The Jaws Log – The Real Chaos

Jaws_Log

‘The real chaos’, or the beauty of cinema i.e. the sheer capacity of deceit that the director hides behind and around the camera! In this case that would be a great tugboat, 2 unit barges and a mound of rigging entangled amidst poor souls in scuba-diving gear.

If you are currently producing a film and finding yourself worked up, then take a step back and think about how tough it was for the team on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1974. Take out Carl Gottlieb’s book, The Jaws Log, and laugh wickedly at their hardship. This book truly is a marvellous account of the perils and joys of making a movie. It will transmute you into the minds of the crew-members and send a shiver down your deck. I even gasped at some of the convolutions in this book… Conclusion… Spielberg is a hero.

However, this book is more than just a mash up of everything wrong with making a movie, instead it actually provides the answers. The answers of thinking outside the box, motivating your crew, relying on your director to make the right decisions and, surprisingly, maintaining a good relationship with your producers- in this case the unrivalled Richard Zanuck and David Brown (Zanuck/Brown Productions). Apparently, Steven Spielberg’s brain was so sapped of lucidity and wellbeing that he spent 3 months after leaving Martha’s Vineyard having nightmares about being on the Ocean with sharks – now there’s a director with their head in the game!

Peter Benchley is the author behind the marvellous book Jaws, the book which got turned into this spectacular picture. Despite plenty of significant script changes by Spielberg and Gottlieb, (screenwriter for the movie – Benchley is also credited) alongside a couple of scuffles, Benchley was highly commendable of the outcome. And, so were the mass audiences who would flock to see the picture, “laughing and shrieking”, in the summer of 1975.

Carl Gottlieb has truly witnessed an extraordinary account of filmmaking and his documentation is certainly engaging entertainment. If you know a friend who doesn’t appreciate the craft of filmmaking, then throw this book at their lap and they may grow to become obsessed.

I would write a more detailed account of what Gottlieb has to say, but you really need to immerse yourself in the book and salute your admirations to the filmmakers. Grab a copy here.

For fun, as I love trailers, here is Jaws:

7 Key Traits Filmmakers Can Learn From Entrepreneurs

Richard-Branson-Virgin-Founder

If you are a filmmaker, then you are probably already thinking: “But we are entrepreneurs!” Yes, filmmaking is a business and it has moguls that make it so, and consequently the independent filmmaker, more and more so, needs to act and think like an entrepreneur. You need to get funded, you need to build a team around you and you need all the traits listed below (or in my case, bits of them), of which I have found to be most commonly associated with entrepreneurs.

Let me begin with this rather unhelpful quote “entrepreneurship is dealing with repeated failure.” (I can’t cite this quote, but it has come from somewhere!). One would fathom that this suggests “repeated failure” will eventually lead to the good will of success i.e. you just keep trying to succeed. Of course, tenacity is essential, but this quote is probably hammering home the harsh realities of running a business, and learning from your mistakes. (My dad has forever told me to “learn from my mistakes”; he just forgot to tell me to write them down!). Making a film, getting represented, publishing a book etc. are all things that no doubt feel like you are receiving treatment of “repeated failure”. But, if you learn to deal with it and flip it on it’s head into progressive enthusiasm then it can only be valuable (admitted, we are not all this strong minded). Essentially, it seems to me that this is what entrepreneurship is all about: you need to deal with whatever is thrown at you and have an answer for it (commonly by “flipping it” – a term I have now made up) – thus emulating the role of the film director.

Passion

It was obvious, who can make something happen without passion? The slight difference in regard to an independent filmmaker is that they should be primarily fuelled by their craft and the story (much like an entrepreneur is for their product, however). You shouldn’t be so fuelled by the need to get rich, if so, you probably should be an entrepreneur after all. Passion, belief and excitement all come before money in this game i.e. the world.

Tolerance

A filmmaker needs to be able to tolerate a vast number of individuals all at once. Let’s hope everyone is on the same wave length, but if not, you need to know that you have control over the outcome. A big hamper is obviously fear and various anxieties; this could be fear of the ambiguous or the ‘Other’ hanging over your shoulder. Successfully controlling such a marvel will keep you right on cue.

