Sunday, June 3, 2007

Student Film? Bring A Hat

I spent yesterday playing the role of Cop #3 in a student film. It was fun, I had a line, the biggest line of any of the numbered cops - I even got a closeup - but I was still just Cop #3, and it wasn't just fun. It was also an exercise in survival. I'm now sunburnt to a crisp. My face is bright red, with a huge raccoon face thing going on from my sunglasses, a pasty white area around my eyes and two pasty white lines through the burning red from the frames.

There was nowhere for me to hide from the sun, and I skipped breakfast to get there. It was a good hour away from home - North Hollywood - out near Riverside, past Chino. They had pizza for lunch, but it had been delivered and waiting in boxes for a long time before I knew about it. I only realized because I saw somebody else eating pizza and figured that it had to have come from somewhere. In between shots I went looking for it, found it, and brought a box back to the shoot just in case anyone else was as hungry as I was. As it turned out, plenty of people were.

So, this is what I learned:

At a student film, they're not going to baby anyone, least of all an extra or somebody with only one line. When you're playing a tiny bit part, you could be out in the sun all day, waiting to shoot. You're going to need a hat and some sunscreen. Bring some food, too, in case the shoot goes longer than expected, or everybody eats it all before you even find out that it's arrived. You don't know going in so the smart move is to be ready for anything. Treat it like going camping.

Monday, May 14, 2007

300 Wasn't About The Characters

Guy Hasson writes a terrific blog on dramatic writing, but I totally think he misses the point with his post on the movie 300.

How spoiled and out-of-touch is a society, when its men’s fantasies of being real men look like this?

300 wasn't about men, whether real or unreal. 300 was about a new aesthetic for action movies, influenced by video games, manga, and anime; pioneered by Underworld, The Matrix The Chronicles of Riddick, and Sin City; explicitly identified by Joel Silver in the "Making Of..." special feature on the Matrix DVD; and guaranteed to crop up more and more as time goes on.

It's true that the writing isn't always great in these movies (although there definitely are exceptions), but that's OK from a studio point of view because people still go to see them. Even though great writing remains a great thing for a movie to have - which is why The Matrix did better than Underworld - the reality is that studios make movies to make money. But this trend is actually a good thing. It's raising the bar visually. A decade from now, if your writing requires the finished movie to have a totally unique visual style, that won't be an issue. In fact, if this trend continues, scripts which require unique visual styles may in fact become more valuable than scripts that don't.

Anyway, even though I disagree with Guy here, overall, his blog is a great blog. Check it out.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Virgin And The Hooker

I was utterly blown away by Lost In Translation - I think it's one of the best movies I've ever seen - so I went and rented Sofia Coppola's next film, Marie Antoinette. It was a disappointment for me; partly just because I'm a guy, and the subject matter is 100% chick movie, and partly because of the subdued level of the drama. There's a pretty stark contrast between Lost In Translation's quiet, heart-rending intensity and Marie Antoinette's quiet, non-heart-rending non-intensity.

There was one very neat, very compelling tension in Marie Antoinette, though, which I wish I'd seen developed further, and this was the conflict between Antoinette and the King's prostitute. In the beginning of the movie, it looks as if this'll be a central conflict; Antoinette's a newlywed who can't conceive and who - it appears - can't even get laid when she's right there in bed next to her husband, due to the intense and incomprehensible pressures and protocols of life in the French court. The King's prostitute, by contrast, disregards all these niceties, gets away with it, and is no timid newbie in bed, either.

It reminded me of a book I read, I think it was Gore Vidal, but I'm not sure; somebody recounting their experience with Jackie Onassis, who came to them requesting surprisingly frank and detailed advice on how to sexually excite her husband, President Kennedy. Apparently (and of course none of this is substantiated) Jackie O. felt Kennedy's affairs were due to her own inadequacies in bed. I think she was probably being unfair on herself; anybody who can get Marilyn Monroe into bed will, simply for the sheer historical precedent of it. People don't resort to Marilyn Monroe out of desperation. That just doesn't happen.

But I digress.

The movie didn't develop in this direction, but I was expecting the relationship between the new, politically innocent Dauphine and the established, powerful prostitute to be fraught with tension. I am, as I said before, a guy - but I think that if I had been a timid virgin princess with the weight of an empire resting on my sexual performance, and I could not even get my husband to initiate a conversation, I would have gone to this woman for help and advice - but given the protocols and such, I would have had huge obstacles there even if I liked her, and it looked as if the two women couldn't stand each other. That combination of high stakes and tough obstacles - that's a movie!

In fact, it's an amazing ball to have dropped, especially when you consider how few films address central questions of femininity and society like that - the classic Catholic virgin/whore complex - in ways that show respect to women. You have an Italian-American director and a French period setting, so the Catholic element can be addressed head-on, explicitly, and yet if there's anybody who could have tackled a subject like that head-on with the subtlety and intelligence necessary, and still made a fascinating movie, you would think that person would have to be Sofia Coppola.

For the sake of argument, let's imagine a different movie here.

A virgin princess is delivered to a kingdom where she's trained in absurdly detailed social niceties; yet the most powerful person at court is a sensual, experienced whore who ignores these rules and regulations. She can, because she has the king wrapped around her finger. The virgin princess' mother, an Empress whose empire borders this kingdom, pressures her to give her new husband a child, because otherwise their countries may soon come to war, but our innocent heroine cannot even get her husband to hold a conversation with her. In desperation she seeks out the help of the prostitute.

But how? She cannot even acknowledge the prostitute publicly without her friends turning on her. What does she do? How does the prostitute respond? Do they become friends, or enemies? Would it be valuable for a prostitute engaged in political power games to have the young Dauphine at her beck and call? Would a woman who collects lovers for the sake of political power not immediately seduce such a naive Dauphine, in anticipation of the day when the Dauphine becomes the Queen? And what political motives and allies would she have - this backstreet criminal with private access to the King?

Definitely some potent drama left untapped there.

And hot lesbian action, too!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Harry Potter Vs. Star Wars

Give Them A Reason To Tell You

I just had a fun little mishap. I called Toby Maguire's production company and said I had heard Maguire wasn't making another Spider-Man, and asked if he was looking for any particular style of script instead. They actually sounded interested, put me on hold, and then came back to ask who I was. I faltered on that and sounded like a clueless newbie (no shock there) and they put me on hold again and then hung up.

What's funny about that is that if I'd said something else instead, something else might have happened. It's kind of entertaining that way. I've been reading up on this whole Hollywood thing and there's this fascinating contradiction going on, where film is a collaborative medium so everything's about networking, everybody wants to be the person who discovers the hot new thingamajig - the hot new actor, the hot new writer, whatever - yet at the same time, there's this constant influx of wannabes which means that anybody who ever gets anything done will be pestered incessantly by people who want an "in." so people in Hollywood, they have to cultivate this open-ness and this closed-ness at the same time.

One book I read the other day quoted somebody in Hollywood saying it drove him nuts whenever he heard people complaining that you have to know the right people to make it in Hollywood. His response, basically, was yes, you do. So go out and meet them!

And when you do, learn from my example. Toby Maguire's people were interested by my question but then decided I was a jerkoff wasting their time. They were interested because I asked a good question. But don't just ask them good questions. Asking good questions isn't enough. Give them good reasons to give you the answers.

Friday, May 4, 2007