Robert Altman

Robert Altman died last night. The old coot was truly a talented director, and he was one of the few people in Hollywood I looked up to. He’s one of the reasons I got into making movies.

I’ve always loved Altman’s dedication to his vision- unlike a lot of insecure directors, Altman knew what he wanted and he wasn’t afraid to make movies his way. Sure, he directed a lot of clunkers along with his list of massively successful movies. But every one of his films had heart. He was a rare man in Hollywood who wasn’t afraid to make movies that would force his audience to think and feel differently. The guy had guts.

If you haven’t seen an Altman movie in a while, click here to see the list of his films on IMDB. I’m sure there’s at least 2 of them which you have not yet seen that’ll surprise you and make you glad you have NetFlix.


Dan Neil- 800 Words, LA Times, New Horror Movies

This was far too good not to copy and paste. Link here. This is why I don’t write and don’t support these new “torture-based” horror movies:

Barring a wave of sweet mercy and enlightenment sweeping the nation, by the time you read this, “Saw III” will be the No. 1 movie in America. The “Saw” series revolves around the cruel stylings of Jigsaw, who traps his victims in fiendish puzzles that they must solve as the clock winds down. A woman wakes up to find herself fitted with the retainer from hell, a spring-loaded device that will rip her head apart unless she can fish the key out of the entrails of her companion, who’s understandably dubious. The lesson here is to never get sideways of a maniac with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Halloween typically leaves the box office slicked with blood, but October’s fare was particularly hemorrhagic. I give you “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” yet another gory terpsichore through the heart of Bush Country. Taken together with “Hostel,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Wolf Creek” and “The Devil’s Rejects” (and their ineluctable sequels), these films constitute a quickening sub-genre of horror movies, the ultra-violent torture flick, or as Entertainment Weekly has dubbed it, “claustrophobic cruelty.”

Here diners at the feast of American life might be tempted to say, “Check, please!” The very notion of torture chic is profoundly dispiriting. Has our culture become so debased, so desperate for frisson that films glorifying inquisitional agony can find an audience? Well, duh.

Before you even start, horror fans, I get it: Commerce in images of cruelty is nothing new. From Seneca to Shakespeare—whose arm-chopping, head-lopping, children-baked-in-a-pie “Titus Andronicus” is the weirdest carnage in English literature—there’s always been a theatrical appetite for violent depravity. Nor is it a peculiarly American appetite. Witness Chinese martial arts films and Italian mondo horror. For world cinema, blood is a primary color.

But there is a quantitative difference between this year’s dicers and anything that pioneering gore-meister Herschell Gordon Lewis ever made, and that’s the size of the audience. Exploitation flicks were once cult films, consigned to grind-houses, drive-ins and other shame-based venues. “Saw” I and II have a worldwide box office of nearly $250 million and counting. “Hostel,” a movie where a young woman has her eye burned out with a blowtorch, has made $80 million worldwide since January. A butcher blockbuster, if you will.

I walked into a Sunday matinee of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” expecting the theater would be empty. It wasn’t. Perhaps 100 people were there, and while most in the audience were teenagers—slasher films’ primary demographic—a lot of them were Gen-X’ers and older. Uh-oh.

“Chainsaw” is supposed to be scary, I guess. Except that it’s such a piece of genre apparatus, with conventions so smoothly grooved from decades of use and so generously lubricated with blood—imperiled hottie teenagers, cannibal psycho-billies (and not the good kind), falling-down house of horrors—all that’s left to ponder is the stunning, bone-and-gristle violence.

In one scene, Leatherface nails one of the heroes to a vivisection table and flays the poor lad’s forearms to the radius and ulna. Then he gets downright unpleasant. With the movie’s eponymous power tool, he guts the poor kid, then filets his face off—all while the boy’s girlfriend hides below the table, drenched in runnels of blood and organ juice. Popcorn?

