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Sunday, 28 December 2008
Flashback to the 48 Hour Film Project
Topic: Makin' Movies

I had two entries written about last July's 48 Hour Film Project in San Francisco that I never got around to posting.  Below are links to them:

Click for: Day 3 of the 48 HFP: Sunday

Click for: The Public Screening 

Posted by molyneaux at 2:33 AM PST
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Saturday, 1 November 2008
(He) Who Framed Roger Rabbitt
Topic: Cinema

When  I speak to my sister on the phone, the moment I mention something I'm thinking about doing she jokes, "I don't want to hear about it!", impressing again and again all the options I have here in the Bay Area compared to where she lives.

Well, she's right about that. Last night I opened one of the emails I receive regularly from the Cartoon Art Museum. Usually I glance at what's coming up in the exhibits and that's it. This time I opened the email and did a Tex Avery-esque jaw drop when I saw that Richard Williams was doing a presentation. I think my eyes then performed a cartoon "take" when I saw that this was to be hold Sunday Nov. 2nd at the Balboa Theater. The Balboa is only a few blocks away, in my neighborhood. I could walk to see Richard Williams!

As the title of this entry gives away, Richard Williams was the animation director on the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (no ? symbol), and while that's what he is best known for, his is an impressive body of work: winner of three Oscars, maker ofover 2,500 commercials, as well as arguably the two best title sequences for Pink Panther movies (The Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again), and title sequences for the original Casino Royale, What's New Pussycat, and titles for and animated interstitials for The Charge of the Light Brigade.

The presentation included Q&A and a half dozen examples from Mr. Williams massive 16 DVD "master class" on animation: The Animator's Survival Kit — Animated. Mr. Williams is a charming and gracious man, and comes across as just a genuinely nice human being.

After the presentation, he sat in the lobby and autographed books and DVDs and took time to talk to and answer anyone's questions. Before comign to show I'd decided I didn't want anything from the man, not even an autograph. But I wanted to give something back, so I waited until most of the people had finished with him, then I walked up, dropped down to eye level next to his table, and said, "Mr. Williams, I've been following your work since before Roger Rabbit came out, and I remember dying for that film to come out. I've read probably 50 interviews with you and have many in my archive, and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you work." He looked sweetly embarrassed, and his wife asked me my name; I replied, I shook his hand, and I left. To say more would be to gush, but I just wanted to express that to him and not gush.

Click these links to see Williams' work (do it, it's great stuff):


Posted by molyneaux at 11:01 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:22 PM PDT
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Friday, 10 October 2008
"The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made"
Topic: Books

I just finished reading David Hughes' updated edition of "The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made", which documents the historis of film projects that either never got made, or eventually got made in very different form than what they started as (the umpteen attempts to make "Dune", for example).

Upon finishing this book I found myself surprised by how glad I was that many of these projects didn't get made. While it's difficult to judge the potential merits of a script on the cursory summaries herein, many of the projects described—in the words of their own creators—come across as terrible and wrong and often rote repeats of expected norms (action beats every ten minutes, etc.).

If anything, the book is most illuminating in regards to how the system works with regards to how projects are pitched, developed, revised, put into turnaround—wash, rinse, spin, repeat—and how changes in studio management can turn a "go" into a "no" right before the production is to start, and how directors take on a project not because they want to make the script in question, but because they want to make a mainstream movie or a big paycheck or just to work with certain people, and immediately demand that a greenlighted script get rewritten to their tastes.

The book's got a handful of factual errors as well, which isn't surprising given the number of subjects and contradictory sources. Finally, a couple of the chapters felt really thin, where the author had an interesting film project to talk about, but clearly didn't have enough information tofill out a chapter. This is most noticeable in the chapter about Star Trek films that never were, as most of the chapterdescribes how the films that were made got made, and gives short shrift to the more interesting topics of those that didn't: notably Philip Kaufman's 1977 "Planet of the Titans" (which got as far as pre-production) and Harve Bennett's "Starfleet Academy".

Overall an interesting read, but one that makes you wonder why anyone wants to deal with the Hollywood system.

Posted by molyneaux at 3:33 PM PDT
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Friday, 3 October 2008
Reviewing "Sordid Lives"
Topic: Cinema

At the Frameline LGBT film festival last June I was introduced to the world of Sordid Lives, a TV series that was then shortly to appear on the Logo cable network, based upon the film and play for the same name. I'd never seen the film, not to my recollection even heard of it, but the audience that came to see the first two episodes, screned at the festival, seemed to know it and love it.

I've watched the series through the first nine of its 12 episodes, and I find it sometimes cute but unremarkable.

Sick at home with a bad cold, I've spent most of my non-sleeping time in recent days curled up the sofa. After watching the entirety of Heroes Season 1, I decided to watch Sordid Lives, the movie. I found it a tough watch. Had I stumbled into it without having seen the series and knowing the characters, I'd have gone back to watching extras on the Heroes DVDs.

The plot of Sordid Lives goes like this. In rural Texas the Ingram clan matriarch Peggy Ingram is dead, having hit her head on the bathroom porcelain in a seedy motel after tripping over the wooden legs of her married lover G.W. Nethercott (Beau Bridges). It's just before the funeral and her family is in a tizzy. Her sister Sissie is trying to quit smoking while trying to be a good neighbor to estranged the wife of G.W.: Noelta (Delta Burke). She simultaneously forced into playing peacemaker between Peggy's daughters, the wild LaVonda and the prissy Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia). Meanwhile, the two men of the clan, Brother Boy (Leslie Jordan) and Ty won't be making it to the funeral for reasons that are both related and unrelated. Both men are gay, and Ty hates pretending to be what he's not whenever he goes home to Texas, whereas Brother Boy's been locked up in an asylum for 23 years and spends his days in drag acting like country singer Tammy Wynette. As the story unfolds, it's about family shame and acceptance. Shenanigans abound as Brother Boy's female doctor tries to "de-homosexualize" him, and Noleta and LaVonda get revenge by humiliating the men that screwed with their lives.

