Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sydney Pollack 1935-2008

Cancer claimed Oscar winning director, producer and actor Sydney Pollack Monday at his home in Pacific Palisades. Pollack won his Academy Awards for best director and best picture for "Out of Africa." He was also nominated as a director for "Tootsie" and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and as a producer on last year's "Michael Clayton." He also played a major role in 'Clayton.' His first acting credit on IMDB was a 1959 episode of "Playhouse 90," but it was on the movie "War Hunt" in 1962 that he met Robert Redford and formed a long professional association. "Mr. Pollack's career defined an era in which big stars and the filmmakers who knew how to wrangle them retooled the Hollywood system"...
(From LA Obvserved - Kevin Roderick)

I had a chance to hang out with Sydney Pollack at a film festival in Belgium about ten years ago. We spent an evening in a hotel bar where he excitedly discussed flying airplanes—a passion of his. After detailing a harrowing flight where he ran very low on fuel (fumes, evidently) while trying to land in pure fog, he asked us all to not repeat the story, explaining that it might not be so entertaining to the insurance companies that do "key person" insurance for directors.

He was a good director and, from my rather limited experience, a generous person.
What I really found appealing about him was that he was a multi-faceted person.

And I think in the back of my mind I always expected to see him again and talk about airplanes some more.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Fear of Rejection

Let me preface this by writing that I'm not depressed, merely contemplative.

I think rejection is my greatest fear. That's probably very universal so I don't think I'm unique or about to unleash any insights that were never before realized. To the contrary, I am only putting these things out there in order to hopefully excise them from my own psyche, even if only slight.

I have probably missed more opportunities because of the fear of being rejected than from actual rejection; from not asking that girl to the ninth grade dance to not pitching that person a project. When I put this fact in writing, it seems pretty sad—but I bet I'm not the only person by a long stretch.

Of course, actual rejection isn't so hot either. And when you create something and hand it off in a mercantile exchange, art and commerce can be tricky and cruel bedfellows. About rejection in writing, I read an excellent blog, which sums things up pretty well.

I am in an unknown point right now in many aspects of my life. I suppose we really all are, though we might fool ourselves with plans. Fact is you never really know what's going to happen next, do you? In my life currently, I face potential rejection from all sides; I certainly don't know what's going to happen next about a whole lot.

The "article" (I put that in quotes now because it has become an entity unto itself) has not pleased the powers that be. I don't know if it means that it has been killed or not. I hope not. It represents a lot of work and more importantly, I believe it is good; insightful, interesting people putting forth their ideas on the topic. However, the decision is not mine. At this point, I'm simply wondering aloud. I've already been quite demoralized by the email flurry over the last several days and am fully prepared for a final thumbs down. It would be a nice bit of icing on top of everything else in my life, but that is what it is. Que sera sera, and all.

Now, onto other things/. I have a list of projects I must get through and time is only moving forward.
And that reminds me of lyrics from a They Might Be Giants song: Genius in their simplicity, I am envious not to have their wit. Even without the clock-like melody or the Iron Hammer 'DUN DUN' of the guitar -- "TIME (DUN DUN) is marching on (DUN DUN) --- I think the brilliance shines through of Older.

You're older than you've ever been.
And now you're even older.
And now you're even older.
And now you're even older.

You're older than you've ever been.
And now you're even older.
And now you're older still.

TIME! Is marching on.
And time.. is still marching on.
This day will soon be at an end and now it's even sooner.
And now it's even sooner.
And now it's even sooner.
This day will soon be at an end and now it's even sooner.
And now it's even sooner.
And now it's sooner still.

You're older than you've ever been.
And now you're even older.
And now you're even older.
And now you're even older.

You're older than you've ever been.
And now you're even older.
And now you're older still.

One last story for the entry: A couple days ago as I was stuffing yard trimmings in the trash, I heard the sounds of "Dammi i colori!" start playing from a neighbor's yard. Probably my favorite aria in the world (Act 1 Tosca), my heart lurched, my eyes filled with tears and I stopped in mid yard-trimming-stuffing. I was filled with the emotion of the aria -- it set off everything from the last several months. But more than anything, I was absolutely thrilled that someone in my neighborhood was listening to opera. The music went on to another aria; a greatest hits type collection. I was absolutely ecstatic. The world is good, there is hope!
Finally, under the guise of perhaps borrowing their trash can as mine was full, I had to go to the neighbor – to tell them how wonderful it was to hear my favorite aria, to share in the beauty of it.
I went to the house, the music growing louder as I approached -- and finally stood at the front porch. The house was locked tight, no one was home. But on the patio, baking in the sun, a large portable CD/Tuner player was blasting the music.

Evidently a timer had kicked on and was playing the CD for no one - but me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Art of Movie Trailers

My brother asked me some advice regarding movie trailers. He has something in mind for a project and wants to mimic a trailer. It got me to thinking that it might make for a fun blog entry.

For the slim possibility that there is actually a person that doesn't know what a trailer is… it's the "coming attraction" previews of a movie. I have a friend that complains about them—saying that they give away everything in a movie. He refuses to watch them. I, on the other hand, love to watch movie trailers. They make me giggle with excitement, make me feel like a little kid, or groan with despair, frequently saving me the thirteen bucks or whatever it costs to go see a movie nowadays. That's because, my friend is right; most trailers do give away pretty much everything in the movie. They can save me a lot of agony.

And, as everyone knows, most are actually better than the movie.

The movie trailer has come a long way, and has really ramped up as an art form in the last fifteen to twenty years. Once upon a time, they were a hodge podge of the best moments of a film. Many were cut from an actual print, so the sound would cut miserably and jarringly. There was little attempt to put something together that was smooth, that flowed – or even captured the spirit of the movie.

