest but without ever really being a fan or knowing his work.

All that is a build up for me to say: I thought he was fantastic in this movie. He flew into the role of Tony with such ease and subtlety that it was remarkable to see. Depp was also hilarious in it. His scenes got big laughs from me. Laughs that were missing throughout the rest of the film. It could be coincidence, it could just be that the scenes he were in happened to be the funniest ones, but it seems more likely that Johnny Depp is just that much more brilliant than everyone else on screen. And I'm not knocking Heath Ledger, he puts in a strong performance and is entertaining and a joy to watch throughout, but Depp steals the show for me. As much as I'd have loved for Ledger to have bowed out with a work of definite genius in this film it's safe to say his defining role, quite rightly, is The Joker. That's his.

In summary; for all it's grand ideas and innovation, 'The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus,' is a film that I rate as watchable and fun. It's not the greatest film in the world, but you could do a lot worse. Heath Ledger puts in a fine performance and there are definite hints of his undoubted talents, but he is more likely to be remembered for his masterful turn in 'The Dark Knight.'

The film will fascinate you, because of the context. Terry Gilliam and his team deserve major credit for pulling off the film when they would have been excused for calling the whole thing off. It's definitely worth a watch-- even if come the end, you do feel a little underwhelmed.

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