Independent

Indie Intros: Tim Burton’s ‘Doctor of Doom’

Tim Burton is one of those directors whose talents were immediately recognized, yet difficultly placed. After studying at the California Institute of Arts, he was immediately given fellowship by Disney where he worked for a short time. This led to the short “Frankenweenie,” which was never released by Disney, but was nonetheless still seen by Paul Reubens who wanted him to direct the cult hit Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. From there Burton’s story is fairly well-known, going on to direct Beetlejuice and becoming one of the most unique and in demand directors of the 90’s.

“Doctor of Doom” is one of Burton’s early shorts which he directed along with partner Jerry Rees. Burton also stars in the film as Don Carlo along with a variable who’s who from the Disney roster. Brad Bird, who won two Oscars for Disney/Pixar first for The Incredibles and another for Ratatouille, provides the voice of Don Carlo. Another Disney Oscar winner, Chris Buck, is most recently famous for directing the animated hit Frozen and plays the character of Pepe in “DoD.”

If you’re expecting some cross between the Burton style of filmmaking and Disney’s signature style like A Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ll be disappointed. “DoD” is more like something Burton’s hero Ed Wood would have devised. “DoD” is an homage to old B movies, possibly influenced by the 1963 Mexican horror film of the same name.

In it, a mad doctor is invited to dinner by a group of people who have clearly never eaten tacos before. He is shunned and decides to get his revenge by creating a creature that is a cross between an elephant and Greedo from Star Wars. The group manages to stop the creature, mainly because it’s worthless at terrorizing and because they’ve studying the fighting art of the WWE.

At first viewing the short appears to be plagued with problems. The dialogue, recorded separately, is almost incoherent. Everything is spoken as if a chipmunk on speed was called in to do ADR. There is even a moment when the cameraman attempts to shoot through a mirror, but is clearly visible for a good two-seconds. But now knowing Burton’s influences, it’s clear that many of these “mistakes” most likely done on purpose.

“DoD” does give us a sense of the filmmaker that Burton would become. The title font alone screams Burton, with that “it’s always Halloween” feel to his films. The film also combines horror elements presented as comedy which has become Burton’s signature.

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Spotlight on Shorts: Punisher: Dirty Laundry


It’s been a kind of good last few weeks for comic book fans. Last week marked the release of Daredevil on Netflix along with, what I’m sure was, a spike in people taking sick days and pizza delivery sales. Then of course there was some extra Hulkbuster footage from Avengers: Age of Ultron and the long-awaited teaser for Superman vs. Batman (along with a leaked trailer, but you didn’t hear that from me).

Going with the trend, I’ve decided that for the rest of the month I will be devoting the Spotlight on Shorts section to comic book based fan films.

We start with “Punisher: Dirty Laundry”.

This film first screened at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con and wowed audiences with the return of the best Frank Castle (sorry Dolph Lundgren fans), Thomas Jane. The film was produced by Adi Shankar who’s made a name for himself producing such films as the survival thriller The Grey and most recently the much talked about “Power/Rangers” fan film.

The film has what I assume all Punisher fans are looking for, a large dose of violence as the cure for criminality. Witnessing a gang of thugs terrorize a city block, Castle begins the film hesitant to don the skull again (for whatever reason), simply looking to hit up the local Laundromat, grab a Yoo-Hoo, and get back to watching the final season of Dawson’s Creek. But we all know it would be a pretty disappointing Punisher film if Frank didn’t reach his breaking point, and I mean “breaking” literally.

As a non-profit fan film, “Punisher: Dirty Laundry” can take a few liberties. The most obvious one is this film didn’t appear to have to be ok’d with Marvel as their name is nowhere on it. Secondly, the entire soundtrack was brought to you by Hans Zimmer and his work on The Dark Knight, which means Shankar managed to steal from Marvel and DC in one fell swoop.

I’m sure all you Punisher fans out there have already seen this and probably chimed in on whether or not this is a fitting film adaptation to the comic. I’ll leave that for you to discuss since the only experience I have reading The Punisher is when he shows up in Spiderman comics and when he steamrolled over Wolverine. From a film lover’s perspective I think I speak for most when I say that 2004’s The Punisher starring Thomas Jane is probably the franchise’s best and “Dirty Laundry” does a good job feeling like a sequel to that film.

FOCUS ON FILMMAKERS: CODY EVERETT

 

For my first interview I really wanted to cover someone I felt really embodied the type of filmmaker I want to speak to. Someone who’s just starting his film career, but knows exactly what direction he’s headed. I couldn’t have asked for a more representative and entertaining subject than Cody Everett.

