Posts tagged Cole Abaius
Posts tagged Cole Abaius
by Cole Abaius
A prominent theater owner once told me a story about two production assistants hustling it out for little pay on a Dolph Lundgren workout video. Part of the video involved Lundgren running down a sandy hill, so when they needed to do more takes, the PAs had to smooth out the footprints in the sand (of which, yes, there was only one set). The two PAs threw themselves into the task with such gusto that the director was awe-struck. They rolled on their sides down the hill, happily did any other task necessary and even grabbed a dog turd bare-handed to get it out of a shot on a sidewalk.
The director talked about them to everyone, claiming they were the best PAs he’d ever seen in his career.
One of them was apparently Quentin Tarantino.
It’s a bit of a myth that he learned about movies exclusively by working at a video store, and even if this story isn’t true, it’s fun to believe it — if only to imagine Tarantino furiously doing menial tasks and ripping dog shit off the ground without question. However, Movies.com has a relic of his early career with a big more proof to it: an excellent video where Richard Gladstein recounts Harvey Weinstein‘s reaction to reading the script for Pulp Fiction for the first time.
By Cole Abaius
Never Give Up On an Idea
“You know what? I never give up on anything, because you come back around, and suddenly the thing you thought you’d never do is relevant. I talked with my wife about Much Ado About Nothing for years, and it was always like, ‘I don’t feel like my take on the material is solid enough to merit that.’ And then one day I woke up and said, ‘Wait a minute, I know exactly what I think that movie’s about.’ I definitely have had a lot of projects that stalled, but I never know which one’s going to suddenly pick itself up. I don’t tend to look back that much. Except for Firefly. But I’m always open to something that I thought was moribund suddenly coming to life and trying to eat my brain.”
We are all susceptible to The Shower Principle.
From that same interview, a quick lesson for the Michael Bay’s of the world: “Spectacle and character are not inherent enemies.”
Sometimes a Drought Comes Right Before the Downpour
By most measures, Whedon has had a steady, successful career even if a lot of it was spent frustratingly close-but-not-quite to that highest plane of fame. Plenty of screenwriters would switch places.
So it’s a bit odd to think about the recent history that led to The Year of Whedo-mination. With the shelving of Cabin in the Woods, he hadn’t seen a feature theatrical release in 7 years and only had Dollhouse to call his own on television from 2004 on. That’s a nice, little dormant period. One that Whedon himself has noted a period of questioning – wondering whether he was already seeing his career in the rear-view.
Then, based mostly on Lionsgate’s ironic timing (which was undoubtedly fueled by having a movie from the director of The Avengers that starred Thor on their hands), Whedon saw two movies hit in a month’s time. As a writer, Cabin in the Woods represented a movie that made genre fans salivate and non-genre fans clap just as loudly. As a writer/director, The Avengers was the summer itself.
It turns out this narrative of failure and success fits in nicely on a creative and personal level.
“That moment where you stand up and say, ‘I have the right to exist.’ I’ve written it a lot of times, and I never get tired of writing it. And if I could just believe it about myself, I think I could stop writing it.”
Never Lose Sight of the Emotional Stakes
So you’re main character is a mythic beast killer? An astronaut forced to battle dragons? An accountant? No matter what genre rules you’re adhering to, what concept dressing is on the side or what toys you get to play with, don’t forget what’s centrally at stake for your characters.
Build the Structure, Then Hit the Playground
“The plot [for Cabin] is something I presented to Drew [Goddard] as ‘I think I found the movie that we could actually sit down and write in a weekend,’ because it has a third act. It starts one way then takes you another way and just when you think you know where it’s going, it goes a third way. And this is how it wraps up. And not only did I present it to him all in a bundle, but it came to me that way. The structure came first. Not, ‘We should make a movie about a guy named Marty.’ Or, ‘We should make a movie about two guys in an office. What could they do?’ The structure is what appeared before me, shining like a unicorn.
And I went, ‘Oh.’ And we just filled it in from there. And structure is the hardest part of storytelling. With The Avengers, the structure nearly killed me. It was very difficult to make it flow and cohere in terms of all the changing perspectives and characters, all these movie stars, all these beats to hit. It’s a ridiculously complex puzzle. But once you’ve got the puzzle, and you’re just filling in the voices and coming up with the moments, that’s what’s fun.”
Could eating your vegetables make dessert taste even better? If you build your sandbox first, you can actually have some fun in it. And other analogies.
