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Posts Tagged ‘Indiewire’

  On Wednesday, November 30, 2011 the Santa Ana winds blew through Pasadena and quickly made downtown look like Armageddon.  Don’t believe me, take a look at these photos.  We lost electricity at Unconventional Media, but it didn’t matter, I wasn’t working. The electricity was out at the home of my sister, Lindsay Mofford and her husband, Tucker. I’ve written on this blog about Tucker Stilley before, his battle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and without use of any of his muscles, outside of his neck and eyebrows, his ability to create artwork and interactive media with just a reflective bindi-dot on his forehead that controls a complex system of computer technology.

Here’s a video link, “How We Do It” that explains the method behind, “The Permanent Record of NewJack_Rasputin.” His website, The Permanent Record, is this pirate avatar’s portal to his art, songs, ideas and videos. Check out the recent new work in reaction to the Occupy movements and new music with visuals, Brite Gray.  But don’t stop there, explore the website for other work or search out, TuckerStilley.com. There is also an APP from Appucan of his Deconstructed Faerie series.  In 2010, he was one of six honored with the Massachusetts College of Art’s Alumni Awards for Distinguished Achievement. (His video speech, since he was unable to attend.)

Back to the power that went off that evening and did not return for 63 hours, a stretch that could have proven deadly to Tucker. He now breathes 24 hours a day with the assistance of a ventilator.  When the electricity went off, everyone had to kick into emergency mode and that’s what amazed me. Not only how quickly the family and caretakers reacted, but how the community of fans and friends stepped in to assist. There was a news piece about the situation in the Pasadena Star News.

Now, there have been other postings about the community of support and friendship for Tucker, including an episode on the radio program, Humankind and a blog on Indiewire a couple years back. There is even a website entitled, All Hands on Board, that links supporters and friends to updates on the artist and new work and most importantly, to each other. Even a Facebook site.

But as medical needs grow, people are now not only giving money as a tax deduction, but also donating their own art to be sold in a community marketplace with all finances raised supporting Tucker. I’m amazed at not only Tucker’s art work that is available for purchase but all the other great things.  This Community Page continues to grow with so many possibilities, it’s one stop shopping for the holidays. You must see it. I’ve got my film Travelin Trains up there. My mom has her new book, “The Devil Made Me Do It.” The incredible musicians, Alloy Orchestra, have a few of their original movie soundtracks available including, “Man with a Movie Camera.” Beautiful prints. Bardo scarves. Even stays in Florence, Italy and Cambridge, Mass. More gets added every day.

Every step of this journey has been a new discovery and when the lights go out, new discoveries are made.  Tucker normally communicates using a custom-built computer system he started designing seven years ago when he was first diagnosed with ALS. These days it is very difficult for him to communicate without the computer. When the electricity went off and running only on a small generator to power the medical equipment, the computer had to go. Tucker was forced to retreat to his only refuge – his mind.  In the program notes for his art show a couple of years ago at Monte Vista (Read the review), he wrote, “I feel it is logical, my own nervous system failing, that I would spontaneously generate an alter-ego, tear a hole-in-space and try to escape.  My situation warrants immediate and drastically uncompromising self-metamorphosis. An exquisite new aesthetic unfolds when you are standing on the deck of a burning ship. Being paralyzed amplifies the uneasy link between intent and action and brings into question the true meaning of this place and time that we occupy…and of what our ultimate audience might prove to be.”

At times he describes himself as a “brain in a jar,” but it is a brilliant brain. We thank you all, those supporters that are consistently involved in Tucker’s life, but as his neck and shoulder muscles begin to give, we are reaching out to new medical procedures like the Eyewriter  and more medical staff to keep the “brain” creating. We need to go beyond the community that knows Tucker and introduce him to those who have yet to meet him. I believe the Community Marketplace is a good starting point. Please share, buy and donate.

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Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending a free live performance by Bear McCreary and his team of world class musicians perform his original scores from the Emmy-deserving television show, “Battlestar Galactica.” It was the opening for this summer’s Grand Performances in downtown Los Angeles, a consistently wonderful showcase of world music.  We’ve been going for years.  One of those hidden treasures of LA.

As indicated on these pages in January, I think “Battlestar Galactica” is fracken great.  However, I didn’t really understand how important the series was until I attended a panel last week hosted by Geoff Boucher (LA Times Hero Complex) as part of the LA Times “Envelope” Emmy screening series. Writer/creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were there, as well as stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, but the surprise was that they were joined by United Nations Senior Human Rights Official, Craig Mohkiber and United Nations Senior Political Affairs Officer, Stephen Siqueria. I guess last March, this same group sat in front of the United Nations (video links here) and discussed issues ranging from human rights accountability to peace and justice in the world. They not only talked about how these issues related to BSG, but what we as nations can learn from the decisions made in the show, both by the military, demonstrated in the series by Admiral William Adama, played by Olmos, and, on the civilian side, by President Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell.

