Sunday, September 16, 2007

WORK Got me a steady gig

I think I may have mentioned a possible job with a PBS TV show called Biz Kid$ a year ago (or less), but it didn't go anywhere. Since then, well, it has gone somewhere.

I am now, and have been for over a month, the Production Manager for Biz Kid$. In talking with Line-Producer (and friend-of-a-friend who is now more simply a friend) Norma Straw and Executive Producer Jamie Hammond, it sounded like a job I could acclimate to pretty quickly. Which turned out to be the case.

The sad part was that I had to turn down working as Script Supervisor on an indie feature called True Adolescents by Craig Johnson, and starring Mark Duplass (who I enjoyed watching in The Puffy Chair and Hannah Takes the Stairs). And it was a good script, too!

Oh well. I've got steady work, it's production work, and it'll be going on for quite some time (which is such a relief after six years of spotty freelance work). I like the people and I think the show's going to be good, too. Like I said, it's for kids and the aim is to teach them money management skills. Most of the people behind it helped create Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

Oh! And I have a new freelance job working for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I need to start posting links to those articles, but there's a couple of other things I'm working on that is taking my focus. I'll do that soon.

Monday, August 20, 2007

FILM Superbad is Super…boring

God bless everyone who loves the high school "quest to lose your virginity" movies. It's never really been my genre, despite the fact that I should identify with the nerd heroes of these films based on my own high school experience. But I don't. My gang didn't care about the parties where the jocks and the "popular kids" congregated because we were too busy making our own fun, while the nerds and geeks in the movies need to be recognized in the scope of the larger school environment.

That's all beside the point.

I came into Superbad hearing that it was both over-the-top and endearing, that it showed a lot of love to its nerd protagonists, and that it was maybe a little too long in the middle. I did really enjoy Judd Apatow's The 40 Year-Old Virgin (a high school movie played out with adults), and haven't yet seen Knocked Up but heard good things. Apatow's been doing a lot of press for this film, which he produced but didn't direct, and everybody says it has his stamp on it. Sounded good.

The thing I didn't expect out of Superbad was that it would be so boring.

Here's the plot: three high school nerds need to bring booze to a party where they hope to sleep with the drunken objects of their desires.

Here's the running time: Two hours!

Here's why it's boring: The characters. Namely, the main character of Seth, whose single-minded sex obsession is simply impossible to identify with. Then there's his friend Evan, who is sweet and nice and often fades into the background.

If Seth and Evan live in a world that skews close to the one we live in, their friend Fogell falls through the looking glass into a world that's as unrealistic as a Saturday Night Live skit. It's a pretty funny skit, and that's where most of the laughs come into play, but like on SNL the skit lasts way too long. The two cops who adopt Fogell and for some reason strive to gain his acceptance and have him look up to them, in the world of the other two main characters would be the worst, most corrupt cops in Los Angeles. And that's saying something. But their corruption is nothing but harmless fun.

When it comes right down to it the sweet reality of the boring best friends is diminished by the comedic cop story, while Fogell's funny storyline is diminished by the dull groundedness of the other plot which calls its corruption into question.

Whatever. It's a lowbrow movie of low ambition, and I think that because it exceeds that low ambition by becoming a harmless movie that pretends to offend it succeeds. The movie did really well on its opening weekend, and it'll play even better on video. I recommend that you wait and watch it there.

FILM The Shaky Ultimatum

David Bordwell takes on The Bourne Ultimatum and its overdependence on handheld camerawork in the movie.

Dang, it's a really nice article. If you've seen the movie you know that it's chock full of shaky camera moves and "smash cuts" and propels its story along with energetic filmmaking. I enjoyed the movie, but thought the camerawork was a little much. I thought that it'll work better on the small screen of home television, and that it probably looked fine on the small screens in the editing bay where he was cutting it.

But Bordwell notes how the handheld camera and crazy cutting can cover up a lot in terms of plot and even acting. And, come to think of it, there are some plot holes that just whizzed by (like being able to waltz into the HQ of our government's super-secret black-ops security beaurocracy).

That said, I did like the movie more than Mr. Bordwell, despite all the great points he makes in his article. And thanks to Anne Thompson for pointing me in his direction from her blog.

FILM The return of Harvey Scissorhands

When the Weinstein brothers announced that they were heading to Asia to pick up a new slate of movies, not to mention starting up production out east, I wrote this piece for praising the move.

Harvey Weinstein got the nickname "Harvey Scissorhands" because he would recut foreign films to make them play better in American markets. I think the nickname is a complement, though there are some people out there who think it isn't.

Ultimately, I think it's great that Harvey and Bob are getting back into the acquisitions game after years of floundering with film production (which they'll still attempt) over at Disney-owned Miramax.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

FILM Meeting Marsha Hunt

Here's the third in my San Francisco trilogy. This one is all about meeting the sprightly 89-year-old Marsha Hunt, who started as an actress during the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930s. She was the actress in Eddie Muller's short film, and she's still got it!

For, I wrote this piece about her.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

FILM "The Grand Inquisitor"

I was down in San Francisco (actually Alameda, just outside of Oakland) working as Script Supervisor, and then as the Assistant Director, on Eddie Muller's short film. Follow the link and see what I wrote about it for

You should know that Eddie Muller is known as the "Czar of Noir" and that the movie takes, as its starting point, some evidence about a different suspect in the Zodiac murder case and extrapolates from there. Very interesting.

FILM Abbas Kiarostami and the PFA

I was just down in San Francisco, and my friend Jonathan Marlow brought me to the Pacific Film Archives to see part of the Abbas Kiarostami retrospective. I sort of forgot how much I liked his early films, back when he shot on film and before he discovered video. I think there's something about the limitations of film, particularly the temporal limitations, that made his films both philosophical and accessible instead of the more purely philosophical movies he's been making on video since he discovered that medium. Plus, he started out making movies for and about kids, and there's something completely charming about that. His early features are reminiscent of Truffaut's The 400 Blows. Really.

I wrote about my trip HERE for the website

Friday, July 27, 2007

FILM Regional Filmmaking

Once again I did not post a link in a timely fashion, but here's a link to an article I wrote about regional filmmaking and the Mumblecore movement. In it, I mention Brady Hall's June and July, Lynn Shelton's We Go Way Back, Andy MacAllister's Urban Scarecrow, and Matt Wilkins' Buffalo Bill's Defunct.


Or not.

Monday, July 16, 2007

TV Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law

I used to watch and love the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" show HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY AT LAW. He would ineptly try cases for other characters in the Hanna Barbera universe, like Shaggy and Scooby getting busted for possession of marijuana or Fred Flinstone up on charges as a Tony Soprano-like crime boss.

The new season just started... and it's a huge disappointment.

The following is from an email I just sent to my friends and fellow fans about the show.


"Speaking of things that have lost their step, I watched the first three new episodes of HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY AT LAW and they sucked. Haven't watched last night's episode yet, but I'm not rushing to.

"In one sense they're reeling from the fact that Stephen Colbert left to do his TV show. It shouldn't have sent them reeling, because his boss was a fairly minor character in the scheme of things, but they devoted the first couple of episodes to the death of his character and who would take over the law firm. As though we cared about the law firm. Or the people who worked there.

"It used to be that the shows were all about the cases that Birdman would take, and the other characters in the Hanna Barbera universe. He didn't take one case in those first three episodes. Instead the writers think we care about the bad and poorly plotted soap opera that they're trying to craft. We don't.

"The new episodes of HARVEY BIRDMAN remind me of when SEALAB 2021 went into the toilet, and it's happening just as quickly and dramatically."

FILM Steve Buscemi's Interview

At this year's SIFF, I introduced Steve Buscemi when he presented his new film Interview, which he directed and stars in, and ran the Q&A afterward. It's about a news journalist assigned to interview a starlet (Sienna Miller), and because he thinks it's beneath him he comes in completely unprepared and contemptuous. Buscemi shot it in script order, in just nine days, using three cameras, and it works. To me it didn't feel like a stage play, but because it takes place almost entirely in just one location, those who don't take to it can level that criticism.

Another reason I like the movie is that it reminds me of the worst interview I ever did when I worked at The Stranger. I won't tell you who it was. To find out, you have to go to the above link.

Friday, July 13, 2007

FILM Michael Moore's Battle Royale

Michael Moore is a magnet for controversy, and that tends to be good for his movies. It keeps his name and the name of his movies in the news, and free publicity is almost always good publicity.

