Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Depression Era Comedy

I'm about to embark on a rather ambitious screenplay for a feature film. One of the reasons I've started blogging is to get myself in the habit of writing and unloading some of the junk in my head. I imagine there will be a great many posts about how insufferable writing is and how I wish I were dead. If not, it'll mean something went terribly wrong.

I now realize that the story I want to write would benefit enormously by being set in the Depression era, and by "Depression era" I mean 2009. So really, the present. Realistically, an independent film project like this could take several years, depending on just how far I want to go with it. Who knows how long this economic depression will last? Okay, I'm not exactly praying for it to go another ten years (I mean, not really). But I don't want to put all that work into something and have it become irrelevant. See my dilemma? It'd be like if I decided to post a "Five Facts About Me" video on YouTube a full year after it ravaged the website like a norovirus on a cruise ship. I'd look silly. Well, sillier.

Another possibility would be to set it during the Great Depression, which is always relevant, and I could draw really obvious parallels between then and now. But then I'd have to do a lot of yucky research. Perhaps even gain some insight. Where's the fun in that? Not to mention that doing a period piece on small budget would be something of a nightmare.

So I think I'll proceed by setting the film during the Depression of 2009. If Obama comes in and fucks my shit up by making everything wonderful, it'll give the film an added quirk of being set in the not-too-distant past when things were still awful. Sort of like The Big Lebowski.

I remember watching that in 1998 and thinking "Ha! President Bush. Gulf War. How quaint."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

So long to a friend

This is the computer that saved me.

I bought my iBook in November of 2005 with the vague notion that I’d be using it for video production. I wasn’t a savvy buyer, and it didn’t occur to me that I’d need more then 512MB of memory. Looking back on it, I’m amazed I managed to produce what I did. If a video ran over a minute and had lots of cuts (and let’s be honest, a fair amount of them do) it was a pain in the ass to edit.

Why has it been almost a year since I posted part one of
Bernard K Smith: My Part in His Downfall and have yet to produce part two? Why did I disappear for three months after posting the seven-minute marathon that was Fascist Sandwich? Why is there an unedited Bernard video from way back in September sitting on my hard-drive? In short, editing on that little machine burnt me out. I was pushing it further than it wanted to go, and towards the end it was pushing back.

That’s about to change. I finally got a new, faster machine. Once I’ve figured out how to use it, I promise I’ll be posting new stuff.

In the meantime, I bid a fond farewell to the little iBook that got me further than I ever imagined.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Return to old Brazil

I was sixteen when I first saw Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. I knew the story behind the release of the film and I was already a fan of Time Bandits and Baron Munchausen, so my expectations were perhaps impossibly high. It wasn’t quite the masterpiece I hoped it would be. Some of the gags seemed a bit corny, like the employees watching old movies behind their employers back, and the narrative seemed a bit messy, lagging in a few significant places. Eh, what did I know?

I’ve watched it many times since, once on the big screen, and saw it again last night with a friend. It definitely gets better each time. The director’s cut (which is essentially the European cut) is a major improvement over the first version I saw, and though I’ve had the DVD for years I’m always surprised when the new scenes come up. The interrogation following Sam’s arrest is one of the most effective scenes in the film and I can’t believe it’s missing in the American cut.

The gags don’t bother me anymore, and I think my problems with the “narrative” can now be traced back to the casting of Kim Greist as Jill Layton, whose wooden performance sucks the juice out of the plot involving Lowry’s obsession with her. It had the makings of a screwball
Vertigo with a nightmarish backdrop and an even bleaker ending (maybe I'm the only one who thinks that's a good idea). Apart from that, the director’s cut does fill in some plot details that we’re better off having, paying off scenes or setting them up, and leaving ambiguities in places where it should be, like the whole terrorist threat.

One of the things that still bugs me is Michael Kamen’s score. It has some nice variations of the “Aquarela do Brasil” song, but I hate the tacky saxophone music that comes in every so often to remind us we’re in an 80’s revision of a 40’s noir universe. Apart from that, the film has aged incredibly well.

I don't give star ratings. Just see the thing if you haven't.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I, Roger

In 1989 I was getting tired of waiting for Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg to produce a sequel to my favorite movie at the time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. If it had been YouTube I’d have left comments on their page like "mak more moovis like rojer rabit plez" or “whens ur next muvy bich?!” Sadly no such means of persuasion were available at the time, so a sequel never emerged. I took it upon myself to produce the damn thing in what became the first of many sequels I attempted throughout my childhood.

It was to be called
Roger Rabbit in the Big City. I’d become aware of the developing trend in sequels where a main character is placed in a bustling metropolis (Short Circuit 2 being a notable example) and I thought it would be interesting to see how Roger’s idiosyncrasies played out in a more urban environment, completely ignoring that the original movie takes place in Los Angeles. Also, the “Big City” I had in mind was Paris, Maine, which was neither big nor a city, but it’s where I lived at the time. It would’ve been more accurate to call it Roger Rabbit Stranded in Butt-Fuck Maine, but I stubbornly clung to the original title like in that Monty Python sketch where they attempt to film Scott of the Antarctic in the Sahara desert.

It was a hopeless endeavor. There was simply no way of combining live action with animation in a homemade movie, and plus I was nine. But my brother had taught me a thing or two about how cartoons were made, and we owned a copy of
Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, so I managed to produce a few painted cells, one of which has survived.

