Comments on watching and making films.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Young Adult

Jason Reitman has never missed, in my opinion, but I do feel like there is a definite difference in the quality of his films. His debut, Thank You For Smoking, along with his George Clooney starring Up In The Air, are both solid efforts worth a watch. It's his collaborations with Diablo Cody, though, that I think have made for his best work, with Juno as my favorite of his, and now Young Adult as a close second.

Charlize Theron plays a single, almost 40, washed up teen novel writer. When she gets a birth announcement from the wife of her old boyfriend, she decides she's going to leave the big city of Minneapolis, and head on out to the little town she grew up in, and win Buddy, her ex, back.

Theron expertly plays Mavis, a bitter woman who is only out to get what she wants out of people and still trying to live her life like she was 18. One of the best parts of this movie is Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf, a crippled ex-classmate, who Mavis ends up hanging out with because everyone else has moved on with their lives. Oswalt steals every scene that he's in, and whether it's the writing or him, Matt is definitely the perfect companion for Mavis. Patrick Wilson plays the bewildered and confused Buddy, who's lack of interest seems obvious to everyone but Mavis. Diablo Cody's script is perfect, almost to a point where you wonder if she was either Mavis, at one point, or witnessed something like this happen first hand.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson's international best seller, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and the two books that followed it have all already been adapted, successfully, into Swedish films. It was a little confusing to me when David Fincher signed on to make this, because I never pictured him as the kind of director who would do an American re-make of something. He just always struck me as the kind of guy who would want full ownership of the visuals of his films, and not want them to have to be compared to a previous version of the same thing. His vision, though, as slowly revealed in various trailers, seemed to be an interesting, but somewhat straight forward, take on a film that already exists.

Dragon Tattoo focuses on Mikael Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig. Blomkvist is a recently disgraced journalist who is hired by an elderly billionaire to solve a forty plus year old crime, the murder of his niece. Realizing that he is in, somewhat, over his head, he approaches the private investigator who dug up dirt on him during his trial, a troubled girl/cyber genius named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Together, they fight to solve the crime, while various forces try to make sure they don't.

I enjoyed Dragon Tattoo. It's a really good story, and Fincher tells it on an epic scale. At, almost, three hours long, it was rare that I ever turned away from it. It felt like it was consistently moving forward, and while it may have slowed down, it never stopped. That being said, though, I feel like this was a great film, but not a great Fincher film. I feel like the name Fincher brings a certain amount of expectation with it, and there was no delivery on that. It felt like anyone could have made this film (although, I don't think anyone else could have made it quite as well).

The film can be quite graphic, at times, which is not too much of a surprise for a Fincher film, but some people may be put off by it. There are instances, though, where it felt like Lisbeth's story seemed a little overly heavy. A little research shows that Larsson was heavily influenced by witnessing a rape as a young child, though, so, it becomes a little more clear as to why the source material goes as far as it does. Perhaps Larsson was giving this girl a chance at revenge that she never had in real life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

DVD - The Future

Miranda July's debut feature Me and You and Everyone We Know was one of my favorite films of 2005. As far as her short films go, I've only seen Are You The Favorite Person Of Anybody?, but I still look forward to whatever she does, probably a little too much considering how little of her work I've seen. Needless to say, I was anticipating The Future greatly. Totally stoked about it, but it blew past me in the theater, so I ended up having to wait for it to come out on DVD.

The film concerns a couple, July as Sophie and Hamish Linklater as Jason. They have adopted a cat that has terminal complications in some sort of convoluted attempt to prepare themselves for having a child (I'm assuming) and to learn how to sacrifice for something other than themselves. When the cat is injured, and has to be hospitalized for a month, Sophie and Jason decide to take that month as a sort of last ditch effort to do anything and everything they could possibly want, after learning from the vet that the cat could, potentially, live another five to six years. They both quit their jobs, and vow to make the next thirty days something life changing.

While, on the whole, I'm not a huge fan of The Future, there were aspects of it that I liked. My biggest problem with it, I suppose, is that there didn't seem to be a lot of weight to any of the things that happened in the story. You get the feeling that Sophie and Jason were just kind of together because they were, not because they genuinely felt strongly for each other, and when things go bad between them, their attitudes don't really reflect what has been built up.

The film definitely reflects July's sensibilities, and I think her flights of fancy are what saves the film a lot of times. There is a great sequence where Jason stops time that I really loved. Ultimately, though, it never really felt like Jason and Sophie were that connected in the first place, so that's why it's kind of hard to feel connected to the movie. It feels like they don't really care, so why should I?


When I first began seeing materials for Immortals, I couldn't help but let out a huge sigh. Another sword and sandals epic? You've got to be kidding me. This is one of my LEAST favorite genre's. I'm just not into gladiator's, Greco-Roman history, or pro-longed, speed ramped sword fights. When the name Tarsem bubbled up, though... I had to swallow my pride and go see it. I can honestly say, sometimes making the sacrifice is worth it.

I'm not going to bother outlining the plot. To be honest, it's pretty much like every other movie of this genre. Tarsem's visual style, however, is what brings the film to life and gives it the breath of fresh air it truly needs to be something interesting. Like Malick, Tarsem can take a tired genre and breathe new life into it sheerly by his visual touches. I remember when The Thin Red Line came out. I thought "Another World War 2 combat film? I saw Saving Private Ryan, and I'm pretty sure it isn't going to top that". Needless to say, it did. In the hands of anyone other than Malick, though, it wouldn't have. And that is what saves Immortals. The story is retread, the dialogue boring, and the fight scenes are straight out of Zack Snyder's play book, but his visuals are so stunning, they alone make the film worth its two hour running time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood has always been a hit and miss director for me. I think he's a great director, I just think some of his work is good, and some of it is... Not appealing to me. Mystic River, for instance, was difficult for me to get through, while I really enjoyed Gran Torino. Changeling was also not on my favorites list of that year, but I had held out hopes for J. Edgar, because I thought that, while also a period drama, the story was much more multi-faceted and expansive.

The story is fairly simple - J. Edgar Hoover's life from, roughly, the time that the FBI begins, until the time of his death, hitting on some of the bigger and more scandalous aspects of his career.

Now this is always where it gets hard. This is the part where I have to try and figure out how to justify the fact that I like certain elements of the film, while ultimately finding it slightly more interesting than watching paint dry. I liked the acting. The production design was exquisite. The film, though, was about as interesting as reading the wikipedia entry for Hoover. I think the main problem is that it tried to cover so much stuff, that it was always just touching on things, the way that a magazine article would. Don't get me wrong, I get that the point of the movie was to show how diluted this man was, how "in his own world" he was, but it felt like a long, hard trudge through a lot of mud to get to that point, leaving you wondering, by the time it's over, if it's worth it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Take Shelter

Jeff Nichols feels like the David Gordon Green career we should have gotten after Snow Angels (instead of the decent into mediocrity that have been his follow ups). His debut feature, Shotgun Stories, was a slow burning, southern gothic, "family" film along the lines of Green's Undertow. His follow up, Take Shelter, reunites him with Shotgun Stories star Michael Shannon, and gives Nichols the chance to create something with all of the environment and feel of his debut, but to have a much more reserved and psychological approach to it.

Take Shelter stars Shannon as Curtis, a joe-average guy who begins to have apocalyptic visions, much to the concern of his wife, Samantha (played by Jessica Chastain), who begins to worry about him when he starts acting strange. Feeling a necessity to finish out an underground storm shelter in their backyard, Curtis devotes himself to the task, risking friendships, his job, and possibly his family. The big question, though, is this - Is Curtis crazy? or is he seeing something that no one else see's?

Take Shelter is, like Shotgun Stories, a bit of a slow burner, but once you start seeing what Curtis is seeing, the movie starts to find its steam. The film really draws you into the experience of this man, who feels so strongly about what he's experiencing, that he takes severe action to save his family. One can't help but see the biblical Noah story as a parallel. While God doesn't tell Curtis to do something (he is influenced by his dreams and visions), you see the effects of a man who has a singular, seemingly insane, mission that he undertakes.

Michael Shannon is awesome, as usual. You can't beat that dude. Chastain kills it too, with a subtlety and plainness that draws out the middle America in her. Shea Wigham, who plays Curtis's friend, has some really great moments too.

Take Shelter was really enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Nichols career goes.

Uncle Kent

I have a feeling that, one day, Joe Swanberg's work is going to be studied and written about. Not particularly because it's great work, but because of the way he seems to primarily focus on taking real life, fictionalizing it, and then trying to pass it off as real life again, which could make for some interesting research papers.

Uncle Kent stars Swanberg friend, and collaborator, Kent Osborne as a 40-something year old, single animator living in Los Angeles, which is, basically, what he is. We follow Kent through his daily life, which includes hanging out with friends, smoking weed, and work, until he meets up with a girl he met on Chat Roulette, who flies out to LA for some meetings. Things get complicated because she's not interested in being sexual with him (which he wants), but she does want to, essentially, act like they are going out. It gets really odd when they decide to take place in a "fantasy fulfillment" off of Craigslist.

There's never much you can comment with on a Swanberg film. People don't tend to act, but simply be themselves (but with talking points). I'm not sure how much any of his films are really scripted (sans, maybe, Hanna), so I always hesitate to comment on the writing. The majority of the time, with a Swanberg film, I find myself simply saying I either like it, or I don't. I liked Uncle Kent. I thought it was an interesting film about having gotten exactly what you wanted, but not particularly being pleased with it, and about being as lost in your early forties as you may have been in your early twenties. Uncle Kent ranks up there with LOL on the list of Swanberg films that are worth a watch, but will probably never be much more than that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Joseph Kahn wants you to believe that people still care about music video's, and record companies should too!

Saw this on twitter the other day -

Now, while I may agree with the sentiment of the top tweet (there are certainly more than ample outlets for videos of ANY kind right now), the lower sentiment I can't agree with. Why should record companies spend millions of dollars on videos? What sense does that make anymore? The last time I remember anyone being even remotely excited about a video was Arcade Fire's Suburbs video, and that was less a video and more an interactive experience. Before that, I couldn't even say.