“When people ask me ‘How do I get my start?’, I’m not a great example. I grew up knowing a little about the business, and my dad had an agent so I understood a lot about how you write these things and I had someone to look at it. So it’s hard for me to give advice. But in the last few years, the advice became: If you like something, make it. Don’t write it and try to find a studio. Make it. Because it is very possible, for anybody.
When I did Buffy as a show, it was partly because I couldn’t get a gig as a director. So I said, well, I’ll write a show. I’ll hire me. Buffy was, unabashedly, seven years of film school for me, with me teaching myself how to direct. The best way to learn is to do it. Get it wrong a couple times.”
By Cole Abaius
Casting is King
After working with Tom Hardy, Ryan Gosling, Carrie Mulligan, Ron Perlman, and Mads Mikkelsen, it’s no surprise that Refn views who he places in the roles (and who he’ll put through the wringer) as paramount to the process. “Casting is the most crucial thing, and it’s always a headache. It’s like playing Russian Roulette…once the casting is in place, it’s like sex,” the director said…“Directing is really easy. It’s just inspiring everyone else to give their best, and then you put your name on it.”
Wide Angle Lenses Give Everything Depth
There are certain filmmakers (like Jon Favreau) who talk about using anamorphic to make everything look more expensive, and Refn joins a sister chorus of hailing the power of the wide angle lens to provide much-needed depth. He contrasted tracking and still shots – saying that we admire the former but the latter imprints on us. Refn also went on to say that during those memorable still shots, what’s going on in the background and how its presented can be just as if not more important than the figure in the foreground (which is why wide angle lenses are the way to go).
Use the Location as a Character
Especially in situations where money is tight (and where you can somehow get to a compelling location), using what’s already there can be a powerful way to make money go the distance. Del Toro praised Refn for choosing locations that would echo the main themes of his films. In Valhalla Rising, the brutal landscape became an enemy to everyone. In Bronson, the prison became a stage. In Drive, Los Angeles serves as a car-friendly paradise of pavement and back alleyways for backdoor dealings…
Fight the Power
You may or may not be at a level where you’re dealing with studios or with powers that be trying to make demands, but Refn evoked the advice that the legendary Alejandro Jodorowskygave him: “Just smile and nod.” When they try to give you notes that don’t work, smile and nod. Apparently it works wonders.
Del Toro added to the sentiment, saying “If they touch you in a way you don’t like, you say ‘no.’”
Don’t Be Afraid of Poverty
…“Sometimes owing money is great energy for going out and getting something done,” Refn offered.
Try Doing What You Hate
“I hate vikings,” Refn said when talking about the way he crafted Valhalla Rising. He hated vikings, so why not do them in a science fiction setting? Why not take something that’s tired and inject a little life into it? Plus, taking on a genre or cliche or concept you don’t like can be a great challenge and a good way to see it with fresher eyes.
Aspire to Imperfection
When asked about what drew him to horror, Del Toro spoke about his love for monsters. He didn’t want to make movies where serial killers attacked people with carrot peelers; he wanted to build nightmares and set them loose. Presumably, he wanted to set them loose on a society that focuses far too much on the unattainable goal of perfection – teaching people that they’re supposed to look perfect, smile all the time and act above reproach…
Never Be Safe
“The chief enemy of creativity is safety…creativity is the most capitalistic think tank because it has no rules,” Refn said in talking about his underlying philosophy for filmmaking. Safe is boring. If you aren’t afraid of the process, if it feels too warm and fuzzy, what’s the point in doing it?…
What Have We Learned?
Creativity isn’t cuddly. All of these tips seem to revolve around similar themes, but they provide an intimate look into the minds of two brilliant filmmakers…
By Cole Abaius
Let Regret Be Your Gasoline
“Regrets? There’s tons. That is the fuel that keeps me going. It’s not success, it’s not money. It’s regret. I was on cruise control from ’85 to ’95, and it was my fault. There were a lot of self-inflicted wounds, when I was not doing any original material. I wasn’t directing. I wasn’t writing. That’s not who I am. I wish it was, it’d sure be a lot simpler, but it seems my fate is to be self-generating, produce my own films. I try to direct. That’s why I admire Eastwood. Started as an amateur and became an auteur. I’m sorry I didn’t adhere to opportunities presented, because I could’ve done so many things.”