Vision

Just like an entrepreneur needs to vision their product and its market 6 months down the line, so do filmmakers. It is easy to forget that at the end of the day, as a filmmaker, you are selling a product. Moreover, having a clear vision to bring that product to life goes without saying. For the director, to be assertive and maintain a state of control, you have to have a clear vision. Surely, if not, then that control would stem from something other than a passion for a vision, egos begin to come out and play. Tension between crew on a film set is the ultimate assassin for a director.

Self-belief   

Nay-sayers are what the cultural industries are all about; decline and more decline. Or, so it can sometimes seem when trying to get a project off the ground. So, overcoming such individuals and taking steps away from subjective dismay and into future resolve is a desirable and fundamental trait. These are understandably tough moments were support could be largely beneficial, but “rise above” as they say.

Flexibility

If you are in control/running something (as is an entrepreneur or a film director) then you have to be adaptable to survive. Arguably, one can be narrow-minded, bigoted to the heavens and still become the lord of a business, but I will argue that filmmaking can be more delicate (especially on set) and being flexible is vital. Being assertive to changes and managing them in the best way possible is all one can do at times. This doesn’t mean letting your power slide, your power will be all the more if people respect you for listening and become enriched by your compliance. The history of film directing is littered with debates around this topic (and the others listed), nothing I have said here is to direct you, it is purely personal thoughts and beliefs for my own reflection (with the hope you may like them too!)

Rule Breaking

Perhaps not a forerunning thought for a narrative filmmaker. Of course, innovative aesthetics are not the only way to be recognised, powerful stories are the significant other. Yet, with powerful stories, more often than not, comes a beautiful and ground-breaking aesthetic and the stamp of an author. I guess this trait is about being open-minded (to yourself, your DoP, Art Director etc.), in other words, defying some form of conventional wisdom associated with filmmakers (notoriously the classical Hollywood style of filmmaking that we all know so well). However, there is no set of rules when making a film (someone respectable said this, though I can’t remember who), so set your own and break them on occasion. Besides, creative choices, there are the guerrilla filmmaker rules i.e. break the law. This is another story altogether (Read Chris Jones’s Guerrilla Filmmaker’s Pocketbook)

Tenacity

I like to think of tenacity as having an external strength – the Zeus of filmmakers if you like. This is the eternal drive that keeps you going, the firmness in your belief-system that keeps you on track, the device that pushes you through the obstacles and defies uncertainty. Anyone trying to make something happen needs a degree of tenacity.

Underlying all these factors however, is the obvious and ubiquitous need for a strong mental state – nothing is applicable without such a device. And, this is where it all begins to get a bit complicated…

Thank you readers. Please share your experiences with these traits in the comments below.

The Secret Language of Film

jean-claude-carriere

Most people have probably never heard of Jean-Claude Carriere, but he is the man behind over seventy-five ingenious screenplays and a long time collaborator with Luis Bunuel (they worked together on Luis’s late work from Belle de Jour to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). Carriere says it himself, “If you want fame, don’t be a screenwriter.” Despite writing numerous great screenplays and stage-plays, he has also written a few novels and books on film. I want to bring attention to his book The Secret Language of Film. It is a fruitful read, rich in allegorical poetry (he is indeed a Frenchman) and insight into the language of cinema and its audience. Carriere begins by telling us to keep our “eyes open” to cinema and what he has to say in his book.

Carriere raises all the key questions of film theory (ontology, aesthetics, critique etc.) yet he doesn’t dwell on them and offers invaluable insights passing most of his attention onto us, as the ever-important audience of this medium. He moves from our perceptions of the real into how we dissect time through the medium and finally how it cheats us and may end up cheating (or obscuring) history, as we know it. This may sound like a lot to take in at once, but Carriere is vigilant in his approach, giving visions into his own case studies and experiences as an avid cinemagoer and writer for the medium.