His latest flap was an argument with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, which I wrote about HERE. As I say in the piece, the topic of health care is important, and it's good that he's pushing it forward in an election year. No wait, next year is the true election year. Anyway, it's got all the politicians abuzz. You see, Moore is great at finding the problems in a system. Unfortunately, unlike Al Gore, he's not good at suggesting solutions. That's up to other people. Oh well. Hopefully there's somebody out there who believes our health care system can be fixed. Me? After seeing Sicko, I'm not so sure it's possible.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

FILM Oliver Stone's Lost Iranian Movie

When Oliver Stone made the news by trying to make a documentary about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I wrote this piece for about his travails. You see, Iran turned down his request for access to Ahmadinejad, saying that even though Stone was critical of the Bush administration, he was still part of the Great White Satan. Instead of taking the rejection in stride, Stone fired back with an insult. It was all pretty funny. Go to the link for more of a play-by-play.

FILM Transformers

As you can tell from all the links I've been posting, I've been writing for More specifically, I was brought in to write for their "indie" section. Last week, after having seen Transformers, I wrote an entry that suggested five indie/art films that you could go see instead of the giant robot movie. What I didn't realize was that the powers that be over at were going to post my article on the main page (for a while) and in the mainstream movies link, along with being posted on the indie page. That was unexpected and cool, because it threw my writing to audiences that don't usually click the "indie" link.

As you can see from this link, many of the people who wrote in were critical of my being critical of Transformers. I tried not to be too negative about the movie, either, because the special effects truly are amazing to behold. You take for granted that the robots are giant and heavy and can cause massive destruction, and you forget that they are creations of a computer.

My criticism was that the story was unfocused. Sure, it was energetic and enthusiastic, but the military stuff seemed like it was added for no reason other than to have a couple more action set-pieces, and the romance was charming (thanks to the performances) but had little to do with the robot battle that ends the film. The commentors pointed out to me that I was looking too hard for a story, when this is really just supposed to be a big and fun action film. That's fine and dandy, but I was still often confused.

Most if not all of the people who commented on my article grew up watching Transformers. I remember them, but I was a little too old to get into the show. The story was made for the fans, with tons of references to the cartoon and the original animated film. Because I wasn't familiar, most of the in-jokes went over my head, which only added to my confusion.

But it was a relatively pleasant confusion. Like I said before, the performances were pleasant. I'm looking forward to Shia LaBouef in the new Indiana Jones movie because I'm sure he'll have more of a character to play off of, but he was charming in this film, especially when his performance (and, to an extent, the film) settled into a groove. John Turturro was also cinematically engaging with his over-the-top performance, even though it didn't really fit the tone of the rest of the movie. That didn't matter because it was fun. And the robots themselves were often goofy and charming.

So I liked the movie, but there's no way I could like it as much as the fanboys. My biggest criticism is that I wish it was about 20 or 30 minutes shorter, because I did start getting bored. But if it was shorter? I may have loved it.

TV On and Off the Lot

I've been watching the Steven Spielberg/Mark Burnett reality show On the Lot, though it's been harder and harder to get myself to watched the taped episodes that I have on my TiVo. What started out as a really fascinating show (marred by too many contestants in its early stages) has become a boring show that does on television what the Internet does better: show short films and have audiences vote on them.

I wrote about the show at

Friday, June 29, 2007

SCRIPTS Washington Screenplay Competition

I was recently a judge for the Washington State Screenplay Competition. I used that experience to write a little piece for about the common mistakes that inexperienced screenwriters make. I didn't name any names or quote from any of the scripts specifically, but all of the mistakes that I mention are ones that I ran across.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

SIFF Wrap-up and "Reject Fest" responses

I wrote on

I wrote a wrap-up piece about SIFF for which gives mini-reviews of a lot of the movies from the second half of the festival.

Also, my Festivals for Rejects piece stirred some controversy when Clint Berquist, founder of the Seattle True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) posted a response, which prompted me to post a response to his response and then Adam Sekular from the Northwest Film Forum to post a response to his response.

The funny thing is, I don't know if or when I would have found out about his comment if Clint himself didn't call me to make sure I didn't take it personally. That was cool of him. I didn't take it personally. The more voices the merrier, I say.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

SIFF Awards and Comments

I went to the awards brunch, and not just for the bacon (which was crispy and delicious). I brought my little digital tape recorder and grabbed some comments from the winning filmmakers, which I thought was a nice touch. Follow the link for a list of winners and some color commentary.

SIFF Closing Weekend

I wrote this one just before the end of the festival, just before the final weekend.

SIFF Festivals by and for Rejects

I've been bad about posting the links to my articles at I'll try to make it up to you (and by you I mean me) by posting a few right now. First was the article I wrote about those little festivals that pop up around more established festivals . Slamdance started the trend, being a festival started by people rejected by Sundance, and it's a formula that has been repeated around the world, though never as successfully. Seattle has had a few of them, and now we have another, the Seattle True Independent Film Festival (STIFF), which just finished its third year.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

SIFF Halfway Through

The Seattle International Film Festival has hit its halfway point, and I wrote about the festival so far at Find out the good, the bad and the ugly by clicking HERE.

Monday, June 4, 2007

SIFF Meeting Anthony Hopkins

I went to see Anthony Hopkins' movie Slipstream last week because I thought I might be able to interview him. Early reviews sort of dismissed it as an experimental film wannabe, but fellow SIFF programmer Peter Lucas liked it and I suspected I would like it too. So Heidi and I went over to the SIFF Cinema to catch it.

Turns out we both liked it. Hopkins made the movie with an unbridled enthusiasm that's infectious. It's in the David Lynch postmodern mode but doesn't delve as deeply into the psyche, not that it matters, really, because it's a heckuva lot of fun... as long as you don't mind indulgent (in a good way), playful, wacky editing and a film within a film within a dream story. It also helped to have him come out before the movie and warn us that it's a strange film and that he wouldn't even try to explain what it meant.

I did end up sitting down and talking with him for nearly 45 minutes. What a nice guy. Seems like he'd be fun to hang around with.

Anyway, I wrote a piece for and you can find it HERE. Oh, and a nice addition to my piece is the fact that the people interviewed Hopkins, his lovely wife Stella Arroyave (who produced and acted in the film), as well as actors Christian Slater and Lisa Pepper when they were all at Sundance, and there's a link to that at the end of the piece.

CELEB The Meaning of Life

Got this little tidbit from the World Entertainment News Network, which I believe is the gossip site that the IMDb links to. It got me thinking about how sometimes I wonder when I'll discover my own purpose in life, and maybe, just maybe, as it is with Paula Abdul, it won't be by creating new work but by cheering on other people who are creating new work.

Here's the story:

"Pop star Paula Abdul is so grateful for her seat on the American Idol judging panel - because she has finally found her purpose in life. The singer experienced huge chart success in the late 1980s and earlier 1990s, but believes her current stint as a judge on the hit talent show is what she was destined for.

"She tells U.S. magazine OK!, 'I knew since I was a little girl that I had this profound way of touching people. My purpose is bringing out everybody's best and being that cheerleader to other people's success. Being a judge on American Idol overshadows being a Grammy Award winner and selling millions of records.'"

CELEB The Big House

I don't know why I like this sentence so much...

"She was booked into the jail at 11:38 p.m., according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Web site, after days of partying and just hours after attending the MTV Movie Awards."

And yes, I do feel a little guilty following this celeb story, but just a little. My favorite bits of her press release are:

"'During the past few weeks I have had a lot of time to think and have come to realize I made some mistakes,' she said in a statement released by her lawyer. 'This is an important point in my life and I need to take responsibility for my actions. In the future, I plan on taking more of an active role in the decisions I make.'"

I can't tell if it's youth or money or "celebrity" that has allowed her to take such a passive role in the decisions she has made so far.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

SIFF Opening Weekend

I'm covering the Seattle International Film Festival for, and you can find my write-up of OPENING WEEKEND here. is also showing some of SIFF's short films, which is really cool, and you can find them HERE.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

FILM Lars von Trier is depressed

Last week we learned that Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, co-creator of the whole Dogme movement, has been hospitalized for depression. He's now saying that he may not go back to directing movies, not in the near future. Because he's been such a master at using the publicity machine for his own benefit, some people are wondering if this is yet another stunt.

When I first learned about it, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Upon further reflection, I started to wonder...

Read THIS POST I wrote for the website and draw your own conclusions, why don't you?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

FILMMAKING Improving Indie Scripts

Another one of my rantings has posted to This one is about how screenplay readings are good for the whole film community. The more feedback that occurs before the script goes into production the better! That's pretty much what I say HERE.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

FILM Waitress

Rating: ***
Recommended Viewing: Cinema or DVD

So many American indies fall back on the clichés of romantic obsession and love being the means and sole goal of any lead character. As an actress and as a director, Adrienne Shelly has indulged in that, often to good but not always to great effect. I came into Waitress with the expectations of that kind of film, and boy, was I pleasantly surprised that it wasn't.