Unfortunately, Sordid Lives is like many films that have attained "cult" status in that it's an awkward, ungainly production whose devotees embrace it for the very elements that mainstream audiences might consider flaws, or just choose to ignore those flaws because they like the one-liners.

The story is simple and straightforward, and the characters are potentially interesting, but they mostly seem two-dimensional. Beau Bridges is utterly wasted as a drunk buffoon who's never really funny or given much to do. Bonnie Bedelia fares better as the prissy Latrelle because she chooses to play the part straight instead of broad. Even when she's being ridiculous, she's far more real than most of the cast, who, while energetic, are often not likable and frequently cartoonish. I suspect this is more about the script and the direction than the actors.

The gay subplot of the film is handled with a surprisingly heavy hand, and while Leslie Jordan's Brother Boy is played with a certain level of dignity, the part as written is more stereotypical and broad than you'd think. Brother Boy lives vicariously as Loretta Lynn, but it's never clear if he's adopted his country music queen persona as a mechanism for distancing himself from the horrible world he inhabits, if he has gone slightly nuts from his years locked up, or both. The story takes a cheap way out by having him confronted by a psychologist who's clearly the biggest nut in the booby hatch. The character of Ty, who narrates backstory from his therapist's office, is bland, and for every story he tells that feels real and touches a nerve, there's something else that feels worn and retreaded. Ty never seems to be connected to the world he describes.

There's fun and funny stuff here, but the morals are heavy handed, and the story tries too hard to be outrageous, often resulting in forced comedy.

That this film is adapted from a play is readily apparent and all too obvious. I've not seen the play, but its fingerprint are all over the film: the staging and the dialogue and the fact that the whole story plays out in essentially four locations (house, mental hospital, bar and church) all point out this origin in really obvious ways. Effectively there are only four scenes, and while intercut, it's still obviously four scenes. Those scenes would have been better off subdivided into smaller scenes and played in different locations.

Worst of all the technical execution is terrible. Apparently being one of the first indies shot on high def video, the film has a weird flat quality that isn't helped by amateurish lighting schemes where actors actually step into key lights of their fellow performers, casting them in shadows. The camera work itself is shaky and the setup and angles are often clumsy. The deleted scenes on the DVD demonstrate how bad this work can be, as some of the deleted material is so poorly photographed that one suspects it was dropped for its lack of visual quality as opposed to its narrative effectiveness. 

Heck, evenwhen the film apes a classic moment from Thelma & Louise it botches it. The women snap a Polaroid of themselves, which gets represented by a freeze-frame of the shot of them holding the Polaroid and not from the the POV of the prop camera. I realize this is low budget, but not that low.

In a way, the TV series spawned from it is better than the film itself, because it's written in bite-size scenes suited to television and film.

Cute idea, poorly executed.

Posted by molyneaux at 7:25 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 December 2008 1:17 PM PST
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Thursday, 25 September 2008
"Complicated Women"
Topic: Books

As a fan of silent film I've more than a passing knowledge of the pre-code era and the portrayal of women before and after, so I was looking forward to reading Mick LaSalle's "Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood" from the moment I saw it on sale at a vendor's table at The San Francisco Silent Film Festival".

In short, prior to July 1, 1934 there was no real regulation on the content of films produced and distributed in the United States. As the roaring 20s progressed, films got more and more daring with their subject matter, reflecting an age when traditional roles and ideas were being challenged and many times upended. As films got more daring, some audiences and critics grew more determined to stop it, and many states and counties took to censoring (editing) films to eliminate the things they thought immoral, offensive, or just plain not right. A threatened Catholic Boycott made Hollywood roll over and give into the idea of a sort of self-imposed and enforced Production Code that would keep moral critics at bay and prevent their films from being carved up or banned in some markets.

The trouble was, this strangled the content of many films, forcing men and women into stiff "traditional" roles, with women getting the shortest end of the stick. Right up til June 1934 women in films were getting bolder and more complex roles, with films questioning the state of marriage, women having as much freedom as men, and boldly contradicting the stereotype that equated virtue with virginity.

As the book rightly point out, compare the female stars from 1931 to early 1934 to those 5, 10, or 20 years later, and you see how this idea of making film "decent" reduced women's roles and diminished the portrayal of women themselves. Norma Shearer says things in "The Divorcee" that would be considered modern in the late 20th century, or even today, and yet ideas and statements such as those were wiped off motion picture screens for a quarter of a century.

LaSalle makes a number of cogent points in the book, notably how the women in film since the 20s seem very modern but for fashion and technology, and that those from before feel like a different world. His many examples make a good case on how the Code limited the roles and portrayals of women and made them from the biggest box office draws into later box office poisons after the Depression.

The writing is good. I literally laughed at loud in a few places, notably the witty way the author describes the Garbo vehicle "Conquest": "...sniff around it for ten minutes and it's like taxidermy. It has the shape and form of life, but don't be fooled by the upright posture. It's dead."

As a book on film, though, it's the kind of book that really requires you to know some of the films of the eras discussed, for while LaSalle is good at describing the differences, it's not the same thing as having seen examples. In fact, before reading this book, I'd suggest anyone not familiar with the subject should bone-up on some of the films discussed, especially the pre-code Norma Shearer films (fortunately, an appendix tells where/if each of the films discussed is available...many of which are shown on get those DVRs programmed).

Speaking of Shearer, LaSalle's love for her and her work is palpable, but he goes a little overboard in using her as an example, especially where there are other women who could serve equally well as examples in certian cases.

That said, the book did seem to focus too much on the sexual freedom these women portrayed and not enough on the other aspects that made them "complicated". That, to me, made the book feel a little less "complicated" than the title might suggest.


Posted by molyneaux at 7:02 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 10 October 2008 4:28 PM PDT
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Saturday, 6 September 2008
A Little Pick-Me-Up
Mood:  happy
Topic: Makin' Movies

It's seven weeks to the day from when team Fogbelt 2880 hit Golden Gate Park to shoot "How the Bunny Got the Bear".

During that long shooting day circumstances forced me to drop several short scenes and shots that, while fun and funny, weren't necessary to get the main story points across. However, I always regretted losing some of that material, because it was fun stuff, and its absence changed the story balance slightly because the son bunny Gus's original introduction was lost, and it makes him a smaller part of the story overall.

