Saturday, March 31, 2007

Under the Radar

For me Netflix is great. My local video store might have 50 DVDs of The Departed and Borat, and maybe one copy of the film I really want to see (out). What follows is a list of films- many suggested by my students, who evidently have too much free time- that perhaps flew under your radar but you should see. The list has something for everyone- documentary, foreign, comedy, shoot-em ups. None were released before 2004 and the total gross box office receipts are probably less than 300's first weekend. Feel free to add your own suggestions. One soon to be released film to see is a new documentary called Sharkwater. It's in Dallas and NYC in April on DVD later. Thanks to ViceZilla for this one. You can see his story and the trailer at his site.

Finally, a not so insignificant note, eight of these films were directed (or co-directed) by women. As The Tom Tom Club sang, "Girls can do it, too."


Stranger than Fiction- A nice Will Farrell performance and for the guitar geeks out there he plays The Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric. E and A are the only chords. Easy. Shot entirely in Chicago.

Upside of Anger- Joan Allen and Kevin Costner play two depressed drinking buddies. It will make you want to have a drink or not, I am not sure.

You, Me and Everyone We Know- by Miranda July. Great and Quirky.

Friends with Money- Also great and quirky as is any film directed by Nicole Holofcener.

The Squid in the Whale-The first half of a great dysfunctional family double feature when combined with Little Miss Sunshine.

SherryBaby- Maggie Gyllenhaal is excellent as a recently paroled convict who wants to reunite with her daughter.

Documentary Film

Shut Up and Sing- The Dixie Chick's film. Great. You get to see how their new record came about and how they were really right.

My Architect- About the architect Louis Kahn who lived a double or triple life. Made by the son of his third wife.

Grizzly Man- Great music, great bears, real and scary. Music by Richard Thompson.

The Lost Boys of Sudan- Sudanese young men come to this country and have to adapt or die. Tons of memorable scenes- including when one "boy" catches a bird to give as a gift to a date.

Wordplay- Devotees of the NYT crossword must see this.

Spellbound- even better than Wordplay. About the national spelling bee.


Earth, Fire, Water- Three separate films by Deepa Mehta. Three different versions of life in Indian in the last half of the 20th century.

Oldboy-Korean thriller. Not for everyone, pretty violent but very well made.

Best of Youth- Originally a mini-series for Italian TV. Shown in two 3 hour parts in theaters here. We get a 20th century Italian History lesson.

I'm Not Scared-Also Italian about a boy who finds a man hiding in a hole.

Nobody Knows- Japanese. 14 year old Yuya Yagira one best actor at Cannes in 2005. Based on a true story it's about 4 siblings each with a different father, who have to fend for themselves in a small apartment after their mother leaves.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Film Students, Film Worries

There are about six weeks left in the spring semester and my students are about to shoot their final films. Mostly, they are beginning to worry about their grades. I understand their concerns- I worried about my grades, too- but guys you are in FILM SCHOOL. Worry about making a good film and your grade will take care of itself. There are a lot of things to worry about in this world, getting an A- or B+ on the midterm is not one of them.

Did Monet get better grades at lycee than Monnet's and that's why Monet's hang on the wall, while Monnet hangs at the bar? No, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "The film's the thing. Wherein I'll catch the conscious of the king."

Make a good film. Have a good weekend. See you in class.


Food For Thought

We really prefer to shoot out of town rather than in Chicago. In town you just want to finish the job and get home, but on the road the mundane activities of life are gone- no dog walking or telephones to answer- and there is no rush to get back to the hotel. You focus more on the work and frankly spending more time on the job and thinking about the job is only beneficial. I know we have done lots of good work in airport lounges, hotel lobbies and rides to and from the hotel. Of course another benefit of working on the road is per diem. In addition to my writing and directing duties, I also scout for restaurants.

I have three simple dining rules.

1) Never eat at the hotel. Sorry Jim, but we are in another city, let's explore.
2) Never eat at a place that advertises the cuisine in their name. So no, Macaroni Grills, Spaghetti Warehouses, Pizza Huts (who thought adding the word Hut would class it up?) and with apologies to my sister, no, Olive Gardens.
3) There must be a bar.

Actually, that's default rule 1. We learned that lesson one rainy night when I made a dash across a 4 lane highway in Camden, NJ to Bob's Liquor Barn to get wine. Our restaurant of choice was BYO, who knew?