I think what surprised me most was that the naïve and fun-loving filmmaking style was balanced by a mature, even brokenhearted storyline. In Waitress, love is not something that will save the day. Instead, love is a flash in the pan that will at best dissolve quickly and at worst lead to a drawn-out life of purgatory or pain.

Keri Russell, in a revelatory performance, plays Jenna, the lead waitress at a semi-rural Southern pie shop. She has a gift when it comes to baking pies, with an ability to come up with recipes based on her mood or on the pie’s desired effect, such as the cinnamon spice custard “Kick in the Pants Pie.” She’s also trapped in a marriage with a needy and abusive husband, inspiring the “I Hate My Husband Pie.” As the movie opens, she’s inspired to make “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie,” but her desire to keep the baby effectively kills her motivation to run away, which of course leads to the “Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie.”

Yes, the pie names are cutesy, but the emotions running under them are not. And she is not the only one trapped in an unhappy relationship. In fact, everyone in this town is unlucky in love. Her fellow waitress Becky (Cheryl Hines) has an invalid husband and an eye for an adulterous relationship with a married man. Her other coworker Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) is unhappily single who is then stalked by a man she rejected from a personals date, but because of his persistence she settles for him. Jenna herself looks for happiness and affection through the attention of her doctor, who is also married. In this town, no relationship is a good relationship.

Against this backdrop, Shelly has crafted a story of growing self-awareness and hope. Without this dark background, the movie would have been saccharine enough to send you into diabetic shock. Without the levity and some of the indie film quirkiness, it would have been too depressing to be deemed “entertainment.”

As it stands, Waitress strikes a wonderful balance of bitter and sweet, of darkness and light. It earns its tears by the end, even without the knowledge of the unsavory murder of the director, Ms. Shelly, late last year.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

FILM Archiving the Future just posted another one of my rantings. This time it's about how old industrial and educational films are rarely archived, about found footage films, but mostly it's about going to see 35 year old, 16mm prints of Future Shock and In Search of Ancient Astronauts over at the Northwest Film Forum last week as part of their "Search and Rescue" series.

Friday, May 11, 2007

FILM The Tribeca Price Hike

The good thing about writing for is that it forces me to post a couple of times per week, and usually it's something I can link back to here. My latest is about the price hike at the Tibeca Film Festival, which everyone was talking about before the festival started as some sort of thing that will chip at the sanctity of film festivals.

Afterwards? Not a peep. Not on that subject. Not really. So I wrote this article about that phenomenon.

It could very well be that they haven't crunched the numbers for the festival yet. Somehow I doubt that, but it's possible. There's also a chance that maybe they lost a little more than $1 million this year and don't want to admit it yet, but I have nothing to base that on.

As the festival wrapped up, all anyone could do was write about their favorite movies. That's a good thing, of course. I'm just wondering when we'll hear the resolution to "The Case of the Jacked Up Ticket Prices."

Friday, May 4, 2007

FILM The new Zoo review

If, somehow, you didn't hear about the movie Zoo after it polarized audiences and critics at the Sundance Film Festival, then check out my look at the movie HERE at

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

FILMMAKING Support Your Local Filmmaker

Another article I wrote got posted on This one is inspired by the upcoming auction for the Northwest Film Forum, and because I'm writing for a national publication, er, website, I focused on auction items of a national interest rather than the local ones. All of them are of interest to filmmakers (though a couple can be transmorgrified into being for and about writers).

Anyway, check out Support Your Local Filmmaker.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

FILM Some Thoughts on Film Festivals

I've never been to the Tribeca Film Festival, but that may happen one day. It's new and ambitious and has a lot of star power and money behind it. Especially money. According to the Hollywood Reporter, this year's budget should top off at around $13 million. And that includes an estimated budget deficit of $1 million. Of course, they need to spend that much if they want to catapult themselves into the realm of important international film festivals. And it may just be working, too.

My latest article for talks a little about this, but even more about the battle for premieres that is raging in the festival world. It's called Too Many Festivals and you should take a look at it.

Oh, and last week I wrote a preview of the Cannes Film Festival which you can get to if you follow that link.

I think I would blog more if I didn't end up thinking too hard about each post. I gotta try and find a way to do that. This post seems like a good start, no?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

FILM Being a SIFF Programmer

Another one of my articles for went live today. It's sort of a behind-the-scenes look at being a programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival. You can link to is here.

FILM The Grindhouse Split!

This is old news by now, but I had to weigh in anyway. Harvey Weinstein is raising a big stink saying that he’s thinking about splitting Grindhouse into two movies and releasing them both, but without the “missing reels” gag. Mr. Weinstein is blaming audiences for not understanding the concept of the double feature. Allegedly some people left after Rodriguez’s feature, and Mr. Weinstein believes they didn’t know about the second feature, though I think walking out may have been a more conscious decision and the “intermission” was the least disruptive place to go.

Well, The Weinstein Company was planning on releasing the two movies as separate entities in Europe, so they probably already have the prints ready. The real question is, Do they want to spend the money on a new ad campaign to re-release the movies, appealing to the same audience with the promise of new footage and the need to buy two tickets instead of one. It’s a choice that is doomed to failure. It’s doubtful that they’d attract many new viewers to the mini-franchise, and it’s doubtful they’d make the new ad budget back in ticket sales.


Because the two features are more drive-in movies than sleazy grindhouse fare, I’m left wondering what indie film legend Roger Corman would do. How would he have protected the investment and sold the movie and the split better? The simple answer is: He wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place!

This is pure speculation, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Roger Corman would have looked at the projected returns of the movie(s) and adjusted the budget accordingly. With opening weekend grosses predicted to be $22 million or so (it came in at half that), Corman would have kept the budget for both films to be between $20-$25 million (probably much, much less). He would have been able to keep the double feature running time to the initial estimate of 2 ½ hours, despite diva directors, and even if he had to jump into the editing room himself.

Finally, in regards to the split, the drive-in circuit had a long tradition of renaming movies to trick people into either seeing them again, or to bring in new audiences. In the old days they would add shots of helicopters exploding to trailers of films that weren't working (footage which they would then feel obligated to cut into the movies).

In this regard, splitting the movie into two and re-releasing them under separate titles is right up the Roger Corman alley. But this is a different time where nobody would be surprised or tricked. Because of the Internet hype machine, everybody would know what they're in for. Consequently, it won’t work.

The Weinstein Company would be better off releasing the two movies on video instead of theatrically, which it sounds like they’re going to do anyway.

Monday, April 16, 2007

FILM Article the Second

I should have posted the link to my second article at You can find it here.

The article grew out of a couple of reports on the indie film scene. It’s kind of a behind-the-scenes piece, as you will read if you click on the article link.

I think my next one will be about being a programmer at SIFF. I’m back to work on that one right now.

WRITING Film vs. Video Games

Last Wednesday, Brian McDonald and I hosted another Screenwriters Salon for the Seattle International Film Festival. This one was called Writing the Video Game.

Here in Seattle we are right across Lake Washington from Microsoft (home of the Xbox) and Nintendo’s HQ. Consequently, we tend to hear about their successes, failures and needs. The mantra for video games right now is that they are in desperate need of good writers. There are too many games that go out where the dialog stinks and the information that is doled out between battles is incomprehensible. Or so they say.

It’s funny. They say the same thing about Hollywood movies. “We need better writers,” they say, usually followed by something like, “quality will win out,” which is their blanket way of saying they have no idea where quality writing come from so everybody should give it a shot. (They know how we all believe we write quality scripts; it’s other people who write crap!)

So video game producers have begun to hire screenwriters to work on their games. That’s how our panelist Matthew Obst got involved. He was teaching a screenwriting class at the Northwest Film Forum when a video game company contacted him. He applied for and got the job. Of course, it helped that he has been playing video games all his life and keeps up with current trends.

Just so you know, our other panelist was Mark Terrano, Founder and Design Director of Hidden Path Entertainment , who had also worked for Xbox and on the game Age of Empires. He gave a fun and informational history of video games and video game genres.

The biggest difference between writing for film and writing for games is the fact that in a screenplay you are responsible for plot twists and describing scenes, while when you write for a game you are responsible for dialog and every piece of text that appears on-screen, like billboards and building names. It’s better to think of a writer on video games as a Script Doctor, a person hired to improve the dialog and punch up any text.

The other big question was: How’s the market for video game writing? As it turns out, not good. Or rather, it tough. Just like Hollywood, even though they say they need more and better writers it’s incredibly hard to break into writing for video games. You need to be well-versed in game trends, you may need to work for free (as an intern) to meet the right people, or you need to know somebody.

Then again, because screenwriters are used to facing impossible odds like these, it sounds like a match made in heaven.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

FILM New Gig

So I just got a gig writing for the Seattle-based website Back in the mid-'90s when the site first launched it would host different writers giving multiple points of view for the same movie. I was the film editor for The Stranger and I helped them out by giving them some of our reviews (The Stranger didn't have an online presence back then). RealNetworks bought the site and it ran for a while before shutting down. But RealNetworks still owned the name, which is a valuable bit of Internet real estate, no?

