Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A story well told will find an audience...

In the same year that Barack Obama became President, 'Slumdog Millionaire' was announced as best picture by the Academy.

Our world is changing in profound ways, and it's affecting every art and industry, including the most powerful of them all, cinema.

Here's another excerpt from the NYT that just came out today:

"American film is one of the last remaining exports, a kind of bejeweled software that the rest of the world clearly loves. More than half of the money American movies make at the box office comes from elsewhere in the world, and given the downward trajectory of DVD sales domestically, those global markets are only going to grow in importance.

But global imperatives go both ways. When a film with a British director, Indian actors and French co-financing goes home with eight Oscars, it’s hard not to see a message.

“I think it demonstrates that a good story well told, whether it is about someone in Mumbai, China or around the corner, will find an audience,” said Nancy Utley, chief operating officer at Fox Searchlight, the division of 20th Century Fox that found Oscar (and box office) gold after picking up “Slumdog Millionaire.” She added that the studio specialty division knew it had a winner on its hands when it screen-tested the film in Orange County, Calif. — sort of a ground zero of a conventional American audience — without any marketing or explanation, and the room loved it...

The winner of the documentary short category, “Smile Pinki,” was filmed in India as well. Working the carpet, I spent time making nice with its young subject, Pinki Sonkar, radiant after a cleft palate repair and a film about her journey. At the end of the interview with her and the film’s director, Megan Mylan, I awkwardly folded my hands together at my chin and bowed, as I had when the kids of “Slumdog” came through.

“I’m going to have to learn how to do that,” said a reporter next to me. It will be clumsy for everyone. Hollywood’s efforts to globalize its content as well as its business have been a train wreck for the most part, but for a stagnant industry under duress at home, the rest of the world is waiting for their stories to be told as well."

You can read the whole article here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscars gone global...

Just read this in the NYT and I thought, yup, that's right:

'Hollywood has been taking on more and more of a global tilt with each passing year, but on this evening iat was especially evident in the show and in the awards themselves.

After Penélope Cruz won for best supporting actress for her role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” she gave part of her speech in Spanish — she said backstage it was a dedication to the actors and people of Spain — and then suggested backstage that the movies had to grow beyond the bounds of strictly American stories. “We are all mixed together, and it has to be reflected in the cinema,” she said.'

And here's the rest of the article, if you're interested.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Becoming a hollow reed...

Here's a fantastic poem from Hafez wherein he speaks of the difference between the mature artist and the immature one:


The Vintage Man

Between a good artist 
And a great one


The novice 
Will often lay down his tool 
Or brush

Then pick up an invisible club 
On the mind’s table

And helplessly smash the easels and

Whereas the vintage man 
No longer hurts himself or anyone

And keeps on 


-- Hafiz, (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

As alluded to in the above poem, there is much to say about the way artists often hurt themselves in their creative path.  I am personally of the opinion that 90% of this anguish and self-sabotage is unrelated to our actual work- it is not the fire that burns us, it is the fear of the fire.

It's become clear to me that work should always be joyous.  Even when it is hard and painful and we have to sacrifice for it, there should always be an element of joy present.  It seems very difficult to realize our potential, otherwise, for how can you pour your into the very thing you resist? 

My goal is to create in a sustainable, authentic manner.  Why let success or failure, or fear of either stand in my way?

I recently heard a great TED talk by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert that explored these ideas and more.  I encourage you to listen to it if you get a chance. 

And after you watch that talk, perhaps you will have time to read another poem that speaks to the essence of what art is, this one by the extraordinary Jorge Luis Borges:

The Art of Poetry 

To gaze at a river made of time and water 

and remember Time is another river. 

To know we stray like a river 

and our faces vanish like water. 


To feel that waking is another dream 

that dreams of not dreaming and that the death 

we fear in our bones is the death 

that every night we call a dream. 


To see in every day and year a symbol 

of all the days of man and his years, 

and convert the outrage of the years 

into a music, a sound, and a symbol. 


To see in death a dream, in the sunset 

a golden sadness such is poetry, 

humble and immortal, poetry, 

returning, like dawn and the sunset. 


Sometimes at evening there's a face 

that sees us from the deeps of a mirror. 

Art must be that sort of mirror, 

disclosing to each of us his face. 


They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders, 

wept with love on seeing Ithaca, 

humble and green. Art is that Ithaca, 

a green eternity, not wonders. 