Well, today's my chance to try to make up for that, as some key members of Fogbelt 2880 reassemble to do pickup shots that will allow the film to be completed more as it was originally intended.

I tried REALLY hard to be prepared in a way that was not possible for the 48 Hour Film Project. I had written a custom script of just the material we’re going to shoot. I had storyboarded some of the shots I wanted. I'd made a fairly comprehensive shot list. I'd captured frames from the original footage and printed out sheets of these for continuity purposes. I had sent checklists to the crew of what everyone should bring (the costumes, for instance, were all over the place... ears here, tails there, shirts elsewhere), and asked Tim if his camera has a composite video out I could plug a small LCD monitor into. I'd even printed maps to show where all the potential locations were and how to get from my place to them.

Furthermore, I had spent three hours yesterday biking around the west half of Golden Gate Park scouting locations that we could use. I had my digital camera with me to shoot reference photos and a map of the Park on which I could mark said locations. 

  1. I was looking for a place the parent rabbits could bolt into the bushes. I found some perfect shrubs near a playground.
  2. More important, I needed something that could serve as the "door" to the home of the rabbits. I noted four possible places where trees or paths made what could pass as a sort of figurative entrance. This was the main location we needed, because two scenes take place there. I found several possible spots for this, two near our original location, and one a short drive away. I knew where I really wanted to shoot it, but when I'd driven by it a few days earlier, there was grounds work going on around it.
  3. I figured we'd return to our original location for Gus's introduction and to shoot a new set of lines of the parents to set up a new "PTA" joke.
  4. Finally, we'd need a place to shoot the PTA joke itself. I knew we could shoot that almost anywhere, but, if time permitted, I found a beautiful spot next to the lodge building by the park's fly fishing ponds.

The crew was to assemble at my place by 7:30, but I start getting phone calls before 7.  One Becky calls to say Jim was getting the clothes together that he and John had worn, but he can't remember who had worn which pants, so I have to review the film in hi-def to study their behinds and say who had worn pants with back pockets with flaps and who hadn't.  Then "Beckster" Becky (in team vernacular) calls to say she only had one of the bunny tails, not both as she'd thought, etc.

Our crew for the day are actors P.A., Jim, and John, and behind the camera the two Beckys, cameraman Tim, sound guy Will, and Erik "Mother Nature" Braa, and myself. Roles are fluid because it's a small crew and we'll all have to pinch hit, but mostly the actors act, Will listens, Beckster booms, Becky slates, Tim shoots, I direct, and Erik does anything else we need.

Everyone but Erik is at my house on time, and P.A. shows up already made up, as he has a limited availability and needs to be done by 11 a.m. We saddle up and head for the first location.

As above, I'd located seveal possible "door" locations the day before, but as I was heading home, I'd decided to bike by my first choice for the location...and the grounds keeping equipment was gone! I told the crew this is where we'd try to start. We all head to this location, and will move to an alternate only if it's unworkable. That location is Lloyd Lake and the Portals of the Past. The Portals is what was once the portico of the mansion of A.N. Towne, and was all that remained standing of the home after the 1906 earthquake. It was moved to Lloyd Lake as a symbol of the perseverance of San Francisco. (Click here to see the house that once bore this entrance, and here to see the portico standing in the aftermath of the earthquake with ruined City hall in the distance.)

We find parking and decide to go for it. We hurriedly get our gear unpacked and head around the small lake to the Portals. I love the idea of this as a location, for, as the "interior" of the Finkelstein (rabbit) family home is outdoors, the Portals are perfect as they are essentially a gateway to nothing.

There are obstacles I knew of going in: there's a concert going on in Speedway Meadow--smack between our two main locations--and there's the weather. The summer fog petered out last week, and it's been clear skies. At Lloyd Lake the sun's shining and there's already lots of cars parking along the road. I hope we can get in and out before it becomes unusable. The bright light could be a problem, but since this scene is "outside" the house I figure we can live with it being somewhat brighter than the later "inside" scenes... and, heck, if that doesn't work I'll be spending a lot of time in post adjusting the video.

While Jim and John get made up we start shooting P.A. as Gus in the scene where he answers the door to find an off-camera visitor and reacts in surprise. I coached P.A. on what I wanted him to do, telling him come out from the pillars in a skip-hop fashion and to do a little nose twitching that would match what his parents did in the original shoot. We first do the take from a wide angle where you can see the entire structure and that it isn't connected to anything, and after that, we move closer and change the angle slightly to focus on him. I’d written one line for this, but tell P.A. to just play with it and he delivers something different almost every take. Fun fun!  By this point Erik has found his way to us, shorn of beard he looks less dazzling than Mother Nature... or something...

Two technical problems provide my only real vexations for the day. First, Tim was wrong about his camera... there is a composite signal out, but he doesn't have the right connector, so again I can't use a monitor, despite the fact I have one with me! Second, Will points out that the sound we're getting is likely not going to be entirely useable because there's a nearby sprinkler which he can hear clearly over the headphones, and there's noise from the concert setup across the way. I reply we'll just have to plan to loop the dialog later in Matt's studio, as we don't have the luxury of coming back another time, and what we record here is what the actor's will listen to and match when looping.

With P.A.'s scene done we shift to the parents arriving home. Jim and John's asses are the subject of much discussion as we try to get their tails to match the previous shoot. As with P.A., we first shoot wide as they tiredly skip-hop to their mark and run their dialog, then tip-toe into the portico when they hear off camera noises. After getting it wide, we go closer for a medium two-shot and do it a bunch more times. With all that done we're almost ready to move out. I send Will and Beckster and Erik and P.A. to start loading up the cars, while Becky, Tim and I hurry over to a point across the water from the Portals, from which we shoot a wide establishing shot of the location with Jim and John arriving, reflected in the water. Pretty!

My goal was to be fiished by noon, and I need to get P.A. done even sooner, so we need to get a move on. We drive over to Metson Lake where we'll shoot P.A.'s only other scene. The trouble is, the concert stuff is starting and the noise is a problem. We're definitely going to have to loop.