His directorial debut, “The Greatest Lie Ever Told“, which he also wrote, premiered at this year’s Phoenix Comicon. It was also an official selection at the 2014 Jerome Film Festival.  He was also a producer on the short horror film Dust Jacket.

You can watch “The Greatest Lie Ever Told” on YouTube or make your life easy and click play on the embedded video above.

Friendly Neighborhood Filmmaking: Why did you get into film?

Cody Everett: That’s actually a really good question, because I never really thought about why I did it, I just always wanted to do it. I mean, part of the reason was to prove that I could, to the group of people I make movies with. That was the [biggest] part of it, to say, “No look, I can do it too,” because I didn’t think I was taken seriously. That was the main reason. I’ve always enjoyed movies from an early age. It’s fun for me to do. I love working on a set. At first, I wanted to be an actor in high school. Then I wanted to learn both sides and I just kind of gravitated more towards telling people how to act, because I was better at picking out shitty acting than I was at acting.

[A smile creeps across his face]

I wouldn’t mind being, what’s his name, Renny Harlin.

FNF: Who?

CE: The guy who’s directed everything. He directed Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. Also one of the Exorcist sequels, one of the newer ones. This guy, he did one action movie and people were like, “Fuck it, he can do it. He does everything!” He did a horror movie and now he’s doing all this other shit, but no one knows it’s him because he’s not a great director, but he works.

FNF: Are you saying Harlan’s an influence or just, “Well, if he can do it…”

CE: It’s kind of both. [laughs] I mean, [Hollywood] will throw anything at him. He’s made a career at making mediocre movies. His claim to fame is he made the worst Die Hard.

FNF: I wouldn’t say that, have you seen the new one? With the son?

CE:   True.

FNF: Unfortunately, that guy had to wait twenty years for Hollywood to make a worse Die Hard than number two.

CE: You know Renny Harlan was just sitting there, hands clenched, saying, “Please suck.”

FNF: Well, other than Renny Harlin, did you have any other influences?

CE: I’m mostly influenced by comedy. My mom was really into old movies. I grew up with Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges, The Carol Burnett Show, but also Dean Martin, straight men like that. I’ve always like over the top physical comedy. That’s where my humor started.   I found humor as a way to deal with things and situations in life. If you can make a shitty situation in life funny, it doesn’t seem so shitty. I feel I went through some weird film stages, but also some of the same film stages as everyone else. As a kid I was always drawn toward the darker, macabre stuff. It started out with what I call Baby Macabre, Tim Burton stuff, but then I started watching Troma stuff, which is weird because Troma had always been in my life.

FNF: Yeah?

CE: Yeah, I remember my dad taking me to the grocery store, back when you would rent movies from the grocery store, and they had me pick out a movie. Toxic Avenger had a cartoon on at the time and they let me rent Toxic Avenger 3, the one where he fights Satan. I got that one, where he knocks Satan’s head off, there are tits in it, all this crazy stuff. Total B movie. I watched it by myself, because [my parents] thought it was a kid’s movie. They just popped it in, like it was the babysitter. I watch that movie still to this day, and it’s like, “A kid should not be watching this!” I was eight years old. It’s weird, [Troma] was my phase through high school as well. I got into the kind of grunge way of filmmaking by watching those movies. [Troma] kind of said, “Alright, well make your own damn movie.” I would read or watch whatever I could from Troma. A few are some of the worst movies you’ll ever see, but I like a lot of terrible movies. There are people that will think certain movies are just god-awful and I’ll love them. I want to be the Uwe Boll of America.

FNF: Really?

No, I’m kidding, I want to be Renny Harlin. [laughs]

FNF: Tell me about the first film you worked on. “Return of Mothra”?

CE: Yeah, “Return of Mothra” was a high school film. It was a remake with Chris Wilembrect. The story was pretty cohesive. We had this moth we made in ceramics class and we had it attacking this Matchbox car. It was stupid, but we put it into the Phoenix Film Festival. It was just this stupid comedy, but we got a letter back saying “Return of Mothra” got in.

FNF: What year was this?

CE: 2003.

FNF: So you were, what, seventeen, eighteen?

CE: Yeah, something like that.

FNF: Wow, and you got a film into a film festival. What was that experience like?

CE: It was weird. It was the high school portion of it, so no one gave a shit, but I met Brian O’Halloran there from Clerks who was amazingly nice. John Waters was also there, who Chris was a big fan of, so that was the big thing to do. We have to go see John Waters!