Don't get me wrong, I think music video's are still very relevant in todays world, but for anyone to believe that a multi-million dollar video (especially the kind of mostly useless eye candy videos that Kahn makes) is meaningful, I think that is beyond the limits of being reasonable. The Halcyon days are over, Joe. No one cares anymore, at least not enough to drop that kind of cash, and record companies that do (unless it's for acts like U2 or Lady Gaga), are throwing away their money. Earlier this year, my friends made a gorgeous video for a musician for a few hundred dollars and a days work. My brother has made a few music videos for Alice In Chains, one around 10k, another under 30k.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the appeal of being able to make a great living and only having to work a few days out of the year, and on top of that, work with big name artists. I would love to do that, but, I'm pretty sure I can do all of that without pissing away the kind of money that gets spent on the kind of video's Kahn makes.

The days of bloated, epic, but incredibly pointless music videos is, for the most part, over, and I say good riddance.

Brent Montgomery's "The Pugilist"

yesisaidyes's "On Solid Ground, A Film About Renewal House"

John Ferguson's "That's Not Funny"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Style Wars

The Rum Diary

Based on Hunter S Thompson's book of the same name, The Rum Diary is the story of Kemp (Johnny Depp), a journalist who travels to Puerto Rico to take a job at a small newspaper that seems to be on the brink of shutting down. He meets a cast of unusual characters, and is hired by a mogul, Sanderson (played by Aaron Eckhart) to help spin a slightly illegal and somewhat immoral land and development deal into something positive. When he falls in love with Sanderson's girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), everything starts to go down hill...

The Rum Diary has its moments, but, as a complete film, is uninteresting. There never, really, seems to be too much at stake in the film. Kemp needs the job, but he seems to always get by when things happen. The deal that Sanderson involves him in seems to be going somewhere, but fizzles as a plot element, and Chenault feels like a red herring, but with nothing to cling to when she's gone. I haven't seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, another adaptation of a Thompson work with Depp in the lead, but I can only imagine, considering its rabid fan base, it has to be more interesting than this was.

Monday, October 31, 2011

"Addressing the Rumors" by Kodak's Kim Snyder

This article is copyright Kim Snyder and Kodak.

When a New York newspaper reported that Mark Twain had been lost at sea, he is said to have replied, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

We know the feeling.

There has been much speculation about the fate of Kodak motion picture film over the last few weeks. We at Kodak refuse to let the volatility of the market or the rumors distract us from our mission – to provide the highest quality tools to tell your stories.

We are still making film – billions of feet of it! Sure, digital technology has impacted how filmmakers approach their work. But Kodak is a company with a long and brilliant presence, all built on ground-breaking science and technology. We are committed to continuing to do so, even in today’s landscape where film and digital coexist.

Something else that seems to get lost in the hype: We are more than a film company; we are the innovators who understand image making more than anyone else. We possess critical expertise from our past which we draw upon for our future. We have some of the brightest and most innovative researchers and scientists in the business working on our products – film and otherwise – to carry us into the future.

For example, our laser projection technology was recently licensed by IMAX (view the release). Laser projection technology offers a multitude of benefits to the viewing audiences, and features that help bring your vision to the big screen in better ways. IMAX and Kodak understand the need for this innovation. We are delighted to be working with them to assist with the implementation of the technology into the IMAX product family.

That’s not all. We are leveraging Kodak technology and intellectual property to bring an innovative digital asset management solution to market. It’s designed for content owners with assets of all formats created over the years.

And we will soon be introducing a new film! A new member of the VISION3 family of color negative films will be added to your film choices. With the latest film technology in the can, you can keep rolling in the most challenging production situations – on set or on location – and maintain a high resolution image through post and distribution.

Furthermore, with film still maintaining its archival leadership role in preserving the memorable images of the past centuries, we continue R&D towards expanding our archival film products to create a platform of choices for a variety of needs.

We’ll have more news on these new offerings soon, so stay tuned!

The bigger picture is: We have a great depth of experience and possibilities for turning 125-plus years of imaging technology and inventive product development into new solutions. Our KODAK DIGITAL ICE technology in scanners are being used to restore some of the most memorable images from cinema and television history; and our subsidiaries continue to make inroads on preservation and restoration (FPC/Pro-Tek) and visual and physical effects (Cinesite).

Our goal is to continue to show you that Kodak is the go-to resource for the best in image quality and workflow solutions that support your creative intentions – because we know you care.

We invite you to view a list of projects whose filmmakers are choosing Kodak film.

We know we can help you accomplish your filmmaking dreams, so contact us. Our worldwide team of Kodak representatives and experts are at your service.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Film Fading To Black by Debra Kaufman

This article is copyright Debra Kaufman and Creative Cow.

While the debate has raged over whether or not film is dead, ARRI, Panavision and Aaton have quietly ceased production of film cameras within the last year to focus exclusively on design and manufacture of digital cameras. That's right: someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.

"The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared," says ARRI VP of Cameras, Bill Russell, who notes that the company has only built film cameras on demand since 2009. "There are still some markets--not in the U.S.--where film cameras are still sold, but those numbers are far fewer than they used to be. If you talk to the people in camera rentals, the amount of film camera utilization in the overall schedule is probably between 30 to 40 percent."

At New York City rental house AbelCine, Director of Business Development/Strategic Relationships Moe Shore says the company rents mostly digital cameras at this point. "Film isn't dead, but it's becoming less of a choice," he says. "It's a number of factors all moving in one direction, an inexorable march of digital progress that may be driven more by cell phones and consumer cameras than the motion picture industry."

Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala notes why. "Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world?" he says. "We wouldn't survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera."

Beauviala believes that that stereoscopic 3D has "accelerated the demise of film." He says, "It's a nightmare to synchronize two film cameras." Three years ago, Aaton introduced a new 35mm film camera, Penelope, but sold only 50 to 60 of them. As a result, Beauviala turned to creating a digital Penelope, which will be on the market by NAB 2012. "It's a 4K camera and very, very quiet," he tells us. "We tried to give a digital camera the same ease of handling as the film camera."

Panavision is also hard at work on a new digital camera, says Phil Radin, Executive VP, Worldwide Marketing, who notes that Panavision built its last 35mm Millennium XL camera in the winter of 2009, although the company continues an "active program of upgrading and retrofitting of our 35mm camera fleet on a ongoing basis."

"I would have to say that the pulse [of film] was weakened and it's an appropriate time," Radin remarks. "We are not making film cameras." He notes that the creative industry is reveling in the choices available. "I believe people in the industry love the idea of having all these various formats available to them," he says. "We have shows shooting with RED Epics, ARRI Alexas, Panavision Genesis and even the older Sony F-900 cameras. We also have shows shooting 35mm and a combination of 35mm and 65mm. It's a potpourri of imaging tools now available that have never existed before, and an exciting time for cinematographers who like the idea of having a lot of tools at their disposal to create different tools and looks."

Do camera manufacturers believe film will disappear? "Eventually it will," says ARRI's Russell. "In two or three years, it could be 85 percent digital and 15 percent film. But the date of the complete disappearance of film? No one knows."

From Radin's point of view, the question of when film will die, "Can only be answered by Kodak and Fuji. Film will be around as long as Kodak and Fuji believe they can make money at it," he says.

Neither Kodak nor Fuji have made noises about the end of film stock manufacture, but there are plenty of signs that making film stock has become ever less profitable. The need for film release prints has plummeted in the last year and, in an unprecedented move, Deluxe Entertainment Services Group and Technicolor--both of which have been in the film business for nearly 100 years--essentially divvied up the dwindling business of film printing and distribution.

Couched in legalese of mutual "subcontracting" deals, the bottom line is that Deluxe will now handle all of Technicolor's 35mm bulk release print distribution business in North America. Technicolor, meanwhile, will handle Deluxe's 35mm print distribution business in the U.S. and Deluxe's 35mm/16mm color negative processing business in London, as well as film printing in Thailand. In the wake of these agreements, Technicolor shut its North Hollywood and Montreal film labs and moved its 65mm/70mm print business to its Glendale, California, facility; and Deluxe ended its 35mm/16mm negative processing service at two facilities in the U.K.

"It's a stunning development," says International Cinematographer Guild President Steven Poster, ASC. "We've been waiting for it as far back as 2001. I think we've reached a kind of tipping point on the acquisition side and, now, there's a tipping point on the exhibition side."

"From the lab side, obviously film as a distribution medium is changing from the physical print world to file-based delivery and Digital Cinema," says Deluxe Digital Media Executive VP/General Manager Gray Ainsworth. "The big factories are absolutely in decline. Part of the planning for this has been significant investments and acquisitions to bolster the non-photochemical lab part of our business. We're developing ourselves to be content stewards, from the beginning with on-set solutions all the way downstream to distribution and archiving." Deluxe did exactly that with the 2010 purchase of the Ascent Media post production conglomerate.

Technicolor has also been busy expanding into other areas of the motion picture/TV business, with the purchase of Hollywood post house LaserPacific and a franchise licensing agreement with PostWorks New York. Technicolor also acquired Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp., expanding their North America footprint in Digital Cinema connectivity to 90 percent. "We have been planning our transition from film to digital, which is why you see our increased investments and clear growth in visual effects and animation, and 2D-to-3D conversion," says Technicolor's Ouri. "We know one day film won't be around. We continue to invest meaningfully in digital and R&D."

Although recent events--the end of film camera manufacturing and the swan dive of the film distribution business--makes it appear that digital is an overnight success, nothing could be further from the truth. Digital first arrived with the advent of computer-based editing systems more than 20 years ago, and industry people immediately began talking about the death of film. "The first time I heard film was dead was in 1972 at a TV station with videotape," says Poster, ASC. "He said, give it a year or two."

Videotape did overtake film in the TV station, but, in the early 1990s, with the first stirrings of High Definition video, the "film is dead" mantra arose again. Laurence Thorpe, who was involved in the early days of HD cameras at Sony, recalls the drumbeat. "In the 1990s, there were a lot of folks saying that digital has come a long way and seems to be unstoppable," he says.

