Film Rant

Why You Should Support the Voice Actors Strike

When we think about voice acting, we tend to think more of animation and giving speech to CG work, but those who are not gamers may not realize that many voice actors look to the video game market for work.

Over the course of the last decade video games have proven to be as a legitimate form of narrative with big budget numbers to prove it. According to Gartner, a technology research and advisory firm, the video game industry is one of the fastest growing in the world. In 2013 worldwide video game sales reached $93 billion and it’s estimated that in 2015 sales will reach $111 billion. In 2013 Grand Theft Auto 5, one of the most popular and controversial video game titles, sold $800 million on the first day of its release. Granted games are a bit more expensive than a movie ticket (about $60 dollars compared to $7-$13) but if you compare that with this summer’s blockbuster Jurassic World which made $81 million on its first day, you can see the video game industry is nothing to scoff at.

Many of the biggest video game titles such as Metal Gear, Elder Scrolls, and Grand Theft Auto require a large cast of voice actors to bring their characters to life. Even veteran film and TV actors such as Mark Hamill, who voiced the Joker in the Batman: Arkham franchise, have turned to the industry for work. With these titles taking in millions, voice actors are now demanding more in terms of compensation as well as treatment.

SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents voice actors, is mulling over a strike in an attempt to get the video game industry to meet actor’s demands. Many prominent voice actors have also taken to social media under the hashtags #PerformanceMatters and #IAmOnBoard2015 to voice their support for the strike.

Here’s what they are asking for:

Performance Bonuses:

It’s common for film actors to receive back-end bonuses in the event a film does well. With the video game industry growing at such a high rate and popular titles rivaling blockbuster film titles, its only fair interactive performers also get a piece of that.

SAG-AFTRA outlines this as such:

“We’re asking for a reasonable performance bonus for every 2 million copies, or downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers to online-only games, with a cap at 8 million units/subscribers. That shakes out, potentially, to FOUR bonus payments for the most successful games: 2 million, 4 million, 6 million and 8 million copies.”

Vocal Stress:

Voice acting for video games comes with its own dangers, particularly involving characters that have loud or otherwise difficult voices. For instance, horror games may require lots of screaming and yelling which could stress the vocal chords that could lead to injury and possible loss of future work.

SAG-AFTRA is asking for stunt pay, much like film and TV actors ask for when they decide to perform their own stunts, for vocally demanding roles.

Stunt Coordinator on Performance Capture Volume:

It’s sometimes the case that video games studios will require voice actors to perform motion capture along with their vocal performance, otherwise known as a full performance capture.

Just as film and TV actors who do their own stunts are often provided with a stunt coordinator to monitor safety, voice actors who are asked to provide motion capture are demanding the same. Interactive performers have complained that they are often not told what type stunts they may have to perform, such as wirework that could cause potential injury. Voice actors are simply demanding they be provided with a safe workplace.

Transparency:

Due to secrecy regarding future game releases, game studios may not reveal to the actor what they are working on or what their role pertains. This may include vocally stressful roles and potential motion capture as stated above, but also includes things like offensive content that actors may be uncomfortable performing.

SAG-AFTRA is asking that more transparency be exercised so actors have a better idea what their job entails before they commit to a role.

It seems only reasonable that interactive performers be treated to the same benefits as their film and TV counterparts. No one likes a strike, but if that what it takes to guarantee that voice actors receive proper compensation and better working conditions, so be it.

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Film Rant: You Can’t Not Give Boyhood an Oscar

Let me preface this post by saying I have not seen Boyhood yet. Believe me, I plan to, but much like 12 Years a Slave (another film I have yet to watch despite it showing up on cable weeks ago), it just seems like one of those films that’s importance demands more than a casual watch, but a thorough examination. Less a film and more of an event. Still, I’ve always liked Richard Linklater as he came from the same group of indie filmmakers such as Tarantino, Rodriguez and Smith who dominated the festival circuit and pretty much defined my generation. As an admirer I have always followed his career and was well aware of the scope of Boyhood.

