Avengers: Age of Ultron

Finally got to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron. I enjoyed it so much more than the first one. The action was more exciting and more interesting. The character bits were better integrated into the action and were just the right level of depth for a comic book movie. The narrative actually made sense; I loved the way they handled The Vision; and Captain America’s costume wasn’t so ridiculous-looking that it ruined any scene he was in,

Of course Joss Whedon’s “the stakes aren’t real enough unless someone dies” is still the blind spot in his understanding of the genre he’s working in. The death at the end didn’t add stakes, it just added unnecessary and overdone melodramatics. At least he did us the favor of killing off a character he made no effort whatsoever to make us care about.

Still, the 12 year old in me, for whom The Avengers was his favorite comic, was giddy at finally seeing these characters done right on the big screen.



Excellent Beauty: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

valerie-16

“Where am I? I am sleeping and only dreaming all of this.”

I recently saw Valerie and her Week of Wonders, a unique and wonderful 1970 Czech film by Jaromil Jires. Surreal, in the original sense of the word (“as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”), the movie appears to take place inside the dreams of a young woman just entering puberty.

The young heroine, radiantly portrayed by 13 year-old Jaroslava Schallerova, encounters vampires, lecherous priests, a young man who may be her lover or may be her brother, magical talismans and long-lost parents.. The movie proceeds with the logic of a dream. Characters die and return and transform from one person to another; relationships and locations shift without warning; all with no attempt at explanation.

Sometimes Valerie watches the action from hidden recesses, as if observing for the first time the secret world of adults; sometime she is pulled into the action. She faces dangerous situations and discovers dark truths about her past, though facts seem to shift and transmute as soon as she uncovers them.

Human-made edifices, old and decaying, contrast with idyllic scenes of nature. Exuberant sensuality contrast with selfish, predatory lusts.

valvamp

Full of arresting, astonishing images, there is a wonderful magic to the film. The special effects are accomplished with the simplest edits, giving them an eerie power exactly because of their simplicity. Its ending is truly sublime, as Valerie seems to rise above her trials to find a moment of inner strength and bemused detachment, in the light of a warm and sunny day.

Criterion has just released a new edition of the film on Blu-ray, which means it’s also available from streaming on Huluplus. Check it out!

Valerie and her Week of Wonders on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders on Huluplus

Taking its name from Frances Bacon (“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”) Excellent Beauty is an ongoing series about films and filmmakers whose style falls outside of mainstream tradition. It’s a celebration of the quirky and refreshing, works that remind us that the art of filmmaking can be as vast and varied as the human experience, beyond the restricted styles, themes, and ethics offered by most mainstream films.



Kim Has Hired a New Producer

Kim Production Diary

Kim has added a new member to our production team. Nikolai Metin has joined as Producer, replacing Leeah Odom, who unfortunately was not able to continue.

Nikolai is an experienced feature film Producer, with over 10 years experience in the field. His feature credits include Ela Thier’s new film The Great Despair and Jeff Lipsky’s Mad Women. He was Managing Partner at the production studio Tribeca Sun Factory, and has experience in post-production as well, editing, color grading, VFX and sound editing.

Nikolai is very knowledgeable about the film business, dedicated, and a joy to work with. We’re very lucky to have him on board.



Richard Brody on Independent Films

Richard Brody has a very interesting article in a recent New Yorker where he weighs in on an in-the-media argument between Robert Downey, Jr. and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (the director of Birdman) on the relative value of superhero films vs.independent films. Brody praises the mythologizing values of the superhero film, while also pointing out how their mega-budgets means more studio interference, and less chance for a singular artistic vision to shine through.

But then he adds warnings about the dangers of the independent film too.

“… there’s a decadent side to independence…and there’s an aesthetic failing that follows as well: the shibboleth of the self-effacing director who gives his or her performers the space in which to shine, and who, in fact, makes films in which the actors are compelled to do the bulk of the work. The special mediocrity of independent films is the lack of direction and of production alike”

This is what I have been getting at it many recent posts, how easy it is to lose sight of the fact that it is important for art to offer something true, and that the style of the film – the collision between what the filmmaker is trying to say and how the film says it – and the experience of the audience – what the audience experiences during the film and what they take away from it – is more important than the mechanics of plot, or as Brody points out, even the performances themselves.

The whole article is worth reading.

Advice for Robert Downey, Jr. in The New Yorker.



Filmmaking 101: Every Shot Answers a Question

A quick editing tip I sometimes find useful when I’m stuck trying to decide how to edit a scene: Sometimes it’s helpful to think of every shot as answering a question set up by the previous shot.

A simple example: let’s say you have a character who is surprised by something unexpected, and you need to decide whether to show the character’s surprise first and then cut to the thing she sees, or the other way around, show the unexpected thing first and then the character’s reaction to it.

In such a situation, try asking yourself which question you want the audience to ask: What is the character seeing that caused her reaction? Or, how is the character going to react when she sees it? This should help clarify the solution for you.

In The Art of Dreaming, when Maya wakes up and finds The Insect Queen in the room with her, I realized I wanted neither. I realized I wanted the audience to see at the exact moment that Maya does, so I cut to the shot of The Insect Queen on the exact frame that Maya’s eyeline lands on her.



