Friday, March 19, 2010

Things Fall Apart and Things Fall Together

Things work out the way they're supposed to. About a month ago, maybe just over, my work life kind of blew up when the booth manager, who had been booth manager almost since the place opened (that'd be about 13 years), had to suddenly transfer to another theatre. We're a bit understaffed as it is so this sudden and completely unexpected move knocked all of us projectionists for a loop. And by all of us, I really just mean the two of us who are, for all intents and purposes, full time upstairs.

Wanting to keep the booth in the family, I applied for the booth manager position as was "strongly recommended" to me by the former booth manager and several higher up employees. I was told, though, that they'd probably go with someone who had some experience with the digital projector that was installed a week or two after the booth manager's transfer and, though I'd practically been running the booth for the past few years, I'm inexperienced according to the corporation's standards. Everyone at the theatre thought I'd get it and I wouldn't be lying to you if I were to say that I was disappointed when I didn't, but I was also relieved. I'm a filmmaker, not a career projectionist, and to be the booth manager, I would have to sacrifice the relative freedom of being able to shoot pretty much whenever I want. Just the month or so I spend as the interim booth manager was mentally upsetting.

During that time, I found out that one of my really good friends, whom I don't see very often as it is, is moving away (she actually pushed the date of her moving to today and we still haven't been able to get together), and I got several rejections for Anathema, and if you've read the last blogpost I made, you know about the particular sting that accompanies a hometown rejection.

In that same post, I mentioned that I was sending the film to the Sarasota Fringe Film Festival which occurs around the same time as the Sarasota Film Festival (to differentiate between the two, I'll just call the other one "the Fringe") and that I also donated money to help get the festival off the ground this year (via Kickstarter: click here if you have a desire to donate a little green to the scene and if not, that's okay, too. :D )

I received an email from the director of the Fringe requesting a meeting based on the cover letter I sent with my film. Yes, it did mention that I'm a projectionist for the mainstream festival, but really...I don't know any trade secrets or anything that isn't already in the papers. It's not like I can tell them anything and I'm certainly not about to start off my career as a saboteur by making other filmmakers miserable when the selection process is political and subjective all at the same time. Like the director of the Fringe, I'm a local filmmaker who was rejected (twice now) by the hometown festival and yet both films have played other festivals and won awards.

So, I went to the meeting, not entirely sure of what it was that we were meeting about. After some small talk, he offered me a job as an editor on a short documentary that had been shot locally - so Sarasota Film Festival people, if you're reading this and starting to get worried or something, don't. I'm not working for the Fringe as staff, I'm working for a film sponsored by the Fringe to be played at the Fringe and this freelance editing job will not interfere with my duties as the film projectionist for the Sarasota Film Festival. I just won't be getting a whole lot of sleep over the next couple of months!

This news came down the pike on Wednesday before I had to go to work at the theatre and I thought, "Hey, this is pretty cool! I'm building my professional CV, I'm going to be making more contacts, and I'm going to be making a little dough in the process!" It felt good to be happy while working, which I really haven't been in a while, even with the mixed feelings of not getting the booth manager position and all those rejections. And, yes, I am prepared for it to go tits up because that's the nature of the business I'm in, but we did shake on it and that still holds water with some people like myself.

Last night at work, which is the busiest night for a projectionist because new films open on Friday, I received two emails. One, I can't really go into right now, but I may have some exciting news here toward the end of the year, but the other one was a notification that the music video I made for my brother's band was accepted to the World Music and Independent Film Festival in Washington, D.C.! Once I know more, I'll post more - like usual. Woohoo!

I'm expecting an email from their director closer to when the festival is supposed to take place (which is in August). If I can go, it would be my first trip to the nation's capital and while it's a terribly dangerous place (morally, ethically, and physically), I'd really like to check it out.

In the minus column, I appear to have sprained my middle finger which would be funny had I been giving this last month The Bird; however, I was only threading.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Sarasota Fringe Film Festival needs your help!

Full disclosure: Yes, A Hammer Fell in Jerusalem: Anathema was rejected by the Sarasota Film Festival. That makes two films rejected by the hometown. When I know when my film is playing the Fringe, I'll, of course, let y'all know, too. I should also mention that I am a film projectionist for the Sarasota Film Festival.

If you want to call me bitter, you have every right to and maybe there's a little bit of me that is. I've been rejected by plenty of festivals and I've been accepted by a few. I'm okay with that. But there's a special sting in being rejected by the hometown festival, especially when it's the only one there is.

More than anything, though, I'm frustrated. It feels like Sarasota wants to be supportive of local filmmakers just so long as those local filmmakers fit their view of what is art. And if there are stars in the film that can be brought to Sarasota to be shown off like a fancy piece of jewelry. What frustrates me the most is that the programmers for Sarasota like to go to other festivals, specifically Sundance, and pick up films from there for their programming. I see so many stickers from Sundance as I build festival prints, it's not even funny. I understand that there's a lot of that that goes on on the festival circuit, I'd love to know the ratio of actual indie and local films to ones cherry picked from other festivals to be shown here in Sarasota.