So from time to time on this page I am going to share some of our favorite eating cities and restaurants. And to our clients who read this, we stay within budget, or put it on our own tab. We are going to start the tour in Washington D.C. and work our way south down Connecticut Ave. from about the Zoo to DuPont Circle.

1) The Lebanese Taverna.
2641 Connecticut Ave. NW. Great food. You can make a meal on appetizers alone. I like the Chicken in a Bag. A roast chicken in a paper bag. We were there the night of the second Gore/Bush debate when Al Gore decided "Lock Box" was not the grabbing voters the way he thought.

2) Bistro du Coin.
1738 Connecticut Ave. Authentic French Bistro. You know it is good because a lot of authentic French people go there. A very reasonably proced wine list. We had a Cote du Rhone for only a few dollars more than Bob's Liquor Barn's prices. It must have been a great place to see the World Cup finale, until the head butt.

3) Pesce.
2016 P St. NW. A destination restaurant for us. (And since it is the Italian form of the word, it doesn't break rule #2.) Fish like you have never had it before. A small restaurant, make a reservation and let them take care of you. Everything is good and the menu changes daily.

Please add your comments and suggestions.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Denny Dent

My friend Denny Dent died three years ago today and I think about him often. Denny was an artist who could paint giant portraits (4'x6') of rock stars very quickly. Using three brushes in each hand and throwing paint, he could finish a painting in 7 or 8 minutes. When he preformed in front of audiences they were blown away. At shows he preached about following your own path and how anyone could be an artist. He was very inspiring.

Denny and I worked together on a handful of occasions. He helped me with my career and I his, and forever we will be tied together. I met Denny in the early 90s and asked if I could shoot him painting Mick Jagger. Denny looked at me- having only met me moments before- and said, "Sure, I trust you." I'll never forget it.

I think Denny thought I was going to do a little video shoot of him, but my plans were different. We found an abandoned warehouse as a location, dressed the set and shot 35mm film. The resulting 75 second film went on to get both Denny and the dumb filmmaker a lot of recognition. As I have written in previous posts, Jim Fiester encourage me to edit the 75 second piece into a 30 second tv spot. We did and the spec piece went on to become the first of a series of commercials. Later I filmed Denny painting Eric Clapton, Bono, Jimi Hendrix and a montage of finished painting. We also made the spots into a billboard and bus card campaign. My work with Denny got my career off and running, and moved his career to the next place.

For me, however, I will always remember the times working with Denny. It was more than a little crazy, but always fun. When excited, which was often, Denny was a big mumbler and many people had trouble understanding him. I never had that problem and always told Jim and others that I have an English to Denny/Denny to English dictionary in my head. I have lots of stories, maybe I'll share some later. Here are some pictures from that initial Jagger shoot.

You can see the complete Denny work in bootleg form on You Tube (of course).

You can see the original 30 second spot for KLSX in L.A. at click on film demo reel.

Denny's wife Allie Christine and I remain in contact and I hope she posts a comment.
Denny died from complications of a heart attack. He was 55 years old. I miss him.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Back to Business

More of that Peace, Love and Understanding stuff later.

Before I get going I want to pose a question about the state of 16mm film. Arriflex just announced its new 416 camera. In Chicago you will be able to rent it at Fletcher Chicago

My question is this: Do we need a new 16mm camera? The Arri SR2 and SR3 seem pretty good to me. Who is going to use it and to do what?

Last week was Columbia's spring break and today I met with students. We screened pieces shot on 35mm, super 16mm and HD with P2 cards. None of my advanced students seemed to be clamoring for a new 16mm camera, no matter how good (and Arriflex makes the best).

What do you think?


Thursday a special piece about my friend Denny Dent on the third anniversary of his death.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Give Peace A Chance

A couple of days after the invasion of Iraq began I was driving down Western Ave. and let a car get in front of me. Instead of the courtesy wave he flashed me a peace sign. It was such a neat thing to do, I have stolen it and made it my own.

I am not as cool as that driver (as evidenced by my use of the word neat) - sometimes I end up giving people a sign that looks like number 2 and I am sure some think I am giving them the finger. Today a car I let get in front of me, pulled over and thanked me for the Peace sign and she said she was going to start doing it too.



TV Times

Did you see John and Elizabeth Edwards on 60 Minutes? They were great, very inspiring. Katie Couric was not exactly Edward R. Murrow, however. Why didn't she mention how hard it was for her to have a very public job, while her husband was dying. If she could do it why can't the Edwards?

The interview I would rather have seen was with Vice President Edwards gearing up for his re-election campaign.