Carriere wrote the book in 1994, before the on-slaughter of digital cinema and proliferation of online media. But, he has his senses about him and talks a great deal about the attention span of audiences and audiences becoming desensitized to images, at which time television was the main culprit. Leading on from this, Carriere is clearly concerned with the over emphasis of the technical and technique; he points out that story is always more important. Of course, today this is a big debate, with stunning visuals at the forefront of cinema. For an independent filmmaker, the big question is commonly should I put more of my budget into camera so we can shoot with an Arri Alexa instead of a Canon C300? Or, should we put that extra expense into validity for the story, for example locations, cast or costume? Or, should I just not worry about this at all and focus on the script!

Another big question this raises though is whether modern audiences are actually more concerned with the visual aesthetic than anything else. Put them in front of a grainy, 3 by 4 black and white movie and you will probably find your answer. Or, look to the recent Gravity that swept up awards this year for its visual beauty (of space), but which fooled many critics into thinking it had a script worth its weight.

On a more positive note, Carriere, the screenwriter that he is, fits in some top tips on the craft amidst his discussion about the language of film. After all, a film is initially the written word, a completely different language – say hello to the screenplay. Or, as Carriere duly discloses, swiftly say goodbye! A screenwriter should be aware that “what he is writing is fated to disappear, a necessary metamorphis awaits it.” This metamorphis is principal photography of course. “A screenplay is always the dream of a film,” in this case, producing the film is simply about making the best compromises one can make. In other words, choose the compromises wisely, as there will be plenty, and you should have a good film. I like to think of this in terms of the pure nature of filmmaking, that of copying what is real. You can’t expect reality to lend itself lightly to being contrived of its origin, thus, expect some ramifications.

One of my favourite lines in the book comes again, from this notion of bleaching the real. “Writing a story, or a screenplay means injecting order into disorder.” In other words, a screenplay is clearly structured whereas life is not; in most cases life is wondrously unpredictable. However, of course there needs to be some unforeseen drama in a screenplay, to cite Hitchcock, “drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” It isn’t often that in a film you will find long sequences of someone on the toilet, brushing their teeth, hanging up the washing, or going out for their groceries (unless you are watching Michael Haneke; he adores the “dull” bits – this is not a disservice however, Haneke turns the meaning of “dull” on its head).

To gather this drama, Carriere suggests that the screenwriter be completely open to letting their imagination wonder, we are talking of the following extremes: “Imagine everything; he must kill his father, rape his mother, sell his sister…” and the list goes on. As screenwriters, we must welcome everything. Carriere talks of him and Luis Bunuel telling each other their dreams first thing in the morning, this session would be followed by a read of the daily papers for stories. At the end of the writing day they would split, Bunuel would go off for his cocktail and Carriere would meet him there half an hour later, in which time they would both have to come up with a story and pitch it to one another. No wonder the two came up with some charming ideas, the lesson here is don’t seclude yourself, interact with others (and the media) and certainly don’t visit the Overlook Hotel, at least not in the winter season.

Finally, I want to comment once more on the perception of the audience, in this case, the audience’s eye. Carriere raises an easily overlooked question, “is the eye truly supreme?” Cinema and its contingency of the real are wholly based on the fact that it is a visual medium, one that mechanically represents reality. It is placed there before our very own eyes, up on the big screen, but what is so special about it that the written word can’t convey? Is the written word more real? On this notion of seeing, we must not forget the power of what is not seen, a key device at the disposal of any director. This doesn’t necessarily have to be ambiguous signals (an example of the ambiguous would be in Casablanca when Rick and Isla may or may not have had sex during a three second dissolve to a shot of the airport tower at night and then back to Rick’s room), but it can, on the contrary, be very obvious and even barbaric. An example of the barbaric would be if I, as the director, just showed the face of my victim as the murderer slowly goes about sawing through her legs. I could hold this shot for as long I wanted, maybe five minutes or so to really show the extent of misery and trauma that my character is going through. But, then I really would be Michael Haneke!

I have only touched on some of the theoretical offerings in this book. Though rather speculative, Carriere is certain to provide ample example and experience. You may also have a laugh or two.

You can find the book on Amazon here.

And, just for fun, below is the trailer for one of my all-time favourite films (written by Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere): Belle de Jour.