Last year, the festival screwed up and sent out the rejection letters without BCC-ing the entire list of rejects so everyone knew who was rejected. A few of those filmmakers got together and arranged on short notice to have their own festival in the middle of a restaurant featuring as many of the rejected films as they could pull together from the list of filmmakers the festival practically handed to them. While it sounds kinda ghetto, and according to a friend whose film played there last year it kind of was, it's also genius. Most cities have multiple film festivals. This one really doesn't. There's no competition for the Sarasota Film Festival, nothing to keep it vital to the community of artists that live here, young or old.

Will every film be good? No.Of course not. You, dear reader, may not like my film. That's the nature of the beast. But not every film the Sarasota Film Festival brings in is good either. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be some fine films in the Fringe festival that may not have gotten a chance to be seen otherwise because it looks cheap or you can see the boom mic or they used their mom as their lead actress or they just don't know any better and are brand new to the circuit or are consistently rejected from festivals for whatever reason. Without this exposure, this experience, some talented folks might not get seen.

I've played to empty rooms, well-attended theatre auditoriums, and jam-packed warehouse spaces. It doesn't really matter where you play so long as the work gets seen and filmmakers, no matter where they're from, always want their work to show in the hometown. Competition usually makes work better and there is no competition for the SFF. They've gotten complacent. Maybe the Fringe festival is exactly what is needed to shake them up a bit.

If you're so moved, you can give a minimum of $10 to the cause via Kickstarter. I've pledged $20. Only if they meet their goal of $5000 on that website will anyone be charged. If you're not so moved, at least come on out to the Sarasota Fringe Film Festival and check out the variety of films and filmmakers some good, some not good, but all made with heart.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Crazies and Triangle

I totally forgot that I had Quality Checked The Crazies the other night so thanks to Noel for reminding me specifically so I can tell y'all to not bother.

Some filmmakers are in the business because of George Lucas. I'm in it because of that other George, George A. Romero. The Crazies is a remake of one of his films - which is not one of my favourites of his work - about a military experiment that is accidentally unleashed upon a small town and causes the populace to go homicidally insane. The original was made in 1973, five years after Night of the Living Dead and five years before Dawn of the Dead. Romero executive produced this, which is really just a fancy way of saying that he wanted to collect the dough from a remake, but wasn't involved in the making of the film - he was in Toronto shooting Survival of the Dead.

Romero's been ripped off for years so I wonder if it gave him a little ironic glee to see just how much this remake ripped off the remake of Dawn of the Dead with the use of Johnny Cash over the opening credits and a lounge song at the end, plus the cut away during the end credits to more footage of the biological agent (codenamed Trixie, just like in the original) spreading into the larger cities. It's just too bad that whoever made the decision to rip off Dawn of the Dead didn't actually seem to understand what made those choices work in that remake.

With the special effects make-up design and far-out stares of the actors, and GAR's name attached of course, you'd be tempted to think it was a zombie flick. It's not. In spirit, it's closer to 28 Days Later (which is essentially a rip off of the original Crazies), but not as intense or as well-written (don't forget, those weren't zombies, they were infected with Rage!) This film starts out well enough as they set up the characters and their motivations, but the writers (Scott Kosar - who wrote the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Amityville Horror remakes and Ray Write - who wrote the Pulse remake) didn't make me care about them, their struggle, or their fate. This is a common enough problem in horror films, but it seems to be even more endemic to remakes, which makes up the majority of theatrical horror releases right now.

The rest of the film was just okay with surprisingly good, if not forced and at times somewhat unnatural, performances from the actors, lead by Timothy Olyphant (Scream 2) and Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill). The score was fine, the editing was fine, the cinematography was fine. Everything else was just fine, but if you don't have a strong, or even good, script, you're dead in the water and in that way, The Crazies is DOA.


I, like most people, have an innate distrust for direct-to-DVD releases, especially in the horror genre, but as Hollywood insists upon spoonfeeding us remakes and cookie-cutter garbage, I find myself considering the direct-to-DVD offerings a little more. This has lead to a lot of crap of course (a lot of crap), but it's also lead to some very interesting, original, and sometimes even freakin' great films like Triangle.

No, it's not about the Bermuda Triangle, but to say much more about the plot may unwind the whole thing for you and I really think you should go to your local video store or Netflix (they have it on their Instant Queue, which is how I watched it) and give it a chance. It's predictable if you're familiar with this particular sub-genre of psychological thriller, but it's engaging, involving, and puzzling in all the best ways. All of the questions I had while watching it were answered by the end and while the end does have a minor problem that threatens to destroy the whole story, it can also be easily reasoned away, especially if you have Pollyanna-like tendencies, as I do.

