Saturday, October 24, 2009

Return of the Native, Part One

Well, I'm back. After an eventful eight months, I have returned to blog occasionally about life and career developments. To say that 2009 has been a turbulent year for me personally is a massive understatement, as practically everything in my life has shifted underneath me without warning (seems to be kind of a global trend, huh?).
I don't want to go into specifics, so I'll just say this: never get too comfortable in life, because security is almost always an illusion.
Anyway, let's pick up where I left off: about to leave for the UK to film Cut. Arriving at Heathrow on a bleary, cold March morning, I am impressed by the filmmakers quiet confidence and "no worries" attitude, and hope it portends for good things to come.
Fortunately, I am correct, as rehearsals at Pinewood Studios and the BBC show that writer/director Dominic Burns and producer Simon Phillips have both connections and balls aplenty. Amazingly, the cast has all their lines down pretty pat, and the film starts to gel immediately. Everyone makes huge strides even in the course of a single day, and by the end of the rehearsal period, cast and crew are all dead chuffed (English slang for pumped up).
Off to Leek (about three hours outside of London and one hour south of Manchester) for blocking rehearsals and shooting. The cast and crew are comfortably ensconced in a cozy farmhouse, with other smaller buildings creating a snug, yet somewhat claustrophobic compound. After only one day of blocking rehearsals, we decide to attempt a Steadicam run through, expecting to stop/start incessantly throughout the process. To our amazement (and probably due to the cast's extensive theater background), we nearly complete an entire take without cutting the camera. Emboldened, we decide that although we have planned for safety cuts, the cohesive cast, combined with the dazzling technical expertise of Steadicam operator Dominic Jackson and crew, have convinced us of the possibility of achieving cinema's Holy Grail: an entire film- with special effects, costume changes, etc.- shot in one take.

Part Two: Shooting Begins

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Off to England (To Freeze My Butt Off)

So it's back to the UK for me for the 5th-21st of March.I will be in London until the morning of the 12th, when the cast and crew of the new film Cut pack up and head for the middle of nowhere, AKA Leek, England (pictured here). Leek is a small village about an hour from Manchester and is ideal for the production, as it is mere minutes from the location. You can take a look at Leek here.

I am quite excited about the film. Although on the surface it seems to be a fairly typical killer-picking-off-five-people-in-a-secluded-cabin genre film,the way in which it is being filmed really intrigues me: after a five minute flashback opening that explains (mostly) a key event from the past, the film takes place in real time and is filmed IN A SINGLE SHOT. That's right, about 77 minutes of the film will be in one take.

How do we do it? First, we rehearse it like a play for a couple of weeks, then two days of rehearsal with the Steadicam operators, then three nights of 77 minute takes. Of course, there are several safety cuts (cuts that are invisible to the viewer) like a scene in which the killer shuts off the power, causing the screen to go black, that allow us to stop and restart from that point if the first half went well. For the most part, however, we're going to try to get it in one. Pretty cool,huh?

Two things I am dreading: shooting entirely at night and the damp, bone-chilling cold. Although the night shooting itself is only a few days, the level of concentration needed for the long takes will be intense. As for the cold, there is something about English forests (particularly at night) that just make me shudder even when they are warm. Anyway, here goes!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

LA Is Chirping Too

Chirp is now playing in Los Angeles at the Sunset 5 at least through the 8th of January. This should be the film's swan song in theaters before it hits video stores in a few weeks. Here's the terrific, fair review from Variety:

Artistic aspirations and romantic entanglements stalk the East Village streets in tyro helmer Jonathan Blitstein's goofily engaging Gotham comedy, "Let Them Chirp Awhile." Fresh out of NYU film school, Blitstein films what he knows: His tale of a young filmmaker's writer's block gleefully incorporates all manner of antic styles, from Mack Sennett-style double-takes to Felliniesque black-and-white pantomime. That Blitstein pulls off this tiredly self-reflexive conceit with relative panache is due in no small part to the scruffy grace of leads Justin Rice and indie fixture Brendon Sexton III. Opening Dec. 5 in New York, "Chirp" may roost awhile.