I'd originally planned to shoot at the same log where Gus and Gloria are discovered by the parents, but that's now impossible because the parks people moved said log over 20 feet, and its previous spot is in directly sunlight, which wouldn't match what we'd shot previously. I pick a different log that's in some shade and someone smartly points out that Gus could be in a different "room" in the "house" in this scene; they're one's going to notice. This was the most important scene I had to get, because it's P.A.'s "entrance", and where his character gets established (in the film, it'll appear just before the scene of P.A. we shot at the Portals). I had carefully storyboarded this, so I knew exactly what I wanted. I coach P.A. on his action. I want him to lean on the log like a teenager with his schoolbook propped up on a sofa back. He's to hold his book in front of him, so at first we just see the bunny ears above the book covers, then lower the book to for his reveal, and deliver his dialog. He then needs to toss the book aside, then react of a "doorbell" and exit in frustration.

About the book: I'd spent the equivalent of one entire day getting the prop ready for this shot. Originally I'd planned to have a book titled "How to Multiply" that looked just like the one Bugs Bunny is reading in the cartoon “Easter Yeggs,” but then I'd hit on the idea of making the book a parody of one of those "For Dummies" books. I spent many hours laying out and then printing and assembling a book titled "Multiplication for Bunnies" in the "Dummies" style. The cover was printed on shiny card stock and looks just like a printed book, with in jokes and twists on "Dummies" slogans all over it that you'll never be able to read on screen, but which the crew found hilarious. Also, I'd designed two custom pages for the book interior, featuring two improbable bunny style "additive multiplication" problems.

To make sure the book was functional as a prop and would not cause us any shooting delays, I'd constructed it in such a way that it was relatively foolproof. I'd taken a trade paperback and used heavy duty adhesive to adhere the new cover over the actual cover (and had two backup covers printed in case one got damaged). I spray glued the custom pages into the book near the middle. Then, to make sure the book always opened to the same spot, I'd poured white glue onto the bottom of the book near the spine, then prssed in into the page edges and wiped it off the surface. I then put a plastic bag between the two custom pages to keep them from getting stuck together, then closed the book and put weight on it while the glue dried. The result is that the pages still flip (sorta), but if you drop the book on the ground on its spine it always opens to the custom pages. Sometimes I be smart!

We got the shots of P.A. relatively quickly. The camera starts tight on the book cover, then zooms out just enough to see the ears and the top of the log, P.A. lowers it and does his shtick. Since we had to do multiple takes, and as such it's not a good idea to let the book get damaged, I asked Jim to try to catch the book each time P.A. threw it off camera. Jim said "you've got the wrong guy", but, despite his worries, he caught it one every take.

Finally, we hurried to another log to shoot a reverse over P.A.'s shoulder so we can see the improbable math problems that are vexing him.  With those done, we wrap P.A. and send him on his way. Thanks P.A.!

Next, Tim and I find a spot to shoot an insert of the book landing after Gus tosses it. We shoot a number of these, me dropping the book on the ground, always landing open to the correct pages. These shots are my safety, because with it and the over the shoulder, I have two options for showing the Math problems, and I can use whichever works best in the film rather than being stuck with only one option.

The sun's climbing and it's getting hotter, and shade of any sort is becoming a scarce commodity. As it is, we have all the important stuff needed to finish the film's opening correctly, but there's still the new gag I want to get in.

This gag was not in the original script, but was inspired by a line John improvised in the sound booth, where he said, "What are you thinking?! What will my PTA think?" I loved that line, and it gave me an idea for a sight gag. The trouble was, when I reviewed the footage we'd shot previously there was no good spot where I could just shoehorn the line in. But I knew roughly where in the scene I wanted it, so I decided to do a retake of one small part of the family discussion.

It went like this...

GLORIA: We're going to be married.
HARVEY: Over my tanned pelt! Look what you've done!
(as Jessi does her "I'm a comin' Jesus" moment)
GUS: What's the big deal?
But I want it to be this...
GLORIA: We're going to be married.
HARVEY: Over my tanned pelt! Look what you've done!
(Jessi does her "I'm a comin' Jesus" moment)
JESSI: (to Gus) What are you thinking? (to Harvey) What will my PTA think?

Again, the sun's making it difficult as the place where we'd originally shot this material is in direct sun and won't match no way no how. So, we move the actors to a spot in the shade about 50 feet away, in front of the pussy willows that were at the very edge of the frame in some of the existing footage. I had Tim shoot from farther to their left than we had previously, hoping that this new angle will hide the fact that we aren't in exactly the same spot. But, to ensure the action matches and increase the chances it'll cut together neatly, I'd printed screen captures of Jim and John during that sequence, and when we get them set up, we review the scene as it exists now on my laptop, so the actors can see exactly how they'd been sitting and what the action was. With Erik sitting-in as a Gloria stand-in and delivering her line, we shoot it. Jim and John are hilarious as always. I hope it works!

There were two other bits I'd hoped to shoot with Jim and John, but they would have required moving to a third location because nothing was workable where we were, but I feel that stuff, while fun, isn't really necessary, and decide to let it go. Jim and John are wrapped!

This leaves only one thing left to shoot: The PTA gag.

This one's just a sight gag that occurred to me on hearing John's PTA ad lib. I imagined a cut to a PTA meeting where the little forest animals react to the news that Gus is marrying a bear. I imagined blank, shocked stares of these characters, holding teacups, and one of them drops the cup. Then we cut back to the action.

To accomplish it, I basically cannibalized the crew except for Tim. Both Beckys, Will, Erik and I are made up and don animal ears (I'd bought some ears for different animals, so we had three other animals and two rabbits). I brought a set of four dainty little flower-patterned espresso cups my mama had given me, and my fellow PTA members hold those as I hold THE book, as if we are discussing coursework. We sit in a tight semicircle.

But is Jim in or out of character?

