Friday, January 30, 2009

"La Nina" is Cast; Now on IMDB!

Thanks mostly to the tireless work of my casting director, Cambria Hankin (who I'm plugging not so you'll be impressed with me, but rather with her, and be inspired to hire her), La Nina del Desierto has been completely cast!

Joaquin Garrido as Javier Martinez, and Misha Gonz-Cirkl as Maria

Baxter Smith as Costa, Javier's boss, and Dani-Rose Gonzalez as La Nina

In addition to the above, I've also cast Mitch Yapko ("Thomas" from Variations on the Death of Gerald) and Robert Benny ("Lokesh" from The Silver Lincoln) as two of Costa's goons. I always like working again with friends.

I'm really excited to start going now. I've also been working hard on props recently, gathering all manner of beat-up gravedigging paraphernalia. It's fun.

But in infinitely more awesome news, two of my films, along with most of the crews for those movies, are now up on IMDB! Apparantly being considered for inclusion in NFFTY (National Film Festival for Talented Youth) was good enough for IMDB. So check out The Silver Lincoln and Ragtime Ballad, along with pages for my good friends Boa Simon, Brian Andrews, Daniel McLellan, and myself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sundance - Day 6

I spent most of the day today snowboarding. I didn't have a film until 6pm, and with a world-class ski area literally sprouting out of Park City, how could I resist?

At 6pm I had what I thought was a panel discussion with director Steven Soderbergh. He was supposed to talk about his previous films, like sex, lies, and videotape (which put Sundance on the map) and his latest, Che. Instead, he gets up there and says, "we have a movie to show." And then he plays his latest film for the very first time.

It's called The Girlfriend Experience. It was an ultra-cinema-verite film with a fractured narrative and all amateur actors. I liked it. I'm not sure how well it will do if it gets a wide release.

Directly after that I saw my final film at Sundance - Manure. It was a very stylized film about competing manure businesses. It was awful. It was so bad. It was derivative, predictable, nonsensical, embarrassing to watch - I wanted to walk out. Luckily the visuals were interesting enough to keep me. I couldn't believe that a film like that made it into Sundance. It was horrible.

Manure

It was so bad that when the directors, the Polish brothers, and the actors, including Billy Bob Thorton and Tea Leoni, came up for a Q&A, there were no questions. It was really, really awkward. Everyone thought it was stupid. Because it was.

Luckily we were out before long. And coincidence upon coincidences - it turns out that one of the actors I cast in my thesis project, La Nina del Desierto, happened to be at Sundance as well. He works for a PR company that throws parties, and he was able to let us in to the Manure after-party. A few of the minor actors were there, but the main ones weren't. Too embarrassed, I imagine.

I was sad that the last film I saw at Sundance was the worst I saw. I was on a roll of good films. But tomorrow I fly back to California and then it's La Nina straight for the next three months!

Sundance - Day 5

Today I had a few hours off in the morning before my first show, so I strolled down Park City's downtown area. About halfway up Main street, I saw about 60 people crowding around a jewel store or a restaurant or something. I saw they all had cameras, and when one of them started saying to the others, "sorry in advance if I push you out of the way," I thought I would stick around to see mob mentality in action.

Well, I sat there for 40 minutes and nothing happened. Supposedly Jim Carrey was inside, and all the paparazzi was waiting for him to emerge. It was nice to sit there and see the people go by (including Paul Giamatti again and Bill Hader), but Jim Carrey just isn't 40+ minutes interesting. I walked up to the top of main street, checked out Sundance's bitter cousin festival Slamdance, and went back - and the paparazzi was still there, waiting impatiently. I'm sure Carrey had slipped out the back hours beforehand.

The first film I saw this day truly changed the way I perceive movies. The movie was Johnny Mad Dog, but I have a hard time referring to it as a "movie." A movie generally has a story, character development, obstacles that the protagonist has to overcome, etc. Johnny Mad Dog featured child soldiers in an unnamed African country (though it was filmed in Liberia) basically yelling and shooting people for two hours. It was very well made, but honestly, the terms "like" and "dislike" don't even apply. It was an experience. It made City of God look like Peter Pan. But even that analogy doesn't apply. It was unlike any other movie that exists.

Johnny Mad Dog

Afterward, at the Q&A, the director talked about how the kids in the movie were real child militia soldiers during the war. He lived with them for over a year, learning about how they lived and what happened, and taught them to act. I couldn't shake the feeling that it was, at some level, cruelly exploitative. I mean, this guy is asking these kids to re-enact beatings, rapings, murders - all things that they probably did in real life. And that thought disturbs me.