Last year the site relaunched, this time in more of a "blog" format. More recently, they opened up an "indie" tab, and they just tapped me to write about indie film. My first entry can be found here.

What the heck. Check it out. I'm planning on posting there a couple times a week or so.

Friday, March 30, 2007

FILM Blades of Glory

It took me a long time to warm up to Will Ferrell, though I still can’t bear to watch reruns of that damn cheerleader sketch on Saturday Night Live and I haven’t yet seen Talledega Nights, but I must admit that I really enjoyed Blades of Glory. Ferrell is funny in it as the hyper-macho figure skater who is blissfully unaware that figure skating is the most feminine of the sports. The fact that he teams up with the most feminine of the male figure skaters (Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder) is inevitable.

There are three reasons why this movie works so well.

1. Craig
2. T.
3. Nelson

As the supporting “coach” character, Craig T. Nelson is given the difficult task of selling the premise. Why would he encourage the return of two egomaniacal rivals fallen on hard times, much less coach them? The answer happens in a pivotal scene where he’s watching TV and sees a news report that has footage of the two skaters fighting backstage at a children’s skate show. He watches the fight, he pauses his TiVo, he rewinds, he watches, he rewinds, he pauses again. Though it’s never explained in dialog, we see exactly what he sees: during the fight, the two naturally perform lifts and throws that will translate perfectly onto the ice.

Nelson inhabits his coach character with the intensity of a mad scientist. It’s as though he doesn’t realize he’s a supporting character, not that it would matter to him anyway. I would totally watch a spin-off project with him; maybe not a feature film, but certainly a half-hour profile of the character for Comedy Central.

The rest of the movie (the stuff without Craig T. Nelson) also works. The humor grows organically out of the characters instead of through pre-imagined situations that they had to shoehorn the characters into. Heder’s Jimmy MacElroy has the benefit of a backstory (he was adopted by a man who raises Olympic medalists), and even Ferrell’s macho, womanizing, drunken, innately talented Chazz Michael Michaels has more depth than you would expect. And the pacing never slows, which smooths over some of the bits that don’t quite work like a zamboni over center ice.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

FILM Spy in the House of Optimus Prime

I'm still friends with most of the publicists in Seattle, which gets me into screenings and sometimes a little bit more. Sometimes swag will make its way down to me. The latest piece is a t-shirt from the new Transformers movie. I never watched the Transformers when I was younger (I think I'm just a year or two out of that age range) and I never saw the original animated movie (famous for being the final roles of both Orson Welles and Scatman Crothers; also for using the voices of Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Casey Kasem and Robert Stack).

Anyway, this new Transformers t-shirt has a symbol for the Autobots (the good guys) on front, and the symbols for Autobots vs. Decepticons on the back. Nowhere does it actually say "Transformers."

I like this t-shirt, and have worn it around town several times. Every time I wear it somebody, usually an adult male in his 20s or 30s, tells me something about how they used to love the Transformers, or how they're looking forward to the new movie. Usually they'll drop references to characters that I know nothing about. They see me as a fellow member of this cult, someone who shares in their nostalgia for a TV show from the ’80s where trucks turned into fighting robots.

But I'm not, and I have to admit it makes me feel like a bit of an imposter. That won't stop me wearing the shirt, though. I like the abstract design of it, and the fact that it's not your typical movie-hawking t-shirt. I like the fact that it is written in another language, one that only fans of the show can read. I like the fact that it exposes this normally quiet Transformers cult. And I'll no doubt keep wearing it long after the summer release of the film when it, once again, turns into a small cult item speaking a secret language.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

FILMMAKING - Perfect Sport - ... and That's a Wrap!

Funny how working 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week, can get in the way of the habit of blogging. We wrapped Perfect Sport more than two weeks ago and I’m just now writing my wrap-up of the film. But I need to get this out of my system before I can move on to more current things, so here goes.


I remember the first day on set. I hadn’t met the director yet, and we were setting up the first shot. The lead actor was giving a lot of input. I mean, a lot. I was wondering when the director would step in and put that actor in his place! And then I found out that, yes, the lead actor was Anthony “Tony” O’Brien, the writer, star and the director of the film. So that was why he was giving so much input and people were listening.

Tony is an impressive figure. At age 22, he has already starred in and directed his own feature film. It’s enough to make you hate the guy. And that’s jealousy speaking more than anything else. He claims he’s going to edit the film himself, also, but I hope he finds someone to do that and guides the choices, because it’ll be good to have someone piece the stuff together with an objective eye and without memories of what the shots were intended to be.


It wasn’t until well into the shoot that I found out that our lead actress Jessica Rose, was famous. You may be asking why it took me so long. Well, that’s because I had heard about the whole lonelygirl15 phenomenon without ever investigating. It was one of the first “video blogs” to make it big, and then got even more famous when it was discovered that it was scripted. To learn more, just click on the link.

But that’s not all.

Another of the female characters is Fallon, the slutty younger sister of the lead character’s best friend. During the party scene, I remember Tony encouraging her to dance even more seductively for the crowd of rowdy extras, and then turning around at the monitor and saying things like “Harvey’s going to kill me.” Or maybe that happened during the scene where Fallon seduces Tony’s character and gives him a blow job in the bathroom.

Turns out Fallon was being played by Stella Keitel, the daughter of Lorraine Bracco and Harvey Keitel. Rumor had it both Harvey and Lorraine were talking (seperately) about visiting the set, but neither one did. And I don't think Harvey would have killed Tony for the stuff we shot. Then again, there's still time.

The other “name” was working behind the scenes. One of the producers on the project was a young man named Zach Mann who, as it turns out, was a cast member on The Real World: Key West.

Here’s the kicker about this whole “fringes of fame” bit that I’m writing, which was emphasized by the Perfect Sport sound mixer Steve Jones when he stopped by the coffee shop where I am writing this to drop off my birthday present: We are getting old. If we were younger and more tuned into the whole MySpace and Internet worlds, we probably would recognize all of the above names.

And really, the true audience for this high school wrestling movie are people who will recognize Jessica Rose by sight, and know who Zach Mann is from watching MTV. So there.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

FILMMAKING - Perfect Sport - Welcome to Set

Having arrived back in Seattle from Rotterdam on a Sunday night, I had less than 36 hours to get over my jet lag and finish prepping my script breakdown before jumping on a ferry to Vashon Island and heading straight to set for an indie feature that I was to be the Script Supervisor on.

The project is called Perfect Sport, and it's a high school wrestling movie. Though there are elements of comedy, including the requisite high school party, the movie is a drama that ends with a burst of violence. The plot: When his single mom goes off to the Iraq war, high school senior Lee is left to take care of his younger sister. A star of the high school wrestling team, he finds a father figure in Joe, a former wrestler brought on as assistant coach who has a dark link to steroids. Needless to say, things spiral downhill, and the discovery that his sister has been raped drives the movie to its final confrontation.

Graduate of the New York Film Academy (the one in Burbank, California), Anthony O'Brien co-wrote, stars in and is directing the movie. He tells me he's going to edit it, too, and I'm sure he did his fair share of the early producing responsibilities. Anyway, he went to high school on Vashon, where he was on the wrestling team, but now lives in LA. He says he is looking forward to moving back to the smog-free beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Most of the key crew members come from LA, including the Director of Photography, the gaffer (the DP's right-hand man), two camera operators, the 1st Assistant Director, the electric department, and I think a couple more. The rest of the crew is filled out with locals (the grips, me, the sound guys, some camera department folks) and a few people from Utah (I'm still a little confused by that connection, but they're good people nevertheless).

It's always interesting to see how the LA and local crews will mix. Or rather how quickly they'll mix, because all crews become family by necessity and close proximity. In this case it was pretty quick, and I think the grip department in specific (Bruce, Garrett and Patrick) impressed them right away.

In my own little world, because I am a self-taught Script Supervisor, I worry that I'm missing basic elements of my job, that my forms are improper, that I'm doing it wrong compared to the LA Script Supervisors out there. After a couple of days those fears pass because, when it comes down to the job itself, I'm pretty darn good at it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

IFFR - Wrap Up

I left Rotterdam last week Saturday, stayed a night in Brussels on Saturday night so that I could take my bright and early Sunday morning flight out of Brussels on Sunday. I got back to Seattle on Sunday night (after a 6 hour layover in New York where I went to visit my buddy Phil Campbell, who I will certainly write more about later because the book he wrote while in Seattle just got optioned to be made into a movie). Monday I spent doing laundry and getting ready to jump on a ferry bright and early the next morning so I could head to Vashon Island to work on an indie film called Perfect Sport. Or maybe it's The Perfect Sport. I gotta check on that. It's a high school wrestling movie, and it's part of my busy, busy schedule.


