The Art of Dreaming Online

We’ve just released my newest film, The Art of Dreaming, online.

It’s free to watch. I’m only asking that you sign up to our mailing list – a small price to pay to watch a great, 40-minute, mini-feature (and we’ll never give your email address to a third party!).

It’s about a young woman who finds her dream life begins to invade her waking life. I’m very proud of this film. If you like it, please tell your friends about it. The cast and crew all worked really hard to make it as good as it can be, and I’m hoping it finds a big audience and a long life online.

Watch The Art of Dreaming online.


Insights from Werner Herzog

Here‘s a very interesting rundown of a master class in filmmaking taught by the great Werner Herzog. As usual for Mr. Herzog, it’s filled with unique and personal insights into the art of filmmaking.

Just one example, that has gotten me thinking:

The Parallel Story

There is one thing you have to be very careful about in both documentaries and feature films — there is a special parallel story that occurs with the audience. The audience anticipates and rushes ahead of your story. For example, in a romantic comedy, there is a story evolving in the collective, ‘I hope they kiss each other.’ If you don’t understand the parallel story you will never make a great film.

via Master Class with Werner Herzog | Indiewire.

More Butoh Pages

I’ve just added two more pages about butoh to the website:

Kazuo Ono

Hijikata Remembered

This completes my transfer of pages from my old site Flesh & Blood Mystery Theater to this site. I’ll probably close that site eventually, so if you want to link to my articles about butoh, please link here. Thanks!

Penny Pinching

If you’ve ever wondered about the specific ways that the corporate mentality can damage the art of filmmaking, check out this interesting exchange between screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin on their latest Scriptnotes podcast.

They’re talking about how producers often decide where a film will be shot based on what city offers the best tax breaks rather than the needs of the script, and Craig Mazin talks about his own experiences on Identity Thief, which he wrote.

John: So, Identity Thief was Georgia, correct?

Craig: Identity Thief was shot in Atlanta.

John: Okay.

Craig: The movie was obviously always meant to be a road trip. … And I remember talking … at length with Jason and with Seth Gordon about the kind of road trip we wanted to do. And the one that we wanted to tell, because it’s important, I mean, everything is intentional. And we sort of wanted to show a cross country road trip that we hadn’t really seen.

You know, for instance Due Date had just done a really good one from Atlanta to LA, and they kind of cut through that southern swath and through the Grand Canyon. It was such a great look. And they got near the Mexican border. But what I hadn’t seen was a trip that I had actually done when I was younger, which is kind of a Boston to Portland kind of feel, that cutting across the top of the country, through the rust belt, and through dairy country, and then out through kind of big sky and all the rest of it.

… And ending up in the Pacific Northwest. And so much of what the characters look like and dress like and how they live, plus Boston is such a great town in terms of look.

John: Oh, it’s great.

Craig: And Portland is really interesting. And Portland is also interesting because of the communities that are just off it that are actually kind of trashy and depressed.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I was screamed at. I’m not joking … I mean over the phone I was screamed at, and I was told the movie has to be shot in Atlanta or it’s not happening. And … given that the whole thing had to be shot in Atlanta, the physical production people were quite convinced that we could fool the audiences by making a road trip from Miami to Atlanta. [laughs]

And I was like, that’s a day. First of all, everything looks the same. That’s the whole point. So, how will you know you got anywhere? Forget what it does to the characters and all the rest of it. And it was an enormous fight and in the end the best I could do was get to, okay, it’s a drive from Miami to Denver, but not really Denver, Atlanta. And then pay for a second unit to sort of fake our way through St. Louis.

It was depressing, because frankly what ended up happening was the Denver scenes were just generic because frankly Denver and Atlanta are kind of generic looking cities.

John: They really are.

Craig: So, that stuff was just sort of generic. The Florida stuff was generic. And the road trip was boring. You know, you didn’t get a sense of scope or feel or the bigness of what it means to be out on the road in the middle of nowhere, just big, big…it just killed me.

John: The only sort of big wide moments you had were some of those giant tree-lined highways. And you used those for like the times when they’re walking around a bit.

Craig: … It’s generic, you know? … But this is the thing, it just bums me out … And it’s not like we were saying we have to shoot the movie in Los Angeles. And it’s not like we’re saying we can’t shoot a big chunk of it somewhere where there are tax breaks. Nor are we saying, “Okay, the movie that costs $32 million, if we do it the way we want to would cost $52 million.” It wouldn’t. It would have probably cost $37 million.