The portion of the film ecosystem that has managed the most complete transition to digital is post-production. According to Technicolor Chief Marketing Officer Ouri, over 90 percent of films are finished with digital intermediates.

But the path to digital domination has also taken place in a world of Hollywood politics and economics. A near-strike by Screen Actors Guild actors, the Japanese tsunami and dramatic changes in the business of theater exhibition have all contributed to the ebbing fortunes of film. Under pressure, any weakness or break in the disciplines that form the art and science of film--from film schools to film laboratories--could spell the final demise of a medium that has endured and thrived for over 100 years.


Until 2008, the bulk of TV productions and all feature films took place under SAG jurisdiction, which covers actors in filmed productions. In the months leading up to the Screen Actor Guild's 2008 contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, SAG leadership balked on several elements, including the new media provisions of the proposed contract. Negotiations stalemated. Not so with AFTRA, the union that covers actors in videotaped (including HD) productions, which inked its own separate agreement with AMPTP.

"When producers realized they could go with AFTRA contracts, but they now had to record digitally, they switched almost overnight," recalls Poster. Whereas, in previous seasons, 90 percent of the TV pilots were filmed, and under SAG jurisdiction, in one fell swoop the 2009 pilot season went digital video, capturing 90 percent of the pilots. In a single season, the use of film in primetime TV nearly completely vanished, never to return.

The Japanese tsunami on March 11, 2011, further pushed TV production into the digital realm. Up until then, TV productions were largely mastered to Sony's high-resolution HD SR tape, but the sole plant that made the tape, located in the northern city of Sendai, was heavily damaged and ceased operation for several months. With only two weeks worth of tape still available, TV producers scrambled to come up with a workaround, leading at least some of them to switch to a tapeless delivery, another step into the future of an all-digital ecosystem.

The third, and perhaps most devastating blow to film, comes from the increased penetration of Digital Cinema. According to Patrick Corcoran, National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) Director of Media & Research/California Operations Chief, at the end of July 2011, "We passed the 50 percent mark in terms of digital screens in the U.S. We've been adding screens at a fast clip this year, 700 to 750 a month," he says.

He notes that the turning point was the creation of the virtual print fee, which allows NATO members to recoup the investment they have to make to upgrade to digital cinema. (Studios, meanwhile, save $1 billion a year for the costs of making and shipping release prints.)

To take advantage of the virtual print fee, theater owners will have to transition screens to digital by the beginning of 2013. "Sometime, in 2013, all the screens will be digital," says Corcoran. "As the number of digital screens increase, it won't make economic sense for the studios to make and ship film prints. It'll be absolutely necessary to switch to Digital Cinema to survive."


Can the continued production of film stock survive the twin disappearance of film acquisition and distribution? Veteran industry executive Rob Hummel, currently president of Group 47, recalls when, as head of production operations, he was negotiating the Kodak deal for DreamWorks Studios. "At the time, the Kodak representative told me that motion pictures was 6 percent of their worldwide capacity and 7 percent of their revenues," he recalls. "The rest was snapshots. In 2008 motion pictures was 92 percent of their business and the actual volume hasn't grown. The other business has just disappeared."

Eastman Kodak, Chris Johnson, Director of New Business Development, Entertainment Imaging, counters that "I don't see a time when Kodak stops making film stock," noting the year-on-year growth in 65mm film and popularity of Super 8mm. "We still make billions of linear feet of film," he says. "Over the horizon as far as we can see, we'll be making billions of feet of film."

Yet, as Johnson's title indicates, Kodak is hedging its bets by looking for new areas of growth. One focus is on digital asset management via leveraging its Pro-Tek Vaults for digital, says Johnson, and another is investigating "asset protection film," a less expensive film medium that provides a 50 to 100 year longevity at a lower price point that B&W separation film.

Kodak has also developed a laser-based 3D digital cinema projector. "Our system will give much brighter 3D images because we're using lasers for the light source," says Johnson. "And the costs of long-term ownership is much less expensive because the lasers last longer than the light sources for other projectors."


As more than 1 million feet of un-transferred nitrate film worldwide demonstrates, archiving doesn't get top billing in Hollywood. Although the value of archived material is unarguable, positioned at the end of the life cycle of a production, archivists have unfortunately had a relatively weak voice in the discussion over transitioning from film to digital.

Since the "film is dead" debate began, archivists fought to keep elements on film, the only medium that has proven to last well over 100 years. "Most responsible archivists in the industry still believe today that, if you can at all do it, you should still stick it on celluloid and put it in a cold, dry place, because the last 100 years has been the story of nitrate and celluloid," says Deluxe's Ainsworth.

He jokes that if the world's best physicists brought a gizmo to an archivist that they said would hold film for 100 years, the archivist would say, "Fine, come back in 99 years." "With the plethora of digital files, formats and technologies--some of which still exist and some of which don't--we're running into problems with digital files made only five years ago," he adds.

At Sony Pictures Entertainment, Grover Crisp, Executive VP of Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering, notes that "Although it's a new environment and everyone is feeling their way through, what's important is to not throw out the traditional sensibilities of what preservation is and means.

"We still make B&W separations on our productions, now directly from the data," he says. "That's been going on for decades and has not stopped. Eventually it will be all digital, somewhere down the road, but following a strict conservation approach certainly makes sense."

Crisp pushes for a dual, hybrid approach. "You need to make sure you're preserving your data as data and your film as film," he says. "And since there's a crossover, you need to do both." LTO tape, currently the digital storage medium of choice, is backwards compatible only two generations, which means that careful migration is a fact of life--for now at least--in a digital age. "The danger of losing media is especially high for documentaries and indie productions," says Crisp.

Hummel and his partners at Group 47, meanwhile, believe they have the solution. His company bought the patents for a digital archival medium developed by Kodak: Digital Optical Tape System (DOTS). "It's a metal alloy system that requires no more storage than a book on a shelf," says Hummel, who reports that Carnegie Mellon University did accelerated life testing to 97 years.

"Though reports of its imminent death have been exaggerated, more industry observers than before accept the end of film. "In 100 years, yes," says AbelCine's Shore. "In ten years, I think we'll still have film cameras. So somewhere between 10 and 100 years."

Film camera manufacturers have walked a tightrope, ceasing unprofitable manufacture of film cameras at the same time that they continue to serve the film market by making cameras on demand and upgrading existing ones. But they--as well as film labs and film stock manufacturers--clearly see the future as digital and are acting accordingly.

Will film die? Seen in one way, it never will: our cinematic history exists on celluloid and as long as there are viable film cameras and film, someone will be shooting it. Seen another way, film is already dead...what we see today is the after-life of a medium that has become increasingly marginalized in production and distribution of films and TV. Just as the last film camera was sold without headlines or fireworks, the end of film as a significant production and distribution medium will, one day soon, arrive, without fanfare.

Philip Bloom's "Booths & Bodies: The Life And Work Of Anthony Vizzari

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jonathan Sterkenburg's "Vincent's Daydream"

DVD - That Evening Sun

There is a genre I have grown to love. I wouldn't quite call it Southern Gothic, but definitely Southern... something. It usually takes place in the back woods, usually during the stereotypically hot summer sun, and involves very back woods kind of folk. That Evening Sun, the debut feature by Scott Teems, fits nicely into it, and is one of my favorites of the genre.

Sun concerns Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook), an elderly man taken from his land, by his son, and put in a nursing home. When Meecham escapes the nursing home, he heads back down to his farm to find it leased out to Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon) and his family. Meecham despises Lonzo, probably even more than he despises Lonzo's father. He refuses to leave, and, eventually takes residence in the sharecroppers cabin down from the main house. Meecham won't let up, and neither will Lonzo, and, eventually, the slight jabs turn into bigger hits, then into violent reactions.

That Evening Sun is one of Holbrook's best. Barry Corbin, who plays Meecham's friend, is also great, even though he doesn't get a lot of screen time. McKinnon is seething as Lonzo, and you have to wonder where he's pulling that intense rage from, because it's extremely believable. Teems does a great job at using the environment and world of the old south to create a brooding, sweaty, dirty film.

DVD - Fright Night (1985)

I saw the remake for this before I saw the original, and I'm kind of glad I did. The original Fright Night is such a stereo-typically 80's film. Focusing on the lead, Charley Brewster (played by William Ragsdale), who is trying to get into his girlfriends pants (Amy, played Amanda Bearse), until a man moves in next door, who, Charley is convinced is a vampire. The man, Jerry Dandridge (played by Chris Sarandon), is caught by Charley, through an open window, about to sink his teeth into an unsuspecting girls throat. From that point on Charley, Amy, and Charley's friend Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) are on Jerry's bad side. Charley approaches TV actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), who plays a vampire hunter on the late night show Fright Night. Vincent plays along, after Amy agrees to pay him, but then he's in for real when he discovers Dandridge really is a vampire. It's up to the group to try and take Jerry down.

I didn't enjoy this version. I thought it was slow and cheesy. Very 80's. While the 2011 Fright Night has its ridiculous moments, it seems to do a better job at not being as cheesy as this one. A lot of people like this version, but it wasn't for me.

The Monster Squad

I've seen The Monster Squad a million times. When I was a kid, my mom used to rent the VHS for me from the grocery store, and I'm pretty sure I wore that tape out. When it was released on DVD, my brother got it for me for Christmas. Many more views. This time, though, I got to see it on the big screen for the first time.

The film is, basically, a step-brother to The Goonies. Produced two years later, and with the same spirit of "group of friends band together to face a challenge greater than them", Monster Squad may not have lived up to the success of Goonies, but it remains as endearing. The film focuses on a group of friends who, when the classic Universal Monsters* show up (Dracula, Wolfman, The Mummy, Frankenstein, and Creature From The Black Lagoon), they must defend their town, and themselves, from the ghastly group and its plans to take over the world.

I love it, but I'm not sure how much of that is nostalgia, and how much is that it is legitimately good. The acting is what it is (kids are always hit or miss), and, it was the 80's, so a lot of those movies were being churned out with less focus on quality and more focus on whether or not they could get an audience to show up for the premise. I love it, though, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

* I recognize that Dracula, etc, were not invented by Universal Pictures, but their visual portrayal in this film seems highly influenced by those classic films.