I wanted to say a few things about Rotterdam before putting it behind me. First, I had a great time. The staff was friendly and helpful (I had a lot of questions early on), and met some fun filmmakers. First I want to give a shout-out to Blue and Laura Kraning. Blue made a doc about the fans who entered a contest for cannon owners who wanted to help blast Hunter S. Thompson's ashes at his funeral/wake. Laura made an observational doc about the people along the rainiest Rose Bowl parade route ever. Then we went out drinking a couple of nights in a row (after my requisite four movies/day, of course). They are good people.

I also met Nina Davenport, who won the Dutch film critics award for her movie Operation Filmmaker. After actor/director Liev Schreiber sees an MTV report about an Iraqi kid who just wants to make movies but his film school got bombed, he decides to give him a Production Assistant job on his feature film Everything Is Illuminated. Davenport was hired for a week to shoot the happy scene, but she got sucked into the bigger picture. As it turns out, the movie becomes more about adolescence and entitlement, as the young man takes every opportunity for granted and uses favors from his new friends to get visa extensions and more.

Another guy whose company I enjoyed was Spanish filmmaker Albert Serra, whose movie Honor de cavalleria explores the pages between the grand adventures of Don Quixote, when he and Sancho Panza are traveling from one spot to another or just waiting to go to bed. It's a peaceful and painterly kind of movie (which is another way to say that this is not an action film), and it turns out to be more about Sancho than Quixote, which is nice. Serra himself is not a bashful man, happily saying his movie is the best Spanish film of the last 25 years. He is a funny and confident man, and I know he believes every one of his own exaggerations.

Then there were the short filmmakers I met, including director David Garrett and producer Kaer Vanice for the short film Warlord, which is a charming, post-apocalyptic look back at a boy rebelling against his mother's attempts to kill him with fast food and consumer culture, and how he formed an army of neighborhood children for the sake of survival. Fun and over the top.

Oh, and another shout-out to Henk and Emile, who ran the cell phone short film challenge. Also to Robert and Jessica, who made the short film Forgetting Betty, and who were always pleasant company at every festival event I saw them at.


Before I close the book on this year's Rotterdam festival, I want to throw out a couple of tips to other people who may be festival hopping in the near future, be they filmmakers or film programmers or film critics or just plain film lovers on a budget. Actually, I'VE ONLY GOT ONE TIP: If you can find a hotel that includes breakfast, then book that room because you can always make little sandwiches to take with you for lunch. That way you save time and money! Of course, I didn't see the little sign in my hotel's breakfast nook that said "Do not take food out of the breakfast nook" until the last day, so I guess they were on to the likes of me, but I was sneaky every time anyway. Be sneaky and have fun.

Finally, I'll leave you with the titles of a few of my favorites from the 31 films I saw in a little more than a week at Rotterdam: Rescue Dawn, Zidane-un portrait du 21e siècle, Le prestige de la Mort, One Way Boogie Woogie/27 Years Later, and I also liked the Guy Maddin-stylings of La antena.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

IFFR – Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

With smoking bans taking over some of the biggest cities in the world, not to mention good ole Seattle, it was strange to come to a city where people light up cigarettes everywhere. Even though the smoking bans are a product of the new millennium, of the aughts (is that the right word? No wonder nobody calls this decade anything), I’ve gotten used to coming home from bars without the smoke infusion in my clothing.

Then I got to Rotterdam and I remembered what it used to be like in Chicago, in Seattle, in bars across the world. Here everybody smokes in bars, in restaurants, in cinema lobbies, everywhere. Combine that with the post-war architecture, a city whose bombed out sections were built back quickly, and the whole place feels like a time-warp back to the ’50s where people smoked in their homes and offices and cinemas and anywhere.

The bright side to this freedom of self-destruction is the fact that they’ve got bars everywhere, too, and by that I mean that every theater and every multiplex has a bar tucked safely inside it. If the movie was bad, if you’re between films, if you need to prepare yourself for something you think will be terrible or difficult or devastating, you can get yourself a drink. Kinda crazy.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

IFFR – Short Film Awards

The results came in on Monday night about the short film awards. Before I get to that, I want to mention how Henk, one of the two students who were running the contest by handing out phones (but not one of the judges), told me there was one other entry that I needed to see. He brought me back, behind the scenes, where the computer server was and cued up a short.

It was called “Whatever Makes You Happy.” And I’m the star of it.

Apparently, when Adam, his friend Andy and I were at de Doelen finishing up our cell phone movies by adding titles and adding music, there was a guy at our table who was also entering the contest unbeknownst to us. He had turned his camera phone on me, catching me laughing and being amused with what was happening on my phone. The guy stopped filming when he thought we caught him doing it.

I’m happy to be in the movie, but I take issue with the title. It seems a little ironic, a little distant, like it’s scoffing at somebody who is having a good time. I’m also a little surprised at how big my beard has gotten. My face is silhouetted in profile against a window and POW! Look at that beard!

At that time, as Adam was adding music (the phones have stock music that can loop under the movie you make, which is cool) he also needed to add titles. His titles weren’t snappy enough, so for his movie that pans along mannequin heads in a store window, with the music from Psycho playing underneath, I suggested something that became “Dressed to de Palma,” which plays off of De Palma’s Dressed to Kill and his love of/appropriation of Hitchcock. Adam did another one with his friend Andy sort of walking and spinning on those metal planks with the Pathé theater in the background. The movie got good when he added silent film music, but he still needed a title. I suggested “Pathé Ballet.” I forget what his third one was called off the top of my head.

Anyway, I’m at the awards. I had eaten dinner with Adam earlier and he said he would meet me there after he went to a screening of something or other. I was hanging with friends of Henk and Emile, other students, and Henk kept asking me if I thought I would win. To be honest, the day before I did believe I would win, but then I got past that because thinking that way leads to madness.

Oh, then Henk told me that he got into a bit of trouble because apparently Adam and I were not supposed to be able to enter the contest. It was only for directors who came to the festival, and not for industry. This became an issue because the two best movies, according to the judges, were not made by directors visiting the festival.


So the awards ceremony starts. It’s a ceremony for the short films in competition at the festival, but they start with the One Take Challenge winners. There’s two categories, a student category and a directors category. But we don't care about the student category because we don't know anybody there.

And the winner of 500 Euros and a brand new phone turned out to be… Adam Sekuler! Which is awesome. If it wasn’t going to be me, I’m glad it was him. After all, I wouldn’t have even joined the competition without him. And the movie he won for? None other than “Pathé Ballet.” I do believe that the title helped push it over the edge and into the winner’s circle, but that’s because it works well with the content and the music. Taken separately, that’s not a winning movie. Together, that makes Adam 500 Euros richer and the recipient of a brand new, James Bond edition of a Sony Ericsson phone.

But Adam wasn’t there. Part of me wanted to pretend to be him while accepting the award, but that would have been a hollow victory. So I went on stage to accept for him and said he was at a movie. And for Seattle! Adam, if you’re reading this, come get your phone. As for the money, they were smart enough not to give it to me to give to you.

Oh, and for those who want to know the winners of the official Tiger Awards for short films, they went to Hinterland, The Flag and Video Game. The judges said it was very contentious, and they gave out a couple of honorary mentions. The judges said they argued quite a bit, and I can't tell if they gave out three awards because they couldn't agree on one, because it looks like they did the same thing last year. Maybe they always give out three awards. Actually, looking at their official site, it looks like maybe they do present three every year. That's nice for the judges, especially when they disagree.

IFFR Dutch Films

This year Rotterdam had massive difficulties with their catalog. The festival opened on Wednesday and the catalog wasn’t ready. They did have a handy little guide that has grids of when and where all the screenings are, including press and industry screenings, which also contains two- to three-sentence descriptions of the movies. But they didn’t have the big book with the in-depth descriptions. Thursday was the first full day of the festival, and they were saying they hoped to get the book out by Friday. Well, they finally got the catalog out on Saturday, but by the time I showed up to get mine they told me they had run out, and could I come back on Monday. So I finally got my catalog halfway through my stay at the festival.

That’s not good. Not to mention the catalog is incomplete.

A piece of paper in each catalog says this: “Due to technical problems there has been a delay in the delivery of our catalogue. It also appeared that some titles were not included, which are listed below. Full information of these titles has already been published on” Then it lists the titles that aren’t there.

What it doesn’t list are the Dutch movies that are playing in the festival. After each title there is a two-letter code that says what section of the festival each title is in, like TG = Tiger, and KA = Maestros: Kings & Aces. That sort of thing. Well, there’s one symbol that’s not explained anywhere, and that is DT. I must assume that means “Dutch” because they are Dutch films. But that’s nowhere to be found in the little catalog or the big. The little catalog has the two- to three-sentence descriptions of these films, but the big catalog omits them entirely.

