Found In Time At LoneStarCon3

LoneStarCon3 Film Festival

Found In Time will next screen at the upcoming 71st LoneStarCon3, one of the largest and oldest sci-fi conventions in the U.S., down in San Antonio TX! Details:

DATES: Thursday, August 29th, 4pm
WHERE: LoneStarCon3, Marriott Rivercenter – Room 13-14
TICKETS: Hit up LoneStarCon3’s registration page for details on day/weekend passes!

ALSO: here’s a review (in French) + an interview with director Arthur Vincie, from the website Fantasticmovies: Fantasticmovies

Found In Time Hits GenCon Tomorrow

GenCon2013Laurel5c5e43

This is a busy August! The 45th GenCon starts today! Located in Indianapolis, IN, it’s the oldest and largest role-playing game convention in the U.S. And Found In Time will be playing at the Indy Film Festival event! Director Arthur Vincie will be on-hand for both screenings!

Here’s a great review from Examiner.com!

DATES: Friday, August 16th, 9pm (Ballroom #4) AND Saturday, August 17th, 2pm (Ballroom #5)
WHERE: GENCON, Westin Hotel (part of the Indianapolis Convention Center complex)
TICKETS: Hit up www.gencon.com for details on passes!

Rethinking The Word ‘Visionary’

It’s been a while since I dipped into the ‘critical’ role. Generally, while I like (and read plenty of) film criticism, I’m less sure of my ability to write it. Also, I’m constantly afraid that it will make me very self-conscious in my own work.

But, I feel like I have to speak but, because something is bugging the shit out of me, and it has to do with the advertising (and to some extent) the fan-boy reception and criticism of Zack Snyder as a ‘VISIONARY.’

Zack, I don’t know you, but I have seen most of your films. I feel that you, Gaspar Noe (Enter The Void), Sophia Coppola (Lost In Translation), Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight), and a few other filmmakers belong to a particular class of artists. You have impressive technical skills, and are trying to embrace bigger themes in your work, while working within a system that seems to actively discourage anything of the sort. That does make you special among many film directors who seem content to waste their talents on complete crap, or try to make a go of it entirely outside the mainstream system.

However, it doesn’t make you a visionary. Because, in order to be a visionary, you have to have a VISION.

What do I mean by this? I mean that, as an artist, you have to reach beyond what we know and accept as part of our consciousness, dig into what’s ‘out there/in there’ – the endless, constantly unfolding universe – and bring back a new paradigm, nugget, something, anything, that suggests a better/newer/alternate way of being, thinking, loving, living, making. In literature and philosophy, think of Ovid, Dante, Blake, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung… more recently, Djuna Barnes, Pynchon, Deleuze, Adrienne Rich, Phillip K. Dick, William Gibson, Samuel Delaney, Elizabeth Hand, Neil Gaiman. In art, think of Picasso, Matisse, Keith Haring, Louise Bourgeois. In music: Dirty Projectors, John Cage, Arvo Part, The Boredoms, Bjork, Bill Laswell’s Last Exit, PJ Harvey…

In film and television: Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, David Lynch, (sometimes) David Cronenberg, Maya Deren, Kieslowski, David Simon, David Chase (what’s with all the Davids?), Hayao Miyazaki, Julie Taymor (sometimes), Wong Kar-Wai…

Feel free to argue with some or all of my choices. Not all of them produced consistently visionary (or even good) work. But what unites them (at least is my mind) is that, regardless of their choice of medium, subject matter, technical acumen, critical reception or box office score, they bring something back from the edges of our existence, and thereby broaden our sense of what’s possible.

Other visionaries: the filmmakers I’ve been meeting this year on the festival circuit. The filmmakers behind Sader Ridge, Found, Channeling, Menschen, Lonely Boy – just to name a few, and just at one festival (the Phoenix Film Festival) – are exploring new places, on budgets that are far less than Zack Snyder’s personal bottled water supply. Are the works technically perfect? No. Who cares? They have the vitality that unites great art, from the shamanic cave paintings at Lescaux to Basquiat to Ralph Ellison to Arvo Part’s Tu Deum.

Being a visionary doesn’t guarantee success – sometimes it means taking years of exploration, exile, scraping by on day jobs, scratching away at ideas, throwing a lot of crap out. It’s risky and maddening and sometimes you’ll die before everyone realizes who amazing you are. But if you want the frontier, to connect with what made you want to do this as a kid – it’s there, waiting for you.

So use this word with care. If you aspire to visionary status, spend some time working in the dark. And bring us back something new.

Good News, And Sustaining Your Career

GOOD NEWS…

First, some good news! Found In Time has been selected to screen at the upcoming GenCon Indy Festival! That’s right, the oldest and largest gaming convention in the world also runs an independent film festival, and has selected us to screen there. Some details:

WHERE: GenCon Indy Festival, Indianapolis, IN
WHEN: Thursday, August 15- Sunday, August 18th (screening times to be announced)
MORE INFO/TICKETS: www.gencon.com

GenCon2013Laurel5c5e43

SUSTAINABILITY:

I’ve been promising an article on rolling your own DCP package for a while now, but the first draft came in at a whopping 6000 words, so obviously I need to do some trimming or I’m going to bore everyone to death. In the meantime, I’ve been preparing an English dialog list for the film (and writing an article on that as well), updating all the promotional material, and working on a secret new project.