As I saw the nominees for the Golden Globes, I tell my girlfriend that Boyhood is a shoo-in for best dramatic picture. Never missing an opportunity to catch me with my foot in my mouth, she states the obvious, “You haven’t even seen the film!” to which I respond, “I don’t need to see it. It wins on principle alone.”

Last weekend I was proven correct, and despite admittedly not knowing what the hell I’m taking about most of the time, I’m chalking this up as a win.

As many of you already know, Boyhood took 12 years to make. This was not only a commitment for Linklater, but the entire cast as well, including 7-year-old Ellar Coltrane and Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei. Not only that, but Linklater apparently also had a contingency plan in place in the case of his unforeseeable demise during shooting. Ethan Hawke would take over as director in payment for all the films Linklater has cast him in, including Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight and what I assume will be the finale, After Midnight: The JJ Cale Story.

In my opinion, the sheer scope of this film alone should further garner it an Oscar win. Even if it doesn’t hold a candle to the other nominees (which doesn’t appear to be the case at all), the Academy needs to create a one time only award for Best Use of Elbow Grease In A Motion Picture or Most Creative Use For Adolescence for Ellar Coltrane.

Now this is not to say that Boyhood is the only film that has taken a quarter of a lifetime to make. Films such as The Manson Family and Tiefland took 15 and 21 years respectively to come to theaters. Not to mention the animated film, The Thief and The Cobbler, that ended up taking a whopping 28 years before it reached completion. But as where those films’ long production times were often a result of perfectly understandable reasons such as creative conflicts, lack of financing or getting your ass kicked by the Allies, Boyhood is unique in that Linklater and the cast knew full well what they were getting themselves into. The 12-year production time is not a result of unforeseen obstacles, but the very essence of the film. This is not only a momentous decision on behalf of Linklater, but the cast as well.

I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Linklater: Hey Patricia, what are you doing for the next 12 years?

Arquette: Shooting Medium most likely, people love that show! But I got some extra time on my hands.

Linklater: What about you, Jake Weber?

Weber: Do I have to cut my hair?

Linklater: Probably.

Weber: There’s only one man I’ll cut my mop top for and that’s Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Linklater: We don’t have him.

Weber: Well, looks like someone’s casting Ethan Hawke again.

That’s my two cents and I’m sticking to it, until such time when I finally see all the other Oscar nominees, to which my next post might be entitled “Film Rerant: You Can’t Not Not Not Give Whiplash an Oscar”.

Film Rant: What’s Truly Unique About #Blackstormtrooper

This week JJ Abrams released the teaser trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens and just like every other fanboy I watched the video over and over, often pausing to pick out even the most minute details. My dissection of the trailer was handled with the same level of precision as a group of Spaceballs with an giant fine-tooth comb. I mean this is JJ Abrams we’re talking about here. The guy who made Lost. Do you know how many Easter Eggs he snuck into that series?

Of course I wasn’t the only person with their eye on the trailer and it didn’t take long before people shared their discoveries and doubts to social media. It took no less than ten frames before some members of the Star Wars fan base had a collective head burst. The scene I’m talking about is the one that opens the trailer, where we see a stormtrooper with his helmet off, looking out into the distance with fear in his eyes.

Oh yeah, and he’s black.

The amount of outrage over this stormtrooper’s race has been well documented over Twitter and other social media outlets under the hashtag #blackstormtrooper. Although most is overwhelmingly positive, some try and point out the supposed “inconsistency” of his race due to the fact that stormtroopers were shown to be cloned from Jango Fett in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones:

Still others believe this is an attempt to appease the “PC lovers”, “Social Justice Warriors” or whatever other term kids are using these days to describe people who want to see women and minorities in films because they exist in a place we call society, just a small subset of the universe:

How this is still an issue is beyond me, although I’m sad to say I’m not surprised. I was under the assumption that science fiction had moved beyond this nonsense decades ago. Duane Jones was cast in a starring role in a major Horror/Sci-Fi film in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. That was in 1968, the same year Kirk kissed Uhura. Also, I don’t remember anyone accusing George Lucas of checking “diversity boxes” when he cast Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu in 1999. It’s 2014, a black stormtrooper shouldn’t be considered progress or pandering, it should be considered the norm.