Are they ashamed of their own cinema? They shouldn’t be. I saw one comedy called Waiter that I liked quite a bit. Apparently it’s already been in the theaters in the Netherlands. It must not have gotten international distribution, and that’s a shame because it was very amusing.

I think I’ve been here a week already. The festival haze is starting to kick in. I’ve been averaging almost four movies a day, I’ve seen 24 movies so far, and I think I have 2 and a half days of viewing left. I’ve liked some movies quite a bit, disliked a few, thought a bunch were “not bad.” Par for the festival course, eh?

Monday, January 29, 2007

IFFR Festival - Contest

My short film has been posted onto the contest website.

You can find it HERE. Scroll to the bottom and click on "Free Phones!" That one's mine. But we were allowed to make more than one. I've got another one in there called "Tribute to Christopher Doyle."

I saw my "Free Phones!" short play on a monitor at one of the venues. I've now had a movie play in Rotterdam. Adam Sekuler's short "Dressed to de Palma" played on the monitor, too. You can find that on-line also.

So you've got my two titles, so here are the titles to Adam's other movies (be sure to have the sound on, because his movies work better with the soundtracks he added):
"Pathe Ballet"
"Sky Turns"

So that's how we've been spending some of our spare time.

IFFR Festival Day 3

Frustrating start to the day. I had been using my cell phone as my alarm clock because my room doesn't have one and I didn't want to set a wake-up call. That's been working great up until now. Here's what I wanted to get up for: A boat cruise with Industry and short filmmakers. We were to meet at the port-of-call at 10am, and the port-of-call is right by my hotel. I went to sleep with my phone on one bar of battery (out of three), and during the night it died. I woke up at 10:30. It put me in a foul mood for a while, but then I shook it off and ended up watching four movies. But it was a late start, and a frustrating one.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

IFFR Festival Day 2 – The Contest

On the second full day, I walked out of a film (I lasted an hour, and I’m not sure how, as it was a low-tech, long-take, poorly thought-out thing) and on my way back to festival HQ I ran across Adam, his friend Andy who was on break from studying law abroad, and some other woman they knew. They were heading back to the place I just left to pick up cell phones and become part of the One Take Competition 2007. It’s a contest for people to make short films, maximum of two minutes, on cell phones that they provide.

Sounded interesting, so I joined them. I didn’t really think they’d be handing out cell phones to strangers, but it was worth looking into. Sure enough, we found a student of the Willem de Kooning Academy, Henk Jelle Groot, who pulled out four cell phones to give to us for 24 hours. In that time we could make as many 2-minute (or less) movies that we wanted to, as long as they were one take with no editing. We could, however, add text over the picture or title cards at the beginning or end.

As Henk was explaining how to use the phones, and answering some of our questions, I started to use the phone to videotape his presentation. I thought the clip would be disqualified when I let it go to 2 minutes and 5 seconds, but I learned that there is a “trim” function on the phone that we could use to shorten the movie. This clip was safe.

The rest of the day, between going to movies, I made some movies. I kept thinking of text that I wanted to place over it, like the shot of the reflections of water on the metal town square and how it’s all about to turn to ice again. Or the office building where we could watch workers as though they were characters in their own movies, and mine. Or the condemned building where I don’t know what I would write, but it looked cool. Or the Belgian Fries stand at dusk, with the neon overhead, that looked like a set from a Wong Kar-wai film.

I started with the instructional footage, where Henk was giving four strangers brand new cell phones, in their boxes. I called it “Free Phones!” I added text that said everything we were thinking, like: we could have given them fake names, he never checked our I.D., we could just steal these phones… but if we did that we couldn’t enter the contest. My final flourish was the last thing I wrote: “Stealing images” [followed by] “is more fun” [followed by] “than stealing phones.” Bam! It felt good! It was funny. It described and supported the contest. I liked it. That took quite a while to edit, which I did before going to some film, I forget .

I knew I couldn’t do one as intricate as that again, so I chose my other favorite clip: the Belgian fries stand. I trimmed it a little bit and called it “Tribute to Christopher Doyle” because Chris Doyle is the cinematographer who helped make Wong Kar-wei’s images famous. It didn’t seem quite complete, but it was free to enter so what the heck.

Then next day I ran across Adam and Andy in de Doelen (fest HQ). They had shot some movies too. They liked mine (just one typo, but no way to fix it), and Adam was already proclaiming it the winner. He made three, all pretty good city snapshots, but they got a heck of a lot better when he figured out how to add music. I helped him with his titles, too. I can’t remember what his abstract, mobile sculpture piece got called (his best, I think, with an ominous soundtrack), but I helped him come up with “Pathé Ballet” (which shows Andy walking and spinning in front of the Pathé theater, with a silent movie piano underneath) and helped give the inspiration for “Dressed to De Palma” (shots of mannequins in a window with a version of the Psycho theme playing underneath). It’s the music and the titles that make him serious competition for me.

Then I added some nice, spacey music under my Christopher Doyle movie, and it got a whole lot better.

We turned in our phones after finishing the sound. Henk was there with his fellow student, Emile Steginga, a guy who is two meters tall (which translates to 6 feet and nearly 7 inches). They both really enjoyed my movie. They’re not the judges, but they may have some influence.


I saw Henk and Emile both again today, and they still like my movie best. I don’t know who the judges are, but that bodes really well. They said that they uploaded a few choice phone videos to play on the festival monitors around the fest, and mine is one of them. That means one of my films is playing Rotterdam! Yee-haw!

We find out Monday night who wins. I'll post a link when you can see my movies.

Holy crap, I forgot to tell you about the best part: the prizes. The winner gets one of the phones (the special James Bond edition) and 500 Euros. Wish me luck!

IFFR Festival Day 1

There can be upwards of seven screens running simultaneous press/industry screenings, which is awesome. Two of the screens are in the Cinerama, a multiplex two minutes away from my hotel. It’s particularly nice when my first chosen press screenings of the day are there, which happened two of these first three full days of the festival. The rest of the venues are less than a 10-minute walk from there. Very handy.

Saw four movies on the first day, including the official opening night movie La antena, which is a fun and stylish, Guy Maddin-esque silent(ish) film set in a sci-fi alternate 1950s. Whereas Maddin is increasingly allowing the grain and edits to show, this is more slickly put together, but it shares a similar fondness for absurdity. Rounded out the day with email and food and tried to catch up on festival reports and blogging, and it is sort of impossible to finish all that, so eventually it was to bed, to bed!

I should mention that when I read the paperwork I turned into the hotel to cover my room and expenses, it indicated that I wasn’t supposed to be part of the free breakfast that the hotel offers (do some people pay extra for that?). But I pretended I didn’t read it because the staff never told me not to come to breakfast. So I have been going down every morning and filling up on fried eggs, tiny pastries, coffee and orange juice, sometimes cereal with yogurt, and then I make tiny little meat and cheese sandwiches that I bag and bring with me for lunch.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

IFFR Opening Night

Adam Sekuler and I knew we couldn’t get tickets to the official Opening Night film La antena, but I suspected we could get into the opening night party. I asked at Guest Relations if there was anything at all we could get into this evening, lest we spend a day in Rotterdam without seeing any movies. Turns out they had a second opening night film (not quite sure how or why), and there were tickets available. And it was Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn. Hot damn. All that and the opening night party too.

We wandered back to our respective hotels, but not before stopping for dinner at a Tiki bar. Not bad, either.

I meant to finish unpacking when I got back to my dorm room, but I looked at that little twin bed and I knew that I needed a nap. With no alarm clock in my room, I pulled out my thought-to-be-useless-in-the-EU cell phone and set its alarm. When I woke up, there was no time for unpacking. Alas.

Met Adam in front of the Pathé, a giant aluminum box full of state of the art theaters that is situated on a sort of town square/stage that is made mostly of aluminum planks. The sun had set and the water had frozen on the metal, and though that was slippery as all get out, it wasn’t as slippery as those sections of the square that are made of wood. It was slow going across this glacial expanse.

Once inside we were handed glasses of champagne. Nice. We mingled, and by “mingled” I mean we walked around the lobby talking to one another because we didn’t know anyone else there. But we had each other. Another glass of champagne and it was into the theater. Big huge screen, curved so it didn’t lose focus on the edges. That’s how big it is.

The movie was great, and when we got out we headed over to the Opening Night Party. Spoiled by years of free beer and wine at the Seattle International Film Festival, we were surprised to see that we had to buy our drinks despite prominent advertising for their booze sponsor. Ah well. C’est la vie. We wandered the party and still didn’t know anyone, so we headed home to get ready for the first full day of screenings.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

IFFR Getting There

On my way to Rotterdam for the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), left the house early in the morning to catch the 8:30 am flight to Chicago, then to Brussels. I arrived at 8:00 in the morning the next day, Rotterdam time. The time change is 9 hours, so either I arrived at 11:00 pm Seattle time or I left at 5:30 pm Rotterdam time. Either way, I got 4 to 5 hours of sleep, which seems like it was pretty good.

