Saturday, May 5, 2007

Dalai Lama

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama is in Chicago this weekend. His arrival has me thinking about films about the Dalai Lama and Buddhism.

This year a documentary narrated by Harrison Ford called the Dalai Lama Renaissance will be released. It is about the Dalai Lama meeting with western thinkers such as quantum physicists Fred Alan Wolf and Amit Goswami (from the documentaries What the Bleep Do We Know and The Secret), social scientist Jean Houston, and founder of Agape International Spiritual Center church in Los Angeles, Dr. Michael Beckwith.

My favorite film about the Dalai Lama is Martin Scorsese’s Kundun. The film begins with the search for the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama. It follows him through adulthood and his troubles with Mao and China. A beautiful and moving film, coincidently, written by Melissa Mathison, Harrison Ford’s ex-wife.

Seven Years in Tibet is an overlooked film, I think. Perhaps it is because audiences couldn’t wrap their heads around Brad Pitt and Buddhism in the same film. It is based on the true story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China's takeover of Tibet.

Because I am a dumb sophomoric guy who loves playing golf, when I think of the Dalai Lama in film, I think of Caddyshack and Bill Murray’s story about caddying for “the Lama.”

So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-galunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

"So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."


Thursday, May 3, 2007

Adrienne Shelly

This week, Waitress, written and directed by Adrienne Shelly is being released. Years ago I knew her, as Adrienne Levine. This was before she became famous as an independent film actress, writer and director. Waitress is getting good reviews and premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival. I look forward to seeing it.

The last time I saw Adrienne was in the late 90s. She was in town for the Chicago Film Festival. I was visiting a mutual friend in the lobby of the hotel hosting the festival and she bounced into the lobby all happy and go lucky. She reminded me of Holly Golightly without the darkness.

This past Christmas I was watching Turner Classic Movies and between films they ran a tribute to actors who died during calendar 2006. There was Shelly Winters, Red Buttons, Jan Wyatt, Don Knotts and then Adrienne Shelly. I was shocked and saddened. I did not know she had died.

On November 1, 2006 she was murdered by a 19-year-old man who was working in a nearby apartment after Adrienne complained about the noise he was making. The whole story is much worse and it's not worth repeating here.

Adrienne Shelly was married to Andrew Ostroy and had a two-year-old daughter named Sophie. Her husband created the Adrienne Shelly Foundation to support women filmmakers. Please visit the web site and see Waitress.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007


My friend Stephan works for an internet company called Veoh which is making strong inroads in the realm of TV on the internet. I am curious about it so we did a little e-mail Q&A. Check Veoh out for yourself at

There will be more on Stephan in future posts. Before he wised up and stopped working with me (he was the cinematographer of all of my college films, my feature, Victimless Crimes and all of the Denny Dent commercials) Stephan was the best young director of photography I have ever seen. He saved my film butt on many occasions and we always had a blast doing it. Among other adventures- stuck in a blizzard on Thanksgiving eve, among them- from 1985-1987 we would drive all night to get to the Kentucky Derby, hang out in the infield and drive back to Chicago. We won big with Spend A Buck and Ferdinand. The other year the weather was nice, I am sure.


Dumb Filmmaker101: What is Veoh? How does it differ from YouTube?

Stephan: YouTube? Never heard of it. Tell me more...

Veoh is a distribution platform for video that helps content producers find the right audience for their content and audiences find content of interest from across the web. Veoh lowers the barriers to being a
broadcaster, not just for those with short clips (like YouTube), but for professional and semi-professional producers who have long form content (Veoh has no limits as to the file size or length of the content we distribute). For viewers, Veoh has a downloadable player (Veoh TV) that play high quality files full screen, and a remote-control interface that brings a television-like viewing experience to broadband video.

Dumb Filmmaker101: How do producers (content providers) get their programming on Veoh?

Go to and click on the "publish" button. The publishing process is a simple, step-by-step process. There is no cost to use the Veoh platform for distribution. Anyone can sign up and publish their

Dumb Filmmaker10: What is the pay scale?

Veoh will place ads against your content and share the revenue with you or pay you on a per-view basis. Alternatively, you can charge for your content on a download-to-own or pay-per-view basis. If you have a collection of content, you can create a series and charge for the series on a monthly subscription basis. Veoh takes a percentage of your paid content sales.

To participate in the pay-out program, you need to sign up for the Veoh Pro program, which simply means verifying your address with a credit card (we don't charge it.. Veoh Pro is free as well).

Dumb Filmmaker101 (in a fit of self-promotion): Can I get Rainbow Soup and what's two+three? on Veoh?

Absolutely. Sign up as a user, and publish the highest quality versions of your pieces through our web interface, or using the Veoh TV player. We transcode your files for you, including iPod versions. You can syndicate your content by dropping our web player into your own web site to make it available there, and you can share that player with other sites as well. Veoh will also publish your content to Google, YouTube,and MySpace for you to save you the extra step.

Dumb Filmmaker101: What is the future?

Our goal is to serve viewers with a great way to watch video. That means improving our user interface to make it the simplest, lean-back experience available and the best way for viewers to find really
interesting content. Veoh is expanding its platform to encompass content from across the web, and on to different distribution platforms, like mobile devices, home media servers and other devices that connect the TV to the internet.

Veoh serves producers by bringing the largest possible audience, respecting the quality of the content, offering the potential for monetization, and helping producers connect with the right audience. Veoh is focused on developing new, effective, consumer focused ads and paid content schemes.

Dumb Filmmaker101: Who do you like in the Kentucky Derby?