Bobby (Rice), attempting to write his first screenplay, lives largely inside his own mind. When not engaging in stream-of-consciousness voiceover to vent his doubts and frustrations, or getting sidetracked by infinite irrelevancies and false starts, he lies about his progress while casually hooking up with current g.f. Dara (Laura Breckenridge), a college frosh some seven years his junior, or hanging out with lifelong best bud Scott (Sexton).

Unlike the idealistic Bobby, Scott always waffles between two extremes -- his day job as corporate marketer and his nighttime work as rock musician wannabe -- and similarly wavers between Michelle (Pepper Binkley), his live-in girlfriend of four years, and Ariel (Amy Chow), his Korean mistress of four months. Most tellingly, Scott's moral compass falls somewhere between Bobby's upright humanism and the cynical egomania of Bobby's nemesis, successful playwright Hart (Zach Galligan).

Encroaching on Neil LaBute/Woody Allen territory with a callowness that almost proves charming, Blitstein maintains an absurdist distance from his characters' hangups that sometimes turns literal, such as when the camera follows a couple's argument from blocks away. At the same time, an "Umberto D"-like subplot, wherein Bobby loses the Jack Russell terrier entrusted to his reluctant care by an ex-girlfriend, occasions pic's most parodic, over-the-top closeup reactions of panic and desperation .

But Blitstein's lead actors consistently translate awkward self-consciousness into effortlessly executed soft-shoe. Rice brings a boyish ingenuousness to his role that disarms all comers, and his interactions with Sexton, a past master at self-sabotage of every stripe, transform potentially awkward exchanges into seamless setpieces.

This perfectly modulated control of tone rarely extends much further than the tete-a-tetes where these two thesps hold sway, however. The difficulty Bobby expresses in relating to the world outside his head also plagues his creator. Thus, although a pretentious 9/11-set play by the ever-opportunistic Hart is wonderfully awful, Bobby's shushed expressions of shocked disbelief seem forced, as does the gushing audience's inane praise.

Tech credits are a cut above most location-shot no-budgeters, Blitstein having opted to shoot in 35mm.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Finally New Yorkers Can Chirp Awhile

Yes, folks, the long awaited premiere of Let Them Chirp Awhile, the neat little indie I did in 2006 with Brendan Sexton III, Justin Rice (pictured above), Laura Breckinridge, Pepper Binkley, and Anthony Rapp, opens December 5th for a two week run at the Cinema Village Theater at 22 East 12th St. in beautiful Greenwich Village. Needless to say, all of us involved with the film are thrilled it's getting a theatrical release, given the moribund state of the independent film market and the economy in general. And for those of you non-New Yorkers who wish to see this little gem, it's already available for queueing over at Netflix. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

BT Ad Followup

Matthew Delieu was the Gremlins consultant on the BT ad and came to the project as a huge fan and supporter. This is a note he sent me a couple days ago:

"I really respected what the movies did for cinema and I thought both Chris Walas and Rick Baker created some of the best movie creatures ever. Dante's direction was perfect.....

When I worked on the ad I had to provide as much advice and material to help them create the Gremlins on a really tight schedule. Next to the worlds most famous prop owner, Bob Burns, I own a pretty large collection of original Gremlins props.

They borrowed my Gremlin puppet from the first movie and all my paperwork and puppet designs and blueprints and throughout the design stage asked me to comment on the look. They pulled off a miracle. This was effectively a mini sequel.

The special effects team worked day and night to produce around 20 puppets to interact with Peter Jones during the ad. Peter was a natural at acting and everybody got on really well with him, a true professional. His image has done wonders for BT, so lucky them.

Vince Abbott worked hard to produce some of the puppet mechanics such as the ear mechanisms. Vince and I got to operate Gremlins on the set and became good friends. Vince was no stranger to puppets, having worked on the Muppets Treasure Island and helping to bring the Gremlins to life on camera. We puppeteered together like two kids who had found their Dad's gun. It was just like being on the set of the original movie. Seeing a Gremlin operated by a professional, face to face, is something very rare. These things came to life.....Imagine being an Elvis fan and then getting to sing with him. Well, thats close to how I felt.

A lot of people saw the ad as the official return of the Gremlins, looks like somebody definitely fed Gizmo after midnight this time..........

So what can I tell you......Gremlins are back.......and hopefully, they are here to stay.