So in the meantime, I figured I’d write about something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately – sustainability. Specifically, sustaining a career as an independent writer/director/producer-type in this environment.

A couple of years ago, it seemed like the bitchfest would never stop – every panel, interview, article, and workshop I went to/read about focused on how much the independent film world sucked to make a living in. To some extent it’s never been easy, but with rising staples prices (housing, food, gas), wages that have been frozen in time for the last 15-20 years, lower budgets, the quest for “stars” that would eat up what budget was left, and the increasing crappiness of distribution deals, it seemed like a hopeless cause.

But in the last two years, while we were posting Found In Time and then sending it out, something happened. More avenues of cheap direct distribution have come along – Tugg.com (for limited theatrical), Amazon direct (for digital), smaller-scale aggregators, the Film Collaborative (digital and VOD). If you make it cheaply enough, you might be able to make ends meet, or at least not go completely broke. Even Ted Hope sounds positive – which is saying a lot (love you Ted, don’t ever change).

The problem is how to get past this stage of Ramen noodle filmmaking to where you can pay your rent with it. How many first films can you make? I’ve made two so far, for approximately the same budget. I can make another one in a few years, if I’m lucky. But that’s not a career – that’s a very expensive crack habit. Here are some solutions I’ve been thinking about, talking about, and reading up on. Thank you to Ted Hope, Steven Soderbergh, the Filmmakers Collaborative, Stacey Parks, Jon Reiss, Francis Ford Coppola, Filmmaker Magazine, and as always my friends and collaborators Bob Seigel, Ben Wolf, Adam Nadler, Dan Loewenthal, Quentin Chiappetta, and others who’ve listened and offered suggestions on this).

Make Films Cheaper

With production costs going down, one strategy is to keep making films cheaper, and make them more often. This is the turtle method – lay a thousand eggs, and hope that a few won’t get eaten by predators. If you produce enough films, you can get some paying work. The Mumblecore folks embraced this method, and while I can’t say I enjoyed most of their early efforts, by the time they got to Cyrus the Duplass Brothers definitely knew how to direct, simply because they’d done it so often.

Make One Bigger Film

The other method is to carefully nurture the $1 Million film, package it, and find the money. This can take a lot longer, and you’ll have to play it safe a little bit, but it’s still doable. This is the method advocated by Stacey Parks at Film Specific, and it’s closer to the mammalian model – have fewer kids and take better care of them. You can get most of your expenses covered and even take home a small salary, so you don’t have to try and work a day job while making your film.

But in both cases, how do you pay the bills while you’re developing these films? Well, theres…

Work On Other Films

I did this (and still do, to a limited extent). I worked on a line producer on many first features. It was great fun, even when I thought I was going to have an aneurysm. I learned a LOT about filmmaking that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The only problem is that it’s insanely difficult to develop your own projects while working on others’, unless you’re working on a really low rung. So perhaps you should…

Collaborate

Find some folks who want to work on films also. Then you all make films together. With everyone taking turns supporting each other, at least one project will take off. This makes a lot of sense, and a lot of successful production companies have started this way. The danger here is getting through the first film to the second, without going through all your cash/favors/patience. I’ve seen a lot of partnerships go down in flames because everyone burned through their resources, contacts, friendships, and favors on the first film, leaving nothing left for number 2.

Diversify

When things were slow on the line producing front, I worked as a payroll accountant. I’ve also worked as a web production coordinator at a festival, as a post supervisor, and as a production manager on music videos, shorts, and other projects. I’ve gone back to computer programming a few times. I wrote the nonfiction book. I teach. I write spec scripts. Most of my artist friends do multiple jobs, some of them related to their field, others less so. If you take the right attitude, none of these is a waste of time (though some days it’s really, really hard not to feel like your life essence is draining into a puddle at the bottom of your cubicle).

The Present and Future

We may have to come to grips with the idea that television (either online or over cable) has eclipsed independent film as a medium in terms of diversity, depth and flexibility. What really exciting, well-written, character-driven stories have I been watching? They’ve been produced by NetFlix, Amazon, HBO, AMC, or other cable companies. They’ve decided that owning the whole pipe – from creation through distribution – is the way to go. They then hire us filmmakers to work on their projects.

So should we all start making web series as a calling card intro? I’m not sure about that either, but compared to creating a feature the costs are lower (somewhat), and the emphasis is not on production value so much as on good writing and acting. It may not be a way to make a living but it’s possible to put together a good web series without breaking your bank, and having it actually reach a sizable audience. And you get practice, which is very important.

I don’t have an answer, and there probably isn’t a single one. You’ll probably have to combine all these techniques to make it work. I do know that if you’re starting your professional life in film, you have to think about how you’re going to sustain it in the long-term. Sounds like a big duh, but it does require a large headset adjustment.

Here’s a picture of my cat to cheer you up. Good luck!

Cat

Snowball

Phoenix Film Festival!

Standing under the poster at the party pavilion.

