Film

What I’ve Been Up To

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For the last few months I’ve been hinting at the possibility of a podcast. Also, I’m sure those of you that have been checking up on the blog have also noticed that the posts have been becoming more sparse. Well, truth is these two things are connected. For the past two months I’ve been teaming up with a close group of friends, including Cody Everett, a filmmaker I interviewed early in this blog’s inception, and the fruits of our labor are finally complete.

Cult Film in Review is a roundtable podcast where we look back on the cult films of yesteryear and see if they really do deserve the recognition they receive. We even throw in a few laughs for good measure.

If you have a love for cult films, are a film lover that wants to know what cult films are all about, or just want have a good chuckle, give Cult Film in Review a listen.

You can find it here at cultfilminreview.com or subscribe to us on iTunes.

Enjoy!

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Spotlight on Shorts: From the Future With Love

Let’s be honest, economics isn’t the sexiest topic of discussion, yet if listen to the talking heads from both sides of the right/left political spectrum, you’ll find most of them spend a good amount of time dedicated to the subject. Since most films focus not only on delivering a message, but making it entertaining as well, it’s hard to find a movie that attempts to thematically present the implications economic systems have on society. K-Michel Parandi’s “From the Future With Love” is one of the few short films that manage to address this without getting bogged down with the specifics.

At first watch, you’ll notice that “From the Future With Love” is treading on familiar territory. Films like Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop are also placed in a future where corporations have invested in policing the world. Just as in Robocop, “From the Future With Love” suggests that problems will inevitably arise when the corporate priority of increasing profit margins meets the societal need for security.

In the future presented in “From the Future With Love”, there are various corporate-run policing outfits which all claim different territories. Each provide different packages, much like insurance packages, that ensure varying levels of security. Their jurisdiction stretches as far as their client base reaches similar to telecommunication providers. What we begin to witness is the negative effects this has on people’s security, as those who don’t have the financial means are only allowed a certain level of police involvement and are subject to a bevy of lesser crimes. To add to that, the inherent competitiveness of Capitalism reaches violent proportions as different police outfits begin to fight over territories.

From a filmmaking perspective, “From the Future With Love” uses some interesting storytelling techniques. Much like how Robocop integrated advertisements throughout the film to stress how every aspect of the future had become increasingly commercialized, “From the Future With Love” features its own commercial outlining the technology and packages the police now offer.

Visually “From the Future With Love” is impressive. A lot of detail went into the cosplaying of this film. The police are decked out in black and white armor, similar to a Stormtrooper, but with added red and blue flashing lights as decoration. It’s like the merging of officer and squad car, all in one. Furthermore, each unit is outfitted with their own drone sentry, foreshadowing the result of our drone programs.

The CG also pays a good amount of attention to detail. In one scene you can see an officer take aim at a mechanized dog. Through his visor, you can see a target reticule mirroring precisely where the officer is aiming. All this adds to the ever-important “cool factor” that sci-fi films are known for.

Know Your Audience

For anyone who has attended a production meeting for a new film idea, there are always some common questions that come up. Queries about the script, props, lighting, sound and budget are going to be bandied about back and forth ad nauseam till the film is shot and in the can. As a person who’s primarily familiar with working with indie filmmakers in a much smaller market, one question that rarely comes up is “To whom are we making this for?” This is one aspect of filmmaking that I feel early filmmakers and indie directors working in small markets don’t seem to bother with too much. They often work to get the film shot and edited and hope whoever is interested shows up, but this is not how Hollywood or successful indie filmmakers see it.

You’ve probably heard a million stories about how Hollywood will green-light a film before even a single line of dialogue is ever written. To those of us that see film as an art form, these types of stories paint Hollywood as an industry solely interested in making money. To all you idealistic artists out there, you’re 100% correct; Hollywood’s main priority is raking in millions regardless of the quality of their product. This is why every film student talks shit about Michael Bay while driving their parents’ cars to the local art house theater, and he’s speeding to Hugh Hefner’s mansion in a McLaren. Still, just because a company or entity’s mission might be the absolute opposite of your own, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t emulate the things they do right, and one thing they’re damn good at is knowing who to target their films to.

"I spent more money on my hair than you did on your film. Tell me again how much TMNT sucked." Photo by kaje_yomama / CC 2.0

“I spent more money on my hair than you did on your film. Tell me again how much TMNT sucked.”
Photo by kaje_yomama / CC 2.0

Now, I’m not saying you should necessarily read the box office trends this year and just copy whatever’s popular. You be you. Make the film you want to make, but at least ask yourself who you’re making this film for. Many of you have already heard the term “target audience” and probably just assume they’re out there somewhere, but it’s more than that. It’s important that you know the type of film you’re making, and more importantly, find out who likes that type of film. Oh, you’re making a zombie film? Try promoting at a local showing of Dawn of The Dead. This seems obvious, but as I said earlier rarely have I been to a production meeting where someone asked, “Who are we targeting this film to?”

A lot of early filmmakers treat the search for their audience like a game of Battleship. Once they’re done with the film, they begin to haphazardly send it out to whatever festival comes to mind till they get sick of spending their paychecks on countless rejection letters. The film is then shelved, but hey, at least they get to put it on their IMDB page.