There’s also a qualitative difference. Older slasher films—such as the original 1974 “Chainsaw” by Tobe Hooper—were by current standards pretty delicate. They were carefully, not to say responsibly, edited to cut away at or just after the spattering moment of impact. Look-away editing is a thing of the past. This film—and I can only assume its genre contemporaries—is a work of unblinking sadism, cold and profanely explicit. It’s astonishing that the filmmakers actually had to pare back 17 scenes in order to avoid an NC-17 rating. Geez, what did they cut? Never fear, sociopaths, these scenes will be restored for the unrated DVD release.

For me, the worst horror was not on the screen. A half-hour into this film, a mother brought her son, no more than 9 years old, into the theater. To that woman, wherever you are: What in Christ’s name is wrong with you?

I don’t want to come off as the Tipper Gore of gore, but I can’t help wondering: How far can this line be pushed? How far into the mainstream can these images reach? When the guys on “CSI” take the revving bone saw to the bloated corpse of some poor floater, why is there no outrage, no network boycotts? I guess so long as we don’t see her nipple.

Forgive me. I’ve been working with this material for a couple of days now. I’ve read the blogs and contended with the defenders of this vile trash. I’ve tried to keep an open mind. And at the end of it, I just want to let out a biblical howl of despair.

I don’t know exactly what these awful movies say about us, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t good.


Star Trek 40th Anniversary

kirkIn honor of Star Trek’s 40th Anniversary, I wrote and directed a 3 minute episode of Deliverance where the Pizza Dude delivers to a couple of comic book store Trekkies and has to decide who the best Starfleet Officer is- Mr. Spock or Dr. McCoy.

I had a lot of fun with this project. One of the cool things about it is I shot all the background plates at the original location that was used in the 1966 Star Trek episode “Arena”. We didn’t have the budget to actually shoot at that location, so I took my digital camera and shot the backgrounds on my own, then composited them with Apple’s Shake software. That’s right- every shot is a greenscreen one on this episode.

Here’s the link to a QuickTime version of that episode (latest QuickTime required). And here’s a link to it on YouTube.

Happy Birthday, Star Trek!


Video Trailers From A Couple of Short Films

I’ve been meaning to post a lot more of the work I’ve been doing. It’s been tough finding the time, as my schedule’s been pretty crazy. Last week I shot another promo film for a client that was for their website and dvds they send to their customers. I also have been doing some video editing for our museum client and I’m in preproduction for a very interesting movie I’m shooting in November and a series of short promo films for another corporate client. The corporate client is a well known college that is trying to attract new students with a cool, edgy video series. In my “spare time” I’m working on some concepts for my next YouTube/MySpace series and a fully CG greenscreen project.

I’ll have a new directing and editing reel up for you to check out later on, when things calm down a bit. In the meantime:

For those of you who appreciate a higher quality trailer than the pixely YouTube/MySpace look:

Headhunting, Inc. in Flash Video

I like Flash Video or QuickTime the best- as a filmmaker I don’t like how YouTube or MySpace video looks. But you can also:

View the original Deliverance trailer on MySpace.

And here’s the Headhunting, Inc. trailer on MySpace.
(special thanks to Stacy Steinkuller for posting this one)


Other Peoples’ Work

Cool visual effects stuff. I stole this link from HD For Indies. I loved the movie, of course- Charlie Kaufman is one of my favorite writers. But I put the link here so people who aren’t necessarily Hollywood people could see how much work goes into even relatively simple visual effects. This movie breaks it down.

And my friend Josh has a new short movie up. He’s clearly been working on camera motion (steadicam?) and focus pulling on this piece, which takes an inantimate object- a building- and makes it appear to be human.


Other Peoples’ Work

Cool visual effects stuff. I stole this link from HD For Indies. I loved the movie, of course- Charlie Kaufman is one of my favorite writers. But I put the link here so people who aren’t necessarily Hollywood people could see how much work goes into even relatively simple visual effects. This movie breaks it down.

And my friend Josh has a new short movie up. He’s clearly been working on camera motion (steadicam?) and focus pulling on this piece, which takes an inantimate object- a building- and makes it appear to be human.