That’s not to say the scene doesn’t mark a historic moment in the series. Go back and take a look at that scene.


There is definitely something striking and out of place about this stormtrooper that has nothing to do with the color of his skin.

Look again.

It’s his expression, or better yet, the fact that he has an expression at all. Provided this is truly an Imperial Stormtrooper, JJ Abrams has done something that has never been done in the Star Wars universe. He’s humanized a stormtrooper.

Stormtroopers have traditionally been portrayed as a cookie cutter military outfit. Their uniforms are monochrome, without any semblance of coloring. No personalization, like stickers. No nametags. Their appearance is skeletal, the most stripped down our bodies can be while still maintaining their shape. Their voices are monotone, devoid of any kind of inflection.  Even when they’re introduced as Jango clones, they are portrayed as mindless copies unlike the strong-willed Fett. For all intents and purposes, stormtroopers are meant to be mindless automatons, lacking any modicum of emotion or marksmanship.

There’s a reason for this in filmmaking, particularly Science Fiction, Horror and even some War and Western films. Things like zombies, robots, ninjas, orcs, brood-like aliens and the like are meant to be devoid of any humanizing features. This is so heroes can easily shoot and slash through swaths of enemies without eliciting an emotional response from audiences. It’s what differentiates Starship Troopers from becoming the sniper scene in Full Metal Jacket.

This method is used to great effect in the Star Wars franchise as the Empire is often depicted as masked or cloaked in battle, but the Rebels’ faces are exposed and possess features that make them unique. As an example take the first assault on the Death Star. On one side you have the the Imperial TIE Fighter Pilots, completely concealed in black helmets. Yet all the rebel pilots, from Wedge Antilles to my favorite, the portly Jek Tono Porkins, have their faces visible.

During the battle, no one cares as TIE fighters are blasted into particles, because they might as well be piloted by Death incarnate. But audiences feel for guys like Porkins as we witness him meet an untimely death as he sizzles (heh) among the stars. Porkins speaks with authority, we can tell he’s respected among his squadron and he sports a rocking neck beard. And for those of you wondering, yes, Lucas really named the heavy guy Porkins. (This was just to illustrate that Lucas humanizes his characters, not that he’s good at it.)

It’ll be interesting to see if Abrams is planning on giving the Empire a human side. It’ll certainly change the way we look at the Empire as well as explain the motivations of those within their ranks. Furthermore, it might reveal that there’s more than one side of the story when it comes to the battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Perhaps like most rebellions the outcome didn’t turn out as planned.

Film Rant: Forget Your Screenplay. Protect Your Ideas.

I understand filmmaker’s concerns with protecting their scripts. Sometimes it’s to keep an ending secret till it hits festivals. Sometimes it’s the fear that someone with immediate resources will take their story and proceed to production before they do. It’s certainly possible that either of these scenarios could occur, but the less known you are, the less you have to worry about this happening.

Now, I’m not saying you should post a copy of your script every Starbucks bulletin board in hopes some visiting producer will read it while he waits for the barista to finish his gingerbread latte. You should take all the precautions you can to protect your work. What bothers me is how anal writers and filmmakers get over keeping their scripts a secret, yet they have no problem blurting out the entire plot of their film before the script is even written.

Let me set the stage for an example:

You’re at a party with other filmmakers maybe discussing what the best Coen movie is (Barton Fink) or which has the best universe Star Wars or Star Trek (Battlestar Galactica). Eventually someone, probably six PBR’s deep at this point, asks what you’re up to and you begin to describe your film career. Not to be outdone, your new friend begins to tell you about the idea he just came up with for the perfect film. It could be anything, but it’ll almost certainly involve aliens and a twist at the end that is totally different than a million other movies because this one has aliens.

Perfect ending

Too many people seem to have no problem discussing with complete strangers future films they have absolutely no ownership over, while sparing no expense at protecting scripts they already have copyright over through simply writing them. Nothing is stopping someone from stealing an idea. Ideas are not yours.