Accept That the Money Game Exists But Understand What It Can and Should Mean
“If people were to say that the money at a certain point is not important, I think they would be reveling in a serious case of mendacity. When you get to a certain level and you see that one performer is getting a number, right away you feel as though, okay, to be respected it becomes a numbers game. I think more importantly it is to the agent than quite often it is to the actor. For example, in the film I just completed, I was paid nothing. Zero. Absolutely nothing. You gamble… I’ve never been ‘a mercenary.’ At one time I thought I was, but it’s not about money. Otherwise I wouldn’t waive this and I would take the safe route… I have all the material comforts one needs. Now it’s all about the library of memories you leave behind.”…
The bit about his mother reading his horoscope and telling him he’d fail comes at the 10:22 mark, but the entire episode of Inside the Actors Studio is fascinating, especially if you want to hear about Stallone reviewing his own theatrical performance for a school newspaper (it was glowing), to see images of him playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and catch his words about writing every day without fail.
Underdogs Can Become Champions
From a New York Times profile of the Best Picture nominees in 1976:
“You know, if nothing else comes out of [Rocky] in the way of awards and accolades, it will still show that an unknown quantity, a totally unmarketable person, can produce a diamond in the rough, a gem. And there are a lot more people like me out there, too, people whose chosen profession denies them opportunity. When that happens, their creative energies begin to swirl around inside, and erode them, and they become envious, vindictive persons who turn to drink. I, myself, turned to fighting; I averaged a fight in New York City once every four or five weeks. Now when I reflect back on it, I know it was just a release for creative energy.”…
Don’t Foolishly Dismiss Action Movies
“There has always been an elitist attitude toward action films. Good action films — not crap, but good action films — are really morality plays. They deal in modern, mythic culture. The industry has dismissed that, which I think is a big flaw. Action films have been the cornerstone of this business. Without those escapist films, they wouldn’t be making the so-called important dramas.”…
By Cole Abaius
It’s been nearly two decades since Terry Gilliam last time traveled into the science fiction world of insanity and Twelve Monkeys. According to /film, it’s time to break out the champagne and party hats because Gilliam is heading back into sci-fi territory with his otherwise dormantThe Zero Theorem, and he’s bringing along Christoph Waltz.
That is, as they say, a Bingo.
The good news is that the project is gearing up quickly and attempting to shoot in October. That is, until some terrible force of nature closes down the production as per Gilliam’s enemies’ contract with the Devil. Let’s bask and enjoy this good fortune while it lasts. With a lot of luck, we’ll get to see it in 2013.
By Cole Abaius
An Uncommon Language
Franchises and familiar faces, the highly-visual and high concept, animation and adventure. This trend seems to have started at the end of the 1980s, and although it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact date, 1989 might be the culprit.
The year before saw Rain Main, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Coming to America, Big and Twins as the highest grossing domestic films. In 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Back to the Future Part 2, Look Who’s Talking and Dead Poet’s Society were at the top worldwide (and kudos to the last two because who could have called that?). In fact, Box Office Mojo doesn’t even list worldwide box office from 1988 and before. In the 1990s and into the 2000s, sequels and more generic fare began dominating the list with few exceptions. The result is a machine driven by these types of movies.
On a random note, the films that crack the top of the worldwide box office that could be considered straightforward comedies (like The Hangover) involve a lot of physical comedy without a lot of wordplay. Either that, or they’re animated. On an even more random note, it’s been suggested by at least one actor that other countries dumb their movies down for American audiences (but that those movies don’t succeed).
The China Syndrome
Recently, a few fans have wondered what happened to some of the elements in Total Recall (2012). The remake apparently left a few things on the cutting room floor, including an entire country. According to this guide from Cinema Blend, the impoverished “Colony” was originally called “New Asia,” but was altered to the more generic term because, according to director Len Wiseman, “it was one of the concerns of the studio about being so specific about… it was slanting too much to where we were saying that was the entire culture, and it’s not.” That’s the polite way of saying that China and other Asian markets wouldn’t have been happy, and it wouldn’t be the first movie to alter itself because of how China feels.
It’s been widely noted that the forthcoming Red Dawn remake was significantly delayed because MGM chose to change the country fictionally invading the US after the movie was shot. Why go to the trouble? Because it’s hard to make China your bad guy and then try to make $20-40m from them. On the other hand, it’s easy to make North Korea your villain because they have a GDP on par with North Dakota and only allow US movies to be shown if they were directed by Kim Jong-il (I personally loved his Pulp Fiction). The full measure of how ridiculous this change has made the movie was summed up by Wired’s David Axe – who points out among other things that North Korea doesn’t have modern weaponry or the ability to deploy beyond the Yellow Sea much less all the way to the States.
So, rather ironically, a movie that could have stood metaphorically for the current economic battle between China and the US has been altered specifically because of China’s growing economic power. How’s that for a statement? For double irony, that same movie will most likely feature the guns-blazing dominance of America.