Art is endless like a river flowing,

passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same 

inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same 

and yet another, like the river flowing. 

-Jorge Luis Borges 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some advice for your first feature, Part 2 (Tze Chun)

Here's part two in the series- these thoughts come from Tze Chun, director of 'Children of Invention'.

About the list Tze says: I don't know which one I'd say was the most important.  Number 1 probably:

1)      Drink a Red Bull as soon as you finish lunch.  Food coma is okay in real life, but for a director it can be a disaster. 

2)      Don't get too attached to your shot list.  When the day winds down, you may have to combine shots.  It's not the end of the world.

3)      Surround yourself with people that you trust. When you work on a 14-hour day, there will be at least 60 minutes a day where you will have effectively lost your sh*t. You want people around you who will tell you when you have bad ideas and support you when you have good ones.

4)      People are always saying never to work with child actors.  I say you should work with them before you forget what it's like to be one. 

5)      You need to put a lot of feeling into your film, because it's going to get diluted when it finally gets to your audience.  You need to feel a lot just to get your audience to cry or laugh a little bit.  I dunno why that is, but it is.

6)      As much energy as you put into the film, put that much energy into being calm.  Most fights on set happen when someone gets frantic.  That negative energy pollutes everything.  It's how you act when things are at their worst that defines how people remember working you.

7)      No Indian food on set.  Ever. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some advice for your first feature, Part 1 (Amin Matalqa)

Since I am in the throes of writing a feature that I will be directing in the next 18 months, it's natural that I seek out advice from others who have already made their first feature...  

This is part one in a series of I don't know how many- this first string of suggestions comes to us from,  Amin Matalqa whose film Captain Abu Raed I mentioned in a previous post:

1- Stay open to ideas from your collaborators.
2- Pick your battles
3- Keep editing in your head while shooting so you have a feel for what you may be missing
4- Watch the performances as the ambassador for your audience.  As the director, you're the only person who sees the big picture.
5- Learn on the job, but be prepared.  Do your homework.  Know your gameplan and shot list.
6- Throw your shotlist away and adapt to the performances
7- Never talk to actors about what they should feel.  Talk about what their objectives are as a character and what's in their way.  Direct through blocking, not through confusing abstract emotional direction.  Let the actors do what they do from within.  Stay out of their way, then give them adjustments.
8- You don't know everything so don't pretend that you do
9- Communicate and delegate so you can focus on your actors and your camera.  Let everyone do their job.
10- Remember to have fun because you create the atmosphere on your set.
11-  Adapt to surprises and find creative solutions to the limitations that get in the way.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A call from the head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences...

Did you watch the announcements for the Academy Awards?   They were ready by Forest Whitaker and another guy...

That other guy is actually Sid Ganis, an esteemed Hollywood producer and current head of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences...

So imagine my surprise when I noticed a missed call and listened to this voicemail.

Pretty cool huh?  Turns out he's a friend of a friend, who recommended he watch my film.  Going to meet with some people at his company.

Should be fun...  More later!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Living in a Global Society: Piece for Soul Pancake, version 1

I just finished the first draft of a piece I'm making for Soul Pancake.  I shot it with my friend Todd Brown, who unfortunately couldn't help edit it since he just moved to Cambodia to start his own non-profit documentary company.

Basically we asked people what living in a global society means to you, and then shot people being people.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Tze Chun: Child of Invention

Today I went to a screening at the William Morris Agency to watch my friend  Tze Chun's new film.  I would post the trailer here but.... I haven't edited it yet!

That's right, I'm editing the trailer for Children of Invention and I think it's going to be a lot of fun.  It tells the story of an immigrant Chinese family that becomes entangled in a pyramid scheme- perfect for our Madoff-ized world.  

Children does an excellent job of examining the intimate lives of its characters in the context of their social milieu, and at the same time allows us into their dream like interior world.  That and it's funny and sad and hopeful all at the same time.  All of  this is alluded to in the director's statement that Tze wrote

Having a father who is also an immigrant, and also being of the same generation as Tze, I could relate to the themes of this film...  It's an excellent example of what could be called global cinema...  I have more to say about it, but I think I'll wait till after I watch it a view times and perhaps share an interview with Tze...

Oh, and I'll be sure to show you the trailer when it's done!