John directs, deciding that we should all start out laughing at something, then turn as if we're hearing someone tell us some news, and then react in horror to the news, at which point teacups fall. Our cues are: "Laugh. Spot. Shock. Drop!" After a few takes it's obvious that something isn't working because we all have to look at a spot directly below the camera, but going from the laugh to finding this spot with your eyes isn't instant, and I have a particularly hard time because I am seated somewhat in profile and have to turn my head. Jim takes to shaking a small water bottle, and the movement allows you to look at the spot on cue.  We do several takes with everyone dropping their cups, and then just Will dropping his.

Then, with many teacup drops completed, we wrapped the shoot.  Hooray!

As it turns out, I realize we missed one shot on my list, but it's so unimportant that I decide it's not worth bothering with.

I'd promised to but lunch for everyone, but Jim and Becky head home, and Tim gets lost and never makes it. The rest of us went to Tommy's for food and celebratory drinks. Erik quickly wiped off his makeup, but the rest of us went as we were... ears and all. We got many bunny looks, but that's another story...


The Fogbelt Fables PTA meets with Mother Nature's lesser known younger Brother Nature to discuss the shocking news of the day.

Posted by molyneaux at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Monday, 8 September 2008 1:13 AM PDT
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Friday, 1 August 2008
Freak Show
Topic: Just Cause...

Home after the Namco Big Top party...


Posted by molyneaux at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 31 August 2008 1:17 AM PDT
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Sunday, 27 July 2008
Who Watches the Watchmen?
Topic: Cinema

Click this or the image below to view the trailer for Watchmen...go full screen if your computer can do it! 

Dr. Manhattan x3 in the trailer for 2009's Watchmen film

I read Watchmen back in the late 80s, and it simultaneously vivisected and redefined superhero comics all at once. If you don't know the story, the trailer probably doesn't make much sense. but suffice to say it was the first sophisticated take on costumed adventurers, and remains probably the most adult such vision yet. Furthermore, it used the comics medium to dissect itself. What would a world be like if superheroes actually existed?  If superheroes were real, what's in the comic books? Would kids of said adventurers be pushed into like careers by their parents? Would a man whose identity is tied up in a heroic alter ego be able to function without it? Can a population tolerate a state where costumed vigilantes operate outside the law? Would the police stand for it? What happens to a masked vigilante who routinely faces the most horrible crimes, and can such a person maintain their sanity in the aftermath of such experiences? Would a man with godlike superhuman abilities be able to relate to human beings, and would he care what happened to them? And when the world is on the brink of nuclear Armageddon, and the major deterrant is the aforementioned superhuman being who doesn't seem to care any more, what can be done to stop humanity from destroying itself?

Watchmen is a milestone: the only graphic novel to win a Hugo, and is also the only graphic novel to appear on Time Magazine's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present." That's a lot to live up to.

This will either be the most amazing superhero film yet...or one if its biggest disasters. I suspect there won't be much in between.

Posted by molyneaux at 9:54 PM PDT
Updated: Sunday, 27 July 2008 10:45 PM PDT
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Thursday, 24 July 2008
On the (sorta) Big Screen
Topic: Makin' Movies

RETRO-POST (I wrote this ages ago but apparently forgot to post it!)

Thursday night (July 24th) was the screening for teams in Group C of the 48 Hour Film Project in San Francisco. I was eager to see my team's film "How the Bunny Got the Bear" in a theater with an audience, and I held off showing it to most of my team until this, because I wanted to share the experience with as many of them as I could.

The screenings were held at the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco's mission district, but the Roxie's a fairly tiny theater with only about 240 seats. Fortunately, they had two screenings of each group per night, doubling the number of possible viewers.

I had two dates for the show: Carol and my friend Gene. Carol and I arrived early, but the box office nor will-call were yet open, so we went across the street to Ti Couz for a quick crepe. John Sugden and his lovely wife Laura Lee showed up right after us, and after toasting with champagne and wolfing down my crepe, I hurried across the street to try to coordinate all my teammates and friends who were showing up.  It was a bit of a zoo because people were confused about what line was what, and people started showing up that I hadn't received confirmations from, so while at first I worried that I might have extra tickets, by the end I was starting to worry I had too few!  But, it all worked out in the end, since one of my actors had friends cancel and she released her tickets at will call to me. Yay!

Of my crew, those who attended were:
Jessi Rabbit                      John Sugden
Gus Rabbit                       P.A. Cooley
Mother Nature                  Erik Braa
Director of Photography     Tim Laurel
Music                               Matt Levine
Second Camera                 Eriq Wities
Boom Operator                 Natascha Dimitrijevic

Actress Amy C. Gibbons couldn't make it, and, sadly, our 2nd Assistant Director, Becky Sackville-West, was unable to attend due to having been hospitalized for appendicitis!  She was home, recuperating, and we all wished for her speedy recovery!

John Sugden in the middle of our group.
Also in attendance at that first show were Erik's girlfriend Amy, mutual friends Jack and Nicole, my friends Christopher and Russ, Matt Levine's wife Diana, her brother and Matt's parents, and a few other friends and loved ones of the above. We certainly did "represent" team Fogbelt 2880!

So, about the screening...

Our film was the 3rd of 13. I wasn't nervous until just before our film came up, and then my heart started thumping and I started sweating. How would I feel if we got no laughs? The two films before us were, I felt, not as good as ours, but that's my opinion. I was worried what they would think!

What worried me most was the sound. There was something wrong with the audio and it kept dropping out. It affected every film to one degree or another.  Grrrrr.

The 7pm showing we attended was packed with mostly with the competing filmmakers and their friends and supporters, but we got a lot of laughs from them, which was reassuring.  We got a few laughs right off ther bat with the title card and the first appearance of the bunnies, but once the comment about "multiplying" came up and got a good laugh, I relaxed. Clearly, the audience got what we were doing.  Whew!

Not surprisingly, the bunny pellet joke got the biggest laugh in the film. Potty humor sells! But that wasn't the only laugh. "Shut your carrot hole!" got a bigger response than I expected, and, to my surprise, quite a few people responded to the "foot lotion" joke.  Jim and John's affectionate rabbit chittering got some pretty good laughs...and our post-credit stinger with Mother nature got a nice big laugh. There were lots more! And we got a good round of applause over the credits. Huzzah!