The last six months have been rather wonderful. To date, we’ve traveled to four film festivals (Shriekfest, Eerie, Nevermore, and now Phoenix/IHSFF), and each experience has been a positive one. We’ve been treated well by the organizers and staff, met some great fans and filmmakers, and seen some terrific films. Phoenix was no exception.

DAY 1:

The festival itself takes place in three separate spaces, that are part of a large (huge, actually) strip-mall. The Harkins Plaza cinema is a multiplex – and very well maintained, with good seats, tasty popcorn, and decent-sized theaters. The ticket office is located a short walk away, and the main event space – the “Party Pavillion” – is in another event hall at the mall. Several vendors and companies rented tables in the Pavillion. They also ran events and kept a bar going. On Sunday, a miniature version of the local Comic Con occupied the space. Having a central hang-out is a great thing – it lets filmmakers and audience members connect more easily, and provides some space for the occasional chill-out.

1PM: EDUCATIONAL PANEL

At 1pm I was on an education panel, talking to about a hundred high school students about independent filmmaking. This was a lot of fun. I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, I was in great company – Leya Taylor, the DP and producer of Found., Alev Aydin, star/writer/producer of Lonely Boy, Ben Shelton, writer/director of Waking…, and Gerry Santos (producer) and Drew Thomas (writer/director) of Channeling. The event, organized by Bob Marquis, was really focused. The students asked some really good questions. We talked about preproduction, coming up with creative solutions to budgetary problems, and the “glory and grit” of independent filmmaking. Scott Schirmer, director of Found., recorded some of it – you can find it here.

Found.

Then it was off to see a film I’d been wanting to see since meeting Scott, Leya and some of the team down at Nevermore – Found. This film is great. Our hero is a twelve-year-old boy, who’s being bullied at school and trying hard to figure out who he is. Oh, and his older brother is a serial killer. It’s a coming of age story, a meditation on the nature of horror and sexuality, and a family drama, all wrapped up in one disturbing package. Winning performances, great cinematography, solid writing – and they made it for $8000, with a tiny crew. This film is tearing up the festival circuit, and deservedly so. It won the Best Horror Feature at Phoenix!

Then I wandered over to the Party Pavilion, met up with the great folks from Sader Ridge – and hung out with them and walked the vendor booths. There were some pretty cool folks there, setting up shop, including the Arizona Film and Media Coalition (azfilmandmedia.org), who are fighting the good fight to keep production in Arizona; the Phoenix chapter of the IFP, who are doing a great job of putting educational events together (ifpphx.org); and the local Screen Actors Guild chapter.

Sader Ridge

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check out Sader Ridge while at the festival, but Matt Medisch (writer/producer) and Jeremy Berg (writer/director) gave me a screening copy, which I watched later. This is a really terrific film! It’s also one of the more unsettling psychological horror stories I’ve seen in a long while. When Samantha inherits a house from the family she never really knew, she takes a trip to inspect it and the surrounding property. But as soon as she arrives her memories start coming back to her – or are they hallucinations? Her friends start acting strangely – or is she witnessing normal 20-something jealousy? As her sanity starts to unravel, she has to figure out what’s real and what’s not, and where this trip down memory lane is leading her. It’s done really well, with an emphasis on building tension. The film features some really strong performances, and beautiful cinematography, music and sound design. It’s also having good luck on the festival circuit.

After checking into the hotel, freshening up a bit, and grabbing a quick bite of *delicious* Mexican at Filiberto’s, it was off to the Friday night screening of Found In Time. The film got a good reception, and the audience asked some great questions afterward.

DAY 2: Lonely Boy

I managed to drag my ass out of bed early for the 9am screening of Lonely Boy, and I was very glad I did. This is a wonderful film. Written and starring Alev Aydin, directed by Dale Fabrigar, and produced by Alev and Troy Daniel Smith, this was a beautiful portrait of Frank, a man who’s trying to date while in the middle of job, family, and psychological crises – he has schizophrenia. This film somehow threads the needle – it portrays Frank, the lonely boy, as a real human being, and not just as an object of horror, ridicule or slapstick humor. The performances, editing, music, direction – it was all totally there. Good stuff.

Channeling

Suddenly it was time for Channeling, a really terrific sci-fi/thriller written/directed by Drew Thomas, and produced by Laila Ansari, Gerry Santos, Thomas, Kelly Andrea Rubin (co-producer), and Kip Brown (post producer). This is a “near-future” sci-fi film that combines a lot of different genres, and does it well. The “gimmick” is an EyeCast, a camera that works like a contact lens – it affixes itself to your eye – and livestreams what you see to the world. The more radical things you do, the larger your follower stats. A lot of eyecasters want to get sponsorship. But how far would you go to get it? When one “bad” brother is killed while EyeCasting (an accident that might really be a murder), his older sibling comes home and assumes his identity, to try and figure out who did it and why. Good performances, a really slick (in a good way) look, and a compelling story make this is a really enjoyable film.

Shorts!

I took a break from features to check out some shorts, and was suitably impressed. A few standouts: Life on the River, by Chris Remerowski, was terrific. On the surface it’s a gritty drama about two homeless people who end up camping out by a river, which becomes a kind of sanctuary for them. But who are they? Where did they come from? The twist is too smart to reveal here. The cast is really good and the music is haunting.