 

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel – It is all a bit too much Mr. Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel

MOVIE REVIEW

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Scott Rudin Productions, Indian Paintbrush, US
100 Mins
UK Release: 7th March 2014

Director Wes Anderson
Producer Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin et al.
Screenwriter Wes Anderson
Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman
Cast Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Edward Norton et al.

You can either love or hate Wes Anderson, or you can love and hate him at the same time. Unfortunately, The Grand Budapest Hotel has torn me apart. It is undeniably perfect Anderson: obsessive and strict design, colour palettes, composition, framing and blocking. However, it is essentially missing something; my emotions traversed from sheer boredom to stifled laughter to disorderly admiration. My conclusion is that Anderson has become too overworked; I dislike him for this, yet at the same time a part of me admires the man for his precise ingenious.

The film starts and immediately you taste Anderson’s stop-motion style with precise camera panning and boxed framing. The film then jumps through three prologues of time, with the familiar Anderson narration and expose of shots, until we land ourselves at The Grand Budapest Hotel between the wars in a fictional state of Europe. What follows is a story of chapters with crimes, chases, mischief, rivalry, envy and even slapstick comedy. It is all tightly wound and then released like a chasm, the chapters seem somewhat disjointed, the acts become emotionally sterile and ultimately there isn’t a chance for the story to coerce.

We are presented with the same Anderson, but also a new Anderson. He presses on his comedic roots and concentrates on the physicality of funny. M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is the prime consent for this, and Fiennes is brilliantly on key creating a few treasurable notes of laughter. On occasion, this isn’t just through material act, but also sharp, witty and almost obscene dialogue. In one scene, he utters to the new lobby boy (whose elder self is predominantly narrating the story – F. Murray Abraham). “When you’re young it’s all fillet steak, but as you get older, you have to move onto the cheaper cuts.” If you like Anderson for his melancholic charm and grounded representations of struggling individuals in a fantastical yet realistic world (think Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums), then don’t have high expectations for this, you won’t get what you came for.

This film is being highly applauded (a reason for my great expectations), yet for all the same reasons, the obvious stylistic reasons. I haven’t seen a single review commenting on how they related to the story on a personal or cultivating note. Are we focusing on a cinematic story here, or what appears to be a theatrical and all-too whimsically clever telling of one?

Lastly, I will mention what is palpable and largely unsettling: the ensemble cast of great name actors all battling for a screen spot. A great cast list can give a film much admirable credit, however Anderson has gone a bit overboard here, with Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson popping up for five or so minutes, the story becomes even more fictitious and preposterous. I won’t list the rest of the cast, simply search it on IMDB or watch the film, but it is certainly remarkable yet somewhat heedless.

It was a muddled evening, and to be honest I am still rather mystified amidst my contemplations on the film. Frankly, I was disappointed and the film is no more than what Anderson’s lavish style makes it. One might say you are better off trying to watch it inside out.

2.5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

The Limelight Index: Maria Reinup – Writer/Director

maria_reinup

Maria is a bountiful and passionate young female filmmaker from Estonia. I had the pleasure of seeing her powerful short film Mai last year at Leeds Film Festival. The film is an incredibly impressive debut and completely blew me away. Fortunately, I have been able to catch up with Maria and ask her a few questions about her passions for film and the future of the industry.

She is currently wrapping her second short film, stills from which are shown below. (Stills by Andre Visnapuu).

When did you first become interested in filmmaking?

I am not the kind, who can recall wanting to make films since their childhood. I had TV at home until I was 6, then it broke down, my hippie-father sang “hallelujah!” threw it out and I never had one again. It took me a while before I got used to the audiovisual medium. Over the course of growing up – there was three influential films and the course itself that led me into the point I realized – filmmaking is for me. The Matrix was the first film I saw on big screen, then some years later 2046, which absolutely blew me and then in a few more years I got to see Bicycle Thieves. In some odd way, seeing these three films – the possibility to bend reality (not to say the future), the vision to make paintings alive and the fact how movies can touch you – was my early film school. Meanwhile, I did every job there was – from selling diapers via phone to being a chef in Barcelona. And it was when I was living in Spain after graduating high school, that I started noticing my diary I kept at the time was filling up with ideas for clips, videos or films. Then, on the set of my first music video, I felt it, I felt the magic.

gaffer_mann_tanzt

How did the idea for your short film Mai come about?