It's amazing to watch old trailers and see how bad they actually were. I won't even bother going any further back in time than the early 80's to illustrate the point.

With a new Indiana Jones movie about to be let loose, the Indiana Jones website is an excellent trip down memory lane as well as a fascinating study in the evolution of trailers. What's really amazing is to see how bad the first Raiders of the Lost Ark trailer is. I remember it too—seeing it on television. The theatrical trailer for Raiders is a bit better. A bit. What is interesting about it, is that it still has a 1970's sensibility; it leads you to believe that Raiders might be a serious, dark movie—perhaps a thriller. There is actually very little hinting at how much fun it will be. The trailer for the theatrical re-release a couple years later specifically reminds the audience "THIS IS A FUN MOVIE!!!"

However, these trailers are all very primitive by modern standards. Oddly, the new Indiana Jones trailer is NOT to be viewed as an example of a good trailer. It's quite poor. I don't know why but I'm hoping it's because Steve and George aren't too concerned. They know the movie will be a monster hit even if they just showed a still of the title for two minutes and thirty seconds.

So, for filmmakers, this might be of use and for the general public, it might be of interest. Here is what the modern movie trailer has evolved to: Generally they are about two and a half minutes long and consist of five acts. They may or may not have voice over, and they may or may not have flashy title cards helping to move the plot along.

The best trailers don't need a voiceover or title cards. These are crutches, but are such standard practice, that no one really criticizes them much.

Watch almost any trailer these days and you'll see how the five act breakdown works. This is not to be confused with the five act structure commonly used by Shakespeare. It is a structure unto itself; basically a classic three act structure with a tease-in and a tease-out.

  1. A teaser lead in.
    1. Very brief, sometimes over the production/distribution company logo, sometimes audio only. Sometimes just a few seconds long. It could be from any point in the movie.
  2. 1st act of the story. This is where, if there's a voice (usually Don LaFontaine) it will say, "In a world" or… "When John Doe thought he knew…"
    1. The movie is set up.
  3. 2nd act of the story. In a trailer, this is where the problem that will be the premise of the movie is detailed. Not dissimilar from the typical three act structure.
  4. 3rd act of the story. This is where, if Don has been saying things he now says, "Now, he has to…" The solution being something like save the world, get the girl, or something. (it might actually incorporate a lot of the actual 2nd act of the movie)
  5. A brief lead out.
    1. Sometimes this is after the title card. It could be very quick – just a couple frames, or it could be a few seconds long. If it's a horror movie, something horrible happens. If it's a comedy, a punchline that was set up a little earlier will be delivered. It could be from any point in the movie.

Boom. Done. Now go see the movie.

When I started cutting trailers for my own movies, I studied countless trailers. While cutting the Ghosts of Edendale trailer I was most impressed by the trailer for The Others. I think it's a masterpiece as trailers go. Damn fine movie too. Watch both and you'll see they're five acts.

For trailers of this coming summer, here are a comedy, Tropic Thunder, and an action movie, Dark Knight. Both perfectly made, both two and a half minutes, both five acts.

So, there you have it. Check it out. See if you can spot the five acts in a movie trailer.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Walking around the symbolism

I got word from the editor last Friday about the article. Our phone call started with a little chit chat, which is generally a "not all is completely bad" sign. She then got into her comments about the article and said, "It had a lot of good stuff, but…"

Long and the short is that I've had to do more work on it. They say that writing is re-writing. They are right but, ugh, this is tough. Whether it's with screenplays or magazine articles, pulling one paragraph or shifting a thought tends to make the whole thing crumble like a house of cards. It's so easy to make, what seem to be, minor critiques... but often damn hard to put them into practice. Additionally, she wanted me to interview a couple more people; interviews I wasn't able
to get until today (they are very busy people), so now I'm sitting in front of the computer at 10:00 PM, a fresh pot of coffee. Déjà vu.

Several blogs ago, I wrote about the dangers of seeing symbolism in the world. It is one thing for the "dead crows lying on the ground" to mean something in a book or movie, in real life they're just birds that met their maker.

Today, I had a moment which I must share; a perfect example of seeing symbolism in life.

At the request of the one person who has the power to have such requests be honored, I am not going to blog about certain aspects of my personal life in too much detail.
Suffice to say, the following observation accurately mirrored/s my feelings over the last months.

Three months ago, to the day, as regular readers will know, a very dark and distressing time began for me. In an attempt to preserve my sanity, I began exercising feverishly. Part of my regimen has involved walking/jogging around Silver Lake.

For those that don't live in Los Angeles, Silver "Lake" is actually a man-made reservoir in the center of Los Angeles and what gave the neighborhood its name.

For the last months, they've been draining it. The first time in twenty years, it was because of a high level of Bromides. What was a typically lovely landmark, day by day, became an increasingly large, surreal, white clay pit. As the water level continued to drop, the symbolism of it always struck me; a perfect metaphor to my emotional state. A couple months ago, the once beautiful reservoir was finally empty; for how long, I knew not...

Silver Lake - Empty March 22, 2008


Today as I went for my walk/jog what do I see? Silver Lake is being refilled!

View on May 13, 2008

Already a large area of the reservoir floor was under water. It's going to take about three or four weeks before Silver Lake is once again full of water; back to its happy state.

As I stared at the water cascading out of the large pipes in one of the towers, I couldn't contain what I'm sure must have been one goofy smile. Because the very good news is, if things go the way I believe and hope(!) they are… Silver Lake is still be mirroring my life.

And if it's not, you can be sure I'm using this symbolism in a screenplay, where it damn well will mean what I want it to mean.