Moneyball is the adaptation of Michael Lewis' book of the same name, originally to be directed by Steven Soderbergh, who was dropped after coming to the table with a vision that the producers didn't feel fit the film. Enter Bennett Miller (director of Capote), and, with Brad Pitt still signed to star, Moneyball, the story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and his use of stat's and mathematics to build a winning team for Oakland out of overlooked and forgotten players, all of whom had individual strengths that led to a strong team, versus building a team around a few stars.

Pitt is always perfect, but the real stand out in this film was Jonah Hill, as Peter Brand, a Yale graduate who turns Beane onto the concept of using stat's and math to pick players. This is Hill's first "serious" role, and he does a great job at it. It would be nice to see him in more stuff like this, as opposed to just playing "Jonah Hill" over and over again. Everyone else feels like they have such small roles that it's hard to even talk about performance here. Even Philip Seymour Hoffman, a power house actor, has very little screen time, and spends most of it scowling and silent. This film was about Beane, though, his tribulations and eventual triumph, and you really feel like you've experienced it by the time it's over. Moneyball is one of my favorite of the year. Understated, with a great story and great acting, with equal amounts drama, and humor.

The Ides Of March

There are a lot of actors that try to make the transition into directing, but very few of them pull off being really good at both. George Clooney is one of those. When he finally broke out of "pretty boy" leading man status and developed "respected" leading man cred, he began to move into the directors chair, and hit it out of the park with his debut feature Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. His newest, The Ides Of March, gathers some of the best talent in the industry and creates a hard look at politics in the wake of the wins and losses of the Obama administration.

Ryan Gosling is Stephen Meyers, a young and idealistic campaign manager for Clooney's Governor Mike Morris, who is running for president (notably under many of the same ideals as Obama, and even sports a knock off of the Shepard Fairey designed "Hope" poster). Meyers teammate, and boss, is Paul Zara (played by Philip Syemour Hoffman). The two are unshakeable in their belief that Morris is the man to lead America, but when a key element of support from another politician isn't forthcoming, Stephen takes up an offer to meet with the manager of the opponents campaign, Tom Duffy (played by Paul Giamatti), against his better judgement. This begins a string of events that could potentially ruin a lot of people's career's, including Stephen's, and derail Moriss' campaign.

Gosling brings his trademark intensity to the role, and Clooney uses it to great effect. In fact Clooney seems to play on all of the strengths of his actors, from Hoffman's quiet and serious nature, to Giamatti's ability to play good cop/sleazy cop, to Evan Rachel Wood's seductiveness, He has picked all of his actors with great consideration. While Ides can sometimes move at a snails pace, it never seems to bloated. The slowness just comes off as a necessary part of the story. Ides doesn't really bring much of anything new to the genre, either, but as a zeitgeist film, focusing on what it means to be an idealistic political candidate or part of the support staff for said candidate, and the reality of how dirty politics is, Ides is a fantastic watch, especially as candidates are already gearing up, heavily, for a race that will be incredibly heated (and possibly messy) in 2012.

Mission Statement

If you've come here, and you're wondering what this blog is all about, who this guy is, and why he thinks he can write what he writes, here you go -

How this blog came to be - I used to work at a video game company, and, when it was time to leave, a co-worker of mine (who had similar taste in films) told me that I should start a blog so that she could check it and see what I was watching and what I thought about it. This way we could continue the discussions that we so often would have on the films and tv that we watched.

Who I am - I am a Watkins Film School graduate, working in the industry, and watching as much as I can, when I can. I don't get to see everything I'd like, but a lot of what I do see, I take some sort of inspiration away from.

Why do I review films on this blog? - Put simply, I do it as a record of what I saw and what my opinions of it were.

Why do I feel I have the right to pass judgement (aka review) other people's work? - Put simply, I'm not a reviewer or a critic. Like I said before, I do this blog to record my own thoughts and feelings about what I watch. I encourage everyone out there to watch films themselves and make their own informed opinion. My blog does not exist to tell you what to watch and what not to watch. It just exists as part of the conversation. Everyone has different tastes. Don't watch or not watch something simply because a critic said it was good or bad. If a critic who's taste you highly respect say's something is awful, and you question the idea of wanting to see it, then don't. If they say it's amazing, and you weren't excited about it, maybe check it out. It might surprise you.

You post shorts and documentaries, why not music video's? - There's a lot of music video's out there. Some are good, a lot of them are bad. But, ultimately, I feel like if you like music, you're going to see these video's anyway. I try to post the stuff that you might not see. The stuff that I, maybe, came to on Vimeo by accident or through someone else, and I think is really cool. Hopefully, you will too.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"PHX" Teaser

This is a thirty second teaser I put together for PHX. Andrew House, the film's editor, will have a proper trailer, but it will be another month or two. We're trying to finish the first assembly before we dive into the trailer, to make sure we've seen the whole film and can, then, make an informed decision on what we want to put in the trailer. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sean Dunne's "American Juggalo"


Based on writer Will Reiser's true life account of developing cancer, 50/50 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a late twenty something who is diagnosed with the illness and who's life changes heavily afterwards. He is joined on the journey by his friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), his mother (Anjelica Huston), and a grief counselor, Katherine, played by Anna Kendrick.

50/50 is genuinely funny, and, honestly, is one of Rogen's least annoying roles in the past couple of years. Gordon-Levitt is effortless, as usual, and Kendrick is endearing as a young counselor who develops a crush on her patient. Honestly, I can't really think of any complaints that I have about this film.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Ryan Gosling has had, at first glance, a fairly privileged career. Rarely seeming to do any "paycheck" films, of which, I'm sure, he could get all that he wanted too, he seems to have spent his career carefully picking his roles and going with the things that interest him. I've found, in enjoying pretty much everything I've seen him in, that by trusting him, I'm trusting in his taste of films, as well. Starring in Nicolas Winding Refn's new film Drive, Gosling continues to make great choices and bring his talents to really well made, or, at the least, enjoyable films.

Gosling plays an anonymous stunt driver for Hollywood, who moonlights as a heist driver. One day, he meets his down the hall neighbor, Irene, played by Carrey Mulligan, and her little boy Benicio (Kaden Leos). He quickly seems to fall in love with Irene, who he spends some time with, very innocently, before learning that her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is being released from prison. When Standard is beaten by some people he owes money too, Gosling's driver offers to help Standard with a pawn shop heist that the thugs want him to pull to pay them back. When the robbery goes wrong, however, leaving Standard dead, it puts everyone in the driver's life in danger, while he seeks vengeance from those who set him up.

Refn's films (or the one's I've seen so far) seem to lean towards the stylized, and Drive is no different. It's obvious that Refn is drawing heavily from late 70's and, especially 80's cinema, with his anti-music video style editing and electro-pop soundtrack. Drive feels like it could have been made by Michael Mann, circa Miami Vice or Manhunter. Gosling is in top notch acting form. He barely say's anything throughout the entire film, yet manages to convey an endless array of emotions via his face, a trait, I think, is generally only shared by some of the best actors. For someone to carry a whole movie, and barely speak, that's talent. Carrey Mulligan is the same, though, like pretty much all of the other characters, she is in a relatively small amount of the film.

In fact, that was probably the most surprising thing about Drive was how all of the other characters come off as secondary, and their importance, at times, seems diminished because of lack of screen time, even though characters like Irene and Bernie Rose (a gangster played by Albert Brooks in a very interesting casting choice by Refn), are absolutely crucial to the film. Drive really is about Gosling's driver. The entire film is about this one moment in HIS life, and Refn seems to want to make sure that we are not cluttered with back story or parallel action. There are very few scenes without Gosling, and only enough to push the plot forward. A risk taken on Refn's part, I think, but one I think he succeeded at, because, as an audience member, I was with the driver all the way. I was the driver.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Steven Soderbergh recently announced that he will be leaving filmmaking (at least temporarily) to concentrate on painting. After seeing Contagion, and taking into consideration some of his recent work, it might be good for Soderbergh to take a little break, before he ends up becoming the Neil Young of the film world, releasing everything he can, even if it's mediocre.

Contagion is an ensemble piece that focuses around one specific thing - a new disease that pops up, which, over time, claims millions of lives, and the fight to stop it. To try and explain how each of the leads (people like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, and more) is connected would take longer than I care to give it. Much like Traffic (another of Soderbergh's ensemble pieces), the interconnectivity of the characters can be inconsequential at times, but there's so many of them, trying to explain it would be tedious and confusing.

What's my gripe about Contagion? Well, put simply, a lot happens with nothing really happening. Bad things happen to all of the main players, but they're handled with such distance that it's hard to not just feel like your simply observing something unfolding in front of you, devoid of any emotional connection to the characters. Like The Girlfriend Experience, Contagion comes off almost like a documentary, but it's still a docu directors job to find some way for an audience member to have some sort of emotional connection to the people it's showing, whether positive or negative. In Contagion, I didn't feel either way. It was just a bunch of stuff that happened. I didn't feel fear. There wasn't any "thriller" aspect to the film, as some reviewers have alluded to. As I said before, it just came off as a bunch of stuff that happened.

You're going to kill me for saying this - It's not that it's a bad film, it just never seems to climax at any point. Honestly, I would still give it a B-. I don't know if that's because I look at Soderbergh's work through rose colored glasses, or whether their really is just enough there to have something redeeming happening. I'd like to see it again, see if a second viewing (now that all of the hype has been drained out of me) would fair better, but, it won't be in the theater.

One more quick note - I feel like Soderbergh is getting really lazy with his cinematography, as well. Half of the film looked like it was shot on a 5D. Not to bash 5D's (I shot PHX on one), but when you have a Red Epic at your disposal, and a real budget, don't just jack up your ISO. Light the scene. Shooting in "natural" light above 800 or so starts to really make the image look like crap. I know he's really been into available light shooting, ever since he fell in love with the Red One, but, seriously, you have the resources. Light it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

Fright Night is another addition to the long list of remakes Hollywood has been putting out of horror movies that were beloved classics in the 70's and 80's. The difference, though, is that the plot of Fright Night is so simple that, if you just do a half way decent job, cast some decent actors, and have good effects, it's hard NOT to make an enjoyable movie. Luckily, they did that.