The Kids Are All White
In direct conflict with that sentiment (since we can all handle opposing evidence in a complex situation), Broken Lizard founder Jay Chandrasekhar made an interesting point about studio development in the face of global audiences:
“It’s an endless discussion in the casting rooms, in studios and in television. Endlessly, like ‘we should get some color in this thing,’ and you’re like, ‘okay,’ but it’s rarely in the leads, because we’re all trying to make money. If you could make money with non-white people in the leads, then that’s the trick — you’ll have more and more people doing it. And it all gets back to like they always say this about foreign [audiences] – ‘don’t put a black person on the poster because they won’t sell in Germany.’ And you’re like, well what does that say? Are we saying it’s okay? We really want to sell in Germany so let’s not put black people — what does that mean? Are we just willing to make the buck and sell it to racists? Well yes, in fact, yes, that is what we are willing to do. And it’s strange.”
It’s not that the sentiment is correct; it’s that it exists in the minds of at least some executives…
The Big Picture
…Perhaps a more honest title for this piece would be “How Delivering What They Think International Audiences Want is Making Studio Movies Weaker” because it’s unfair to blame the audiences of the world for the weakening of American storytelling currently happening with blockbuster fare. In fact, the biggest enemy here is the risk averse nature of the studios today. They are fearful of innovation, content to hammer home the tested elements that should lead to success. That lack of gambling has twisted an appeal to an emerging market into something that’s apparently racist and patronizing.
And coming in a meaningful third – damaging to artistic and creative ability…
By Cole Abaius
You Can’t Completely Put Yourself in the Audience’s Shoes
“[Getting perspective while filming is] a problem and it’s not a problem. I think it’s always a problem on every movie I’ve worked on—and I’ve been involved in all of them in post-production and editing—to have the same perspective as an audience member who hasn’t seen the movie…
The conventional wisdom is—people say this all the time—you should only write something when you’re far enough away from it that you can have a perspective. But that’s not true. That’s a story that you’re telling. The truth of it is here, right now. It’s the only truth that we ever know.”
Something Big and Difficult on Set Might Be Small and Easy in the Final Cut
I remember watching Being John Malkovich. We had this one scene, scene 100, which was so difficult for us. It was a scene where Dr. Lester explains how the portal works and it was a bear. We did so many different versions, so many different angles and voice overs. But when I watched it, it goes by pretty quickly. You don’t really think about it…
Thus, another true problem of perspective – you never know that the thing you’re agonizing over might not be such a terrible beast after all. This piece of advice seems less pragmatic. That is to say, knowing it won’t mean you can avoid it. It just means you should be aware that it exists. And maybe laugh about it later on.
Forget Form. There is No Form.
From the full version of that speech: “So what is a screenplay, or what might it be? Since we’re talking specifically about screenplays tonight. A screenplay is an exploration. It’s about the thing you don’t know. It’s a step into the abyss. It necessarily starts somewhere, anywhere; there is a starting point but the rest is undetermined. It is a secret, even from you. There’s no template for a screenplay, or there shouldn’t be. There are at least as many screenplay possibilities as there are people who write them. We’ve been conned into thinking there is a pre-established form. Like any big business, the film business believes in mass production. It’s cheaper and more efficient as a business model.”
If You’re In Charge, You Don’t Get to be the Insane One
Kaufman, after being asked by David Cronenberg about his experience as a first-time director on Synecdoche, New York: “There is a lot of management going on. Maybe that was the biggest surprise-just the amount of tending that I had to do. The different personalities … It’s not my way, and it’s never been my function before as a writer. I tend to be a moody and somewhat withdrawn person, and I felt very clearly that I had to throw that away because that wasn’t allowed here-there were other people who were going to be filling that role. Sometimes it became exhausting, especially around the eleventh hour of the day. So I wasn’t allowed to pout in any way, which is another thing I like to do.”
Cronenberg: “Because when you’re a director, you can’t be that way. People need to hear from you. They need encouragement and support from you. So you have to somehow find generosity of a particularly weird kind in yourself, don’t you?”
Kaufman: “I’m the father of … Well, she’s 8 now, but parenting is a relatively new experience for me, and I feel like there is that same kind of thing. It’s kind of like, ‘Okay, this is my job here. I can’t be so insane around this person. She needs me not to be.’”