Im proud to have been involved in the return of the Gremlins....and have one thing to say to anyone wondering what will be next.......WATCH THIS SPACE."

Matthew is a good guy, and as you can gather, excitable and enthusiastic. I'm not sure I'll break any major stories, but if I hear something, I'll be sure to post it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

British Telecom Spot

People have been asking me lately if I've seen the BT spot that features gremlins. I have, and you can see it here.

People have also been asking if the tremendous response to the spot in the UK has in any way given momentum to future Gremlins projects, including a possible Gremlins 3.

The answer to that question is: in a way, yes. That's all I can say right now.

Additionally, a young man named Sacha Feiner has created one of the most astounding Gremlins clips ever. It really defies description, so if you're a fan, you can watch it here. But be sure to watch the jaw-dropping, hard-to-believe-but-true "Making Of" clip here. I guarantee you, you won't forget it.

And yes, I can tell you that the people responsible for Gremlins have seen it too, and are pretty darn impressed.

That is all.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Recovering from Burnout

After writing twenty columns for in May, I was completely spent. I had pretty much exhausted everything I wanted to say for at least a couple of months. So now, on the cusp of August, I am feeling a surge of renewed vigor. Before I begin with new posts, I want to post one of my favorites from May, which seems to become more relevant with each passing day:

Trapped in Cell Hell

I tremble as I begin to write this - not out of excitement, but out of rage - because even though the topic has been discussed to the point of exhaustion, the problem just seems to be getting exponentially worse. No, I am not talking about bedbugs (although they're pretty horrendous) or the Bush administration, but the plague that threatens to destroy us all as a civilization.

I'm talking about cell phones and the way they are used by - or inflicted upon, depending on your point of view - society at large.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Most people use cell phones in an extremely self absorbed, what-do-I-care-I'm-never-going-to-see-your-face-ever-again kind of way. It's all about THEM, without the slightest regard for anyone nearby. It's as if they're in a narcissistic bubble in which only their whims, desires and concerns exist. The level of ego displayed by cell phone braggarts (both male and female) continues to grow and astound.

Witness this simple case, that happened to me last week. My wife and I were in an ice cream store when a woman sat down - I am not exaggerating here - less than three feet away. I could reach over and grab the salt from her table with the slightest of efforts. She then proceeded to call a friend and for more than twenty minutes give her (my God, the poor friend) explicit details of her ovaries, mammograms, breast tenderness, you name it - all in a clear, ringing voice that would have made Barack Obama say "Wow, nice projection!" My wife and I stared at each other in shock, as this 40-something woman continued to spew her shockingly boring yet intimate conversation to any one who cared to listen, as if the gelato shop was her living room instead of a public place.

Cell phone morons come in all shapes and sizes. There's the Blowhard, the Wall Street business guy who shouts in your ear about deals, money and how crucial he is to the company while he's sitting behind you on the train. There's the Nervous Nellie, the senior citizen who needs to telephone her son every twenty minutes to give him updates about where she is ("We just passed Yaphank" - great, thanks for sharing!). There's the OhmyGod girl ("OhmyGod, you'll never believe what Chanel said last night!"), who will talk nonstop - listening simply isn't an option - a mere two seats away the entire three-hour bus trip.

I could rant all day, but you know what I'm talking about - you deal with it every day, too. So let's start with this basic, painful admission - most peoples lives (and believe me, I include myself in this one hundred percent) are SIMPLY NOT INTERESTING. AT ALL.
So the next time you pick up your beloved cell phone to make a quick (or not so quick) call, try these simple things: cover your mouth with your hand (as if you were telling a secret) and talk in a normal tone of voice. If the person on the phone can't hear you, simply repeat it again,only SLIGHTLY louder. Do not, as the rock band KISS would have you do, shout it out loud. If you are in an enclosed space with other people, say "I can't talk, I'll call you back." I guarantee you, the world will not end abruptly in a fiery cataclysm. And if you're in a coffee shop full of strangers and you get an important call, STEP OUTSIDE.

If we all followed those simple steps, life would be so much nicer, and maybe - just maybe - people would be just a teeny, tiny bit less angry, and wouldn't have to vent in long winded, repetitive blog posts.

I'd love to talk more, but I gotta go do a few errands, pay some bills and beat the crap out of someone. Later!