Menschen also gets a special shout-out. It was written and directed by Sarah Lotfi, whose last short The Last Bogatyr was a national finalist for the Student Academy Awards. Menschen follows an Austrian captain who’s trying to keep his remaining troops alive at the end of World War II. Desperate for shelter and recooperation, they occupy a farm. A woman and her developmentally disabled son live in the house. After a raid by partisans, the boy loses his mother. The captain, to everyone’s surprise, takes the son under his wing, and takes him with the troops. This has to be one of the most unusual World War II films I’ve ever seen, and it really works. It’s touching without being maudlin, and feels very curent despite being a period piece. And it looks damn more expensive than it cost, thanks to some very sharp technical and producing work.

After a delicious dinner at the local diner with the Found. and Sader Ridge crew, I caught Errors of the Human Body. It was a very good film, but it didn’t really draw me in. The basic idea is that a famous, but now disgraced, American cancer researcher ends up working in Germany, invited by his former grad student (and crush) to work on an exciting new tissue regeneration project. But there are other folks at the lab with less benign motives, and our hero is fighting the inner demons from his past.

After seeing the film I was able to catch up with the Channeling team a little more and talk about the film and their work. Then it was off to bed.

DAY 3: Found in Time Again and Panels

The last screening of Found In Time, at 11:55am on Sunday, sold out! The crowd was very generous and had some terrific questions. The projection was noticeably better as well – I was told later that the bulb in the other room was a bit old (it’s amazing how much of a difference these things make).

Then it was off to check out the panel discussions. First up was the “Writing Horror” panel, which featured Scott Schirmer and Leya Taylor from Found., Matt Medisch from Sader Ridge, David Pruett, director of the Dark Carnival International Film Festival, and Tara-Nicole Azarian, who at the age of fourteen has directed several award-winning horror shorts. They had some really good advice on writing horror, working on a budget, how to make it compelling and scary (instead of merely gory), and why it’s such a good genre to work in. Check out the YouTube video of the panel.

I was on a panel with Gerry Santos from Channeling and Professor Carl Varnado from Scottsdale Community College, moderated by sci-fi writer, Sci-Fi Programming director, and cool guy Mike Stackpole, on world building. This was a LOT of fun, as we dished about sci-fi films that “got it right,” those that “got it wrong,” how to build a believable world on a budget, and other topics.

There was much more to this trip – friendships started, conversations had, food eaten – but that’s all I can fit in one blog entry. The staff at the Phoenix Film Festival were just awesome, and they made us all feel very welcome. This is one of the key things about festivals – if the staff is cool, then everyone else is too. All the filmmakers I met were generous with their time, answering a ton of questions from me (where did you shoot/what did you shoot on/how long did it take you to post/etc.). I can’t say enough good things about the experience, so I’ll just stop now. Until the next festival!

Nevermore In Review!

Writer/Director Arthur Vincie at the Nevermore Film Festival!

Writer/Director Arthur Vincie at the Nevermore Film Festival!

 

Simply put, this is a great festival. Horror, sci-fi, and fantasy filmmakers and fans converge for three days and see films, grab some cool merch, and chat.

First, a big shout-out to the staff at Nevermore. It is VERY well run. We got emails every step of the way, spelling out the delivery requirements, who to talk to about publicity, what the accommodations are – did I mention that they put us up for two days in a really awesome condominium! – and how to get from place to place.

We also had a very gracious volunteer, Sarah Preston, who picked us up from the airport and took us to the theatre and then to our condo. Thank you Sarah.

While we were there, we saw fewer films than we had initially intended. But we did get a chance to talk to some of the filmmakers and fans. By the way, the theatre is a reconditioned landmark. The projection quality in all three screens was tremendous.

DAY 1: The ABC’s Of Death

After heading out to a Mexican restaurant, we ended up seeing The ABC’s Of Death, a feature film consisting of 26 shorts, directed by a mix of horror veterans (like Ti West) and relative newcomers (at least to me). The gimmick, of course, is that the title of each short is “___ is for _______.” Of the films, about six were worth watching – “C is For Cycle,” “P is for Pressure,” and my favorite, “W is for What The Fuck.” The others varied from “that was okay” to “I wish I could unsee that” (and not in a good way).

DAY 2:

Saturday morning was the big filmmaker brunch. The staff prepared delicious Southern BBQ (pulled pork, greens and other goodies) and a ton of desserts. We say down with Robert Fillion, the producer of the short Lot 66, and Scott Schirmer, writer/director of Found (one of the horror features). We didn’t have a chance to see either of these films, unfortunately, but we’re heading to the Phoenix Film Festival and will get another chance to see Found in April.

Leaving DC

Then it was off to see Leaving DC, written, directed and starring by Josh Criss. This was a really great film. I was initially apprehensive – it’s a video diary film (and haven’t we seen a ton of those) – but instead of going for the cheap scares and trick shots it goes for something more interesting. The plot is simple – a Mark Klein, who suffers from OCD, has finally left Washington D.C. and bought a beautiful, remote house, where he can work and live in peace. Except, of course, that something/someone may be out there. What makes this film different is that you actually come to care about Mark. He’s trying his best under some very difficult circumstances to figure out what’s going on, while also monitoring his meds and live a normal life. Watching him gradually give in to his fears even as he’s trying to talk himself out of being afraid was really quite good.

Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh

Then we saw The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, which was interesting but unfortunately not scary enough. An antiques dealer inherits a house from his estranged mother (played in voice-over by the wonderful Vanessa Redgrave). He’s estranged because his mother was a religious nut, believing in a cult of angels. His son starts to think that his mother is still around – as a spirit or malevolent force. Or he could be grieving for her, or losing his mind. Or some combination of all three. It was really well shot, beautifully designed, and decently-acted, but I kept waiting for it to kick into high scare/discomfort gear and it kept not doing so.

Found In Time

Then came our screening. The BluRay projection was really crisp, the sound quality was great, and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. We got some great questions during the Q&A. Then it was off to see Dawn of the Dead!

Dawn of the Dead

The makeup looks pretty terrible by today’s standards, and some of the music hasn’t aged well, but the movie still delivers the goods. In fact, because I’ve seen it so many times I was able to focus on other things – the psychological complexity of the character (yes, they were more complicated), the horror of their situation, the real sense of hope – and hopelessness – and of course the vicious satire of everything: guns, ego, consumer culture, and society as a whole.

Wicked Radio Network

In the lobby we got a chance to meet fun folks behind Wicked Radio Network, an eclectic collection of podcasts and blogs. Many (though not all) are horror-focused, but there are some humor-, videogame-, comic-, and other-oriented shows that are part of the network.
This is a great deal. They’ve basically built the equivalent of a broadcast or radio network, with plenty of programming, for not a lot of dough. They’ve also solved one of the more annoying dilemmas that content creators (like us) face – how do you get seen/read/listened to beyond just your friends? The answer is to pool resources together and create a platform where everyone gets to shine a little bit, and each podcast’s audience support the others. We’re starting to think of a way to work with these guys.

Day 3!

The rain stopped and it got warm enough to finally do some walking around Durham. What a neat town. We were in the warehouse district, which has been going through something akin to what happened in Brooklyn’s DUMBO a few years ago – manufacturing spaces turning into artists spaces turning into yuppie/hipster spaces, the last step displacing both the artists and the original inhabitants.

Our second Found In Time screening was in the smaller theatre, and the crowd was a little more subdued (hey, it was Sunday) but really seemed to enjoy it and asked some great questions during the Q&A.

Casebook of Eddie Brewer

We saw The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, which was a bit disappointing. It’s a great setup – a documentary crew follows a paranormal investigator around (Eddie Brewer) on a couple of cases, and it looks as though he’s stumbled onto a couple of hauntings involving a pretty powerful spirit. There’s a rival paranormal team, a skeptic who debates with him, and some other good stuff. But the last twenty minutes or so feel a bit rushed and too derivative of other “found footage” horror films we’ve seen.

Unfortunately, we had to leave without seeing the evening films, but we had a great time and will be back again in years to come. Thank you again to the filmmakers, staff, and fans at Nevermore!

Three Festivals Coming Up!

Found In Time will be in three festivals in February!

TCIF3

TRI-CITIES FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL at RADCON 6 SCI-FI/FANTASY CONVENTION

Pasco, WA
RADCON6: Feb. 15 – Feb. 17th
Visit http://www.radcon.org for details on the fest.

boston_scifi_color

38TH BOSTON SCI-FI FESTIVAL

Sommervile, MA
WHEN: Feb. 8 – Feb. 18th
WHERE: Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Sq in Somerville, MA
TICKETS/PASSES: http://www.bostonsci-fi.com

14TH ANNUAL NEVERMORE FILM FESTIVAL

Durham, NC
WHEN: Feb. 22nd – Feb. 24th
WHERE: Carolina Theatre, 309 West Morgan Street, Durham, NC
TICKETS/PASSES: http://www.facebook.com/retrofantasma

2012: The Poor Got Poorer

Happy New Year 2013!
2012 will be marked as the year that the world leaders were confronted with the effects of poverty on a global scale, and essentially shrugged their shoulders and turned their backs on it.

Instead, we watched as the participants in the various democratic movements of 2011 – the Arab spring, continued protests in Iran, strikes in China, the Occupy movements here and abroad – were systematically beaten, terrorized, arrested and otherwise coerced by the established powers and their police/armed servants. Another year passed while people in the U.S. and Europe were kicked out of their homes, went on welfare, declared bankruptcy, and made to suffer austerity cuts, while the rich people who put them in that position walled themselves with lobbyists and lawyers and defeated nearly every measure to hold them accountable. Another year was wasted while our two-party system deadlocked on key issues. In the so-called BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) we see trends toward increasing political oppression, and a widening of the gap between rich and poor. But that’s okay, because their economy is “growing.” When we see something growing uncontrollably and eating up resources, we usually call it a tumor.

The sheer scale of the suffering is difficult to appreciate. Fifteen percent of this country is on food stamps, and it’s suspected that a larger percentage is eligible. The “real” unemployment rate is in the double digits here, and in the 20s and 30s in big chunks of Europe and the Middle East. Instead of lifting people out of poverty, our economic/political system is pushing people into it.