Of the 13 films in our group, I definitely think ours was in the top quarter. A clever film about miniature cops from LITTLE Little Italy called "187" was huge fun, and a film called "Button Man" had a clever gimmick and ended literally with a C4 explosive bang (I noticed Grant Imahara and Tori Balleci hanging around before and after the show, so I suspect some Mythbusters crew participation in that film), but violated its genre by not really being a thriller/suspense film. I wondered how that would affect it in judging.

Afterwards, a few of the crew and some friends popped over to the Delirium club a few doors down for a celebratory cocktail, and then we called it a night.

Oh, and my friend Jim Green called after attended the 9:30 screening and related that our film got the biggest laughs of that one. Yay!

All in all, I think we did great given 48 Hours. I think some of the other films illustrated how rough the results can be. I think our film held up as pretty well polished. So a hearty thanks and congrats to everyone who helped make it happen!


Posted by molyneaux at 1:23 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 December 2008 12:17 PM PST
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Sunday, 20 July 2008
48 Hours...yet again Part III: Fixing it in Post
Topic: Makin' Movies
CAVEAT: My memory of everything that happened on this day is fragmentary and I'm sure I've conflated things and got some out of order. So much happens in these 48 HFPs that I'm surprised I can remember as much as I do. So bear with me!
Somewhere after 8 a.m. I've started to stir. I'm still exhausted, as 8 hours sleep doesn't make up for the 39 consecutive waking hours that concluded the night before.
I stumble out of my bedroom to find John awake, reading, and Scott busily editing the rough cut of our film. Cameraman Tim brought a hard drive over in the wee hours, so Scott was able to start editing at 6. He says he's making good progress and we'll have a rough cut by noon, if not sooner.
First order of business is to get some breakfast, as I've not really eaten much in the past 48 hours between all the madness and breaking a tooth. I shower and John and I go to the nearby Seal Rock Inn to eat, where I'm very conscious of the broken tooth. We discuss what needs to happen today, for although we've wrapped the shoot, we've got something like 9 hours left to do all the post production. I collect an omelette to go for Scott, and we head back home.
It's noonish and Scott has completed the rough cut. Like all rough cuts, it sucks. It's flaccid and clumsy and badly paced and it just doesn't flow, but I'm already laughing, so I know there's gold in that there cut...we just have to pan out the sediment.  But there's a fair amount of sediment:
  • Although we filmed  scenes 1, 5 and 7, we couldn't get to 2,  3, 4, and 8, ergo some of the action doesn't transition very well.
  • We have the initial jib shot down to Jim and John (scene 1), but without the scene of P.A. reading the book, we have to cut directly from that to Jim and John's first dialogue scene, so it's like we're revealing them twice.
  • Since we didn't shoot the "door" where P.A. reacts to his to-be-revealed visitor and where Jim and John arrive and overhear growling, we have a problem where Jim and John just appear standing near where P.A. and Amy are supposedly making out.
  • The second unit stuff of P.A. and Amy waiting for a bus isn't usable. There's a man in shot who we don't have a release for, and, further, the shots of the bus aren't good because--
    • they don't feature our actors
    • they break the line of action (a.k.a. the 180 degree rule)
    • the reflection of the sun on the bus's back window blows out (too bright).
    --which means we don't have transitional footage to get from the end of the family discussion to the Mother Nature scene.
  • Scott can't find a shot of Jim and John doing "flirt" lines we'd planned to lay over the initial jib shot and some other shots.
After some discussion, we decide to do the following:
  1. Drop the initial jib shot. This hurts, because it's the biggest camera move we've got, and really sets the forest setting, but it's gotta go.
  2. Drop the bus stop scenes.
So, Scott's got his hands full.
To fix the transitions, I suggest we do title cards in fable style, as in "The parents arrived home to a surprise". This will cover the missing footage neatly, and help keep the running time down (since we have a 7 minute max, minus end credits), even though it's a total cheat and I hate doing it.
Aside from the edit, which is Scott's main responsibility, there remain the following items to be tended to:
  1. Extra dialogue and sound recording
  2. Main Title and end Credit cards
  3. Musical Score
  4. Sound Effects
  5. Foley (custom sound FX work)
  6. One optical effect to establish Mother Nature's place.
  7. Paperwork required to be submitted with the film at the Drop Off event.
  8. Collect the lighting kit, mini grip kit, and boom mic from Matt's garage
With this to-do list ready, I get to work on as many of the miscellaneous elements as possible whilst Scott works on the edit. John and I collect Jim and head for Matt's studio.
Matt hasn't been sitting on his laurels waiting for the film. Once he had the script on Saturday he started roughing out musical ideas for the themes, including a sped-up piece of a main tune that was intended for the bunnies in the bushes stuff we couldn't shoot. He'd played these samples for us last night between setups of "Mother Nature", but I was so groggy I didn't remember it much.  Once he has he rough cut, he'll start taking his ideas and timing them to fit the edited sequences.
In the meantime, we'll take the opportunity to record some dialogue pickups and such. Since Scott can't find the 2nd unit shot of Jim and John flirting and doing "Oh Jessi!" "Oh Harvey!" for the opening shot, I put them in the sound booth and have them record a number of versions of these lines. Also, since we're there, we decide to record various shocked and outraged sounds that can be dubbed in where useful. As with yesterday, it's hilarious, especially when we put both of them in the booth at the same time to record lines of rabbit flirting (which Jim informs me they were doing out of mic range in some shots). Whoever would have thought, "I want some of your peanut butter" could sound dirty? Whilst John is ad libbing an outraged "she's a bear!" I catch his eye from through the glass  and mouth the line back to him with one naughty word added, and he turns back to the mic and cries, "She's a $@&#ing bear!" He hits the line so hard he spikes the meter, so Matt has him do it again. John's outrage kills me, especially when he ad libs, "What are you thinking? What will my PTA think?!"
I ask Matt if he signed the Music Releases. He hasn't. I make him print them and sign them.
Erik is on his way over to help, so I tell him to just go to Matt's in the event we need him to loop and lines or do any new lines we might need. I have this idea for a narrator, but I doubt we'll have time to do it.
With Jim and John's sound booth work done, we head back for my place. I ask Jim if he can stay and take over the task of getting all the required paperwork together. He says yes. Then I have to ask him another favor. I'm out of printer paper and toilet paper (too many guests!). Can he bring some back with him?
