Friday, May 13, 2005

Earth to Fanfilmmakers

Mike Verta offers his take on the bathrobe-loving, lightsaber wavin' amateur filmmakers in the world. I have more to say on this subject, but Mike's sharp writing is a very interesting read. Here, with his permission, the full text:

Star Wars Fan Films: A Review

You Know Who You Are

A writer writes, always. A writer reads; reads with a critical, adoring eye and an insatiable appetite for both new material, and classics alike. Even the layout of text on a page is art, to the writer. A writer has whole paragraphs of great literature memorized – solid pillars in the foundation of their craft. A writer cannot read a menu without mentally expanding the descriptions of entrees. A writer has difficulty ever focusing completely on a conversation, for one part of the brain is scrolling the dialog in real-time, and taking copious, detailed notes. A writer reads this editorial, and instantaneously one-ups it in the mind; irrevocably sensitive to its clumsy rhyme and meter, the missed opportunities, the ham-handed metaphors and shallow insights. A writer would delight in reworking this paragraph. On a desert island, the writer would be content with a stick.

Just as the photographer - whose eyes are the world’s best cameras – sees composition, light and shadow every waking hour of every single day. The photographer sees the bluish hues of shadows on a snow bank, while others blink and squint and shield their vision from the glare. The photographer loves the weight of the camera, the music of a transport turning; the delicate click of the shutter closing. The photographer’s eye, after a lifetime of training, sees the world in utter slow-motion, able to perceive the subtlest shifts in expression and composition, and watches vigilantly, always, for that one defining moment in time. The photographer reads about photography; will talk for hours about photography, looks at photographs; dreams of taking pictures. A photographer sees the world with such detail and sensitivity that they can capture the whole of an experience onto a tiny sliver of emulsion, and yet evoke the most powerful of emotions in those of us who have merely eyes.

The composer, too, can never escape the music. Turn signals become metronomes; the elevator bell rings in D-flat. Composers hear music swelling when they kiss; and war drums in the washing machine spin cycle. The composer taps pencils all day long, and whistles, and hums, and sings and claps… and practices, and practices and practices and practices.

It’s like the director, who sees the world by its drama. The director hears an accent, and pictures an ancestor’s journey in musty, cramped quarters on a sea-weary boat. In a crowd, the director sees the silent loner; in a subway, the director’s watching the deadly third rail.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could make a film - one that was moving, or truly entertaining, without need for caveat, disclaimer or excuse - without having to spend a lifetime learning, and struggling, and training, and honing your craft? Wouldn’t it be great if you could reap the personal, fulfilling rewards of leaving behind a piece of art that meant something to someone, that contributed in even the smallest way, without need for talent, dedication, and experience?

Well you can’t.

Having a camera doesn’t make you a photographer. Final Draft software doesn’t make you a writer. Telling your fat friends in Jedi bathrobes to make mean faces doesn’t make you a director, and the world doesn’t care about lightsaber fights. Making films that are worth the time, worth the energy, and worth presenting, is really, really, really hard – no matter what Apple Computer tells you.

You haven’t mastered your craft, and you have nothing to say. Your film is nothing more than a narcissistic fantasy; a shallow piece of self-loving, masturbation fodder: insignificant, irrelevant and insulting. You believe the raving press from the psychologically desperate, with their impossibly low standards of expectation, because it’s exactly what you want to hear. You’re either too self-centered to care about the truth, or too ignorant to see it.

The truth is, the world is full of photographers, writers, composers, directors, actors, and editors, who have made their craft a life’s pursuit; who have more to contribute to the world than meaningless ego-glorification pieces. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll never have to face them in a darkened theater. Until then, fill up the world’s bandwidth with your incomprehensible, uninteresting stories and painful, cringe-worthy dialogue. Humiliate your friends in costume and watch your film over and over and over. Proclaim yourself an emperor in your shiny new clothes; but don’t call yourself a filmmaker.

You have to earn that.

Mob Mentality

We have our tickets. I'll be going to the 8:30 PM screening on Thursday at the Arclight cinema, where the dorks were *supposed* to line up. I guess it's a blessing not to go to the midnight showing. For I and II, I saw it with screaming, cheering geeks that the appearance of a single colored glowing sword would cause them to collectively orgasm. It's impossible to watch the movie without drinking the kool-aid in one form or another when attending with this audience, so it's for the best that we avoid it. The theater will be jam packed, and with plenty of Star Wars fans, but not the ones so clamoring for the movie that the Star Wars logo will illicit the same response that U2 gets when they take the stage for an encore.