"E4? MIss! Here's your rejection letter from Tribeca!" Photo by jking89 / CC 2.0

“E4?
MIss! Here’s your rejection letter from Tribeca!”
Photo by jking89 / CC 2.0

This is the result of not having a plan of attack and not taking the time to select the type of venues that will produce the most exposure in the long run. There are literally hundreds of film festivals in the country. Rather than sending them out to the closest ones or the ones you think will be easy to get into, try sending them to the festivals you know your audience will be at. Is it a comedy? Instead of spending $30 on the submission fee to your in-state film festival, why not try submitting to a festival like the Laugh Out Loud Short Film Fest. Is it a sci-fi? Many comic conventions now have their very own film competitions for their fans. It’s important to show your film to the type of people who will enjoy it and keep talking about it. This works to become a word of mouth marketing strategy, which is more successful now than it’s ever been, what with the popularity of social media.

It doesn’t take too much effort to find your audience. If you enjoy the type of films you make, they’re probably going to be at a lot of the venues you wish you could go to. A quick glance at local film showings or a simple Google search for festivals that specialize in your type of film can introduce you to the type of people who will keep talking about your film. To sum it up, make a plan and do some research. Don’t leave anything up to chance.

Film and Video Games: What’s The Disconnect?

If you’re a gamer, you’re probably just as cynical as I am when you hear about the next video game based movie on the horizon. It almost seems a rule of thumb that films adapted from video games are guaranteed to disappoint. Even successful franchises like the Resident Evil series, which is now working on its sixth installment, aren’t exactly considered film gold. Yet, this doesn’t seem to slow Hollywood down as over thirty new titles are rumored to be currently in the works. So what is it about video games and film that seem so incompatible?

Structure of Video Games vs. Film, Literature and Theater

One thing that film has in common with literature and theater is that the story structure is relatively the same. All three often follow a Freytag’s Pyramid structure. Certainly this is not the always case, all three mediums play with this structure and break rules from time to time, but for the most part, this structure of storytelling is present in the vast majority of books, plays and films we consume day to day. This makes adapting a novel or play to the silver screen easier, as you pretty much already have a blueprint to get from point A to B. The rest is simply editing out what you don’t want or adding your own artistic voice to original material.
Video games, on the other hand, particularly older ones, don’t follow this style of storytelling. In early games like Pacman, very little was explained in terms of backstory. Officially, all that’s really known about Pacman is he’s really hungry guy with no appendages, being chased by angry undead. It’s essentially what would happen if you dropped Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life into the zombie apocalypse. There are some comical cutscenes for the player to watch, but they don’t really reveal anything new to the player in terms of story. Furthermore, Pacman has no end, so what your left with is really just a situation with characters.

Later, games like Donkey Kong would begin to establish more of a narrative. The moment you play the first level it’s apparent that a giant ape with unlimited barrels and fireballs for friends has kidnapped your girlfriend. Unlike Pacman, Donkey Kong has an ending where our hero tears down the very structure of the level, causing the great ape to crack his head open. He is reunited with his girlfriend and the two look lovingly at one another while Donkey Kong exhibits the first signs of severe, irreversible brain damage.

Today’s games posses far more plot and story structure than their predecessors. Games like Farcry and The Last of Us, deal with complicated issues like revenge and the human condition. Many of their cutscenes take a page from cinema, allowing characters to express their feelings and motivations even though the player is actively controlling them.

Control Issues 

Despite the amount of progress video games have made in the storytelling department, for the most part video games are still fundamentally goal based, requiring the player to perform a set of menial tasks to drive the story forward. Even games like Gone Home, which toe the line between film and gaming, require the player to actively search for clues to tell the narrative. This affects the structure of the story in that the player decides how they want to progress. Gamers familiar with the Grand Theft Auto series are familiar with this, as it’s not uncommon to devote 20+ hours to side missions before moving on to the main storyline. Simply put, if story structure in film, literature and theater is meant to be a rollercoaster ride, video games put you in the seat of a formula one car.

Zoom, Zoom... Photo by  Julien Reboulet / CC 2.0

Zoom, Zoom…
Photo by Julien Reboulet / CC 2.0

This poses a problem when trying to adapt a game to the screen. Since the transfer from video game to film requires the viewer lose control of the character, how can you stay faithful to original source material that relies on player/character interaction to tell the story?

The Loss in Translation

People look forward to film adaptations of literature and theater because we tend to gain something from the transfer. Theater requires a certain level of distance between the viewer and the actors. Camera tricks such as close ups and point of view shots bring audience members closer, giving them an almost god-like view of the action. In literature, we give up the use of imagination, but film puts the senses of sight and sound into play that can’t fully be expressed through the written word.

Video games, particularly modern ones, interact with most of our senses, but other than maybe getting to see our favorite movie stars portray the roles, we really lose a lot when we give up the control to the actor. The desire for control is probably best illustrated by the much hated “Noisy audience member”. You know, the person who insists on directing the clueless camp counselor not to enter that cabin because we all know Jason is lurking in the shadows with a machete. Although irritating, it perfectly illustrates people’s desire for control.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that it’s impossible to make a good movie based off a video game. Still, I do believe filmmakers should attempt to make the story their own and not try and recreate certain moments from games that don’t translate well. Putting a POV shot in the Doom movie isn’t going to trick anyone into thinking they’re reliving the game any more than putting pictures in a Harry Potter novel will make someone think they’re reading in IMAX. Choices like this only serve as mindless fan service. I can only hope that cinematically inspired games like Uncharted can provide suitable enough story content to rely on, where games like Super Mario Brothers couldn’t.

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.