Poverty is probably worse than just about everything except slavery, rape and death (though it often includes all three). It’s a self-perpetuating limit of personal and societal potential, and it’s completely unnecessary. We have enough food, water, energy, shelter, clothing, medicine and basic human services to go around. The super-rich and even the middle class would barely feel the pinch. Instead we address poverty as a criminal problem – through citations, fines, arrests. We judge poor people’s behavior in ways we would never judge our own (I can’t believe he spends his welfare money on cigarettes, says the guy slurping down his $5 artisanal cupcake with a $5 Starbucks coffee). When we talk about educating people out of poverty, we speak about “math-and-science” and “high skills job training” as though they were a magic panacea, while cutting out other programs. But since we’re hell bent on deunionizing our workplace, in exactly what way will high mechanical/science/math skills help them? And in any case, shouldn’t poor kids be given the same level of choice as rich and middle class ones? Maybe some of them would like to be able to make a living one day as artists, teachers, therapists, historians, anthropologists… we need people in those professions too!

Anyway, this isn’t a blog about politics, but one about movies. But there is a connection. Everyone I know in the film business is trying to make do with less. The budgets are shrinking, and so are the salaries. There’s a wider gap between independent films (shot on a Canon 5D and getting no theatrical or a tiny release) and gargantuan ones (shot for and projected in 3D, getting huge releases). The quality of the films, however, is completely independent of the budget, but IS rather tied directly to the talent of the people involved.

Films addressed the issue of poverty in many ways. Some by offering escapism, some by confronting it head on, some by doing both. Some of my favorite films had nothing at all to do with reality (Cabin in the Woods) while others did (Nothing But a Man). The fact that the latter film came out in 1964 is both a testament to its art and very troubling.

So here’s some observations about movies I saw this year, which may include some that were released in year’s prior (hey, it’s my blog, my rules).

THE OVERHYPED

Paul Thomas Anderson is talented. He knows how to use his tools and how to get great performances out of his cast. But I always feel like there’s something missing in his films. And by midway through the second act of each one, I’m looking at my watch. Having seen the The Master, I now know what’s bothering me. He doesn’t know when the scene is over. I’m not just talking about editing (though that’s part of it) – hell, I love long, slow films – but development. Things build to a certain point in The Master but then they just stay there. It’s like watching a Meisner repetition exercise that goes on for too long – you’re bored, then you’re engaged again, then bored again. Give me some progression, please! Frankly, Down And Out In Beverly Hills and Henry Fool covered the same territory but were both more interesting to watch.

Prometheus: I had to shower and watch Alien again to remind myself that, once upon a time, Ridley Scott made smart, middlebrow films with meaningful visuals. Ignoring, for the moment, that everyone is an idiot in the film, including PhDs, corporate CEOs, and spaceship crewmembers (except for the replicant). Ignore the plot holes, weird shifts in tone, and the pitiful dialog. How about the visuals, which everyone applauded? I wasn’t impressed. Think of LA in Blade Runner, Japan in Black Rain, the Bronx in American Gangster or Europe (giving way to the desert warmth of Jerusalem) in Kingdom. He excels at creating a sense of place and embedding his characters in that place. But there’s nothing really behind the visuals in Prometheus. There’s no subtext to anything, for that matter.

The Hunger Games: I really wanted to love this movie, but I could only just like it. All the elements were there, but the whole thing felt rushed. The pacing was completely off. The over-reliance on close-ups meant that we barely saw the larger picture – literally and metaphorically. The CGI was shockingly cheap. The use of shaky-cam made it impossible to really get a sense of the geography of the space, which is, you know, important in a film with action. And worse, it was deployed at moments when I really just needed to see the characters and get to know them better. The film felt almost completely leeched of any of the political/social critique that is so obviously present in the books. Interestingly, the “poor” who are being oppressed are largely invisible in the film. Since we spend most of the film in the capital and on the field, there’s no real context to anything. And Jennifer Lawrence (who is a very fine actress) is given very little to do. Whenever an emotional moment comes up it’s soft-pedaled and smothered in music. I kept thinking that John Carpenter would have made a much better movie on a smaller budget. Or frankly so would Kathryn Bigelow. Explain to me why she isn’t directing the other movies – they are RIGHT up her alley (violent, visual, allegorical, action-with-subtext).

The Bourne Legacy: Jeremy Renner is a kick-ass action star, and Rachel Weisz is a great partner. They should do more movies together. But nothing happens for the first hour of this film, and then we’re thrown into a soupy mess with some great set-pieces and no real stakes.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows: A couple of years ago, Guy Ritchie managed to combine the light-hearted scruffiness of Snatch with Sherlock Holmes, and gave us an engaging film, featuring a decent mystery, some great performances, and a solid sense of place. For the sequel, he decided to go all Matrix: Reloaded on us and gave us more more more louder louder louder. The only detecting I could see going on was on Noomi Rapace’s part, as she tried to figure out where she belonged in the Holmes/Watson sandwich.