More than the movie itself, I’d been inspired by a documentary on the making of
Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and how they’d essentially shot an “invisible man” movie and added the cartoons later. I suppose my plan was to shoot mine the same way and worry about the animation afterward. I ended up shooting more of the “making of” documentary than any of the principle photography. Somewhere in my archives I have footage of my nine-year-old self being interviewed by my dad. I might post some of it here if it's not horribly embarrassing. In a sense I was prepping myself for YouTube, where 90% of the videos are people describing projects that'll never take shape. Okay, I’m being generous.

What truly amazes me (not to mention annoys and disgusts me) is that nowadays it’s actually conceivable that a nine-year-old could produce their own
Roger Rabbit sequel (with a parent’s help, obviously). The end result might be absolute shit, but the technology is readily available. I can’t tell you how seethingly, bitterly jealous I am of younger generations (I’m mainly talking about the early to late teens, who comprise most of the ChurchOfBlow audience at present) who probably don’t know just how spoiled they are. Hell, I suppose I don’t know how spoiled I am. My brother (who’s ten years older then me) went to film school before they had digital editors, and had to physically cut and splice real film. Digital editing became the standard just a few short years after he graduated, and now anybody can do it on their laptop.

So, fine. We’re all spoiled. I guess I’ll shut up and go make something.

Or just vlog about it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I posted, and you came

Four months ago I silently acknowledged my second year on YouTube, abandoning any plans to make a video about it, which pretty well sums up how I was feeling in 2008. The first year [and a half] was easily the productive period of my life, the unofficial “second half” of my two years at film school. The last six months became more relaxed as it began to feel like a second job, offering fewer and fewer rewards. I put the “Bernard Smith” project on hold, vowing (again, to myself) that I wouldn’t return until I had a strong desire to do so. It took a bit longer then I expected.

My earliest videos on YouTube were those of a man discovering the joys of editing on his laptop for the first time. Editing was something I’d always done at a public access studio or college campus but never in the comfort of my own home. It had been four, treacherously long years since I’d cut anything together and I had to make up for lost time. I’d toss off a video in matter of hours and hungrily moving on to the next one. Only a few days into it I started running low on material, having used up all three of my ideas;
myspace, iPods, and coffee. Four years of life experience burned up in a single week. I didn’t want to lose momentum.

Writing (or the lack of it) was one of the primary reasons I hadn’t produced anything in years. It’s not a skill that comes naturally to me. Even this blog is proving to be a pain in the ass. I’d worked with other friends who wanted to be filmmakers but we all struggled in the same areas, particularly writing, which usually lead to clumsy and ill-suited collaborations. Finding a good writer is hard, let alone one who’s willing to write something for you. I’d been posting on the
Internet Movie Database for six years and had become acquainted with a handful of regulars who’d demonstrated a knack for witty prose. And now, thanks to YouTube, I was able to demonstrate what I was capable of, giving way to collaborations that would’ve been unlikely to exist before that. This is how I started working with the gentleman known to many of you as organicprankster.

Our first collaboration was a review of
Ghost Busters, where Charlie Kimbote attempts to do for Ivan Reitman what Cashiers du Cinema did for Hitchcock. It provided a wealth of comic material and was a real challenge to edit, making it one of the most satisfying projects I’d done up to that point (though I hasten to add, I could do a much better job now). A couple months later when ‘prankster asked if I’d be interested in playing a Youtube-based preacher, I happily obliged. I’d produce anything he wrote.

The first ChurchOfBlow script arrived in my inbox on November 12th, 2006. Nineteen days later (December 1st) I uploaded
A Personal Salvation as 'prankster was sending me script number sixteen. On December 30th I was uploading the thirteenth episode while 'prankster was working on the first three Bernard episodes. Five months later (May 17th 2007) Bernard Smith made his debut while 'pranster was polishing up the (still unproduced) forty-seventh episode. There are still roughly forty scripts that have yet to be produced, so although there’ve been long waits between videos, it was never from lack of material.

I spent six odd months inhabiting the role of Cornelius Blow. I was only working part time, living in the Maine woods with no internet. I was able to completely throw myself into the project, producing an average of two videos a week and uploading them from the library, often catching a stray wireless signal from the front stoop since it was only open three days a week. Meanwhile ‘prankster and I were building a small congregation on YouTube, most of them grown adults, ranging from eccentric to stir-fry crazy, who would attend our YouTube services without the faintest idea of who this madman was.

Though it may not seem like it, there are probably more autobiographical details in the Cornelius videos then there are with Bernard.
Fight Fire With Fire (Souffle With Souffle) was loosely inspired by an incident I had with a boss while working at a bakery some weeks before I started ChurchOfBlow. Special Hell For Landlords and Common Courtesy were based on experiences ‘prankster was having around that time. Cornelius’s unspoken attraction to Lauren was a window into my own love life.

When Bernard Smith made his debut, real life had caught up with me and I was forced to move out of the woods, get a full-time job and an apartment. The videos came out at a slower pace, which seemed to reflect Bernard’s strained efforts to hang on to his audience in the absence of a writer. I hated my job. Everything felt like an obstacle to getting the series made. I was experiencing creative blue balls. The only thing that kept me going was a more long term project, a music number, that I was able to toy with and finesse over a period of six months. This became the aptly named
YouTube Is My Life, the video that may very well have cured me of YouTube. But more on that later.