Month: September 2014

Spotlight on Shorts: Death to the Tinman

“Death to the Tinman” is a short film I found a few years ago.  It’s directed by Ray Tintori and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007 where it won the short filmmaking award. It was his senior film at Wesleyan University. Since then Tintori has gone on to direct several music videos for several bands such as MGMT and The Killers.

On its surface it’s a simple tale of love and loss, but it also deals with more complex issues such as religion and intolerance.   As the title would suggest, it draws its influence from the Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum. It’s a good example of using a well-known story, old enough to be in public domain, and expanding upon it.

The black and white cinematography gives it an old 1930’s Universal monster movie feel to it.   Although I don’t have any information on the type of budget he was working with, I have to imagine it wasn’t much. Although the film has a period feel to it, the costumes are more modern day, some so simplistic that they look like they came from a Party City. Sometimes it looks like it could pass for something Ed Wood would have put together. Even the Tinman’s suit looks like it was pieced together with old trashcans.

The look of “Death to the Tinman” is something I believe beginning filmmakers can learn from. It’s a great example of a film that substitutes expensive set pieces and costumes with a whole lot of character. When dealing with stories that seem to require extravagant production values, purposely giving it a super low budget, almost duct taped together feel can give it a quirky, childlike mood provided you have a strong story to back it up.

Tintori says that he was influenced by the likes of Werner Hertzog. Tintori had this to say about his contemporary,

“The Herzog thing was also about not being afraid to do enormously complicated stuff: Shooting with an airplane that we built that we were trying to fly all the time. He’s just extremely brave physically, and (this was) a film a that would be physically exhausting to make because you were out in the real world trudging around in a snowstorm or in swamps or something like that.”

He also lists Spike Jonze as an influence, which I think is a little more apparent.

Tintori notes that since he made the film while he was in college, he tried to stick to familiar territory. This is good advice for beginning filmmakers that might try to wow audiences with their first film by tackling complicated subjects that may be out of their realm of experience. Sticking to what you know before culminating strong research habits can allow filmmakers to put out quality work that comes from the heart. Kevin Smith is a great example of someone who has benefitted from this, making his first film Clerks about his experiences working in a convenience store.

Tintori gives what I thin is his best piece of advice on this subject,

“Yeah, I think that sometimes young filmmakers feel like they need to prove themselves by tackling issues that are really older people’s stories. So you end up getting these festivals with a ton of films by really young kids trying to tell stories about middle-aged people going through traumatic, angst-ridden moments in their life, but you get the feeling that the filmmakers actually have no first-hand knowledge of living through any of those things. So while they’re trying to be truthful, it ends up ringing very false. I recently taught a class at the University of Virginia and one of the things I said to the students was to recognize their own level of immaturity and try to make films that knowingly operate on that level.”

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5 Indie Films Masquerading as Big Hollywood Productions

What the hell is an indie film anyway? For some, the first things that come to mind are small crews, low budgets and none of those pesky producers in sharkskin suits.

Apparently this is not altogether accurate. Turns out, my whole concept of what I thought constituted “indie” was skewed as well. “Indie” and “low budget” are two terms that are often thought of being naturally intertwined but in reality are mutually exclusive. For a film to be defined as independent it needs to be wholly self funded or only partially funded by a “Non-Hollywood” entity. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a small budget. If Bill Gates decides he wants to invest 150 million in a film, well he just made a film every bit as indie as El Mariachi.

As a little change of pace, I figured we’d go on a somewhat comedic foray into the world of big budget indie films. So I present to you a list of indie films masquerading as big Hollywood productions.

Red Tails

Red Tails

George Lucas actually started developing this film in 1988 probably planning to glue propellers on to old X-Wing models. Instead, this 2012 film was halted because Hollywood apparently thought there weren’t enough white people in the Tuskegee airmen. So Lucas waited till the day he could sell enough Ewok figurines to afford his own damn company.

Lucas covered the cost of the $58 million production with his own money and even threw a few million in for distribution. Red Tails ended up taking a hit at the box office, which probably didn’t even faze Lucas when he ended up selling Lucasfilm to Disney for the price of a small country.

District 9

District 9

Some of you might remember that this was supposed to be the Halo movie Just as in one of Kevin Smith’s fantasies, it’s possible there might be an ongoing battle between George Lucas and Peter Jackson to see who might have the greatest sci-fi/fantasy trilogy of all time.  Needless to say, this type of reputation has given Jackson abilities that surpass that of any of Tolkien’s wizards. With the wave of a hand, Jackson can charm independent financers to throw millions of dollars at any project within his realm of influence.

QED International agreed to foot the $30 million budget for this film. District 9 would prove to be a success, taking in a whopping $210 million at the box office, crushing Lucas’s attempt to dethrone Jackson in the Great Battle of Side Projects of 2012.