With a few well-cut scenes in during the opening credits, I found myself caring more about our lead character, Jes (played by Melissa George from 30 Days of Night), than I did about the entire cast of The Crazies (that's just a little bit of perspective for ya). Something's just not right in Jes' world, however, and you know it right away.

Its predictability aside, this is a top notch flick with strong performances, an unobtrusive score, remarkable editing, and good cinematography. I wish I knew why this didn't have a wide theatrical release in America. It may be because the cast is pretty, but relatively unknown here, and the film (which is a UK-Australia co-production) didn't have the same kind of touting here that something like Paranormal Activity did, which is a shame since this was a solid little flick.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Shutter Island, Black Dynamite, Ghost Story, Alice in Wonderland

Oh, boy...another review dump! Nothing new has been posted at the Vampire Film Festival website, though. Not for February, anyway.

The first review I offer up is for the Martin Scorsese-directed psychological thriller Shutter Island which stars Leonard DeCaprio and Mark Ruffalo as two Federal Marshals who are sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a dangerous patient from Ashecliff Mental Hospital. It's from a novel by Dennis Lehane.

I wanted to like this. I admire Scorsese, as do most filmmakers, and his direction of this film is flawless, but I found it hard to believe right out of the gate and I guessed most of the film right away. Really, my problems with the film are with the story - not even the script, just the story. The script was well-written enough, I just found the whole plot unbelievable and lacking. The cast were all great, even DeCaprio, of whom I'm not a big fan. I found the camerawork to be a little too stylish at points and it distracted me from the film, but was nice overall.

The plot aside, another huge problem I had with the film was the music. Scorsese used music that sounded similar to what Stanley Kubrick used for The Shining, but where Kubrick used it like a delicate brush with which he filled in the landscape of the film, Scorsese used this music like a sledgehammer to pound the rough edges into submission.

Overall, an okay, but ultimately disappointing, film.


Black Dynamite is a film I've been waiting for since I first heard about it a year or so ago. It stars Michael Jai White as our eponymous hero in a loving spoof of classic blaxploitation films like Shaft and Superfly.

The film is so jam packed with plot that I'm not sure I can adequately sum it up...but I'll try. Black Dynamite is a kung-fu master and pimp who, while fighting to rid the community of smack and to rid his people of the shackles of The Man, stumbles upon a nefarious plan to further put the black man down that culminates in a fight in the White House, then ends with a good old kung fu showdown on an island.

This film was just as hilarious as I thought it was going to be. Everything about it was pitch perfect and even the most casual view of blaxploitation - like myself - can appreciate the finer jokes as well as the broad. There's just one little problem: it's one of the longest hour and half films I've ever seen. It's so dense with plot and jokes that the movie stretches out forever and the film jumps the shark once it makes it to the White House, but that long hour and those looooong thirty minutes contain some of the best laughs I've enjoyed during a movie in a very long time.


Ghost Story is a flick from 1981 starring Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Melvyn Douglas, and John Houseman as the self-proclaimed Chowder Society, a group of friends in rural New England bound by a deep, dark secret that's forcing its way to the surface via the twin sons of one of its members, both played by Craig Wasson.

As played out as this plot is 29 years on, the film is still very effective, thanks due mostly to the four "Elder Statesmen" in the film as well as the special effects provided by Oscar winner Albert Whitlock and Henry Millar, Jr.

The film was well paced and whatever plot issues there are are spackled over effectively enough that you just don't notice. The music is atmospheric and unobtrusive, and the direction was deft and well done. A solid film worthy of the title.


Alice in Wonderland is the newest film from Tim Burton, his follow up to the gruesome film adaptation of the musical Sweeney Todd. Here, he reunites with Todd stars Johnny Depp and wife Helena Bonham-Carter in an adaptation of the classic children's book by Lewis Carroll. In this film, Alice is almost twenty years old and Wonderland is little more than a recurring nightmare, but she's still willful and easily distracted and at the party her late father's friends have thrown to celebrate her surprise engagement to a man she's not sure she wants to marry, she sees the White Rabbit in the waistcoat and follows him down the rabbit hole in a Wonderland that's been corrupted by the evil Queen of Hearts.

It skillfully blends elements from the stories with the brain of Tim Burton to produce an absolutely wonderful film. Everything about it was perfect, from the girl cast as Alice to the voices chosen for two of the most pivotal characters, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat and Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar. From the trailer and all of the promotional art, I thought that they were going to over power the audience with Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter, but I'm happy to say that he's in the film for the right amount of time and he plays the character with a perfect mixture of control and chaos.

I watched this film in 3D and though I don't think it's necessary to the experience to see it in three dimensions, it sure was fun. If you can afford to spend a couple of bucks more to see it in 3D, I'd go for it.