Kid is living next door to a vampire. Vampire is killing everyone around him, and targets him next when he figures it out. That's it. That's the whole plot. Director Craig Gillespie and lead actors Anton Yelchin (as Charlie Brewster, the high schooler tasked with killing the vampire) and Colin Farrell (as Jerry, the vampire), don't miss any beats and keep Fright Night lean and mean. Supporting actors like Toni Collette and Imogen Poots (as Charlie's Mom and girlfriend, respectively) and David Tennant (as "vampire hunter" Peter Vincent) give Charlie the back up he needs to fight Jerry.

Fright Night is fun. Gillespie doesn't try to make it something it's not, thankfully. This isn't the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, where more effort was put into the visual aspect than the story or acting. This film knows EXACTLY what it is, and it knows its limits, and it doesn't mess around. It's a rather light, gory, fun horror film that you can't say too much bad about.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Attack The Block

2010-2012 seem to be the rebirth years for alien invasion movies. It feels like the numbers of movies with this subject has jumped DRASTICALLY over the last few years, and seem to increase exponentially every year. Usually, though, we get the same old Hollywood rehash, but with Attack The Block, England is throwing their hat into this already crowded territory. The difference? While special effects are core to this story, Attack The Block is an almost anti-Hollywood film.

Moses and his buddies are hood rats in a council estate in England. One night, while the rest of London seems to be partying, they decide to rob a young woman coming home from work, Sam. After relieving her of her earthly belongings, they continue to incite more mayhem, until they run across a creature that has fallen from the sky. They believe it's an alien, and their fears come to fruition shortly there after, when an invasion happens in full force. Now Moses and his friends, who by various circumstances have teamed up with Sam, have to protect themselves, and the "block" from the invading monstrosities.

I can't say that I liked Attack The Block. Can't say I didn't like it either. The leads didn't make it easy. All of the main characters, short of Sam, are unlikable D-bags. To be honest, there were times I was happy when they were getting picked off, and there's, basically, no character arc for any of them, except the very slightest of curves for Moses (almost to the point of not being there). Nick Frost, who plays the Estate's 2nd in command weed dealer is one of the funniest actors we have right now. How in the world they managed to make him so incredibly unfunny is beyond me. I feel like the problem with Attack The Block, as an American viewer, is that maybe the cultural divide is just too great. I got some of the jokes, but, for the most part, if there were supposed to be more, I wasn't in on them. It felt like there were times they were setting some up, but they either didn't happen, or I just didn't find it humorous the way someone from England might have. I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did, but it just didn't deliver for me.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Oh, Hollywood... Your inability to see how stupid it is to take a precious piece of work and give it a completely unnecessary prequel or sequel never ceases to amaze. You've spent so much time and so many billions of dollars making mediocre or horrible additions to legacies, and generally tainting the legacies of what better people have created.

Until now.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a prequel to the classic 60's series, and charts the very beginning of the evolution of the apes into what they would become in the other films. I expected EXTREMELY little from this, assuming it was probably a pay check movie for everyone involved, but it's actually a pretty well written story about good intentions and medical science evolving into something deadly. The effects, I suppose, are the stand out here, as everything else (acting, cinematography, etc) seems pretty standard Hollywood fair. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is definitely worth the time and is one of the RARE instances in which Hollywood actually came out with a worthwhile product meant to be an addition to something classic.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why Filmmaking Can Not Be A Hobby by Paul Devlin

Blast! Director Paul Devlin on the IRS’s battle with documentary filmmakers.

Last year at a summit meeting of the independent film community called “The Conversation,” Ira Deutchman was compelled to propose, “Filmmaking has never been a business…it’s a hobby.” Sentiments like this are not uncommon after the hardships filmmakers have faced in recent years, the multiple threats to our business models that accompanied both technological change and the global economic crisis. In fact, many filmmakers have been forced to re-evaluate the economic viability of their entire enterprises.

Soul-searching in tough times is important, but our community must be extremely careful with our language and avoid using words like “hobby.” Why? Because the IRS is listening! If you are deducting filmmaking expenses from other sources of income on your tax returns, then you must identify your filmmaking as a for profit business and not a hobby.

Documentary filmmakers have become especially vulnerable to the perception that they are engaged in a hobby rather than an activity for profit. Because development takes so long and revenue sources are so difficult to sustain, filmmakers often endure losses over many years. They persevere because they become so passionate about their subject matter and the need to spread their message to the world that generating a profit may not seem primary.

Unfortunately the unfair and incorrect perception that documentary filmmakers are not interested in profit has resulted in unsettling scrutiny of our industry by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. In a case now in U.S Tax Court in Arizona, the IRS has been asked to demonstrate whether or not the primary purpose of documentary filmmaking in general is “to educate and to expose” and is thus “an activity not engaged in for profit.”

This may sound absurd, but it is very serious. If the IRS wins their case against Arizona filmmaker Lee Storey (Smile ’Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story), documentary filmmakers may no longer be permitted to deduct expenses associated with making their films from other sources of income. Furthermore, filmmakers who have already deducted these expenses may be faced with potentially ruinous audits.

Storey is a practicing attorney in Arizona who made her debut feature after she learned that her husband was secretly a former member of the singing phenomenon Up With People. According to LA Weekly, Smile ’Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story “is a withering critique of the organization’s religious cult roots [and] right-wing political subtext” while still being respectful of the fact that members found “a way to affect positive, even progressive, change in the world.” The award-winning movie screened to enthusiastic reviews at Docuweeks, Slamdance, Full Frame, Big Sky, Michael Moore’s Traverse City fest and the Florida Film Festival, among others.

In 2010, the IRS audited Storey. She had set up an LLC for her filmmaking, but the IRS determined that her filmmaking activity was not engaged in a profit-making enterprise. As a result, business deductions associated with her film over three years were disallowed. The IRS determined that she owed the government more than $300,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest. She has appealed and is now in an expensive, drawn-out battle to demonstrate the profit motive, not only of her own filmmaking activity, but that of all documentary filmmakers.

In recent weeks, the documentary community has mobilized, realizing the devastating potential of Storey’s case. My own experience with a recent IRS audit makes me know that this threat is all too real.

The business of nonfiction filmmaking in the U.S. has become ever more competitive, speculative and entrepreneurial. Often even veteran filmmakers are expected to have significant portions of their films completed to demonstrate merit before funders will participate. As a result many filmmakers are investing substantial amounts of their own money to get their films off the ground.

This investment can stretch over many years as the project develops. During this time costs absorb revenue so there is little opportunity to profit until the project is complete and sales can be made. Deducting losses during the development period from other sources of income to reduce personal income tax can help ease the financial burden facing independent filmmakers.

The IRS has no problem with a taxpayer deducting expenses for an activity from the income of that activity, even when the activity is considered a “hobby.” However, when expenses from that activity create losses that offset other sources of income (such as income from a “day job”), the IRS requires that the taxpayer be able to demonstrate that it is “an activity engaged in for profit.”

Last year, the IRS audited my 2007 and 2008 tax returns. After conducting two arduous interviews lasting many hours each and combing through my meticulously well-documented financial records, the IRS revenue agent determined that my own documentary film business was “an activity not engaged in for profit.” This is the euphemism the IRS uses for “hobby.” Although he cited several factors, many years of losses provided the primary basis for his determination.

The agent’s report disallowed all deductions that resulted in losses for 2007 and 2008. I was going to owe up to $80,000 in back taxes and penalties to the U.S. and New York State governments. Moreover, this meant I would not be able to deduct most of my business expenses for 2009 and 2010. I was not only being put out of business, my personal financial well-being was threatened.

I was outraged. Filmmaking was my pasttime? Clearly, the agent had no idea how much work goes into making an independent film. I did my best to describe the grueling shoots in far away places, the all-night edits, the endless fundraising and marketing, and the constant efforts to sell, sell, sell. Did he really think I had no interest in making money?

My entreaties had no effect. The agent had made up his mind. He insisted that my filmmaking was an activity not engaged in for profit and my tax deductions over the years were, therefore, not legitimate. I owed the IRS big-time.

As a matter of survival, I had to become an expert on the IRS “hobby loss rule,” consulting with lawyers and accountants and doing my own research to challenge the revenue agent’s determination. Otherwise I would not be making independent films again.

Stuart Wolff, a tax preparer who works with many independent artists in New York, advised me that I needed to better separate my filmmaking income from my personal income. Years ago, I had moved away from a Sole Proprietorship, which provides almost no separation. A C-Corporation is designed for large companies and does not allow the flow-through of losses and profits to a personal tax return. The best choice for independent filmmakers is either a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or an S-Corporation.

Wolff recommended that I dissolve my Limited Liability Company (LLC) and set up an S-Corporation. “Technically, an LLC is a separate entity, but it gets filed under your personal tax return using a Schedule C. So you risk the perception that the business is not separate from your personal activity.” He explained that an S-Corporation requires a completely separate tax return. Of course, filing an additional return costs more money if you are paying a tax preparer, and there are no guarantees that the IRS will not also audit an S-Corporation. But the S-Corporation has the advantage that you can still carry over business losses and profits to your personal tax return, while more clearly delineating your business activity with a separate filing.

Creating a more defined separate business entity with an S-Corporation might help me for the future, but not for the returns I filed as an LLC that were now being audited. For more help, I turned to Richard C. Antonelli, a tax lawyer with offices in New Jersey and New York. Now in private practice, Antonelli spent 15 years working for the IRS as a revenue agent, appeals officer and then as an attorney litigating cases in tax court.

“It’s a common misperception that multiple years of losses automatically indicate that your activity is a hobby rather than a business,” Antonelli told me. “In fact, the IRS guidelines focus on the inverse: if your business is profitable three out of five years, then you have what’s called “safe harbor,” a presumption by the IRS that your business is an activity engaged in for profit, even though you may have had some years of losses.”