From last year's 48 HFP experience I knew that keeping track of all the paperwork, contact info, etc., can be a pain, so while I was prepping the crew for this shoot I created an Excel spreadsheet that contained everyone's names, with columns for phone numbers, email addresses, their on-screen credit, etc. This became the "New Shimmer" of the shoot ("New Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!"), as the sheet served as a master phone list for making calls to cast and crew, and now it's a checklist for the paperwork. Jim quickly realizes that the one person we don't have a Liability Waiver for is our cameraman, Tim! Fortunately, Tim lives nearby, and needs to get his jib out of John's vehicle, so Jim calls him over and gets the form signed.
Tim's gear collected from John's SUV, John departs for home and his lovely wife, and I miss him already.
Jim makes a thorough double-check of every form, noting every single error and inconsistency, none of which are serious and are easily dealt with. He also calls a few people to make sure I have the correct credit for them.
The amount of paperwork is daunting given he short schedule, and includes the following:
  • Team Roster: Tells who was on the team, their job, and their e-mail address.
  • Certification Statement: a form I must sign to certify that all creative work took place during the 48 Hour competition period.
  • Liability Waiver Form: A limited liability form that protects me and the 48HFP, one for each member of the cast and crew.
  • Talent Release Form: For actors and other talent, allowing their images and voices to be used.
  • Music Release Form: To prove I either own the music in the film or have rights to it.
  • Location Release Form: To prove we had permission to shoot in any private property...namely Matt's House. We don't need anything for Golden Gate Park since it's public property
  • Materials Release Form, which we'd need if we used photographs and other materials. We're not, so we skip it.
  • Wrap Up Form:  This must be filled out on on-line, and I can't finish it until I know the final running time of the film, etc. So Jim can't do it.
The finished pile ends up being nearly a quarter inch in thickness, but, thanks to Jim, it's all in order. All I have to do is complete and print the Wrap-Up form when we're done.  Thanks, Jim!
When Jim finishes the paperwork I toss a new task at him: I ask him to take a stab at writing the intertitle cards that we need to cover the missing shots. I ask him for three, one to set up the story after the title, one to transition from the parents to the "house", and a final one to transition from the family discussion to Mother Nature's place.
Scott's past experience with Final Cut is very helpful, especially with some shots that have problems we can't easily get around, notably by compositing bits from other takes to fix a few problems with the shots that were chosen for the edit. For instance, a woman's head is visible behind some reeds in the deep background, and a bit from another take overlaid over that spot obliterates her. In another shot, there's a continuity mismatch between Amy's hands between an up-angle of her standing and a medium shot of Jim and John where she's visible at the side of the screen, but Scott fixes that with a piece from later in the same shot.
We discuss blowing up a few shots to fix framing problems, and while neither Scott nor I is fond of this, some quick calculation shows that we could conceivably enlarge any shot by up to 300% without any quality loss because we shot at high def and the 48 HFP requires the film in standard def....which is exactly one third the horizontal resolution of our source footage. Scott does blow up a few shots slightly, but never takes it to the 300% size.
The tilt down to the poop gag is too slow. Scott plays around with accelerating the footage during the tilt, and that helps a lot. It's still not perfect, but time for finessing is a luxury we don't have.
Adding the music's been an interesting process.  Once we got the rough cut to Matt he adjusted the pieces he composed to fit the length of the scenes, which keep changing as the editing continues. There's a lot of improvising here, as Scott tries to use all the bits Matt sent over, even music for stuff we ended up not shooting (like the fast music for the parent bunnies in the bushes).
Additionally, we ask Matt for some foley work and some audio variations on Mother Nature's "Love"? So, while we're over here working, Matt is recording Will dumping coffee beans on the floor of his sound booth, and Erik saying "Love?" with a dozen different intonations.
The only piece of music that we have any real problem with is the underscore for the family discussion scene. The music for the first scene is great and hits the right storybook tone, but the music for the family discussion is all wrong: it's too somber, too dark. I give Matt the feedback that it needs to feel related to the other pieces.
Later, Matt sends over a new idea for the family discussion. He's taken the same music and changed the instruments, so instead of sounding orchestral, most of what you hear is a toy piano type plinking. What's great about it is its naked simplicity. Matt's done nice job of hitting the notes just slightly off of when you expect them, which gives the thing a slightly tentative, off kilter feel, and which also gives the impression of a music box winding down.  The favorite bit is what he did when the bear threatens the bunnies: there is cliché Psycho knife stab-esque music played said toy piano!
The music and sound files are moved around via email and courier. Poor Will Spencer keeps getting sent back and forth between Matt's place and mine.  Fortunately, we live only a few blocks apart!
Yesterday Scott kept making me or trying to make me get on the phone and talk to Michael Struck of NEO f/x up in Portland to describe what I wanted for the establishing shot of Mother Nature's place. I told him I wanted a ginormous tree with windows on it like a skyscraper. I'd hoped Eriq could get a good shot of a Golden Gate Park tree that could be supersized, but there just wasn't time. In my heart of hearts I wanted a shot of Gus and Gloria standing on the curb in front if a mass of trees and looking up, then to do an optical tilt up to reveal this skyscraper like tree towering above. Since we didn't get the plate of the actors, and Michael Struck thinks it would've been hard to do, we agree on a simpler establishing matte painting. What he delivers is a composite of various stock photo elements of a sunset and trees, with one tree rendered appropriately huge. There's a slight push in on it (like a slow zoom), shifting rays of sunlight and a few distant birds, but the kicker is the huge scrolling digital signboard on the tree that reads "MOTHER NATURE INC."  It's pretty and kinda storybook.
Scott's a great guy, but he gets really impatient when the pressure is on, and he asks me for things over and over, sometimes a minute apart, as if asking me again will make it happen faster. "I'm dancing as fast as I can" I think. He starts pestering me more and more as he gets to the point where he needs stock SFX (mostly purchased from and the title cards and intertitles.