The Terminator

Terminator-indie-film

Sometime in the early 80’s, a man by the name of Oividio G. Assonitis made a series of mistakes. The first was to resurrect the Roger Corman produced film Piranha. The second was to take up screenwriting and pen Piranha 2:The Spawning. Finally, he decided to try and harness the power of a first time director by the name of James Cameron. The sheer suckage of Piranha 2 would push this force of nature beyond its limits, causing Cameron to fall ill. Bedridden, Cameron dreamed of the day when robots, disguised as humans, would go back in time to put him out of his misery and avoid the cataclysmic possibility of Piranha 3 from ever being made. Upon awaking, Cameron realized the film gods were sending him a message, one that had to be shared with the world.

Like all prophets, Cameron was laughed at. Hollywood wanted nothing to do with The Terminator. Cameron’s agent even begged him to abandon the film. Cameron found his lack of faith… disturbing.  Virtually broke, Cameron dug beneath the cushions of the couch he was sleeping on and sold The Terminator for $1, with the promise that he would be able to direct. The investment would prove to be a lucrative one. The Terminator would later be passed on to independent studio Hemdale Pictures, which financed the film for $6.5 million, raking in $78 million at the box office.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

TMNT-indie-film

Long before Michael Bay began scouring the aisles of Toys R Us for film ideas, children everywhere couldn’t get enough of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The next 5 years would prove to be parents very own ninth ring of hell as children everywhere began to speak in surfer accents while beating their little sisters with old toilet paper rolls tied together with grandma’s yarn. Such popularity made the idea of a feature film a no brainer.

You would think that Hollywood would have bought the rights to the Turtles in a heartbeat, but instead Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was made independently for the low, low price of $13 million, much of which probably went to the Muppet masters over at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. In the end Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would end up taking in a colossal $210 million at the box office, spawning two sequels as well as a creepy rock tour that would solidify Pizza Hut as the leading cause of child obesity for years to come.

Spotlight on Shorts: The Naturalist

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/88646767″>The Naturalist</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/connorhurley”>Connor Hurley</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Most of my favorite films are social commentary films that are presented in unlikely genres. For instance, I absolutely love Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove because it addresses the very serious issue of nuclear warfare, but frames it in the form of a comedy. The film succeeds on so many levels, in part because you have the likes of Peter Sellers, arguably the greatest comedic actor of all time, playing multiple roles, but also because telling the story through comedy allows the audience to more easily digest a rather frightening reality.

“The Naturalist” is a short film I came across that also deals with a serious social commentary, but choses to do so within the confines of an unlikely genre. One would hope that the future portrayed in “The Naturalist” would never come to pass. In it, abnormalities of all sorts are shunned, homosexuality unfortunately being one of them. As our protagonist and his lover hide away from this oppressive world, a friend comes to visit to offer him a “cure” for his sexual orientation.

“The Naturalist” could have easily have been a drama set in present times. The concept of homosexuality being a “disease” to be cured could be paralleled to the current, atrocious practice of gay reparative therapy. Filmmaker Connor Hurley, instead, choses to go the sci-fi route, placing the film within a dystopian future.

This is something I feel all filmmakers can learn from. Just because you may want your film to deal with something like how your addiction to video games have caused your wife and children to resent you as a suitable father figure, doesn’t mean you have to reflect your life verbatim within an environment that’s similar to yours. Any setting or genre can be used to best communicate the moral of your story to the audience. The excellent sci-fi film Snowpiercer deals with class warfare by addressing it within a post-apocalyptic future aboard an eternally running locomotive. Dawn of the Dead is about consumerism. I’m sure the horror of the Holocaust could be addressed within a sword and sorcery fantasy provided it still deals with the core theme in a new and interesting way.

Hurley shot the film on a Red One MX with Cooke S2 lenses and was lit almost solely with natural light. Since the lead actress was sick with tonsillitis throughout the shoot, ADR was necessary for most of her lines.

As you watch “The Naturalist”, pay close attention to how a modern day issue can be further explored within unlikely settings and genres. Perhaps this might inspire one of you burgeoning filmmakers to break though that writer’s block and discover the best way to address your next big idea.

Film Rant: Since When do Tweets Count as Reviews?

Disclaimer:  Film Rant is a section where I attempt to quickly vent my frustrations with new trends in film and TV in 400 words or less. It will most likely not be researched in any way and could very well be coming from a place of complete and utter ignorance. Nevertheless, I consider this a therapy of sorts and for the sake of my sanity these posts will pepper the blog from time to time. Also it should be noted that alcohol could, at times, be the main catalyst for some of these posts, so bare with me on the typos.