But what if I can’t demonstrate even that much profitability, just losses in the past five years? Is my case hopeless?

“Not at all,” Antonelli assured me. “In fact the IRS guidelines for revenue agents specifically state that not meeting the presumption rule cannot be the sole basis for disallowing losses. Determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis using nine factors.”

I searched online for the IRS guidelines and became an expert on the nine factors used to decide “whether a taxpayer operates an activity with an actual and honest profit motive”:

• the manner in which the taxpayer carried on the activity,

• the expertise of the taxpayer or his or her advisers,

• the time and effort expended by the taxpayer in carrying on the activity,

• the expectation that the assets used in the activity may appreciate in value,

• the success of the taxpayer in carrying on other similar or dissimilar activities,

• the taxpayer’s history of income or loss with respect to the activity,

• the amount of occasional profits, if any, which are earned,

• the financial status of the taxpayer, and

elements of personal pleasure or recreation

As I researched, I became reassured. When applied to my filmmaking, these factors clearly indicated that mine was “an activity engaged in for profit.” I kept careful records, had expert advisors, spent more time making my own films than at my day job, etc. Also reassuring was the fact that no single factor or combination of factors was conclusive. The IRS guidelines gave the example that “if five factors say the activity is not for profit, but four are on the profit side, the activity still could be determined to be engaged in for profit.” Although based on facts, a determination was essentially subjective.

Antonelli pointed out that the IRS gives much recourse to taxpayers not in agreement with a revenue agent’s report: “The first step is to set up a meeting with the agent’s supervisor. If the supervisor doesn’t see it your way, then we appeal. The appeal may take up to a year. And if an appeal is not successful, we take the case to tax court. But hopefully it doesn’t go that far.”

No kidding! That would be an expensive, exhausting ordeal. My goal was to win right out of the gate and convince our revenue agent’s supervisor.

Armed with my new understanding of the law, I sat down with my office to make our case. We created an exhaustively documented report of more than 50 pages, using the nine factors as guidelines to substantiate with facts why our business was an activity engaged in for profit. I read the opening summary out loud at the meeting with the revenue agent’s supervisor and my tax preparer, Stuart Wolff.

The supervisor was sympathetic and our report was hard to refute. However, she was not completely convinced. After an impressive presentation of all the accoutrements of our profession, with an emphasis on the moneymaking efforts, she smiled and commented casually, “This is great. You like making films don’t you?” “Of course I do,” I responded, relieved at making a more personal connection. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Wolff gave me a sharp look and I realized with dread that I had made a potentially fatal error. The last of the factors is “elements of personal pleasure or recreation.” I changed tone immediately, “But sometimes I hate how difficult it can be — shoots that go on indefinitely, wading through hundreds of hours of footage can be sheer drudgery, the pressure of 20-hour editing sessions to make a deadline has adverse effects on my health and the travel can be wearing, weeks away from friends and family. It’s a really tough job.”

I had regained my footing and shifted direction. “But the sacrifice is worth it because the potential pay off is huge. My friends Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern just grossed close to $3 million with their movie about Joan Rivers, A Piece of Work. Morgan Spurlock had no idea Super Size Me was going to be such a huge hit when he started making films. And look at Michael Moore! His documentaries have earned close to $200 million at the box office. I’ve leaned my lesson. My next film is my most commercial project yet. It could be the next documentary blockbuster!”

Phew — that was more what she wanted to hear. I was indirectly referencing what I nicknamed the “wildcat oil well principle,” based on an example the IRS uses to illustrate this guideline: “…an opportunity to earn a substantial ultimate profit in a highly speculative venture is ordinarily sufficient to indicate that the activity is engaged in for profit even though losses or only occasional small profits are actually generated.”

What better description of the film industry? Even for the major studios, it’s the occasional blockbuster that earns “substantial ultimate profit” and sustains the vast majority of films, which are financial failures. My model was similar except that as an independent, I could make only one film at a time, over the course of several years. When that blockbuster arrives, however, it will justify all the money losers in my “highly speculative venture.”

The supervisor was still concerned about the many years of losses. However, our report, the description of the film industry business model and my honest interest in making a profit appeared to be convincing. Several weeks later, I received notification that the original revenue agent’s determination had been overturned. I was, in fact, engaged in an activity for profit. My business expenses would be allowed and I owed only a minor amount in back taxes. I had dodged a devastating bullet.

Like any filmmaker, I was called upon by the IRS to prove the profit motive of my individual film practice. Storey’s case in Arizona, however, has much broader implications for all documentary filmmakers.

In Storey’s case, the U.S Tax Court in Arizona is ruling not just on whether an individual filmmaker is engaged in an activity for profit. Judge Diane Kroupa has decided to rule on whether documentary filmmaking in general can be compatible with a profit motive when its primary purpose is “to educate and to expose.”

Certainly many of us can think of enterprises in which the main mission is “to educate and to expose,” while still making a profit. Regardless, the U.S Tax Court in Arizona seems determined to target aggressively all documentary filmmaking as an activity not engaged in for profit. If this opinion is memorialized in a ruling against Storey, documentary filmmakers may no longer be able to deduct business expenses associated with filmmaking from other sources of income. It is very likely I would have lost my case if this precedent had been set prior to my audit.

Even more disturbing, if Storey loses her case, is the possibility that documentary filmmaking in general could become a “red flag” for IRS agents. The precedent could provide incentive for individual IRS agents to audit any documentary filmmaker who has ever reported losses going back three years (or more, depending on the circumstances). This could produce a profoundly destabilizing outcome for the documentary community. Even a successful defense is costly, distracting and intimidating.

Storey insists that she was very motivated by potential profit from the project’s inception: “The movie has a built-in target of 20,000 Up With People alumni, performing to 3,600 worldwide communities, 20 million viewers, and staying in 450,000 host families, not to mention annual hoopla over their four Super Bowl halftime shows. There is a huge, clearly defined core audience that any filmmaker would envy.” Still the IRS is claiming there was no profit motive in the making of Smile ’Til It Hurts.

Like mine, Storey’s case is strong for most of the nine criteria. So the IRS has focused on the final one, “elements of personal pleasure or recreation.” Regarding her filmmaking, Storey admits, “Yep, I love it and the IRS is using clips of me on You Tube saying how much I enjoy making films. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work or that I love every aspect of documentary filmmaking. I told them at trial that I also love my law job, which I do! Why can’t you like what you are doing and make money too?”

The sad irony is that the IRS’s case against Storey may make it impossible for her to profit from her movie. In fact, it could force her into personal bankruptcy. “I’ve spent a fortune because the IRS made me go to trial. And it isn’t over. There may be appeals, and the IRS may come after me for 2009 and 2010 also even if I win. Why? The IRS attorney here in Arizona said: ‘Because we can.’”

Aware of the broad implications of Storey’s case, The International Documentary Association (IDA) has assembled a coalition of organizations and prominent individual filmmakers to provide advocacy. Michael Lumpkin, executive director of the IDA, recently posted on the IDA website:

To support Storey, IDA has filed an amicus brief in the case urging the U.S. Tax Court to recognize that the production of a documentary film is, at its core, a “for profit” business such that business expenses are deductible for tax purposes.

By doing so we hope to ensure that all filmmakers receive the respect they deserve, and that the many sacrifices they make in the pursuit of their art and livelihood will not be made in vain.”

Entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson works on a pro bono basis with the IDA on its many advocacy efforts and filed the brief on their behalf. According to Donaldson, “The Storey case is one that could have ripple effects across the entire independent film community, which is why we stepped in.”

A glimmer of good news is that if Storey wins her case, it could set a precedent that works in favor of our industry. This has made Storey a de-facto defender of all documentary filmmakers. To support her cause, you can visit and contribute to Storey’s legal defense fund or buy a DVD of her film.

So why is the IRS targeting documentary filmmakers so aggressively, while huge corporations seem to get a pass? It’s not like we have a whole pile of money to hand over. Conspiracy theorists might look with raised eyebrows at this issue alongside other legal controversies coming out of Arizona. Perhaps documentary filmmaking is being targeted precisely because the primary mission assigned to it by Judge Kroupa, “to educate and to expose,” is threatening to those in power.

But Antonelli offers a more mundane explanation. “When the IRS becomes aware of possible tax abuses in certain industries, whether it’s through their own audits or from third party information, they will focus on that industry to generate revenue and to encourage compliance.” The problem is that taxpayers who do not abuse the system get caught in this web. Moreover, those with limited resources who cannot afford proper representation may become easy targets. As Antonelli points out, “Unfortunately, there are some in the IRS who will take advantage of the pro se [without an attorney] taxpayer.”

On the other hand, there may be an upside to all of this. My audit focused my office’s attention on how we run our business. As a result, our bookkeeping improved and we became more aware of how we spend our time. We streamlined communication, implemented more professional practices, such as making revenue projections, and we examined expenditures more carefully and made efforts to reduce them. New projects are now evaluated on their likelihood to profit, not only on how passionate we feel about them. The IRS ordeal may force documentary business models like mine to mature.

Perhaps it is even possible that we, as a community, will look back on this moment and decide that the IRS has done documentary filmmaking a major service. The industry expectation that documentary filmmakers are willing, even happy, to accept major, ongoing financial losses to get our films made and seen has become institutionalized in recent years. The IRS has now given us all official notice that this model is not sustainable and will be challenged aggressively. In order to maintain a steady stream of high-quality content, our industry will be forced to create a new paradigm that compensates filmmakers fairly so that we have reasonable expectations of profiting from our work. With the IRS looking over our shoulders, filmmakers will need to insist on this.

The alternative is that many of these valuable films will cease being made. It will no longer be viable for independent documentary filmmakers to initiate and sustain them speculatively with personal finances. And if that is the outcome, we will all be the poorer for it.

At the very least, never again should any of us refer to our filmmaking as a hobby.