Upon arriving in Brussels, I met up with Northwest Film Forum program director Adam Sekuler, who is also a programmer for experimental films at SIFF. We traveled to the airport together (thank you, Heidi), but he transferred in New York to Brussels when I transferred in Chicago. We arrived in Brussels within 10 minutes of each other.

After getting our bags, it was time to figure out how to get to Rotterdam. The easy part was buying a train ticket to Rotterdam from the airport, costing a mere 25 Euros. Then nothing was marked with anything that was on our tickets, so we asked and were directed to track 1, to Brussels-North. We got off there and looked for any mention of Rotterdam, but no luck, so we asked again and they said take the train to Amsterdam. Of course. We found that, and when we got on that train the conductress told us we’d be changing trains at Antwerp-Berchem. Why not, eh? Once there, we had a straight shot through the farmland and the green scenery to Rotterdam.

Once we got to Rotterdam, things didn’t quite fall into place like I’m used to. We find the Metro station, and there’s ticket purchasing machines that we interact with, but none of them have the names of either of the stations that we need to get to. A helpful Metro employee sees our confusion, asks if we have any Euro coins (not enough) and brings us up to the separate Metro ticket counter. They don’t take credit cards, but I changed some money over, and we buy our tickets. The Metro woman explains that, before I enter, I need to fold the ticket after number one so it time stamps onto the second strip because I’m only going one zone. Adam needs to fold after the two and stamp the time onto number three because he’s going two zones. Make sense? Not to me, neither. Maybe if I could read Dutch it would make more sense.

We split up and agree to meet at “de Doelen,” the festival’s headquarters. I check into the EuroHotel, only to discover that the room is the size of a single occupancy dorm room: Twin bed, desk, wooden armoire thing standing in for a closet, nightstand, TV. What makes it better than a dorm room is the fact that there’s a bathroom and shower included. Ah well, all the more reason to stay out and see more movies.

I meet Adam at my Metro stop (my hotel is on one off those crazy, old-European angled streets that doesn’t feel like it’s on the same plane of existence as the rest of the city, and too hard to explain how to get to at this point) and we decide to walk to “de Doelen.” We walk to the next big intersection and take a right. Just like my map says. But apparently we didn’t go “right” enough. We get a little lost, but it’s a nice day, and we find our way back to the festival headquarters.

And you know what? When it comes right down to it, the Rotterdam weather has been quite nice today, sunny and in the low 40s. And somehow everything that’s green, like the grass and the leaves that are still on trees, everything is extra green. Very pretty.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

FILM Zoo interview

My interview with Charles Mudede, one of the author’s of the Sundance documentary Zoo just posted to GreenCine daily.

If you don’t know about the movie, which is stirring up all sorts of controversy at Sundance, here’s a brief excerpt from my introduction to the piece:

"Back in 2005, when the Seattle Times reported on the 'Enumclaw Horse Sex Incident,' the story spread like wildfire across the Internet and became their most-read story of the year. It also caught the eyes of Seattle-based director Robinson Devor and writer Charles Mudede, whose dreamily poetic feature film Police Beat debuted at Sundance just six months prior. The resulting documentary essay is Zoo, which is premiering at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival."

Go to to get the whole article.

Hopefully by the time you read it, they will have changed the author byline from Sara Schieron to my name. I assure you that I did not intentionally write the piece under the pen name of Sara Schieron.

Friday, January 19, 2007

FILM Perfume / Notes on a Scandal


Obsession can be a funny thing, both “funny ha-ha” and “funny destructive.” Obsession will sneak up on you, too. You don't always recognize it as its grip on you tightens. I know that whenever I say yes to “just one more game” of online Sudoko, each blog entry will take that much longer to write. But there’s something about that obsessive drive that is positively cinematic, probably because the object of the obsession is usually something other than video games and the like. In movies, obsessions are pushed to the extreme and either destroy other people or the person who harbors it, sometimes both.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is about an artist who is obsessed with smells. Born behind the stand of a fishmonger in stinky 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) grows up to realize that he’s got the best, most accurate sense of smell in the world. That’s not enough to break him out of poverty and manual labor until he stumbles across the once-famous perfume maker Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), and helps him to mimic and surpass the trendy scents of the day.

Jean-Baptiste is an artist when it comes to mixing and manufacturing scents, but he isn’t interested in money as much as collecting the scents of "real life." More specifically, he’s looking to capture the smell of the beautiful plum seller who he accidentally killed one night. His art is his obsession. Of course, to bottle the scent of a beautiful young woman you need to kill her first, and so he becomes a serial killer.

Let me just say right now that the movie is great, and the reason it’s great is because it’s really, really funny. But it’s a deadpan kind of humor, a British style of humor. It’s as though the narration by John Hurt was written by Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or was pulled from a Monty Python sketch. Pip pip to German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) for pulling off what many have said was an impossible book to adapt. The only other director I can think of who could have pulled it off is Quentin Tarantino, but I only say that because I think he could have matched the humor and style that Tykwer infused into it.


Another cinematic example of obsession can be found in Notes on a Scandal. The beauty of this film is that it is completely subjective. Cate Blanchett plays Sheba Hart and Judi Dench plays Barbara Covett (damn! I had no idea that was her last name! That is too perfect, too spot-on, which is probably why they left it for me to find on the imdb instead of emphasizing it in the movie itself).

The whole story is from Barbara’s point of view, the whole movie is a visual representation of her personal diaries. Whenever we see Sheba, it’s filtered through Barbara’s perception of her, and Barbara is completely obsessed with her. That’s why Sheba is always portrayed as such a bohemian and sexual being. It’s all that Barbara can see in her. And yet she’s in denial about depth of her feelings for Sheba. If there’s one thing that’s more interesting in cinema than obsession, it’s self-denial. That goes for books as much as movies, maybe more. There’s something so engaging about questioning the narrative voice, the authoritative voice of a story.

When my friends and I got out of the movie we had the discussion as to whether Barbara was a lesbian or not. The real question is whether she knew she was a lesbian. My take was that she was from a generation where being a lesbian was not an option, and she has led a repressed life for so long she doesn’t realize how her obsessions manifest themselves, and never realizes why another female teacher may want to take out a restraining order against her. And because the movie expresses her point of view, we’re never supposed to realize why either. Unless we start to doubt the author’s intent. And for me, doubting the author’s intent is always fun.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007



Like most people who work in the film industry, especially in Seattle (though it's probably the same in every city), January starts out dead. And I was starting out with a little more than pocket change. I was worried I would never pull a paycheck again. The freelancer's lament, et al.

At a New Years Day party I fronted the fact that I was a Script Supervisor looking for work. At a fundraiser for the Seattle filmmaker (as a writer/director and as a 1st Assistant Director) Megan Griffith's new feature, I did the same thing. And it is starting to pay off. I think it was all on the same day last week that I got three job offers. One possible job offer from the new TV show from "Bill Nye the Science Guy." One job offer from this movie that's shooting on Vashon Island in February. Those are the two jobs that I got from networking at these parties, and of course they conflict. Because the TV job would be longer term, I'm (still) holding out hope for that one, and will have to tell the Vashon Island job whether or not I need to pass on Wednesday or so. But that's only two of three jobs.

Another job offer came in out of the blue. Last summer I worked on a show for Fox Sports called Destination Wild, and the producer of that recommended my services to a guy who was coming to Seattle to shoot a corporate video for ClearW*ire, which is a new wireless cable company based on WiFi technology and the like. Initially that also conflicted with the TV job, but when the TV job got pushed I took the corporate gig. I'm working on that coporate gig right now.

That's why I haven't finished my reviews of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and Notes on a Scandal. I've been busy.

Plus, I've been transcribing my interview with Charles Mudede, the author of the new Sundance documentary Zoo, which I'll link to when it posts.

Plus, I've been getting ready to go to the Rotterdam Film Festival as a programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival. More on that later.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

FILM 51 Birch Street

January 12–18
Northwest Film Forum

Through shows like This American Life and others, National Public Radio has made a certain kind of storytelling popular. Without the support of text or images, it’s a personal style that is, almost by definition, self-involved. Depending on the narrator, the stories are sometimes witty and sometimes whiny, and almost all of them are punctuated with sappy, inappropriate music.

Well, that style of storytelling is now infecting the personal documentary, as Doug Block’s sometimes fascinating and sometimes annoying 51 Birch Street proves.