I don't follow the horses on the road to the Derby. I am not inclined to bet on favorites, particularly on the Derby, so I have to consider the field on the day and look for the good bet. Talk to me on Saturday.

Dumb Filmmaker101 likes No Biz Like Show Biz


Tuesday, May 1, 2007


In 1999 our TV commercial business was hamstrung by a Screen Actors Guild strike. Looking for work, we were offered the opportunity to make a promotional film for The Chase House, a Chicago area not-for-profit, which worked in the inner city and helped families in need. The client hammered out a rough script and it was pretty much what one would expect of a typical fund-raising promotional video, people talking about how great they are and how much they help the communities they served. All of which is very nice, but painfully dull. When we looked at the script it was probably 75 percent talking head interview, 15 percent graphical statistics and maybe 10 percent moving pictures. To us this was all backwards and we accepted the job only if we could make some changes to their script.

We decided to shoot this promotional film as a pure documentary. We would show the good works they did, loose the statistics completely and tell the story with pictures. Our interview subjects would push the narrative along with the answers to our questions. Ideally, we hoped to not even use a voice over person, though it turned out there was too much historical information and hard facts that needed to be presented concisely to do that. The result is what we call an Infomentary- part informational, part documentary and NO part “industrial” or “corporate” film. Our goal was to make the film interesting to watch, believing, if we could get viewers hooked on the images, it would help open up their checkbooks. Sure enough it did. Recently we showed the film to a perspective new client, and years later it holds up.

The only reason we could make the film in this style was that we shot lots, LOTS of cutaway footage. Cutaways are those scenes (or even still pictures) that you use to cut away from a subject. In film you often cut away from an interview subject to condense a story or to make the subject sound better. Recently we were editing and by using a cutaway were able to change someone from speaking in the present tense, to speaking in the past tense by substituting the word “was” for the word “is.” We were only able to do this because we had images to cutaway to.

One of the scenes in the film mentioned above was shot at an HIV/AIDS respite facility. Located in a church on Chicago’s west side, a minimal staff ran daycare and head start programs, provided respite for families dealing with HIV/AIDS, ran a monthly food distribution program and held art therapy sessions for families in need. The day we shot was in the middle of summer, maybe 90 degrees outside and it was the one day a month all of these programs occurred at the same time. We got to the location in the morning and shot all day. Late in the afternoon we did an interview in the stifling church sanctuary with the art therapist- who also ran the food distribution service. He was tired, sweaty and exhausted. If time and budget not been a concern would should have come back another day for his interview, but instead we went forward. Very quickly it was clear he was worn out; every other word he spoke was “Uh” or “You know.” We were very concerned, but at this point had committed and we felt we could save it in the editing room because we knew we had really great cutaways to choose from.

Cut to a month later. We screen the film for the client. They love it. Mr. Art Therapy came up to us and told us how much better he came off than he thought he would. It was all due to the cutaways. The stills at the top of this post are from the film, to see the project go to
and scroll down to The Chase House.


Monday, April 30, 2007

Food on Film

Marcel Proust can have his madeleines, I have food on film. I found myself thinking the other day about films where food is integral to the story and it made me hungry. So I have come up with a list of films where food and eating is a key part of the film. This is a work in progress so feel free to add your own suggestions. I have confined my list to narrative films. This of course eliminates the best food film- Baking Bread a documentary by my favorite Sicilian, Rose Spinelli. Please check it out.

Here is my list by cuisine. The films, as well as the food, should be good.

Soul Food- The title says it all.
Diner- It’s ABOUT the roast beef sandwich.
Dinner Rush- Just like working in a popular restaurant. Directed by a man who owns a restaurant.

Eat Drink Man Woman-Directed by Ang Lee. Tortilla Soup is the much inferior re-make.

Mostly Martha- Another film set in a working kitchen.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding-This film only made my list because of the food, Somehow Zorba the Greek didn’t seem to fit.

Babette’s Feast -French food, Danish film.
Chocolat- We can't forget dessert.

Big Night - The sine qua non of food films. Everyone involved with the film must have been a foodie. This is a great film for lots of reasons, but none better than the line, “The pasta- sometimes she wants to be alone.” (Say it aloud with an Italian accent.)
The Godfather - One could argue the film is about food. Count how many references to food there are vs. how many mentions of the “mafia?” Also, anytime someone is killed and the next line is “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” you know the film is about food.

Lost in Translation - Perhaps a stretch, but the film so immerses us into Japan, that you have to include it. Also, the scenes where Bill Murray shoots the commercial for whiskey are priceless. I hope my directorial manner is better than that commercial director. Also, how different would U.S. culture be if we could advertise for hard liquor on TV? Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Jack Daniels anyone?

Like Water for Chocolate- You will be hungry and amorous after seeing the film.

Local Hero- A wonderful film. You really get a sense of how other cultures look at the land and animals. Peter Riegert brings an injured rabbit to his inn. The next time he sees it it’s on his plate as Lapin a La Cocotte.

I want to add my own madeleine to this list. The In-Laws with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.
There are a lot of food scenes and references- the dinner when the two families meet, (tse tse flies with beaks), Vince and Shelley driving backwards down the road as Vince reminisces about a chicken salad sandwich on a hard roll with a large orange juice ‘You know the grande?’ The Guacamole Act of 1917. But the food scene, to me, is the Pea Soup scene.

After Arkin (Shelley) has been chased down the street (but before he learns how to serpentine) and Falk (Vince) are eating in a diner. Shelley has ordered split pea soup but isn’t eating it. Vince takes some and says, “A little greasy but very good. Crumble up some crackers to absorb the grease,” You need to see it.

I cannot eat pea soup without thinking of Vince and Shelley and my dad.


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