Paul Devlin’s next film is a romantic music-comedy titled Super Star Dumb. Details at

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Love Lucy 8mm footage

Color 8mm film of I Love Lucy, shot from the audience, mixed in with actual footage from the show.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

JJ Abrams On Time

"I’m obsessed with things that are distinctly analogue. We have a letterpress in our office. There’s an absolute wonderful imperfection that you get when you do a letterpress, and that is the beauty of it. The time that is put in setting the type and running the press, inking the rollers, all that stuff – that kind of thing is clearly an extreme example. But it’s the beauty of the actual investment of time, and the amount of time that goes by lets you consider things that somehow, in a kind of weird osmosis or spiritual way, is somehow implicit in the final product. And that seems to not exist much any more." - JJ Abrams

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Old David Gordon Green article I found on an old blog

David Gordon Green
Good things to have on hand when shooting a film in Canada:
Eighty dump trucks
Lots of soap
Access to hockey rinks
David Gordon Green shot his first film, George Washington, in 1999, the summer after graduating film school. Green set his coming-of-age story, which featured a cast of young nonactors he'd met in churches and at YMCA casting calls, against the wooded backstreets and abandoned industrial sites of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. George Washington went on to scoop up awards from multiple film festivals. His next film, All the Real Girls, starring Patricia Clarkson, Paul Schneider, and Zooey Deschanel, is a love story set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It fared well critically, but disappeared from movie theaters in just a few weeks. In 2004, his third film, Undertow, a dark, quirky thriller about a boy's murder, suffered an even shorter lifespan: despite the backing of United Artists and producer Terrence Malick, the film all but vanished after a single Halloween weekend. In spite of the commercial challenges his films have faced, Green has emerged as one of the most interesting and idiosyncratic independent filmmakers of the last decade.

Like Malick's, Green's films are emotionally driven stories told through photography and sound—warm, yellow-gray skies hover over flannel-green trees and scalloped junk heaps. Green stays true to the term "motion picture," orchestrating his scenes with slow camera approaches and long, static shots. Eschewing overly expository dialogue, Green's characters speak with the natural clunkiness that comes from trying to communicate a multitude of intense and distinct emotions simultaneously. Underneath it all—perhaps in reaction to the nihilism and violence of the big-budget independents of the '90s—Green's most powerful asset is his sense of optimism. No matter how bleak the subject matter, his films hum with a feeling that despite the catastrophic nature of the present, these times, too, will pass.

When we spoke, Green had just finished the sound mixes for Snow Angels, his adaptation of the novel by Stewart O'Nan. Financed independently and featuring Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, and Amy Sedaris, the film is the story of a young man's disintegrating family, his old babysitter, and a murder set against the brittle winter of a suburb of Pittsburgh. We met on a conspicuously cloudy Saturday morning in West Los Angeles, early enough to avoid competition with the serious brunchers.

—George Ducker


THE BELIEVER: You're from Little Rock?

DAVID GORDON GREEN: I was born in Little Rock. I grew up mostly outside of Dallas.

BLVR: What's the topography like down there? Is it mostly hills or flat plains?

DGG: It's not in anything. But it's near a lot of things. So you can get to the woods real quick.

BLVR: Were you an indoor kid or an outdoor kid?

DGG: I had a creek by my house and I'd just get out and follow it around forever. Creeks and, you know, sports. I was lucky in that there were woodsy areas and I had places to go and hang out—hide out—get out. I played every sport: baseball, football. I played 'em all. I was terrible at football and too short for basketball. As far as the indoors were concerned, I still don't have much interest in computers, video games; I never had an Atari, anything like that.

BLVR: When did you first start going to the video store of your own volition? Do you remember the first movies you rented?

DGG: For years I thought I was the first member of Blockbuster video. I thought I was the very first customer. In actuality, I was the very first member of the second Blockbuster video. There was, like, a pilot store, which I missed out on.

BLVR: But you hit the number two?

DGG: Yeah. It was right around the corner from my house. Actually, that's what ended up turning my neighborhood to shit. All these chain stores would come and test-market their product. They had a sit-down Kentucky Fried Chicken with waiters. These chains would open a demo store up, and if it didn't do well, if the people in my neighborhood didn't dig it, the store would close down. They tested one of the first Applebee's. The town became this weird testing ground for chain stores, so of course, all the interesting mom-and-pop restaurants that happened to be there would disappear. Now it's just crap franchises.

BLVR: They discovered the perfect focus group community.

DGG: I remember opening day of Blockbuster video.

BLVR: You were into it.

DGG: Oh yeah. Opening day was… when did The Untouchables come out? Summer of '87. The Untouchables was just about to come out on video. So it would have been the following February. Early '88. The first movie I rented—and I was a little overwhelmed, so I ended up regretting my choice—but it was an Al Pacino movie called Author! Author! I was debating between that,Ladyhawke, and I Spit on Your Grave, but that last one, I was afraid my sisters would tell my mom I'd rented that. And it was not going to be the kind of appropriate thing to have around the house. But I was glad to see the Blockbuster open, finally, because it had ten thousand movies and it was better than Videoflicks and Video Shmideo.

The other movie I was afraid to rent was Surf Nazis Must Die. It doesn't really live up to its title, but I do remember being very excited. I discovered a lot of the kind of B-movie schlock that I became obsessed with for the rest of my life.


BLVR: You went to North Carolina School of the Arts.

DGG: That's where most of my crew's from. I met most of them there, in Winston-Salem. Just a great group of people that you can explore with and experiment with to build up your confidence. You get a chance to fall on your ass in front of people that are growing in their own ways—they're not busy judging you. It was better to develop ideas with my friends rather than the usual route of having a great idea and throwing it out into a production, and being surrounded by professionals who've been doing their jobs for years.

BLVR: And to have them all standing around glowering at you. Like, "Hurry up."

DGG: Yeah, you can see them looking and thinking, "Who's this punk kid?" And maybe they're wanting you to fail in this weird, small way. The people that I associate myself with are people that are looking to make a good product because it's going to benefit them and it's going to help launch their careers.

At the School of the Arts there was no alumni system, there was nobody who had a dad in the business, no way to facilitate introductions into the actual world of filmmaking. Just a pretty unique environment of people who just liked making movies and who came in from all over the place.

BLVR: And you had the whole area of Winston-Salem to work with, which provided the whole background for George Washington.

DGG: It was a great industrial landscape. A place that's really foreign to most people, a kind of wasteland where man met nature and nature kicked his ass. I think that kind of thing is beautiful, and we shot that whole film there, just using what was around.

BLVR: Once you'd finished shooting, how long did it take until the film was ready to get sent out?

DGG: We wrapped on July 5 of '99, and then we premiered it in February at the Berlin Film Festival of 2000. Then it came out the following October of 2000, so not a real bad turnaround, actually. We shot and edited the thing for about forty-two grand and had that pretty much taken care of by October. Then we just started hustling money. We got a guy to come in, and once he saw the cut, we got him to invest in the completion of it.

BLVR: You shot it on fifty-five thousand feet of film?

DGG: I can't remember how much film we shot, but I know I've shot commercials on more. Maybe it was forty thousand feet. It was real simple: one take, alright, we got it; one take, alright, we got it.

BLVR: Just shoot a scene and move on.

DGG: That was one of the strategies in making George Washington. The scenes that I'd written and the shots I had in mind had to be disposable, so that if the film itself got messed up, it wouldn't have to end up in the movie. You couldn't rely on one scene to make it to the next scene, so we structured it in such a way where, "OK, so that plot element's gone… what are we missing?" I mean, we tried to make that happen as little as possible. Continuity has never been my specialty. But the ultimate goal was to try and create something where the scenes weren't necessarily thematically connected.

BLVR: Kind of like the Dogme films.

DGG: Except that they do that for the novelty of making rules, whereas we had to come up with a practical set of rules we could use to make a movie. After we wrapped, there were three weeks where six rolls of film were lost in FedEx hell. In purgatory. No one knew where they were. And so I said, "OK, this is going to be a short film." [Laughs] I had to wrap my head around that concept for a little while. But then I thought, It'll work. It'll be a little dreamier, we might have to rely on voice-over a little more heavily…

BLVR: You were ready to work with whatever kind of material you had, to try and fashion a workable version of the story.

DGG: In postproduction I decided we should have the Nasia character narrate the movie. So that was all improvised. Actually, the monologue was written in the script, but it was written for the George character to narrate. We decided it would be better to have Nasia talk. You know, pull a little Days of Heaven out of our ass. Have a monologue that could connect the choppiness of the scenes we'd cut together that way.


BLVR: Was there a lot of studio involvement in All the Real Girls and in your third film, Undertow? It seems like they were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with what they were seeing.

DGG: On All the Real Girls we got Sony Pictures Classics to pick it up; they cofinanced it. I'd go and get notes from them after they'd watch it. Maybe if we'd followed their notes a little more closely they might have advertised it a little bit more. But we made the movie we wanted to make. And then withUndertow, we financed it independently. Before we wrapped production, Bingham Ray, who was working at United Artists, came down and saw some of our dailies—he would come down and hang out on our sets just to have fun. Because we have a real good time making movies. They were originally going to finance the movie but they wanted me to make something bigger: a bigger-budget, bigger-star version of the movie, and I wanted to make a weirder, littler, junkier movie.

BLVR: Did they suggest any name actors?

DGG: Yeah, sure they threw some names out there, but I didn't think any of them were right for the roles. So we went out and made it for, like, a million and a half bucks and United Artists bought it before we wrapped. Basically, they said, "We like what you're doing… now we see what you're doing… these actors do work… you're right… so let us buy your movie."

BLVR: Does that normally happen?

DGG: No, it's pretty unusual. A movie can get sold at any stage. I just wanted them to buy it when they were confident in what I was doing. I'm not into deceiving people just to get a green light, and then have them yell at me in the editing room. They bought it at that point, and we'd shot the movie already, so their involvement was not at all in the production, but in the editing. Which you can feel in the film. It feels a little schizophrenic at times. I definitely wanted to make it funnier and more violent. But there were certain tones they wanted to lighten in order to make the film more accessible, more linear.

