Wednesday, June 21

NFF: Coffee with... Saturday

Left to right (apologies for the photo quality)
Mark Levin, festival juror
Alan Berliner. Entry: Wide Awake
Henry-Alex Rubin, festival juror, director Murderball
Steven Cantor. Entries: What Remains; loudQUIETloud.
Freida Lee Mock. Entry: Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner

Saturday morning's discussion was another filmmaker free-for-all: how they did it, why chose/how they approached the subject, and a variety of other project-specific questions and answers. But the most interesting discussion followed Danny Schechter's comment (thinly disguised as a question), what are we going to do about the way we're not getting the facts from any media anymore? Schechter's In Debt We Trust showed at the festival.

For some filmmakers, the first answer was "nothing." And I agreed with them. If you choose a story, the politics are implied. The story, the shots, the editing, the music; that's the politics. Cantor's movie about the Pixie's reunion, sort-of, tour is about something else. Even Mock's movie of Tony Kushner, a loud political playwright, is a movie about Kushner the artist. But Schechter point, and Schechter, wouldn't go away.

Schechter said, for instance, that he and his partners get a lot of letters saying that their movies are good, but "not for us." If news media and government are not reliable source of fact, and movies that expose the facts are "not for" lots of distributors, what will we do as filmmakers to address the structural deafness in the populace? The old dichotomy between art and reporting poked into view almost immediately. Art's view is deep, particular, and sensual. Reporting's view is short, cold, hard, and oppositional.

Alan Berliner challenged Schechter to start a Not For Us festival to get artistic reporting into the open. Schechter in turn challenged filmmakers and viewers to take responsibility for their piece of the film making/media-making industry. Levin and Schechter agreed that the internet pay-for-priority legislation being considered now may screw filmmakers and that it is a responsibility to act. Here's an example of the effect: ABC shows could download like water over Niagra (if they paid for priority data traffic); Fred's Films movie trailer download could take all morning (if Fred didn't pay for fast data traffic).

I'm getting ahead of myself, but Jay Craven said, (not quoting but interpreting the ideas I digested), When you write the story, the theme perks out of behavior, action, juxtaposition, and spoken words. But the writer is responsible. He's got to watch theme emerge, compare it with his goals, deepen it where it's what he means, adjust where it doesn't. So many entertaining movies aren't about anything (my strong impression). It's just interesting people doing interesting things. I like many of them. But there's more.

Schechter seemed to be urging filmmakers to go beyond treating film as a commodity - artistic or otherwise. During the Friday Coffee with... event, two documentary filmmakers were very reluctant to hope or insist that their movies could change the structure of the way turtles or autistic people, respectively, might be treated. Okay, so they had just locked the festival edit, they didn't set out to make a movie about political change, they were unprepared to organize for the cause. Forgiven. But their movies are about people with problems that demand a response. Schechter was right at least this far. Stand up. Say that you want the movie to move society toward a better tomorrow. We're Davids in a Goliath kind of world - hard, cold, competitive Davids. This art should kick some ass.

Thanks, Danny.

Tuesday, June 20

NFF: It's the People

The whole weekend at the Nantucket Film Festival would not have been possible without the generosity of The Producer (one of my bosses at the Boston Production Company where I'm a story analyst) and the publisher of Imagine, Carol Patton. The Producer put in a call and soon I was talking to Carol, who offered me an available room at the Imagine house.

Carol is the longtime, tenacious promoter of film and production in Boston. It's thanks to her hard work and organizing, along with an army of supporters, actors, directors, and state politicians that the Massachusetts legislature voted a film production tax credit into law at the end of 2005. Sandy Goetz wrote a good summary of its effect in Imagine this month (it will be online after publication of the next issue). Thanks for your patient in-person explanation, Sandy. After years of industry struggle in the region, there's an air of hopefulness now that financial incentives help draw movies to Massachusetts and New England.

I also met Mick Hoegen, Jessica Hansen, and Fran. Mick worked on Mystic River. Jessica has appeared on stage and screen; I'd be surprised if you did not see her in something big soon. Fran, a hard-helmet deep sea diver, electrician, and SAG actor described his most recent role as "an Irish thug" on The Brotherhood (Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco's latest TV venture). Do you want to hear about the producer who's just hung out his shingle? The policitical gadabout? The conversation was always entertaining. Fran and Mick kept me out late. Thanks, men.