FNF: So why did you pick “The Greatest Lie Ever Told”? What spoke to you about this film made you decide to make it your directorial debut?

CE: My goal was not to be a director. I didn’t feel I was that far advanced yet. I was trying to find a way to get respect from the group of people I work with. I felt I had to do something, so they could say, “Ok, he’s done it before. I’ll listen to him.” I mean, just because someone hasn’t done something before doesn’t mean their ideas are bad.

FNF: Agreed.

CE: Eventually I decided [directing] would make me a better producer, which is what I really wanted to be. So I was thinking, “What can I do that’s kind of easy?” I see everybody do these overcomplicated short films. I just wanted to do something easy, to show these guys I could do it. I was going to write this story about a father that shows up on his son’s doorstep. The son hasn’t seen him in years, but the father is expecting him to take him in. I was going to try and make it a comedy…

FNF: That’s pretty heavy for a comedy.

CE: [laughs] Yeah. So I did this Google search, like, “Ten Things A Drunk Father Would Say” and what came up was a list of things not to do in front of your significant other and I said, “That’s a movie.” I don’t why that clicked with me, but I knew that was the movie. It just fit perfectly. It was easy. I could shoot it at my friend’s house. I had to get a restaurant, but it was [just] two locations. My goal was to make, what I consider, a commercial film. A commercial comedy that you would go and see Seth Rogen in at Harkins, but do it in five minutes, and I did that. I know I did that.

FNF: So since this was your first time on set as a director, what was that like?

CE: I felt a little nervous with the time restraint. The first half of the night, the restaurant shoot, I bullshitted my way through that just trying to figure out what my style would be. What am I going to say to the actors? What do I want them to say? Kind of figuring all that out. Once I got through that portion of it, it was pretty easy going from there. Having fun was important, but also knowing when to work was important and having a great crew was important. I had all that, so it wasn’t hard.   But, if you ask the crew, they’ll probably tell you it was the best catering they ever had.

FNF: Do you feel there was any mistakes that, if you could do it again, you would’ve rectified?

CE: Oh yeah. Taking time, not rushing so much. Being quicker on reshoots. Time restraints, learning not to try and shoot everything in one night so you can get the best out of your actors, so they’re not so tired and ready to kill themselves. But also getting them tired and ready to kill themselves is great for some [scenes].  The editing process was a huge learning experience. We had three or four final cuts of that film. Also, how important it is to have good makeup people, because they saved our ass a lot on that movie.  I feel it was more experience stuff and feel of things, rather than, “Oh hey, I learned this real technical shot. Learned this perfect angle.” I really hadn’t learned any of that stuff, but the feel of a set, how to run a set, getting a feel for the actors, yeah. Were there a lot of things I’d change? Yeah, but I didn’t have the budget.

FNF: Are there any tips you’d like to give to any other first time filmmakers?

CE: Tons. First, be like Renny Harlin. Set yourself to a mediocre level, but crush that mediocre level. [laughs]

No, there is one problem I’ve noticed with short films. Everyone tries to be a superstar on their first short film. Look, if you’re independent you probably don’t have the budget. You’re probably not going to have [the best] script because you can’t afford a great scriptwriter writing it for you. Simple can be hard to do, but there’s a reason simple is hard to do, because it’s probably going to be your best shit.   Sometimes I see films and say, “Man, if you hadn’t tried so hard [to capture something big], you would’ve knocked it out of the park.”

FNF: Exactly, I just covered a filmmaker that said something very similar. That there are many beginning filmmakers that try to capture a big idea they know nothing about.

CE: Right.

FNF: Like someone doing a film about being fifty when they’re twenty-one. What can you know about that?

CE: Exactly. What do I know about being thirty? Everything in my film is somewhat grounded in reality. Yes, one day you’ll have to take a drunk girl home who’ll just ruin your whole day. That will happen. It’s all very relatable stuff. That’s what I mean when I say it’s a mainstream comedy. Then again, you’re always going to get that guy that says, “Oh, film is not meant for dick and fart jokes.” Fuck that, it’s meant to make somebody feel something. I mean, one of the biggest genres is comedy. When the market crashed, people went to the movies because life sucked so bad. Personally I didn’t go and see Twelve Years a Slave. Why, because sometimes I don’t feel like going to the movies and crying my eyes out because white people are so terrible. Don’t get me wrong there’s a place for that shit, but it’s not my shit.

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.