If who haven’t seen the show, tens of thousands of human survivors have escaped annihilation from the man-made Cylons by taking refuge aboard a group of spaceships, lead by the aging warship Galactica. They begin a search for a new home planet, the mythical 13th colony, called Earth, chased by the Cylons, many that look human. As President, Laura Roslin sacrifices thousands of innocent civilians, abolishes reproductive choice, executes enemy combatants without trial and nearly steals an election over the course of the series. That was the point of the UN event and the Los Angeles event billed as “TV – making global issues relevant.” After showing clips from the series, the speakers shared how these shameful and violating acts continue for real across our world. As UN official, Craig Mokhiber said, “every nation on this planet has broken the rules of human rights,” and talked about how part of the UN mandate was to safeguard the human rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, and station. This fictional series gave us all an opportunity to think and discuss human rights, justice versus revenge, punishing people who perpetrate crimes against humanity, by watching episodes that take place on a spaceship in the future.

Isn’t that amazing? A fictional television show that carries significant political and world issue relevance. Most important, BSG was entertaining, I never felt like I was being preached too. That is the true genius of Ron Moore and David Eick.  In addition, the contribution of director Michael Rymer, as Moore acknowledged that night as “the third creative force that contributed heavily to our vision.” (It was fun to see the director get credit publicly for their creative input on a television series.  It rarely happens.)

It doesn’t have to be mindless, to be entertaining. That’s why I got into filmmaking.  To tell stories that make us think, react, research, formulate an educated opinion. We understand this to be true with documentaries, but as Basil Tsiokos reminds us in the terrific blog he wrote for indiewire,”8 Documentary Dos and Don’ts,” no one needs another wrongly executed doc film that’s only about message. Basil is a programming associate for the Sundance Film Festival and was Artistic Director for NewFest for twelve years.  He screens a lot of films and knows that a documentary can be important and informative, but it still needs to be entertaining.

That was our goal for the documentary, “Houston We Have a Problem” directed by Nicole Torre. The film explores our dangerous addiction to oil through candid insights from the Barons, Wildcatters, CEO’s and Roughnecks that comprise the world of Big Oil. An inside look into the culture of oil that explores the history of our dependency and how it has led us to the current energy crisis.  I’ve written about this film before here, when it premiered at AFI-Dallas and it continues to play the festivals. The issues the film addresses are important, but I believe we presented them in a fun, sometimes humorous, never boring way.

However, I am no Ron Moore. I’ve tried to write screenplays with significance, usually with them ending up being obvious and heavy.  I look forward to Mr. Moore’s television movie “Virtuality” airing June 26 on Fox about a group of astronauts who pass the time in virtual reality modules as their interactions are beamed back to Earth as a reality TV show. The new BSG series “Caprica” starts in January, about the kind of people, think us, that would create Cylons in the first place.  There is also “The Plan,” the Battlestar Galactica story from the Cylons perspective airing on Sci-Fi in November.  Directed by Edward James Olmos, a trailer was shown at the event and to quote Olmos, “it is breathtaking. It’s fantastic… I couldn’t have imagined this kind of a situation happening at the end of a show, where you would actually start at the beginning. That’s a masterful piece of understanding, Ron is a genius. Because after you see ‘The Plan,’ you’ll want to go back and view the whole series again.”

In these days of Twitter informing the world of election protests in Iran before the news can cover the story, important stories, fact or fiction, WILL FIND an audience. Smart filmmakers are figuring out how to find that audience. BSG is just one of many, many great shows on television, so why go out and spend big bucks on a crappy studio remake. If you want your film seen, it’s about getting it out there, any way possible.  In fact tonight, I’ll be watching the pilot episode of “Caprica” on DVD that was rented from Netflix. I’m sure the hope is that as a fan. I’ll like the new show as much as BSG and so when it airs, I’ll tell my friends and it will become “must see TV.” That’s forward thinking and we need more writers, showrunners and filmmakers to be looking forward and to tell the stories that have important relevance to our lives, yet still are entertaining. And so say we all!

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It’s close to Thanksgiving, but I’m not thankful, I’m distracted.  I’m “reworking” the budget for my script “Press>Play” from 3.5 million down to 1 million.  “Press>Play,” is an erotic journey of obsession, a drama about manipulation. Paul Beck is a video vulture, exaggerates news stories, edits images and facts to generate entertainment. Vivian DeBeche is an aspiring actress with little talent, playing out roles from old movies. A modern day couple that communicates, emotional and sexually, using a camera and Internet voyeurism as their tools.  I wrote the first draft in 1990.  At that time it was more science fiction, then slice of life.  Check out the website, PressPlayMovie.com.