The story of Mai is a story that happened to me. I took the last bus from the suburbs of the city and there was just a friend with me on it that left after one stop. Two drug addicts entered, one of them in a really bad condition. And it was just the drug addicts and I. The bus driver did not care, nor did the people who slowly started to fill up the bus, as we were driving towards the center. I remember being there, when I had already called the ambulance, waiting for the right stop and thinking, “Really, is ignorance a bliss?” The fact how little we care… I don’t have words for this.

How did you attain distribution for your film?

In Estonia there is a quite unique deal for the short films – the professional shorts are compiled into one screening under a suitable name and then they hit the cinemas, marketing done accordingly. So for example, Mai was in the cinema together with 5 other shorts from the past 2 years. As a big production company, Allfilm, produced my short, I had not much to do with the distribution, the producer and the company took care of that. Also, they do most of the festival circulation.

actor_mann_tamzt

What are your plans for the future as a filmmaker?

I am currently in post-production with my second short, called Mann Tanzt. This is a very different film from the themes I am usually interested in. It’s about a man who finds a glowing cube in the middle of nowhere, and when he enters it, he realizes it’s a phone booth. Also, I am writing the script for my third short, which we will hopefully shoot this autumn. It is a story about two young women meeting through couch surfing at the verge of different difficult events in their lives and those getting mixed up. Slowly, but firmly, I am developing my first feature with a wonderful co-director Anna Hints, which is a very personal film under the working title I am, if everybody likes me and a script for another feature – a revenge picture. So, that’s easy. I have no other plans than to make the films I want to do. What bliss it would be if I could make films until I die and make a living in doing so.

Do you have high prospects for the Estonian film industry?

Estonia gained its independency after the Soviet Union collapsed in the beginning of the 1990’s. Along the old system falling into pieces, we lost the handicraft and big studios that we were used to being connected with (film stock tickling the 35mm cameras, films were made year around, big productions).  Not only did we have to build up our economy again, we also had to redefine our cinema – its funding systems and in a way, our cinematic language. Its about 15 years from the day our Film Foundation was established and gave out its first production grant. The system is developing and getting better, a change is thus happening, along with the fact that the generation of the Soviet titans (filmmakers who worked with Tarkovsky, or on the productions during Soviet times) is about to fade and the gap will be filled with the new generation. So the new era is almost here, but a reality check is always helpful – Estonia is a country of 1.4 million people (audience numbers equals money) and with no proper distribution system, meaning digitalized cinemas (which until today is just a few screens), distribution is not really working hand in hand with the productions.

car_mann_tanzt

Why is it you love films and making them?

Besides being a filmmaker, I am also a festival programmer – my job is to watch movies. With both of these positions I find myself falling in love with movies over and over again. I love everything about it – from the making of films, upon seeing one on the big screen, but why? To me there are three simple reasons for that: as a young filmmaker I sincerely and really believe that you are able to deliver a message that matters and thus might be able to change something. I see the art of escapism and the need of it. Last but not least, to either make people think or entertained, or both, is simply wonderful and above all other mediums to me.

If I ever had a super power, I’d like to time travel. Damn, dreaming of that makes me itch. In a way watching films is like scratching that itch – suddenly I can not only time travel, but I can be anything! A taxi driver or a small happy pig, see places all over the world, get introduced to different cultures, to the fears and dreams of the humankind. How is that something you don’t love?

Finally, any advice on the industry?

I will say one thing: success means hard work. And a personal touch to this – it starts to make sense when you realize that you have to really love your work first.

Below is a short teaser for Mai (unfortunately it isn’t subtitled but you will sense the urgency!)

The Death of the Audience

coloured_eye

We are all succumbed to advertisements and various images on a daily basis: on the bus, on the walk to town, on our computers and even in our mail. It has become so commonplace that we now fail to see it. Images are for the best part, totally ignored. I don’t blame us. But, what does this mean for cinema? My primary focus here is audience attention spans getting lost and the proliferation of online media becoming so vast that we can’t watch anything anymore.