The "2nd wave" of reviews have hit, and they're mostly of the variety that speaks of returning to reality, that Revenge isn't the great white hope, but rather just a vast improvement over the other two prequels. Of course, there are the extremes out there. I've read reviewers that said that Revenge was "the best film in 25 years" and I've seen a critic that called it a "Death Twitch". One review dared to say that ROTS could possibly be the best of all six Star Wars films. Okay, whoa. Reality police, pull over. Insinuating that it's even possible is the golden calf of geeks everywhere. You're worshipping a false idol, now come back to the flock.

There are several truths that spin a thread through most reviews out there. Hayden's acting is still wooden. The diologue is campy. Palpatine is the best character. The final duel is great, but not a jaw-dropper. Most of these were a given, and don't surprise me too much. I think the cast could take a note from classically trained actor Ian McDiarmid and learn how to deliver stuff like this without sounding stiff or silly.

Whatever the final product may be like from my perspective, I'm sure that I'm going to enjoy that night in the theater. I somehow managed to have fun at the previous two, so that's not a worry. But the aftertaste is always very vivid, and hard to get rid of by going home and watching A New Hope. So we count down the final days, and hope we're getting more than we bargained for.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Episode III: More Hot Buzz

If there is anyone in the critic business that I look to as being solid gold, it's the schitzophrenic ramblings of one Alexandra DuPont. Aint It Cool has always taken a step back and watched in awe as she ripped apart or gushed over the fanboy offerings of what was out at that particular time.

Finally, she has delivered her opinion on Revenge of the Sith. And it is a very resounding "YES!". Snippets:

The bottom line is that "Sith" has a discipline - an aggressive discipline - missing from Episodes I and II. It is just repeatedly not-embarrassing at nearly every turn. Most of the flabby expository walks to landing pads have been neatly snipped. Important things are said with images instead of words. The special effects are better, but draw less attention to themselves.

Alright, it's official. I am *looking forward* to Episode III. Enough people -- people whose opinions i trust have given me the hope and the glow of a fanboy ready to be treated to two hours of feeling like a kid again.

Regardless, if I see more positive feedback, I will make sure and point it out for those that need more convincing than I. (And if you were more cynical than I was about the potential for a disaster... then you need to seek professional help.)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Yes, Virginia, there Really is a Movie

Wow. Just wow. I'm getting word from all over... my hopes *should* be up.

Rotten Tomatoes has a 100% rating from early reviews. Variety is giving it thumbs up, and they *hated* the first two films.

Word hasn't exactly been Oscar-worthy, but people are saying it's a solid film that's going to win back fans that turned their noses up at the first two prequels, myself included. Critics, critics i know personally and know my feelings, are saying i'm going to love it, and that I just might be teary-eyed by the end.

Crying? At a Star Wars prequel?

Well, I guess i'm buying my opening night tickets now.

Please God... let this be a good film.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Just Checking

If you are someone that prides themselves on getting their entertainment news from reliable sources, then I hope you do not go to the IMDb. Their newsfeed, WENN, has the habit of taking one quote and turning it into an entire story, exaggerating it to full effect like a British tabloid.

For example, this item, which hits close to home:

Chinese actress Bai Ling, who stars opposite Nick Nolte in the upcoming The Beautiful Country, has told the New York Post that she was cut out of the final installment of Star Wars after George Lucas learned that she had posed topless for Playboy.The newspaper reported that she burst into tears after getting word that her scene had been removed. "I just found out that my part has been completely cut out," she told the Post. "I do not know what happened." However, she speculated that it may have had something to do with her layout in June's Playboy. "I did not know that Playboy was going to come out the same time as Star Wars. I saw them as separate projects. I see the human body as beautiful and not pornographic, but maybe the Star Wars producers did not see what I did. I am in shock."

Of course, if you actually go to the new York Post's gossip column and read the entire item, they at least offer Lucasfilm a chance to speak for themselves:

LucasFilm spokeswoman Lynn Hale told us that Ling's sole scene was cut more than a year ago. "It was just one scene," she said.