New Mobisode Posted

pizzaWe’re getting ready to release the newest Pizza Dude mobisode on YouTube and GoogleVideo. But you can get a sneak preview of it here, first. Mosey on over to the Deliverance Mobisodes page.

This one’s called “How Dude Got His Groove Back“, and it’s about how our long suffering Dude finds love. You’ll need to have QuickTime to view it, including the H264 codec that is built into the latest versions of QuickTime. If the video does not load in a few minutes you should just visit the Deliverance Pizza website to view the episodes in YouTube quality.

This is this final installment of our Deliverance By The Slice sitcom series for SprintTV that was shot this past summer. We’ll be back with more episodes and a brand new series at some point in the future, plus I’m working on a feature film about our beloved Pizza Dude. Enjoy!


Containers, Coltrane Ballet, and Pink Floyd

coltraneIs this just an LA thing? I spent some time at the Container Store in Pasadena recently, and it’s this massive two story building with the largest elevators I’ve ever seen and aisle after aisle of containers. It seems sort of, I don’t know, decadent? Not that I am not grateful for their existence- I am. My lady and I each left with a new set of wire mesh drawers. I’m using mine for client material storage, and the way things have been going at work I’ll probably be back again in a month to buy another set of those mesh drawers. Yeah, we’ve been busy at work.

We’re starting a new project on Monday, which is why I’m in the studio today- time to clean up the mess from the last project, do my archiving, etc. This new project will involve website, database, middleware integration, motion graphics design, and video production. The client is on the ball and knows that they have a shot at setting a new standard for their industry. I love that. In the meantime, I’m also working with my fellow filmmaker friend Erica’s XL2 to get a handle on how that baby reacts in different situations. I think we’re shooting that in a month (early November?). And I’m also working on a new commercial for another client. Cool stuff.

Last night I got to finally check out the Ford Amphitheatre in LA. That place is amazing, it’s the oldest one in Los Angeles. A fire destroyed a lot of it in the late 1920s, but it was rebuilt in the early 1930s. The reason for my attendance- a ballet performance done to the music of the late jazz great John Coltrane.

I absolutely loved the music, the band was truly awesome. The dancing? It was cool. I’m definitely not a ballet guy, though. What was really interesting was the fact that the Hollywood Bowl is directly across the freeway from the Ford. And Pink Floyd was playing. I’d never been to a Pink Floyd concert. Now I feel like I have been. I could hear ‘The Wall’, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ very clearly between the jazz numbers. I can’t help it, I do like Pink Floyd.


What Is Gear?

This is the Canon XL2 I’m gonna be using to shoot a short drama in a month, to be directed by my friend Erica. I’ve never used an XL2 before, although we did use a Canon H1 (Canon’s next gen camera) on Melissa and Brandon’s PSA a month or two ago.

Why am I posting and talking about the camera and not the project here?

Simple, because the way a lot of so-called filmmakers talk you’d think the latest and greatest gear makes all the difference in the world. And the XL2 is not exactly obsolete, but it’s a couple of years out of date. An eternity, for those indie filmmakers who talk about high def. No, who talk about 1080p. Or of even higher resolutions. Maybe 4K like the upcoming RED camera system. To those indie filmmakers, shooting with a standard definition camera like the XL2 just isn’t worth it.

Funny, ’cause most of those indie filmmakers seem to talk and talk and never actually produce any content.

I’m not saying HD isn’t awesome. I’ve done a lot of HD and HDV projects now. And the flexibility it has given me in post- being able to zoom in, pan, reframe, etc- is awesome. But I keep thinking of The Beatles and how they and George Martin created some of the best ever songs and recordings using 4 or 8 track audio recorders that have much less horsepower and flexibility than the audio circuitry found in a common laptop computer these days. Or of Phil Spector, and how he did all these great songs… in mono.

The idea is, yes technology matters to a point. But without creativity, technology is really just a bunch of stuff. Useless. Hollow. Of no use.

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