After a film like that, I spent a good amount of time with my brow furrowed, having dark thoughts about filmmaking. I wasn't exactly in the mood for another film, let alone a violent one, but I had Bronson coming up immediately afterward, and I'd heard it was good. So I tried to go in with a completely open mind.

Bronson

It was great! It wasn't really that violent a film - more a meditation on violence. It was the story of Charlie Bronson (not the American actor), Britain's most violent prisoner. It basically tried to portray his acts of violence as, in his mind, a work of art. I thought it was actually very light-hearted for such a gloomy subject.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sundance - Day 4

I got up today at a glorious 12 noon after a long night watching movies. I made myself a large breakfast and headed out to the movies once again.

I saw Sin Nombre, a film by an American first-timer who developed the script at the Sundance Institute. It was a very hard-edged film, about a Honduran girl and a Mexican ex-gangster making their way to the border. It was violent and incredibly rough, but also very heartfelt as a relationship develops between the two of them. Not for the feint of heart.

Sin Nombre

Afterward the director, production team and a few of the actors came up for a Q&A. The main actor, who played the Mexican gangster, was Honduran himself. He had never been in a film before. When he walked up to the podium to answer a question, the audience gave him a standing ovation. He couldn't get through the answer because he was literally weeping. I've never seen anything like it.

After that we headed to a condo where a friend of Chapman's film school gave us a wonderful home-cooked meal, much welcome after having to fend for myself between movie screenings.

At 11:30 I found myself in my favorite movie at Sundance so far: Black Dynamite. It was made as a loving tribute/satire of old 1970s blaxploitation action movies, complete with bad kung-fu, a funky soundtrack, and brilliant one-liners by the man himself, Black Dynamite. It was exactly my sense of humor, and everyone in the theater was digging it as much as I was.

Black Dynamite

Afterward I went up and thanked the director and star for making my Sundance experience so far.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance - Day 3

I slept in this morning for the first time in a while. I went at noon to see The Clone Returns Home, an arty Japanese sci-fi similar in theme and tone to Solaris. I went in with an open mind, which, it turns out, is exactly what you need in this film. It moved verrrrrrry slowly. Sometimes painfully so. Still, I liked it. It was gorgeously shot (the best-looking film I've seen so far), and very philosophical, dealing with what happens to the soul when someone is cloned. I was inspired, and it stayed with me.

The Clone Returns Home

Following the screening I went for lunch with two of the other guys that were with me. The Egyptian Theater, where we saw Clone Returns Home, is in the middle of the old town area of Park City, where it's most popular to walk and soak up the small-town charm. That means that every place to eat is completely packed, and features a special Sundance menu with doubled prices. Still, we figured it would be worth it to eat out at least once. We ended up in a booth across from the guys who made Black Dynamite, a blaxploitation satire that I'm seeing tomorrow. The burger was good too.

Directly afterward we hopped on the bus and saw Cold Souls by a first-time director, a French woman, starring Paul Giamatti. It was about a place that can extract and store your soul, and Giamatti, playing himself, loses his soul to the Russian black market. Absolutely hilarious. Not the best film overall, but Giamatti owned the screen. A genius performance.

Cold Souls

Giamatti was there after the show for a Q&A, but he looked completely miserable. I wanted to say hi to him, but I saw another fan take a photo with him, and he literally frowned in the photo with the fan. I decided to leave him be.

A few hours later, at 11:30pm, we went in to see Mystery Team, a comedy by the Derrick Comedy Group, who apparently have a huge online following. They demonstrate how thanks to the internet, success can come in so many different ways. Mystery Team is about a group of teenagers who used to be child detectives when they were kids, solving mysteries of fingers in pies and missing diaries, and still haven't grown out of it. They are then faced with solving a murder mystery, and the humor comes from grown-up children in adult situations. Also very, very funny, if sometimes they cross the line.

Mystery Team

I'm starting to understand what makes this festival so important and famous. Every theater you go to is packed with people that are all excited to see the movie, and are all in some way passionate about movies. It's an electrifying energy. On top of that, I don't think you'll see a truly terrible film. It's Sundance. It will probably range from amazing to decent, but chances are it won't be awful. And that's good when you're seeing anywhere from three to five movies a day.