The Dark Knight Rises: And then goes back to bed. Seriously. I felt like I was watching a well-written but boring graduate thesis on Batman and social structure, instead of a movie. The show/tell ratio is crazy. The pacing is dreadful (oh, looks like we’re going to see some action – no, sorry, we’re going to stop and talk some more now). The movie takes forever to take off and has no energy at all (there’s no chemistry between Batman and anyone else, even Alfred, and Michael Caine is trying his best). And after three movies Nolan still doesn’t know how to stage hand-to-hand combat well (except for the end boss fight, which then ends with – you guessed it – more talking). See They Live to see how it’s done, please.

THE UNDER-APPRECIATED

John Carter was fun. A lot of fun. It takes a while to get going, but like Cabin in the Woods I felt it treated the subject matter with the appropriate level of B-movie energy (though it was not as well-written as Cabin). Interesting subtext, too – two civilizations are being pitted against each other while another (the Tharks) is exploited by both, and yet another is reaping profits behind the scenes. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was watching something epic in scope. It has problems – the ship-to-ship combat is a lot of badly-edited explosions, and the film needed to be longer (yes, longer) since they were trying to pack so much stuff in. But it’s not the disaster all the critics made it out to be. It’s also funny. Lynn Collins is smoking. And Willem Dafoe is nine feet tall with four arms. What more can you ask for?

The Avengers: Okay, what am I smoking? How is this an under-appreciated movie? But while a lot of attention has been paid to the (admittedly awesome) meta-dynamics of bringing all these different characters together, and the rather spectacular battle in the third act, what makes the film work are the quieter moments in the second, where Wheedon actually spends some time developing relationships and characters. He mixes genres, shifts comedic/dramatic tones without missing a beat, and apart from some very shameful stereotyping (not all Germans go to the opera, and not everyone who lives in Calcutta is poor with goats and black and white TVs in their yards) makes it all feel fresh. The other thing that doesn’t get as much mention is the ambiguous way it treats American power. It seems very pro-American at first, but as the film progresses it questions American hegemony (apparently, the high command at SHIELD felt that New York City was expendable, and Nick Fury is not an unalloyed force for good, but rather manipulative when he has to be).

Total Recall: This wasn’t a perfect movie by any stretch. The original is still quite entertaining, and the social/political points it makes are so fresh that the remake doesn’t really update them so much as just redecorate them. But it’s beautiful to look at, there’s some great set-pieces and good performances, and it does manage to be both fun and make a point (as the best of sci-fi does).

OTHER EXPERIENCES:

Nothing But A Man (1964) was amazing. A film about the destructive effects of racism and poverty made nearly a half-century ago, the film felt fresh and alive. I wish I could say it felt like a period piece, but you could make the same film today (the main character is fired for trying to organize the workers at one of his plants, hello Michigan) without changing much except some small details.

Devoured (2012) – I saw this at Shriekfest. It’s not what you think. I don’t even know how to describe it exactly, but it seems like it’s going to be a horror movie about a restaurant worker trying to save money for her son’s operation, who’s being haunted by something/someone in the place. But there’s a lot more going on here. The lynchpin to the whole film – apart from the solid cinematography, editing, and sound design – are the performances. The actress playing the lead, Marta Milans, will hopefully be on everyone’s speed dial by next year.

Sidewalls (2011) – This is a fun dramedy with some serious undertones, taking place in Buenos Aires. A young man and woman suffer from various forms of urban anomie, living in buildings opposite each other but never quite meeting. Dealing with internal and external separation form the bulk of the film. While you kind of know how it’s going to end, it’s a well-written, often surprising journey.

Many of the best things I saw this year were on TV – Game of Thrones, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Walking Dead (sorta) – and in short form at Shriekfest and online (too many to mention). Television and particularly cable tv has become, over the last fifteen years, an awesome dramatic storytelling venue again. I’d love to see movies do the same thing – if we’re going to have a three-part Hobbit, why not a three-part Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or Transmetropolitan?

Anyway, here’s to a better 2013 for everyone. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward all. Happy new year!

To Eerie Horror Fest and Back

IMG_0519 A day on the beach at Lake Erie.

It’s been a little over a month since our last blog post, and quite a busy one at that. We wanted to touch on a few things, but just haven’t had a chance.

So let’s go back a little bit, and recap our journey to Eerie Film Festival, in lovely Erie, PA.

First there was the issue of the postcards we ordered, which we (for better or worse) had printed the Shriekfest screening date/time on. It took a few hours to print out and apply stickers to replace the Shriekfest screening time with the Eerie one. In retrospect, it would have been better to have ordered two separate 500-count postcard runs, one with the Shriekfest info and the second with the Eerie info, instead of getting the single 1000-count run. You never hand out as many cards as you think you will, and at the end of it you’re stuck with cards that have limited value.

On the other hand, we’d made multiple Blu-Rays of the film a while ago, so we didn’t have to worry about losing our only one at Shriekfest. And we’d also burned some copies of the EPK to DVD, which proved rather valuable later on.