Lets begin with a theory that if there is so much content to choose from and it is so readily available then how does one manage it? It becomes less valuable, less important and ultimately loses meaning. This is the nature of human interaction. We become accustomed to things, we need more or we need a higher dosage, but when this becomes to high it causes all sorts of problems and we don’t know where to begin. Is this happening to the film audience?

I am certainly spoiled for choice when I go online and search for a movie. Yet, I will still pick whatever grabs my attention first. There will be thousands of other films, independent and foreign, that exists online, but they may never make it to the limelight. If this film doesn’t grab my attention, I may begin another, and another, this brings a whole new dimension to the experience of film watching. The audience can actively engage with the films they seek, they can slice them up and choose exactly what they want. There is no need to fully engage with one piece of material when thousands attempt to surround it and move in front of it. Online media gives the audience a reason to loose attention; we have other options.

One used to sit down to watch a film and be entirely devoted to that picture for the next 2 hours or so. There is no way out, there is only the way in, into the movie. I speak for the mass audience here, people who are intrinsic about film and the filmmakers will of course still shut themselves out and focus on the picture. But even cinephiles attention spans will have been numbed by the invasion of our digital world. It is inescapable, unless you lock yourself in a basement without a mobile.

Obviously, exhibition plays a big part in this. Thank goodness the cinema is still there. It is the one place that we can become totally immersed, or is it? Have a read of Mark Kermode’s The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex. It will highlight how cinemas are still places of distraction; the popcorn munchers and whisperers will certainly get your blood boiling. Home cinema systems attempt to offer a similar experience, perhaps an even more immersive one, in the light of your own home. That is until the landline goes off or your wife gets up to have another glass of wine. Or, on the verge of abiding boredom, you may have an earnest painting hanging on your wall that becomes far more appealing than the slew of images on your TV set.

I can certainly speak of personal experience over audience disruption. I love to watch films with my girlfriend and share our journey, but this journey is inhibited by mobile phones and iPads. If she loses attention for less than five minutes, she will be on her iPad checking emails or playing with her various apps. The patience of modern audiences is a contributing factor to the decline in attention spans. Modern audiences simply aren’t patient enough to realize the full potential of a film; most of us need guns and explosives to keep us going (the lady needs kisses and clichés). Our lives are active with images, media, work, family and whatever else, and to sit down in front of a screen for two hours can, at times, be extremely agitating.

The instant connectivity of our networked world has undoubtedly caused humans to be less patient. I will curse if I can’t connect to the Internet or if a web page won’t load in under five seconds. We expect instant connectivity, and the result is a higher expectance of entertainment, entertainment that needs to instantly grab our attention. I love to see a filmmaker use a shot over a minute long, it is there for a virtuous reason, though I can be sure that the eye of a modern audience would start to waver until being reawakened by a fresh cut. The movies, over the years and in most cases, have become faster and faster (narratively and technically), it is no wonder then that when a modern audience watches an old film they begin to coil at the edges.

Earlier, I made the anomalous comment that we can’t watch anything more. Focus on the watching aspect; are we really watching, or are we simply receiving images? We are faced with pictures moving at 24 frames per second, a common occurrence, but when do we really watch the image, scan it from right to left, top to bottom? Arguably, there isn’t the chance (and this is the filmmakers magic), but our mind can reflect on the entirety of moving images if we really focus it. For most people, the story remains at the centre of the frame, their eyes are followed by the technique of the filmmaker, yet what if they ruled against convention, and looked beyond the image. The filmmaker is confined to a rectangular frame in which to show his world of reality, but the audience isn’t confined to believe merely within this boundary.  This would truly be seeing, there has to be an element of imagination to fulfill our sight.

This way of watching is to be wholly engagement, interactive and imaginative by way of sight. The filmmaker is inviting you to explore their world, don’t be limited by the lens. Different filmmakers, of course, have different demands for their audience, but the best directors always lure you in and invite you beyond. This is my argument for film watching in our age, it is inextricably linked with the distractions of constant connectivity, expectancy, patience and proliferation of imagery.