My only thought is to wonder why they carted her around at Celebration and had her signing autographs and the like. True, it's pretty common to have people like "The third x-wing pilot on the right who was digitally replaced in the Special Edition" at conventions to be worshipped without a second thought, but it almost seems disingenuous in a way.

Other things that pop into my head: Did she really just find out *now*? Is this a publicity stunt to get her name in the paper and sell more issues of Playboy? Does Playboy *really* need Bai Ling's help?

Another head-scratcher from Tinseltown. I'd cry if I was cut from Revenge too, but i'm pretty sure Playboy wouldn't be involved.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hey, only *we* can do that to our pledges!

From the 'biting the hand that feeds you' department, by way of the NY Times: Science Fiction writers around the globe are breathing a sigh of relief that Episode III is coming out and ending the series, because, apparently, it's been casting a horrible shadow on them that none of them could bear. Here's the remarks of writer/snob Richard K. Morgan:

"It's just such a huge shame," he said. "Anyone who is a practitioner of science fiction is constantly dogged by the ghettoization of the genre. And a lot of that comes from the very simplistic, 2-D Lucasesque view of what science fiction has to offer."

Yep, he used the word 'ghettoization' when comparing Star Wars to sci-fi. Wow. The article says that Sci-fi writers deem Star Wars as only being a 'space opera', which is amusing because Lucas has been beating them to the punch ever since A New Hope. He never claimed it was Science Fiction, yet these authors seem to point to him for all that has ailed them.

It's sad how quickly these people forget that Lucas put Science Fiction back on the map and helped put paychecks in their hands for years. It acted as a gateway drug to the more hardcore works these guys put out, completely contrary to what these authors see as being a detriment to the sci-fi industry.

One problem with "Star Wars," science fiction writers say, is that it is not, ultimately, concerned with science, but rather with a timeless vision of good and evil.

How is that a 'problem'? Tell me how that is a PROBLEM. Not high minded enough for you? There's a STOP button on your DVD player, folks. Eject it, Pop in the director's cut of Blade Runner and rub your gentials for a few hours, it's your Netflix membership. But don't tell me that Star Wars is crapping on your lawn. Who wants to put money down that without Star Wars, Blade Runner never gets made (or at least gets the budget, A-list talent, or marketing support)? Nobody? Didn't think so.

Finally, Ray Bradbury chimes in:

"The problem was he made a sequel," Mr. Bradbury said. "People have tried to get me to do a sequel to 'The Martian Chronicles,' but I've never done it. Sequels are a bad idea."

The quote should have ended, "...when your movie is 'The Martian Chronicles'." *gag*

I definitely encourage everyone to read the entire article, if only to see how trapped in their own alternate universe these people are. While I will always agree that Science Fiction definitely didn't start with Star Wars, nobody can argue how it made everyone take notice and give Sci-Fi mainstream exposure on a level that had never been seen before. The fact that so many authors have been able to find an audience for their work is evidence to the exposure that Lucas helped them find. Don't be "above" Star Wars- instead, embrace it for what it is (a fun, entertaining story about good and evil) and pat yourself on the back that you're writing something much more thought provoking.

And then, keep it to yourself.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Monday Morning Recap

Every Monday come to The Jedi Scribe to get our take on box office performances by the sci-fi in our midst.

As everyone on Earth (and off) predicted, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy clobbered XXX: State of the Union at the box office, raking in 21.1 million over its opening weekend. What many didn't see coming was just how much better it did than its competition, though this was due much more to XXX's failure than Hitchhiker's success. Some analysts predicted a much bigger weekend for theaters overall, but the numbers still indicate continued sagging attendance compared to this time last year. This shouldn't be dwelled on too much - April 2004 saw Passion of the Christ putting up constantly strong numbers far past its opening, and that alone can explain much of the discrepansy.

Hitchhiker will be an interesting movie to track when it comes to staying power, as sci-fi comedies rarely do as well as they deserve to in the theaters. (Of course, sometimes they do exactly as they deserve to - See Pluto Nash.) Its competition next week includes Elisha Cuthbert's sophmore film release House of Wax and Orlando "Can't make a movie without a sword" Bloom pretending to be a knight in Kingdom of Heaven. Don Cheadle's Crash is getting the best reviews of next week's openers, but is only opening in 1700 theaters and doesn't figure to have a shot at the top spot. Kingdom is looking to suffer the same fate as other Medieval action movies of late and tank without a second thought... the nail in the coffin of a genre that hasn't done well since Gladiator.