But then again, I can't think of anything off the top of my head that was compromised because of their input. Regardless of how smart they are, though—and these people were great. Bingham Ray is a wonderful guy and an amazing collaborator—but the momentum gets lost a little bit. Like when a garage band gets a great producer and goes into the studio for the first time. There's just a different vibe about the whole thing. It's not sitting around with your buddies bullshitting ideas and trying to push one aspect to the craziest extreme. You have to play the political game. A lot of people just say, "Do or die, I'm making my film." I just don't like that. I'm not that aggressive.

BLVR: Do you find yourself being drawn now to more literary projects? You've got Snow Angels coming out, a movie based on the Stewart O'Nan novel. And you did the adaptation, right?

DGG: Yeah, I actually wrote it for another director who got on board and then he kind of fell off. That was my first hired job, adapting that book.

BLVR: Did you shoot in Pittsburgh?

DGG: We shot in Nova Scotia. Where we thought we could guarantee having snow for the whole production.

BLVR: What happened?

DGG: It ended up melting. It was the most unusual weather in the area since 1942. It's very frustrating having to bring down eighty dump trucks of snow.

BLVR: You didn't get one of those big snowblowers?

DGG: We got everything from hockey rink shavings to soap blankets. At the end we just started trucking piston snow down from Newfoundland. A good part of the film takes place around this pond and the pond was melting. The last couple of weeks we got really creative. Every day with that pond got to be a nightmare.


BLVR: How do you deal with the constant process of evolving from story to moving pictures?

DGG: It's awful. I try not to preconceive anything, but the first draft is different from the casting, which is different from the production, which is different from the editing. Every day the story reinvents itself. Nothing is what I thought it would be.

BLVR: But somehow you just have to keep rolling it up.

DGG: Keep making decisions. I don't really use scripts that much. I give them to the actors as a foundation for where we need to go, but if it's cast right, you don't need to worry about them saying the wrong thing. Because if I write something, it seems like I wrote it, you know? You can just smell that and think, "Some jerk wrote that." Sometimes you can't. Sometimes an actor doesn't sell an idea 100 percent. It just sounds like something that's coming out of their head. You can hear the gears whirring and they're trying to think of what the smart approach is to getting a line across.

BLVR: How much time did you give to the rehearsal process?

DGG: Tons. Two weeks. Not condensed with all the actors. We spread out the rehearsals over a month before we started shooting. I got my two leads in a room, we did a couple of read-throughs, and we got ideas. We got back together the next week and we talked about the changes and the insecurities and the anxieties we all had and we figured out what was really working between the two of them as characters. I'm trying to remember what the first draft looked like, because I wrote it really quick, like in ten days.

BLVR: Do you find that actors like it when you lay down and say, "I'm in the trenches with you, and we're all working toward the common goal of making this film." Does that make them feel more comfortable?

DGG: It's about getting the actors into gear. Sometimes you'll have great actors who aren't comfortable with improvising. Which can get pretty frustrating, only because my first instinct is to go freestyle. To just get them up on their feet. But every actor's coming from a different place and they have their own strengths and weaknesses and your job is to sell them as two people in the same world. Some of them have to have their hands held and some I just let loose entirely. One of the stars of this new film is a three-year-old girl.

BLVR: She plays Tara, the daughter of Kate Beckinsale's character?

DGG: She's amazing. You know, I'm not going to give her a line. I'm just going to get her really comfortable with the other actors and have them bring her in to the scenario. Then I have to step back, because who am I? I'm not in the scene. I don't want her looking at me. I want her to be focused on Mommy and Daddy—pretend Mommy and Daddy. They have to come in there and set the scene up together. If there's a specific note that we need to hit, if we need to give her a line reading, we'll give her a Skittle and tell her to say that line. But she's amazing. Watching a child just let loose like that. Then you've got Sam Rockwell who can just go with what's happening in the moment of the scene. Incredible.

BLVR: What's the girl's name?

DGG: Grace. She's a local Nova Scotia girl that we met. Not an actress.

BLVR: Did Stewart O'Nan ever come up, visit you all on set?

DGG: I never met him. Should probably. I did such a liberal adaptation, I was sort of afraid to meet him, maybe. We updated it—it's contemporary now. I personalized a lot of it.

BLVR: The novel doesn't necessarily seem like it takes place in one specific time period other than in the memory of the narrator.

DGG: Stewart O'Nan wrote a novel that I would assume is very—if not autobiographical, then very personal to him in the way he relates to the town and to his friends, his parents, everything. And I did the same thing with the adaptation. I took some of the things that were meaningful to him and switched them with things I thought would be more meaningful to me. Which sounds arrogant, but necessary.


BLVR: In All the Real Girls, there's a scene of Paul Schneider's character in a clown costume. He does a silly kind of dance for children at a hospital. At the end of the scene, he turns and looks dead into the camera—the music is still playing, people are still moving—but the scene fades out on Paul's face, on his expression, which is very much like, "Haven't you had enough of this? Can we just stop this for just a second?"

DGG: It's a bold decision. People don't even consider that an option.

BLVR: I thought about how that could be seen as a kind of mistake. I kept thinking about how mistakes become the finished product. How, when all is said and done, it becomes difficult to tell what's intended in a finished cut from what's not.

DGG: The reality is, that probably was a mistake. Like, I was talking to him while he was dancing and he just turned to the camera and had this kind of weird reaction to what I was saying. That's what you find in the editing room. We all sit around and dig through the mistakes and incorporate a shitload of them.

BLVR: When the movie's finished and it's in the theaters, who's to say that it's a mistake?

DGG: The fact that I'm working here today, getting to make a living by making movies, is probably one big mistake. I love those little tics that pop up when you're filming. You can't predict them, and you can't design them. You plan so much to try and put something like that in a movie and it just comes off feeling artificial. A little too tongue-in-cheek. It can be cool, like in Harold and Maude,where Harold kind of turns to the camera and gives a little eyebrow wiggle, like, "Hey, here we go." But, usually… you know… I'm trying to think of the movie… what I just watched last week was Sixteen Candles. Where Anthony Michael Hall just turns to the camera and gives this look like, "This is getting good." He's mugging it. He's got a girl in the car.

BLVR: Your vocabulary of filmmaking is so sharp in terms of knowing a reference or a precedent for a setup or a scene that you've shot. You've got no problem with pointing out where something's been done before.

DGG: You mean like, "Here it is, here's what I'm ripping off?" [Laughs]

BLVR: How's New Orleans?

DGG: I love it, but it's a pretty shitty year for it. I got lucky. The house is still there. But feelings are tense. There's a lot of desperate people down there right now, lot of bad times.

BLVR: Do you keep your doors locked in your car when you drive around?

DGG: I don't have a car. Got two houses now, and no car. I ride my bike and take the bus. I had a truck and ended up selling it for three hundred bucks. The guy that totaled his truck, he needed it more than I did. But see, I don't have anything that anybody wants. I mean, there are bars on my windows, but if you broke in and got past them somehow, you'd be really bummed out.

BLVR: The guy's thinking, "I did all this work for…"

DGG: Twenty-dollar television. Sixty-dollar DVD player. And a blender. That's about all you get. I collect a bunch of stuff, but—

BLVR: Like what?

DGG: My house looks like a fourteen-year-old kid stole some cash and ran away from home, decorated it with his ass. There's remnants of my toilet-seat watercolor painting high-school art phase—I used to paint on toilet seats I would find in the garbage. A large horned whitetail deer head that's mounted on my chimney—a kill my grandfather made when he was young. He died last week. A suit of armor I won at a carnival in San Antonio. A treasure chest from olden times. A collection of medicine and doctor tools from the '20s I got out of my great aunt's house in Mangum, Oklahoma, when she died at 102 years old. An old douche bag I stole from an abandoned funeral home. A piece of chewed bubblegum I sculpted into a square that this pretty girl Erica Bader gave me in the fifth grade after she told me she liked my Gumby half-shirt.


BLVR: Terrence Malick was one of the producers on Undertow. How did you first meet?

DGG: We met at some kind of Indian coffee shop in Beverly Hills. It was great to sit down and talk to him. I grew up watching his movies and really admiring his work. Certainly he was very influential in everything my buddies and I were drawn to in making films. Getting his feedback, learning some of the practical knowledge and experience: that was the best part. He talked about how to balance an ordinary life with movie life.

BLVR: How to keep yourself aware that you have a life to live as well, outside of your work?

DGG: I remember what he said. It was beautiful. He's always very elliptical and pleasantly, poetically vague, which is perfect. But I asked him, "What do you do in the downtime between movies, with these long stretches?" He's gone twenty years between films. He says to me, "There are a lot of things I like to do in life that have nothing to do with movies." And I think that's the healthiest advice anyone can ever give you. With Hollywood you're yesterday's news if you get a flop at the box office. So you might as well be braced to have something else to do that's interesting. Have something lined up to keep your stories fulfilled, and your ideas, because if you're just cranking out movies three times a year…

BLVR: You end up writing about a movie maker writing about movies.

DGG: That's why I kind of choose to live outside of New York and Los Angeles. To me, they can get a little overwhelming. There's a tricky mental balance you have to pull off. I just bought this place in Colorado. Because I realized that a lot of the things I love—climbing mountains and hiking and camping, riding rivers—I looked at my calendar and I hadn't done any of that stuff in eight years. If you asked me a couple of months ago, I'd be like, "Yeah, I do that stuff all the time," but no—I don't. I haven't, because I've been trying to get my career going. Now that everything's up and running, I can disappear for a while and I'll be fine.

BLVR: You've got to sprint first, in a long run. You've got to do the work first and fast, but then you realize that the track is a lot longer than you thought it was. You've got to settle a little bit. Find your pace.

DGG: That's the hope. That I can make a movie every two or three years as opposed to making one every year. I can do a commercial to supplement the income so that I'm not desperate or stuck doing something I don't want to do. Or I can write a script for a studio job which I could write from anywhere in the world. That way, I can travel and be somewhere interesting while I'm writing it. Not just sitting at a coffeeshop in Los Angeles, comparing my salary to the next writer. A lot of people get real competitive out here, and to me, it's about the work. It's not about getting caught up in who's doing what or who's doing better.