For the credits, my handy-dandy master spreadsheet saves the day here, too, because I can quickly rearrange the rows into the order the credits need to be, then can cut and paste each name and credit field into the Photoshop file I'm using to compose the end titles. This makes putting the cards together fast, and prevents typos and omissions (well, mostly, I accidentally lost two of the P.A.s off the credits...I'd get them into the director's cut).
Speaking of the credits, a thing I didn't like about the end credits in Secret Identity Crisis was that when reduced to web size the scrolling credits got "crawly", jittery, and hard to read: so for this film I make the end credits a series of slides with nice big text so that everyone's name should remain readable even when YouTubed.
Somewhere during this I had to decide on the final title of the film. The script was titled "B'ear Rabbitt", with the nod to Uncle Remus, and that's what appears on the slates, but, as we had discussed on Friday while debating what a fable was, I liked the sound of the titles of Kipling's Just-So Stories, like "How the Camel Got His Hump" and "How the Leopard Got His Spots". Using this as inspiration, I came up with "How the Bunny Got the Bear", which is enigmatic enough to not give away the story, but does explain what ultimately happens in one sense of "get".
There's a lot of back and forth as I save files to a memory stick and pass it between Scott on the Mac and me on the PC. I knew I shoulda set up a home network!
Scott, Will and I watch a near-final edit, and as the intertitle card that reads, "By bus, train or plane, the Couple travel for Judgment..." Will comments it should be "and" instead of "or", which implies they did all three. This is funnier, since the judges and the audience at the screening know the requirement of the ticket, and should laugh at that we did all three. We also argue over the spelling of "judgment", but that's easily resolved via
The cut's working pretty well, but there are things I'm not in love with. Scott has cut up the Mother Nature reveal shot, so first Erik spins around, then the shot goes back to P.A. and Amy, and then it returns to Erik for the required line. I see what he's trying to do, but it doesn't work for me, because Erik didn't pause after turning around. He just spun and hit the line. This means Scott cuts right as we get our first look at Erik, which sort of steps on the joke.
Upon reviewing this proposed final cut, I notice that Scott has left out the first of the intertitle cards. He didn't think it was necessary. I think it breaks the model of using the cards to set the scenes. However, we're running out of time so I let this one go. I could argue over this or that, but Scott and I have different approaches to editing, and the number of changes I'd make are impossible to accomplish given how short time is. I decide that since I asked Scott to be the editor and he took on the responsibility, it's fair I let him have the edit. If I decide I want it different, I'll do a top to bottom re-edit later and do my own cut. But for this 48 HFP, it's Scott's cut.
At some point during this madness Beckster calls, and I am blunter than I've even been: if it's not desperately important, I can't talk. She says it's not. I'll say I'll call later. Click.
UH OH...
Last year we were late delivering Secret Identity Crisis because of a technical issue where Scott couldn't get the camera to record the output from the computer. We pre-tested the output system earlier, and we know we can write the video out to my camera, so that won;t be a problem. We're planning to stop cold and lock the final cut at 6:30 so we can output to tape and also write out a data DVD disc backup, ensuring there's no way we can fail to be accepted because of bad media.
All's looking good, but then, just as Scott saves a few changes, Final Cut Pro crashes, hard. Scott tries to reopen it. Crash. Will and I are trying not to panic. We're cool as cucumbers...on the outside. I know the worst thing that I can do is to freak out, so I keep about what I'm doing while Scott tries to figure it out. It looks like the project file got corrupted, so he opens the program without opening the file then tries to open the most recent project auto-save. It works! He only has to make a couple of tweaks to get right back where we were.  WHEW!
Finally we're ready. Scott outputs the finished film to my camera and to tape. He then burns a data DVD as a backup. I finish the Wrap Up Form online as required.  That done, I'm triple and quadruple checking everything to make sure I have all the paperwork in order, every form in place, plus that I've got the DVD disc and the Mini DV tape, and the required submission envelope.
It's 7:03 and we're ready to roll. We have 27 minutes to get the package turned in, and our destination is 3.5 miles away, or about 10 minutes distance. I tell Will I want him to drive there. He thinks I'm asking him to take us there, but I till him that i want him to follow us there, "If my car runs out of gas or has a mechanical breakdown or if a little old lady steps out in front of me, you grab Scott and the package and run!" After we missed the deadline last year in Portland, I'm taking no chances that this film won't be in on time.
The trip is uneventful, and we make good time there.  As we pull up in front of the cafe that is the drop-off location, I tell Scott to jump out and get inside and be ready to turn in the package while I find parking. I tell Will to beat it back to Matt's and we'll call when we're done.  I circle the block a few times, but there's no parking to be had, so I double-park the car on the street and hurry inside to find Scott in line. He says they've taken the disc and tape and are verifying that they work. Once that's confirmed, we're done.
I take a moment to look around. It's almost 20 after with only minutes remaining before the deadline, and there are literally people with their laptops burning DVD discs while standing in line! As close as we got, we did great, having delivered the film in two different media.
And we're good!  Hooray!  We're done!  WE DID IT!!!
Back in the car, I start dialing key members of the cast and crew to tell them we're submitted, and that we're heading to Matt's for a celebratory drink.  Turn out Beckster was in the city and waiting for word. I call John in San Jose, and he's thrilled. I tell him to have a drink in honor of our success, and he tells me that he and his wife are well ahead of the game: already on their second bottle of champagne!
Those who gather at Matt's are Scott, me, Beckster (who waited at the beach after I hung up on her), Erik, Will, and Eriq.  After the first toasts, I step into the back yard and go down the crew list, calling just about every single person on it to tell them we finished on time, and to thank them profusely for their help. I make a point of telling those who did the most unglamourous jobs how important they were, as everyone from the script supervisor to the guy who stops traffic is essential to getting a film made.
Calls done, we take a walk to the Beach Chalet to get dinner and celebrate further, with Natascha joining us. And here ends the story of the 48 hours.
I'm sooooo happy.
I'm sooooo ready to sleep.
And I'm soooo ready to go to my dentist early the following morning to get my mouth repaired. But that's a different story.

Posted by molyneaux at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:23 PM PDT
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