John: It would have been just fine.

via Scriptnotes, John

If you haven’t listened to Scriptnotes before, it’s a great podcast “about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.” Anyone interested in screenwriting should definitely check it out!

Functions of a Scene

When working on a script – or more specifically when in the re-write phase – I find it really useful to think about the functions of a scene.

Any scene can:

  • Reveal Exposition or Back Story
  • Reveal Character or Relationships
  • Develop Character or Relationships
  • Advance the Plot
  • Create a Mood
  • Develop the Theme of the Movie
  • Entertain or Amuse

This list isn’t meant to be exclusive; it just represents one way I like to look at things.

I find it crucial to make sure any scene in my script accomplishes more than one of these functions, preferably at least three. For example, if I need to include a scene that provides back-story to the audience, I make sure it serves another function too. At the very least it should be amusing or entertaining, but even better the scene should accomplish something else: show something new about a character or relationships, create a mood (tension, eeriness, romance, levity, etc), advance the plot.

Or if I just had a sequence with a lot of tension, I might want to follow it with a humorous or romantic scene to lighten the mood, but I still want to make sure that scene serves other functions too.

The more functions any scene has the better, without overloading, of course. This leads to a nuanced, layered script, rich in detail and emotion. It helps keep the audience engaged by creating a world full of depth and breadth and helps create a film that rewards return visits because the film is always working on many levels at once.

Have I left out any scene functions that you find useful?

Who’s Going to Pay For This Stuff?

On the Media has a great episode this week on the financial challenges facing digital media. How can you create a sustainable business model in this world of streaming, free content, youtube, piracy, audience fragmentation, and unlimited options?

They cover a lot of different topics: tv and film, music and journalism, ad-blocker and kickstarter. Check it out.

On the Media, Who’s Going to Pay for This Stuff?

I was particularly interested in this exchange between Brooke Gladstone and Peter Kafka, editor of All Things Digital:

PETER KAFKA: I think it’s hard to swap out Game of Thrones and show you something someone did in their basement and for you to be happy. An interesting question though … is that if you look at what’s popular on YouTube right now, it is stuff being done in kids’ basements. And one question I’m always asking people who have 12-year-olds or 14-year-olds is, do your kids distinguish between Game of Thrones and something that Ryan Higa, who’s a big YouTube celebrity, made, which is crude and popular. And they said, nope, it’s all just stuff, it’s all screen time. They value it equally. And if you an entrenched old media company, that has got to be a terrifying prospect.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Peter, isn’t that the wrong question you’re asking because 12-year-olds don’t stay 12 years old forever. And I would argue that they do make a distinction. They just like that basement stuff now … I loved Top Cat growing up. That doesn’t mean – well, maybe I would check out Top Cat occasionally, if it was around, but my tastes have changed since I was 12.

PETER KAFKA: … The question is will the 12-year-old of today pay some amount of money per month to get something like Game of Thrones 10 or 20 years from now? Or will they be content to watch just whatever slop sort of washes over them from YouTube?

via The Future of Streaming Video Transcript – On The Media.

The two of them move on from this topic before they get to a far more interesting question. It’s not whether 14 year-olds accustomed to watching something made in a basement will be satisfied with crap when they get older, but whether they’ll be able to enjoy something of quality that doesn’t have expensive production values. Someone can make something cheaply in their basement that isn’t crap, that is intelligent, provocative, profound and artistic.

And that is the real opportunity here for filmmakers. Now that audiences are used to enjoying “crap made in someone’s basement” they will be more open to appreciating the value of something artistic and personal, made with creativity, ingenuity, and wit, even if the production values aren’t up to multi-million dollar Hollywood standards. So film artists have an opportunity to find an audience without being beholden to corporate interests, without millions of dollars at risk, and without the concomitant artistic meddling.

But it also requires filmmakers to develop new aesthetics, new ways of looking at the world and their art that isn’t chained to the vision of Hollywood and corporate mass media.

In the 1960’s Jerzy Grotwoski argued for a new aesthetic of theater that didn’t try to compete with movies in the things movies do best, spectacle and large-scale and special effects, but utilized what theater can offer that film can’t: the presence of a live person in front of you. He called it “The Poor Theater” but he didn’t mean poor in art, or creativity, or value.

Filmmakers too can embrace a new aesthetic for a new time. That is the challenge and opportunity we face.