ON THE ROAD TO PENNSYLVANIA

The trip to Erie took a little more than ten hours each way. There were three of us – Arthur Vincie, DP Ben Wolf, and Arthur’s girlfriend Debarati Biswas. We had a couple of pit stops for food and bladder relief, and passed through some wonderfully scenic countryside. Of course we had to stop at the Twilight Diner on the way, for some coffee and dessert. The dessert and coffee were great; our only regret was having eaten too much at IHOP earlier, or we would have had dinner there.

Our first impressions of Erie, PA were that it was an industrial city that had seen better days. But it turns out that since it’s right by the lake, has three colleges in town, and is only an hour’s drive from Detroit, Buffalo, and Syracuse, the city has stayed afloat better than many others through tourism, culture, and education.

HOW ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

The festival wasn’t what I was expecting. The venue itself was magnificent – it was a classic movie theater, built during the golden age of Hollywood. It reminded me of the old RKO theater in the Bronx, where I first saw Star Wars as a kid. Even though I remember the RKO having a run-down look (it was shuttered a few years later), it still possessed a wonderful majesty to it, like a Broadway theater. The Erie theater had the same grandeur but had been maintained and restored, so it was a great place to see the film – on a truly big screen.

The screening of “Found In Time” itself was great. We had a smallish crowd, since it was early, but they made up for it with a terrific Q&A session afterwards. Big props to the folks from Slaughterfilm.com, who asked some of the best questions and then went on to do a really great podcast review of the entire festival (one ‘cast per day) and gave some nice mentions about our film as well.

We spent the afternoon munching food and beer, and hanging out with some of the folks from the fest, then went back in and saw Enchiridion, a really interesting period horror piece (it’s set in 1966), that’s hard to describe exactly. It’s about a priest who’s approached by a Federal Marshall to interview a captured vampire, and translate his “sacred” text. This leads down a lot of rather strange alleys. The film features some stop-motion animal puppetry that elevates the overall weirdness of the piece. Overall I have to say I liked the film, though I feel like it drifted a little in places.

Other films that were interesting were the shorts Lizard Girl, from South Korea, about a girl who seems to be running away from a group of horrible man-sized lizards. While this sounds bad, it’s not – it’s moody, well-shot and directed, and features some really good acting. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to take the lizards as metaphors for something else (criminals, businessmen, etc.) or straightforwardly as monsters, but they’re done well too.

We also liked the short film I Spyders, even though it might have gone on a touch too long. John is a cubicle slave who works long hours for crap pay, for Dave, an unappreciative jerk boss. Gee, I’m lucky I’ve never had a job like that. The one time Dave does something nice for John is when he offers him some grapes; however, a spider, hitching a ride to said grapes, climbs into John’s head. John is possessed by the multiplying spiders, but tries to manage his job until he gets his bonus, and keep from killing Dave.

The Mexican short film Shhhh might be the slickest film we saw. On the surface it’s a monster film, with a boy who’s afraid of an “imaginary monster” that of course is quite real. But the real monster is his sister, who bullies him about his “childish fears.” Until… well, it’s a great film so go catch it if you can.

There was a really good feature documentary that screened just before our film, Cryptotrip, which I started out being quite afraid of and ended up liking immensely. It’s a portrait of people who believe in and/or have seen strange creatures such as Big Foot, Loch Ness, and others (the title is a reference to cryptozoology). I was afraid the doc was going to treat these people as stupid or crass, or sensationalize the subject, but it actually takes their stories and research seriously. By and large they emerge as healthy, smart folks, who have found something that they can’t explain and have tried to cope with it constructively.

IN THE LOBBY

A cool building in Erie, PA

A cool building in Erie, PA

The screenings were the main, but not the only, attraction, of the festival. The lobby (which was huge) was filled with folks selling horror/fantasy/sci-fi themed t-shirts, videos, music, and jewelry. There were also some special guests from years past (including a good chunk of the crew and cast from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) who were selling photos and autographs. We actually spoke with the lighting director from Night of the Living Dead, Joe Unitas, who was a really cool guy. He ended up staying for the screening and told Ben he liked the film. But this wasn’t a crass commercial enterprise – everyone who was there was really interested in connecting with other fans, talking about the local film scene, and just enjoying the films.

One of the standout vendors is PoetJoe Gallagher, who’s a poet, performance artist, and cool guy. He was selling t-shirts that featured roadkill on them, captioned with brief poems. While this sounds gross, it’s not – the animals are not treated as mere objects but as real creatures, who lost their lives tragically. The poems are like an ode to their spirit. His work, in a way, mirrors that of the festival in particular and of horror in general – there is a way of looking at the darker, more mysterious side of life that is neither exploitative nor condescending.

TIME TO HEAD BACK

Unfortunately, with a ten-hour trip ahead of us, we had to leave before seeing too much of the fun Sunday. We stopped in to say our goodbyes, dipped our toes in the lake (which was surprisingly warm for mid-October) and headed home. We stopped off at a couple of places on the way, including The Angelica Sweet Shop in Angelica, NY. Really good sweets and nice peeps.

Many thanks to the staff and volunteers. We had a great time and you ran a great festival! And it was great meeting so many filmmakers, fans, and artists. We’re definitely going to go back next year if we can – it was a lot of fun and it’s a great area. Arthur’s also thinking about shooting his next script there. Stay tuned for more news, and happy Holidays!