By Cole Abaius
Like any kind of story, remakes can be excellent (see: The Thing, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, 13 Assassins), terrible (see: Black Christmas, The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), Planet of the Apes (2001)) and everywhere in between. It isn’t the form itself that’s troubling, it’s the reliance on it as a crutch, but even as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing new remake concepts announced, we’ve too often witnessed uninspiring and uninspired choices for the personell behind projects. Sometimes there’s a Matt Reeves or a Paul Haggis behind the helm (and historically, greats like Herzog, Capra, de Palma and others have tackled the tasks). However, even when there’s an interesting name behind the word processor, camera or editing bay, there’s almost universally a studio accounting department pulling the strings.
Newitz’s argument about folklore is most likely correct, but the concept she hits on that’s more striking is the enjoyment we gain from seeing new twists on familiar tales coupled with the solid storytelling backbone that many of the best remade lore contains. The originals, for the most part, were popular for a reason, and the name recognition that a lazy marketing department might see as their stepping stone translates to fans as the core compelling element of the earlier work – the merit of the story being told again.
In short? There is a host of copyrighted material that’s ripe for the most creative, daring minds to tackle, but it’s locked behind the bars of a studio system whose top three priorities are return on investment. Meanwhile, the cream of the crop on Hit Record and on other networks are making astounding work. It would be explosive to see what they could do if given the keys to the kingdom and the vault of old titles to toy around with. That includes, sadly, a ton of professional Hollywood screenwriters who find themselves shut out.
By Cole Abaius
John Ford is The Western. Instrumental in elevating the genre and crafting more iconic films than can fit in a saddle bag, the director had a filmmaking career spanning 63 years and managed to make eye patches cool on top of building a legendary resume.
Pay Your Dues with a Pick and Shovel
One reason Ford was drawn to the Western genre was his prior experience working as a cowboy for 8 months in Arizona as he made his way out to Hollywood. He got into the business on the heels of his brother Francis, but he worked his way up from the bottom – working as a laborer with a pick and shovel, filling in bit parts (including, oddly enough, a notable turn in The Birth of a Nation), and then becoming an assistant prop man. “Then I became a prop man, assistant director, and eventually a director. I started directing when I was 19.”
Sweat it For a Night and Let Your Actors Sweat it For a Night
“If there was ever a difficult scene, [Ford] would always shoot it at the end of the day. He’d break for tea about 4pm and say, ‘Alright, now we’re gonna do this scene.’ Walk through it. Put the marks down, and go for the first take. Now we’re all set and all juiced and ready to go, right? He’d look at his watch and say, ‘Alright, that’s the wrap. First shot in the morning.’
Now you leave the set like this, and you’re wired. All night long, you think, ‘I was ready to go! Why do I have to live with this like this?’ but then you start to criticize yourself, saying ‘Oh my god. I would have done that. It’s wrong. Hmm.’ You come to work the next morning knowing how you’re going to change what you’re doing, and you see that the set is all changed. All the marks are up, the camera’s gone, everything. He’d say, ‘Alright, now let’s run that scene again.’ Totally different and right.
You might just find your John Wayne.
Be Cranky But Have a Sense of Humor
“[Peter] Bogdanovich was hanging out at John Ford’s place. This was in the 70s. Ford was a bit deaf – but he sometimes pretended he was deafer than he was, just to make people more uncomfortable, and to have the fun of watching them scream their innocent comments louder and louder. Ford was kind of a sonofabitch in that way. Intimidating. So Bogdanovich said to Ford, ‘It’s Duke’s birthday next week. I’m thinking of getting him a present – maybe a book or something.’ Ford barked, ‘HUH?’ In a way that made Bogdanovich know that … uh oh … trouble’s ahead.
So Bogdanovich repeated his sentence to Ford, only louder. ‘It’s Duke’s birthday next week. I’m thinking of getting him a present – maybe a book or something!’ Again, Ford barked, ‘HUH?’ Uh-oh.
Apparently, he made Bogdanovich repeat that sentence 3 or 4 times – until Bogdanovich was literally screaming, feeling like a total idiot. So the last time – Ford barks, even more annoyed, ‘HUH?’ And Bogdanovich shouts at the top of his lungs: ‘IT’S DUKE’S BIRTHDAY NEXT WEEK. I’M THINKING OF GETTING HIM A PRESENT. MAYBE A BOOK OR SOMETHING.’
Ford took this in, and then said, grumpily, ‘He’s already got a book.’”
Don’t Romanticize Filmmaking
“Anybody can direct a picture once they know the fundamentals. Directing is not a mystery, it’s not an art. The main thing about directing is: photograph the people’s eyes.”