Sundance - Day 2

On this second day I woke up early despite having been out late and headed to the Eccles Theater, Sundance's largest venue, to see Mary and Max, a claymation feature film. I was there about an hour early, so I got excellent seats. I'm not sure how many times I'll be able to repeat my luck there. The theaters fill up very quickly.

Mary and Max

The film itself was great. I have a soft spot for claymation, since I grew up doing hours upon hours of it myself. But despite being a comedy, and being an animation, it was very dark. It dealt with depression, mental illness, suicide, and lots of death. Not something you'd expect from a film that visually reminds you of Wallace and Gromit. Still, very good.

Later that evening I saw The Missing Person, a neo-noir in the vein of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. The lead actor, Michael Shannon, was amazing as an antiquated gumshoe in the modern age. Other than that, the narrative meandered and overall it was very slow, but the director afterwards admitted to owing Raymond Chandler a debt, and that probably had a lot to do with the pacing.

The Missing Person

Directly after that I had a ticket for Rudo y Cursi, the debut feature film from Carlos Cuaron, director Alfonso Cuaron's brother. This is the film I was most excited for, and I almost didn't make it to the theater. I was chatting with two guys I met after Missing Person, and we all stepped on what we thought was the right bus. Well, after about fifteen minutes of unrecognizable scenery going by, we realized the bus had taken us straight out of Park City. Now it's a half hour before the show and we're far from where we need to be.

We eventually found a taxi driver at a nearby 7-11 willing to take us back into town. By this point I'm frantically calling my friend James to hold us a seat, because for such an anticipated film, there's going to be a line around the block. Unfortunately, he's at the end of the line. Well, I arrive just as they're letting the snaking line of people into the theater. I look around, jump the line, and make it in long before James or most of the people in line. I snag the best seat in the house.

Rudo y Cursi

Rudo y Cursi is amazing. It's a throwback to Y tu mama tambien, Carlos and Alfonso Cuaron's previous collaboration, without being a remake or sequel. It's fantastic.

After the show there was a Q&A with the director, his brother and producer Alfonso, fellow producer and amazing director in his own right Guillermo del Toro, and the star Gael Garcia Bernal. They seemed like a very friendly, very passionate group of filmmaker friends. I was amazed how most people meandered with their questions. One guy started talking about his Mexican grandfather, and another guy stood up and goes, "I have a script written just for you, Gael! Can we set up a meeting?" All in front of 1,200 people. Ridiculous.

But what wasn't ridiculous is that I stepped outside after the theater emptied and met Carlos, Alfonso and Guillermo, who were standing around in the cold. Awesome.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sundance - Day 1

So as part of a class through Chapman University, I'm spending the next week at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. This week, the News section will basically be my journal of the experience.

The 22 of us in this class flew this morning from LA to Salt Lake City, Utah, and from there we piled into a giant private bus that took us to Park City, about 45 minutes into the mountains. Park City is where Sundance happens. Usually it's just another sleepy mountain ski town, but for this week in January, Sundance explodes into its streets. I've heard that the businesses here literally make 100% of the money they need for the year in this single week.

Park City itself is kind of like an Alpine Disneyland - all the locals know that they make their money from tourism, so they really ham up the "adorable mountain town" atmosphere, complete with strings of Christmas lights, pretty wooden condos, and niche shops. Robert Redford himself, the man who started Sundance in Park City, said that Sundance, as a festival, as almost nothing thematically or aesthetically in common with Park City. They just rent the town for a week.

It's also damn cold - which should be no surprise in a ski town where you can literally board a lift from the center of town - but it's definitely a change of scenery from LA, where recently it's been about 80 degrees.

Later in the evening I attended the Sundance opening night party, which was a big hoopla in one of the resort lodges in town. We had tickets to attend, which made us feel very special. The place was absolutely crammed with people. It became almost impossible to move from room to room by the end of the night.

Still, it was crammed with filmmakers, actors, and press - no one immediately recognizable, but everyone wore badges that explained what their position was and what film they were there for. Everyone was in a chatty mood, and it was by peering at badges that I was able to talk for a good while with Greg Hajdarowicz, the Polish producer of the Spanish/Brazilian film Carmo, Hit the Road, which is playing at Sundance. I lamented to him that I was unable to get tickets to his film, and we chatted for a while about his upcoming projects. He mentioned that he's looking into making his next film in New Mexico, and we exchanged cards.

It all felt very Hollywood. But really, we just chatted movies. And that's the great part about Sundance - everyone already has movies in common.