Hell, I’m convinced I came up with the idea The Wrestler. It’s a great film, I know, I invented it in my mind. The only difference was in my film it was a boxer and the budget was $120 because that’s all I had in my account. For all I know whoever wrote that film was sitting in the Denny’s booth behind me at four in the morning while I regaled my friends with my million dollar idea in one of my many whiskey induced tirades.

Yeah, it was pretty much this.

Yeah, it was pretty much this.

There’s nothing wrong with telling your new film idea to your friends, your family or whomever you have a long-term, genital-rubbing relationship with, just make sure you can trust them. Remember, screenplays are tangible. Ideas are not. You can’t claim thoughts.

Film Rant: Moving Film to TV

I remember back when I was growing up that the rule was if you had a successful TV show you had to follow it up with feature film. This is apparent in films like The X-Files, Police Squad!, Firefly, Sex and the City. The list is endless especially considering that we still haven’t left the age of giving every possible old TV show a modern film remake (did we really need a Mod Squad movie?)

But it would appear with in this new golden age of TV that things are beginning to reverse. It’s becoming more and more popular to take movies (some released as early as 2002) and give them the full television treatment. Although this is nothing new, (M*A*S*H* was a film that spawned a TV show) the list of TV shows based off films coming out within the next 2 years is pretty extensive.

This year I caught two such series. Fargo, an amazing series that garnered an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries and From Dusk Till Dawn, which is a TV show based off a film.

This got me thinking about what movies I would like to see as a TV series as well as some casting choices to fill their most iconic roles.

Star Trek: The Next Next Generation

TNNG

Ok, before I get my Platinum Nerd card taken away from me, yes I’m perfectly aware that Star Trek was a TV series before it was a movie and that there actually is a new Star Trek series that tries to capture the look and feel of the original. But I argue that since JJ Abram’s rebooted the series it’s through that continuity that a new series should be born and what better way than through The Next Next Generation.

Whether die-hard Trek fans like it or not, the Abrams films are highly popular, and as such, should be the new direction of the series. What makes the idea of a rebooted TNG so appealing is that it can continue on from the timeline that Abram’s has created while simultaneously explaining some perplexing things that I feel exist in the new films.

Like for instance, what the hell is this?

Not an android!

Not an android!

That’s 0718 a Lieutenant that served on the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: Into Darkness. It has been explained that 0718 is NOT an android or a robot, but a human who integrated himself with cybernetic parts and coincidently changed his name to a model number, because that’s not at all common of androids or robots.

It seems clear to me that these new films have a heightened level of technology that simply didn’t exist in the original series like the ability to teleport from planet to planet and resurrection blood. It would stand to reason that these new technological advancements should have an impact on characters like Data who appear 70 years after the last voyage of Kirk and his fleet.

This could open up all new story possibilities. What could result is a future where technology can create a Data that is virtually indistinguishable from actual humans. Data’s interactions with others would present a new conflict in a world where the definition of humanity is blurred. Furthermore, his search to become more human and less android could take new turn if people were threatened by the possibility of his kind replacing them someday.

Think less this:

Celebrity City

And more this:

#6

In this future the threat of technology is more apparent as a result of Scotty creating new warp systems and the synthesizing of Kahn DNA.

Who should play Picard?

For me the answer is simple. Cory Stoll.

Corey Stoll Picard

Cory Stoll isn’t particularly well-known, but he has an impressive resumé. You may know him from the ill-fated Law and Order: LA where he murdered Tom Selleck and stole his mustache.

L&O Cory Stoll

But you film fans probably recognize him most from his portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Make it so.

Make it so.

In my opinion Stoll can bring just a little swag to Picard that modern fans of the movies will appreciate. I mean why should Kirk get all the green chicks?   Maybe we can finally have a Picard who’ll forgo tea time and make a damn move on Beverly Crusher already.

The Legolas Power Hour

300891id5a_TheHobbit_TDOS_Legolas_BusShelter_48inW_x_70inH.indd

I don’t care how many people claim to hate Legolas, the fact of the matter remains, when a giant battle sequence occurs in any of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings films every subconscious in that entire theater is begging for Legolas to show up. You know it, I know it and more importantly Peter Jackson knows it. Why else would he include him in the new Hobbit films, complete with his own storyline?