When talking about new media and unconventional films, I think this project fits the bill.  So does the producer at Blue Horseshoe Productions, just not at 3.5 million, not in today’s economy, not if you’re making a non-genre independent film.  I’m sure you’ve heard the stories, they’re grim.  Seems every day there is another article in the Hollywood Reporter or Variety about the economy taking it’s toll on making independent films.  In the Sunday, November 23rd issue of the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz writes how as funding gets scarce, filmmakers must become more creative.  Last week at the American Film Market (AFM) everyone looked dazed and disappointed.  Few people were buying.  I guess this talk of how difficult it has become to sell an indie film started with CEO of The Film Department (and former President of Miramax) Mark Gill’s now famous “the sky is falling” speech at the Los Angeles Film FestivalIndiewire still has it posted up on their website.  Basically, Gill lists Paramount folding Paramount Vantage, Warner Brothers closing Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse, many other smaller companies laying off employees or closing their doors as just a small sampling of the dying breath of indie film.  The glut of films and high costs of advertising are also destroying the business.  In a world with too many choices, companies can’t risk the marketing money on most movies.  Now, the credit crunch has further squeezed the independent filmmaker.  Many banks have just stopped giving money to films.

So what is someone that has a project like my feature, “Press>Play” to do.  Well, one of the things Gill believes has hurt independent movies is all the other forms of alternative entertainment that exist today, iPods to Xboxes to Tivos to YouTube videos and excellent cable television shows.  Well, isn’t that the Unconventional Media mantra.  If we can’t beat them, let’s join them.  That’s what makes a film like “Press>Play” so perfect for this day and age.  It’s a film that uses these alternatives as part of its story.  We will also use this new media to promote and distribute.  It just won’t be made in Los Angeles because there are no financial incentives like there are in most of the other States.  As I chip away at the budget, I’ve got to make a bunch of compromises, location being one of the first.  It’s depressing, but I want to see the film get made.

In the October 30 issue of indiewire, Anthony Kaufman writes about the cash crunch and the difficulty of raising funds, but some producers are still getting movies made, and new financiers have appeared.  He believes the real problem is in distribution.  There just aren’t as many places to go anymore and the distributors that do still exist are being very careful.  That’s what I was seeing at AFM.  No risk taking.  And why should they, not when it takes a huge publicity and advertising budget, sometimes more then it cost to make the movie, to get seats filled in a theater.  Certainly, the distribution strategy can’t be that your film is going to win at Sundance and then get picked up, because even some of the winners are not playing theatrically anymore.  Independent distributors are even promoting the idea that getting your feature film on the Internet is better for your film then a theatrical run.  Yikes, how can our investors make their money back?

Mark Gill believes “if you decide to make a movie budgeted under $10 million on your own tomorrow, you have a 99.9% chance of failure.”  Thankfully, Stacy Parks offers some more positive solutions through her terrific organization, Film Specific.  It is her belief that any budget over 5 million needs a name attached and studio backing, so keep the budget low and hire up and coming actors, terrific, future names.  In fact if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be a name by the time your film is completed.  I found it interesting that she warns against shooting DV tape because of the difficulty to sell the film overseas.  An Independent film has such a slim chance of success without global sales, so this is important information.  As indicated in previous posts, I’ve become a huge proponent of the RED camera which I think may change up these odds and still keep the budget low.

Parks also warns against inflated numbers, keep the sales projections realistic.  It is very unlikely that your independent film will make millions, so don’t lie to your investors.  You just want to show that the film will make a profit.  This can be done by finding niche markets on-line and elsewhere.  If you want to do the work, you can also self distribute, which has a much better chance of higher return.  I’ve been experimenting with this idea recently with my short film, Travelin’ Trains.  Searching out the other train websites, fansites, etc and leaving a link to the website for my film.  It seems to be working.  I think Arin Crumley and Susan Buice did this brilliantly with their Slamdance feature film winner, “Four Eyed Monsters.”  They showed the film at festivals, created websites, even edited the film into webisodes for YouTube.  Their experience is really a how-to on self distribution, too bad they didn’t make much money.

So I’m now back to reworking the budget.  It’s a lot of work.  I guess Mark Gill is right, “it’s not enough to have access to the moviemaking process. Talent matters more.”  I’ve had great reactions to the screenplay, many envision a good film.  Now, if I could only get the damn thing made and seen, it will be worth the 18 years I’ve spent developing the project.

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