No more sci-fi films on the slate until Revenge of the Sith... which has become a tradition in the industry when a Star Wars prequel is raring to explode on to the scene. It figures to become the biggest opener of the year so far, but how long it lingers isn't an easy number to guess until we start seeing critics reactions.

Stay tuned for more...


Anonymous Kori said...

I think that Orlando "I can't make a movie without a sword" Bloom has a large enough fan base that the movie will do alright in it's first week but then promptly tank in the weeks to come.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Kori (again) said...

The comment I just left is bad grammar, and as a teacher I feel obligied to correct myself, it should read as follows:
"I think that Orlando "I can't make a movie without a sword" Bloom has a large enough fan base that the movie will do alright in its first week but then promptly tank in the weeks that follow."

Okay, I think that's all for now ;-)

7:24 PM  
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Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Sith get Revenge... *Then* What?

The New York Times has come out with a very in depth-piece on the direction Lucasfilm will have to take after the Star Wars movies run their natural course. While none of it is too terribly shocking or unexpected, there are a few notes that, after reading, give me a lot of hope for future projects coming out of the company, far beyond the TV shows announced at Celebration 3.

Some snippets (though a complete read is recommended):

Over lunch at the dining hall at Big Rock, Lucasfilm's corporate campus next to Skywalker Ranch, Micheline Chau, the president and chief operating officer, said Mr. Lucas began thinking about overhauling the company in 2002, just after the release of "Attack of the Clones," the fifth "Star Wars" film made.

Back then, the company was criticized for several missteps, she said. Licensees were stung by lackluster merchandise sales after the release of "The Phantom Menace" in 1999 and were worried about more of the same with "Attack of the Clones." Poorly conceived "Star Wars" video games flooded the market, turning off fans. And I.L.M., the special-effects division, was facing increasing competition as filmmakers became more adept at creating their own effects.

This is kind of a nice way of putting how lukewarm things were at the time (no pun intended), especially omitting the fact that WETA was killing ILM in the war of visual effects... an area that ILM used to be the only name to turn to when you wanted innovation. It's said there's still some friendly animosity between camps, though that ambition to outdo each other has proven to be a factor in how things look in Episode III... not always for the better. (More on this in a future post.)

Improvements and growth have definitely occured since this low point, and now business is booming. The computer games have risen to huge heights (Knights of the Old Republic, anyone?), Marketing has found its stride again, and the company has found its focus, mostly thanks to Jim Ward, a man who I've bashed in the past but I cannot do anything but salute his efforts in the climb back to the top of peak performance. Another excerpt:

Under Mr. Ward, LucasArts has shown signs of renewed life, although it is facing brutal competition. It will distribute five or six video games a year, some made by outside developers. Last August, Mr. Ward streamlined the division, laying off 31 people. He demanded that game developers meet their proposed deadlines and develop better stories. And he is adamant about creating new intellectual property.

"It's not without challenges," he said. "We can't sit here and say we've got everything figured out."

Damn skippy. Jim Ward is speaking the opinion that I wish more people held at the Ranch: We may be the best in the business, but that doesn't mean we can slack off and continue to put out crap.

I encourage everyone to check out the article, if only to get to know the people that run Lucasfilm and aren't named George or Rick. It's a definite eye-opener to the rest of Lucasfilm's camp besides what you see in the BTS documentaries. These people are as passionate about their work as George is, and it's definitely starting to show.


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Thank You, George

While it's my opinion that Episodes I and II were extremely lackluster and I'm not holding my breath on III, I would not be here caring so much about them if the Original Trilogy didn't grab a hold of me as much as it did. So upon discovering, it was not very hard for me to find something nice and meaningful to say in my Thank You without having to put a brave face on. I wrote what I meant, and if people think that bestowing praise on Lucas for his past work while critizing his recent efforts is hypocrisy, then we shall be at an impasse for quite awhile.

I don't know if this will ever see George's eyes, or if the effort really does come from a good place (They're going to sell a *lot* of T-shirts), but I think I'm doing the right thing by standing up and being counted as someone thankful for the Star Wars universe.

Head here and stick your John Hancock on the list. Give your thumbs up to the Flanneled One.