Kim Promo Video

Here’s the first teaser video for our upcoming film, Kim, hot off the presses. Enjoy!



Kim Production Diary: 5 Steps to Writing a Business Plan

Kim Production Diary

We’ve finished writing our business plan for Kim, the last step before we can seriously begin fundraising. It was an interesting process, and it forced us to think through 5 basic aspects of our production.

The first was figuring out how to define the film, and how to talk about it in a way that is both true to our vision and compelling enough to get people as excited about it as we are.

Practicing the “elevator pitch” with anyone willing to listen was really important, until the pitch was refined to a point where most people react to it with an enthusiastic “that sounds like a great film!”

The best bits of advice we found for this were: “describe in one sentence your story, and the twist that makes it different,” and “when you touch their hearts, they’ll open their checkbook.” We had to learn to describe our film succinctly in a way that is emotionally moving.

The second thing we had to work through for the business plan was a thorough and realistic budget for the film. To talk about that in detail would probably take a few blog posts, much more space than I have here today.

The third thing was to look at other similar films and see how they did financially. We looked at low-budget psychological science fiction films, that played down action and violence, as well as films that were more artistically oriented and films that played with the conflict of reality and fantasy. While this can’t give us any guarantee how Kim will perform, it can at least show us how it might do.

Fourth was to research and understand film marketing, and all the opportunities and challenges facing independent filmmakers today. We worked to identify our films assets – its strengths and the things that make it unique, then how to identify audiences that value those assets, and then how to contact and communicate with those audiences.

And fifth, was to look at the distribution options available for independent films. This proved the trickiest part, because it’s the thing most likely to change in the 12-18 months between now and when post-production is finished. We made an inventory of all the current distribution options, everything from VHX to Vimeo-on-Demand to iTunes to Tugg, to traditional theatrical distributors. We’ll have to continue monitoring and researching all options over the next year so we’ll be prepared when the film is finished and ready for release.

I hope you found this quick overview of our process for writing a business plan interesting, and helpful if you’re working on your own film. For us, it’s on to raising the money to make Kim, More on that as the process proceeds.



Rebel Seed’s Film Insights Podcast

I just found a great podcast for independent filmmakers: Rebel Seed.

Their Film Insights series features really amazing advice on marketing, fundraising, and distribution for indie films. It’s all very specific and very practical. I’m finding these podcasts extremely useful as we ramp up for production on Kim. Knowledge is power.

http://www.rebelseedfilms.com/rebelseedpodcast/



Extraordinary New Book of Choreography Notes by Tatsumi Hijikata

Ugly Duckling Presse has just published an extraordinary book of choreography notes by Tatsumi Hijikata, co-founder of Butoh, from a performance he directed in 1976.

Transcribed at the time by lead dancer Moe Yamamoto, the book presents us with the actual words and mental images Hijikata used to direct, motivate, and inspire his dancers at this stage of his artistic development. It demonstrates vividly how deeply interconnected words, internal images, and movement were for him.

The book reproduces the words, erasures and drawing from the original notes and gives us the original Japanese with an English translation on alternating pages. For anyone interested on the art and history of butoh, this is an invaluable document.

You can purchase it here:

http://www.uglyducklingpresse.org/catalog/browse/item/?pubID=500



Kim Production Diary: Making a Budget, Fundraising and Business Plans

Kim Production Diary

Been crunching numbers lately, but before I go on, I’ll define a few terms for those unfamiliar with the intricacies of film production.

Pre-production is the time spent preparing the film before the actual shoot, this includes writing the script, hiring the crew, auditioning, casting, and rehearsing the actors, finding locations, rasing money, and whatever preparations we need for the camera crew and the art, props and sets.

Production is the time when the cameras are rolling and we’re shooting the picture.

Post-Production is everything that happens after the shoot. Editing, composing the music, doing the sound design and sound editing, festival submissions, marketing, and distribution of the final film, etc.

At this stage of Pre-production, Leeah and I have been working to finalize our Budget, Fundraising Plan and Business Plan, three essentials for proceeding with the production. With these three key components, we’re trying to answer these questions:

The Fundraising Plan: how are we going to raise the money for Kim?

The Budget: How are we going to spend the money once we get it?

The Business Plan: How are we planning to make the money back once the film is made?

Investors and funders will certainly want to see the Budget and Business Plans before they contribute money, but they’ll probably also be interested in seeing the Fundraising plan to make sure that our plans are solid and we’ll be able to raise the rest of the money for the production.

As we finish up the Budget, some of the issues we’re facing are trying to nail down the locations and the costs for the locations, deciding the size of the crew we’ll need on set as well as the length of the shoot, and deciding how many paid pre-production days we’ll have for the actors, the art department, and camera crew. We also need to include money in the busget for post-production or be forced into a second round of funding after the film is shot, as well as a little extra contingency money for unforeseen emergencies (usually about 10% of the budget).

Our Production Consultant, Jenna Payne, has been invaluable to the process, providing us much needed insight and guidance as we nail down the numbers. With her experience and expertise, she’s helped us cut expenses and helped us stay realistic in terms of what things will actually cost.



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