Here's my favorite chance encounter. While I was studying screenwriting at Emerson College, John Stimson came to describe his writing and filmmaking process using The Legend of Lucy Keyes as a model and example. Young Lucy Keyes is played by a terrific young actress who appeared on stage after the New England premiere at the Independent Film Festival of Boston this spring. Calendar pages fly in the wind to the weekend past: Before the screening of Half Nelson, at NFF I saw a captivating short called The Braggart. The young woman in the lead was extraordinary but to my memory, unknown. Then, standing in line to enter Late Night Storytelling with Bobby Farrelly and Anne Meara (I'll say more about later), I turned first left as Joe Pantoliano cut through the line leading his kids back to the car before he went in to the event the back way. Then I turned right and there stood my new favorite star: Anna Friedman. I should have recognized her as The Braggart, but the filming style and her characterization transformed her. She's a sweet, ambitious kid who has great parents. I got Anna's autograph and hoped out loud that someday she'd be in a movie I wrote. I often hear about the superficiality of this business, so it's a thrill to recognize people in this business to whom you can confidently say, "I sincerely respect what you do."

Monday, June 19

Friday 'Coffee with...' panel at Nantucket Film Festival (NFF)

What a great time this festival is. An emphasis on screenwriting, plenty of A-listers, good parties, and room for the small production companies and even screenwriters like me. Watch for more entries, in particular one on theme from a panel discussion on which Jay Craven said some very cogent things on the subject.

Aubrey Nealon. Entry: A Simple Curve.
Lizzie Gottlieb. Entry: Today's Man
Eric Daniel Metzgar. Entry: The Chances of the World Changing
Jason Matzner. Entry: Dreamland

The wide ranging discussion on Friday morning covered how the movies got made, how Canadian public funds affect production (Nealon is a Canadian), the personal and the political, and some tart, realistic comments on Indie vs. Studio. Here are some of the highlights as seen from an aspiring screenwriter's P.O.V. (me), despite having slept little the night before.

Matzner observed that there is no Indie vs. Studio, per se. There are various degrees of Indie and Studio. As you move up (or down) the scale toward Studio, you have more resources. And you relinquish control. The opposite is true at the Indie end of the scale. It was a pleasure to hear him state this as a matter of fact rather than outrage. Matzner admitted - his day job is in the story department at Universal - good projects get lost, betrayed, or abandoned.

Gottlieb candidly admitted that by making her first feature about her brother, she'd set herself bigger challenge than she'd imagined. It took her six years to film and edit, including interruptions. Material was no challenge, but finding the story she'd tell and her role in it required Solomonic decision-making. Narrative screenwriters can sympathize. After finding the story idea, what demands does this story make that bends convention to particulars? In response to a question about what her brother, the documentary subject, thought of the movie, she said, "He told me, 'It should have a montage. Many films have montages.' and the other thing he was said was, 'It should be much longer.'" And we think the A-listers like to see themselves on film.

Eric Metzgar told the kind of "I love life" stories that I relish. He and his producer met the documentary subject Richard Ogust at the airport to pick up rescued turtles. Because they are in bad shape when the turtles arrive, the men immediately left for Ohio where the turtles would be treated, driving all night. In the middle of the morning, conversation waned. The camera was off. The producer was asleep. Metzgar reported a sense of peace falling over him. He looked up and thought, "I can't think of anything better in the world." That's why any of us do this.

Tuesday, June 13

Nantucket Film Festival Sleigh Ride

When you're a movie story fan and an autodidact, here's what happens. Fortune smiles and you get an internship reading scripts, which is great. Everything you learn - read "teach yourself" - about story is Invaluable, but Confidential. And though it's given that the bloggers' standard editorial policy is to drop trou, I'm old fashioned in the trou department. Hence my silence.

Finding Funny Man
But that's all changing now, thanks to the Nantucket Film Festival, which opens Wednesday night. Thanks to many friends, I have a mission and a place to lay my head. I'm going to try to deliver a package to a writer/director/producer - the Funny Man - on behalf of a certain Producer.

Nantucket Rush Line
Along the way, I'll interview whomever I can find. Maybe you. Or if time, stamina, and internet connections permit, you'll find updates in a couple days.

Sleigh Ride
This is the ride you get when you harpoon the big one. You hang on and hope for death before it dives hard and fast with you tangled in its lines. A perfect comment on the filmmaking experience. But it turns out, its also a lesser known sexual position obviously first imagined by the "harpooner." As for the third definition, the less said the better.