I’ve noticed a growing trend in movie trailers lately that’s been vexing me down to my soul. I’ll be chowing down on a salad (aka Spicy Cheez-its), watching The Daily Show, when a trailer for a ridiculous looking comedy will come on. I often won’t pay much notice because I’m a notorious multitasker, who commonly requires Facebook to be open while I eat and watch TV as I enjoy the triple penetration of comedy news, sloth videos and sustenance. But every so often I can’t help but listen to the wonderful “reviews” these films get, each from what I’m sure are well-respected Twitter handles.

Look, I’m not ignorant. I know that films have been fabricating reviews for a while now, but when did they decide to get so lazy? I imagined in the old days they would just throw a few bucks at some broke journalist or content writer and everyone was happy. But times, they have a chang-ed.   It would appear audiences have either become more gullible, more indifferent, or simply so used to having smoke blown up their anus they simply don’t care whose puffing on the pipe.

"Kevin James is money in the bank I tells ya!"

“Kevin James is money in the bank I tells ya!”

As much as I’m sure @peterstarzgard racked his brain to answer that Magnolia question posed on IMDB, no matter how nuanced his response, are we really accepting nowadays that he’s a top authority on films? Or is it that people are far more accepting of the opinions of those on social media than I realized?

Maybe what I should be asking is “Where can I get my hands of some of that sweet tweet money? I mean I do have a blog now about film. Surely that counts for something. I think I can sit through Let’s be Cops if someone paid me. Better yet, why do I even have to see the movie? I can come up with something clever in 140 characters. “@letsbecops: Call 911, cause this movie is killin’ me!” or “It should be a crime if you miss this one. No. Seriously. Beaten and incarcerated without chance of parole. #mycatsmyonlyfriend.”

"Patton Oswald tweets back to everyone but ME!"

“Patton Oswald tweets back to everyone but ME!”

If any studios are interested, please email me at Freindlyneighborhoodfilm@gmail.com under the header Pimp my Pic. Don’t worry, I come real cheap.

Comics and Film

So in the never-ending battle to clear up space on my DVR, I began watching The Director’s Chair on the El Rey network. For those of you not familiar, The Director’s Chair is a sort of interview/master class program where Robert Rodriguez sits down with an established director and the two talk shop (sort of what I plan to do with this blog).

In one episode, Rodriguez was talking to Guillermo Del Toro about actor choices and how they both have that go-to actor that has come to represent their work.   Rodriguez mentioned how he keeps using Danny Trejo just like Del Toro uses Ron Perlman. He likened it to Scorsese’s early work with Robert Deniro. The two directors agreed the reason they keep going back to Trejo and Perlman is because the two actors have such a unique look and that it’s impossible to interchange them with any other actor. I couldn’t help but agree. Their are no Danny Trejo types you can use if you can’t get that trademarked grizzled look that Trejo is so known for. The same goes for Perlman. I mean seriously, can you imagine anyone else playing a live action, sewer dwelling version of The Beast?

Glamour Shots were so popular in the 80's.

Glamour Shots were so popular in the 80’s.

This got me started on my own little theory (really just a hypothesis).

Both Rodriguez and Del Toro have both said in the past that they’re highly influenced by comic books. Both draw and Del Toro has even published his own series. As the two of them discussed the type of presence Trejo and Perlman brought to the screen due to their unique looks, I couldn’t help but wonder if comics played a large role in their casting choices.

I have always respected the amount of detail that comic book artists put into their characters, specifically facial features. They say all you need to play Batman is a good chin, but this is only the case because comic book artists over the years have correlated square jaws with strength. One could also look at the casting of Schwarzenegger in Conan and how it relates to the artistry of Frank Frazetta as an example. Arnold was probably the only one Hollywood could think of that could capture the look Frazetta had attributed to Ron E Howard’s literary series. Frazetta’s scant usage of clothing combined with rippling, inhuman muscles and dark features gave Conan an almost primal look.

Before Electric Muscle Stimulators were invented, all you needed was a bolt of lightning and an epic hawk

Before Electric Muscle Stimulators were invented, all you needed was a bolt of lightning and an epic hawk

As the two directors went into detail about Trejo and Perlman, I realized how the attention to detail found in comics could truly enrich a film production. Del Toro noted that the studio didn’t want to make Hellboy unless he cast a bigger name than Ron Perlman. Del Toro refused to cast anyone else, demanding that only Perlman had the look to pull off the role and it’s a good thing he did. Really, is there any another actor alive that could play that character?

I’ve always kind of looked at comics as a good starting point for anyone interested in making film. By analyzing comics, you can get a good feel for things such as camera angles and what to capture within a frame. Attention to details, specifically when talking about facial features seem to me to be yet another example of how comics can further enrich a film.