Let’s be honest, as hilarious as it is to see a Gimli repeatedly herpa derp his way across a battlefield, the joke can wear thin after a while.   The real excitement comes from that volley of arrows expertly aimed through eyes so deep you want to swim in them. Don’t lie, you felt it too.

Shhh, I hear fanboys calling.

Shhh, I hear fanboys calling.

What I propose is a retelling of the entire events of The Hobbit and LOTR in a series of hour-long television episodes told through the eyes of our favorite arrow-slinging elf. This would allow Jackson to accomplish two things that he didn’t manage to pull off in the films.

One, create a series that encompasses every possible scenario from the books, no matter how inconsequential.

Two, manage to jam Legolas into every possible frame.

By my calculations, I predict Jackson will be able to accomplish this in just under 17 seasons.

Who should play Legolas?

Who else? Orlando Bloom! I mean, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Plus, I’m sure he can take some time out of granting the collective wish of the entire planet with his fists to get back to some acting.

The Adventures of Jack and Wang and Jack

Adventures of Wang and Jack

As a child one my favorite movies was John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. It had everything an American kid could ask for in the 80’s. Jim Henson-like puppetry? Got it. Martial Arts? All day. To top it all off it’s told from the perspective of a tongue in cheek, all-American braggart by the name of Jack Burton who’s the combination of John Wayne, Indiana Jones and Ash Williams all rolled into one. Despite all of this, Jack is not the most capable character in the film; that honor goes to Wang, whose girlfriend is kidnapped, spurring on the conflict.  As a result, Jack is really just the sidekick of a high-flying, confident, ass kicking asian, making the film like Green Hornet in reverse, but with monsters.

What’s interesting about the film is that its structure leaves something to be desired. Even as a kid I was curious how all the characters seemed to know each other. It’s clear from their opening scene that Jack and Wang are close friends who both possess take no shit attitudes. One would assume that these two couldn’t have possibly have gotten along unless their friendship was forged in fires of countless adventures. Even Eddie, Wang’s friend, mentions how much Wang talks about Jack. Beyond that, Wang knows Gracie Law, a lawyer (obviously, her name is Law) who has a reputation for getting into trouble. Gracie is clearly close to Wang and his family, as shown early in the film when she walks right through the backdoor of the Wang family restaurant without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow. Not to mention everyone in Chinatown knows Egg Shen, a man with mystical powers whose name Carpenter clearly got off a Chinese take out menu.

The point is, everyone in this film has history together and none of it is ever explained.

What I propose is a television series that focuses on the origin of Wang and Jack’s friendship and the adventures that follow. The pilot could involve Jack making a routine delivery to San Francisco in his infamous truck, “The Pork Chop Express”, where he meets Wang for the first time. From there, Jack’s job as a trucker can allow the two to go from state to state, righting wrongs and saving the day.

But here’s the kicker.

In following with the theme of the movie, although Jack is driving the truck and the story, ironically he’s just along for the ride. All of the conflicts the two face will be a result of Wang’s sense of justice and his need to do right, as where Jack only goes along to fulfill his own self-interests (eg, Money, women, ego, The Pork Chop Express).

Who should play Jack Burton?

Who could possibly follow Kurt Russel? It’s like his entire face is just one giant cocked eyebrow. The guy started his career playing Elvis for god’s sake… at age TEN!

Luckily though, I managed to use some of those top-notch researching skills I learned in college to find a replacement. By Google searching images of “All American Actors” and carefully deliberating for five seconds, I finally settled on the fifth or sixth picture down.

Behold, I give you Adam Mayfield!

New Jack Burton

Who is he? I’m sure that’s a question Adam’s agent is still trying to answer. He used to be on All My Children and most recently some series with Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth, that’s absolutely not 90210. Other than that, his only claim to fame is that a virtual nobody with a film blog just named him the new Jack Burton. Don’t believe me? Check out this Taco Bell commercial.

Look into that man’s furrowed brow and tell me you don’t want a quesadilla. He’s a perfect fit, because much like that quesadilla Jack Burton’s entire being is held together by one key element, a whole lot of cheese.

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.