Three months after his mother dies, Doug Block’s father announces that he’s going to marry his former secretary. Doug and his sisters are initially shocked, and so Doug starts to investigate whether his now happy and outgoing father ever had an affair with this woman. Then he discovers his mother’s diaries, which gives him a whole different perspective on his parents’ marriage and forces him to see them as people instead of parents.

Sounds fascinating, right? It is. So is the home movie footage that he incorporates into the piece.

But that’s only half the story. The other half is Doug’s whiny and annoying journey of self-discovery, as spoken through his narration. It’s everything that’s bad about NPR personal stories, which means most people won’t mind it. For example, after he finds his mom’s diaries he says in his voiceover, “Mom’s secrets are here for the taking, but do I have the right?” Please! Either take them or don’t, but don’t dwell on the hesitation.

By speaking over chunks of the footage, he tries to make the documentary more about him than his parents. Luckily, his parents’ story is stronger, which makes 51 Birch Street worth watching.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

EGO Avatar vs. Avatar

Who’s going to back down first? Two films with the title Avatar were announced within hours of each other, according to the Sci Fi Channel’s entertainment news wire.

James Cameron is finishing up his decade off of feature filmmaking with Avatar, the story of an ex-marine who is unwillingly sent to settle and exploit a faraway planet, who then gets caught up in a battle for survival by the planet’s inhabitants.

Once again Cameron is going to be pushing the edge of technology by combining live action with “virtual photorealistic production techniques,” or in other words using motion capture and cutting edge visual effects to help create an entire alien world and ecosystem that a live-action human protagonist will enter. He’s working with Peter Jackson’s visual effects house, and it shouldn't be a suprise that he is helping create a brand new digital 3-D format for its 3-D release. He starts shooting in April for a projected 2009 release.

Meanwhile, M. Night Shyamalan has his own Avatar in the works. It’s based on the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender but will be live-action. The show is set in a world of martial arts and magic, and follows one of a long line of “Avatars” who “must put aside his irresponsible ways and stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations.” The show is quite popular with kids 6 to 14, and Shyamalan does seem focused on pleasing children (his own and others), what with the “bedtime story” that was Lady in the Water.

As of right now the titles are the same. If it were any other filmmaker besides Shyamalan, I would assume he or she would cede the Avatar title to Cameron, but from what I’ve read this Shyamalan cat is a strange mix of insecurity and ego. He so believes in himself and his own projects that I could imagine him calling up Cameron and asking him to change the title of his movie, despite the fact that it’s been the pet project that he has been thinking about since Titanic.

Shyamalan does have an ego-saving out. The cartoon series does have a subtitle, “The Last Airbender” (whatever that means), which could become the title of the movie. But it is a projected series of films and, even adjusting for a slow creative process, Shyamalan’s film will hit the theaters first. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Thanks again to Sci Fi Channel’s Sci Fi Wire for this information.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

FILM Old Joy

Plays January 5-18
Northwest Film Forum

I’m not sure why Old Joy works as well as it does, but it does. What I can see is why it ended up on so many top 10 lists last year and will probably win the Independent Spirit Award for best film made for under $500,000. You see, the movie has so few words in it, it’s almost like you need to review it with pictures or photos. But I’ll try with words…

The story is basic. Before his wife gives birth to their first child, Mark (Daniel London) decides to take some time off from responsibilities around the home and go on a camping trip with an old friend he hasn’t seen in years. The old friend is Kurt (Will Oldham), a chronically underemployed free spirit who gets by on charm and grand ideas. John Hartl in The Seattle Times compared them to Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner with Andre, and I wish I would have thought of that myself because it’s a great way to describe this pragmatic guy hanging out with this idealistic dreamer.

This time Kurt’s big idea is to find these hot springs just east of Mark’s Portland home. So they buy some weed and hit the road. And they drive. Sometimes they talk and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they remember mutual friends or make basic observations, and sometimes they just stare at the scenery as they drive. And you are with them doing the very same thing. It’s one of those relaxing road trips where the journey is as important as the destination. It’s sort of uneventful, but it’s never boring.

I don’t know how much footage director Kelly Reichardt had to work with, I don’t know how many improvised conversations she had to draw from, I don’t know how much scenery she filmed, but she and her editor picked the most representational footage for a road trip. The story feels like it’s unfolding before you instead of along some predetermined structure. It could go anywhere, and you’d go right along with it.

Ultimately the trip wraps up, Mark rejoins his wife, and the two continue on with their separate lives. Was it completely transformative? Probably not, but it was a good trip and both are glad they made it. And you will be too if you join them. Heck, I'd go so far as to say that if you feel like going on a camping trip but don’t have the time or inclination to actually get away, then go see Old Joy. It's the next best thing to being there, and a damn good movie in its own right.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

FILM Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie

Good news on the future movie front. A new animated feature is on the horizon, one that doesn’t include talking animals or dancing penguins or anything that has been littering the animated landscapes of late. Instead it will feature talking objects like a hunk of meat (Meatwad), a large container of French fries with laser vision (Frylock), and a large shake with a bad attitude (Master Shake).

Yep, I just read in Variety that the Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force is going to be a movie, and I read elsewhere that it’s going to hit at least 800 screens. Take THAT, Mr. Hou Hsiao-hsien!

The plot? I suppose it would be tough to do 86 minutes without a plot. This comes from the Adult Swim website:

"The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Film for Theatres is an action-adventure epic that tackles the mysterious circumstances that brought Meatwad, Frylock and Master Shake together. An immortal piece of exercise equipment threatens the balance of galactic peace, and it is up to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force to run away from it. Complicating matters, the Plutonians team up with the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future for ultimate control of the deadly device."

"It was too big a story to do in 11 minutes," co-creator Dave Willis told Daily Variety. "It's based on our fear of exercise equipment."

One of the great things about animated films is that it’s relatively easy to get famous people to do cameos because all they gotta do is show up in a sound studio for half a day and record some lines. The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Film for Theatres (god, I love that title) has a few people lined up, including cult star/movie whore Bruce Campbell and, in an inspired bit of casting, Neil Peart, the drummer from RUSH!

To read a review I wrote about RUSH’s seminal album 2112, click HERE.

Right now The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Film for Theatres is scheduled to be released in March by First Look Pictures. To see a clip that is being touted as their teaser trailer, click HERE.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

FILM Rocky Balboa


In a semi-autobiographical parable, Rocky Balboa is serving to revive Sylvester Stallone’s career. If the first Rocky film charted Stallone’s struggle to make it as an actor (he wouldn’t sell the script unless he could star in the movie), Rocky Balboa takes the point of view of a successful has-been who decides he’s not done yet. Directed as well as written by Stallone, it is chock full of nostalgia. Talia Shire’s Adrian has died from “women’s cancer” and, when he’s not visiting her grave, Rocky is content being a local celebrity who tells tales of his former glory in his restaurant. On the anniversary of her death, he travels to all the locations from the first film that have since been torn down and he remembers how things used to be. It may as well be Stallone looking back on all his successful action movies (including five previous Rocky films), and now unable to find an appropriate vehicle unless he makes it for himself.

So a computer program says that Rocky in his prime would beat the current champ Mason Dixon, a Mike Tyson-like fighter who knocks people out quickly and alienates audiences. Rocky decides to get back in the game, despite the protests of a son who’s trying to succeed in business without the embarrassment of his father’s doomed comeback. As soon as you can say “training montage,” we’re back in Rockyland, complete with that awesome soundtrack.

Could a 50something boxer last 10 rounds in the ring with a boxer in his prime? Doesn’t matter, because the music and editing take your mind off of any questions of veracity. This is, after all, an emotional journey and nothing close to a documentary.

The only place where Stallone stumbles is with the character “Little Marie,” a 30something (or older?) bartender who he used to walk home when she was eight. If this doesn’t immediately trigger strange Oedipal reactions against this coupling, the fact that he meets her on the anniversary of Adrian’s death is another warning sign. Either they’re sleeping together or they’re not, but when he brings her to Las Vegas for the exhibition match you gotta think something is going on. Their relationship is left deliberately vague and she barely talks, which means not only is Stallone using her as a stand-in for a love interest, so is Rocky himself.

If her character takes you out of the movie in a bad way, Burt Young’s Paulie takes you out of the movie in a great way. It’s hard to tell if it’s because Young is old and verging on senile or if that’s how he chose to play his part, but he is hilarious throughout. I hope the next sequel is all about Paulie. The way he barks his lines as though he just woke up, the way he spouts what sound like non-sequiturs, his whole shambling frame, everything about him is awesome to watch.

The success of Rocky Balboa, both critically and with audiences, has given Stallone a Rocky-like comeback. It’ll be interesting to see if he can do the same thing with the rumored sequel to his other iconic character from the Reagan-’80s, Rambo, especially since the political winds have shifted Democratically.