Saturday, December 15, 2007

Eight Random Facts

I've been tagged by Stewie for a second time.

(1) Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
(2) People who are tagged need to write a post on their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules.
(3) At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
(4) Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

  1. I love to watch old black and white movies, but if I get too comfortable in my seat, I fall asleep nearly every time.

  2. I can't say I get teary watching chick flicks, but the end of Field of Dreams gets me.

  3. Three famous musicians whose songs I absolutely despise are Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, and John Mellencamp.

  4. I take long, very hot showers.

  5. I've studied eight martial arts, some for years, but I've never received a black belt. Two browns, though.

  6. Currently, my favorite TV show is Medium. Laugh it up, Stewie. :lol:

  7. My best friend for more than 20 years was murdered in 2005. I miss you, Harris.

  8. I used to eat spaghetti with ketchup. Got that nasty idea from my mother.


The following lucky folks are tagged: Rob, Joe, Rakesh, Andy, and Kelly. I don't get many regulars.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NBC: Please Don't Cancel Journeyman!

According to Scifi wire, NBC let the deadline pass for ordering new episodes. That's a shame. Of all the new series this fall, many of which I enjoy, I really connected with Journeyman. I like the main character, Dan Vassar (Kevin McKidd), and the complex dynamic in which he finds himself.

When I first heard about it, I thought it was going to be a Quantum Leap ripoff. It isn't. Sure, it has the same premise, a guy travels through time righting wrongs, but that's where the similarities end. Journeyman is edgier. Dan does have to fix some poor sap's life every week, but he also has to deal with his rocky marriage, and a brother (Reed Diamond), a police officer, who thinks he's off his rocker and into some bad stuff. To make matters worse, there's a whole subplot dealing with his ex-wife (Moon Bloodgood), who everyone though was dead, but is a time traveler herself.

Journeyman is filled with conflict, suspense, and some great acting--particularly from Gretchen Egolf, who plays Katie Vasser. I would much rather watch a great scifi-drama than crappy reality show.
So, NBC, please rethink your decision. Or at least let the Sci-fi channel pick it up.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Review: The DV Rebel's Guide

dvrebelbook.jpg

The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap.

Author: Stu Maschwitz

Are you a DV Rebel? You might be if you know your way around a camera, NLE1, Adobe After Effects, or any of the million CG programs out there. Or perhaps you've made, or were involved in making, a short film or low-budget feature. If so, you are a DV Rebel--and the DV Rebel's Guide is just what you've been looking for to make your next project even better.

The Guide is for anyone with a passion for good filmmaking, and the drive to learn and improve the final product. As Maschwitz puts it:
"It's for anyone whose cinematic ambitions extend beyond the self-imposed restrictions of standard indie fare. If the story about which you are passionate involves exotic locations, visual spectacle, weather, Kung Fu, or any other stuff that makes movies better than plays, then welcome to the book that won't try to talk you off the ledge."

Just because you don't have a big budget doesn't mean you can't make the film you want. Maschwitz says he hopes some of what you read in the book will make you "throw down the book immediately and go try it out." He was right. In fact, I constantly found myself thinking, Yes! That's what I do, or Holy shit! I never thought of that.

Rather than limiting your film to one location, shying away from interesting shots, or avoiding special and visual effects like the plague, Maschwitz encourages you to trust yourself to make the film only you can make. And The Guide has the tools to help. Included in the arsenal he provides are: where to find affordable and convincing prop guns (and how to make them appear to be fired); how to effectively light your set with lights from your local hardware chain; and how to dolly, slide, and steady your camera for under $100. In return, he asks that you don't skimp on three things: The camera ("for the Rebel, HD is an option; 24p is a must.")2, a professional NLE, and Adobe After Effects. Four things if you include Photoshop.

Indeed Maschwitz's approach is "postproduction heavy," but that doesn't mean he advocates a fix-it-in-post style. In fact, it's the opposite. Postproduction begins during pre-production. The key to his approach is production value, "that nebulous quality that makes a film feel big." By using the resources at hand to their fullest, and acknowledging your limitations, you can make a film that appears you spent a lot more that you actually did. "[Y]ou won't be making Terminator 2 -- but if you stretch and strain and get really creative, maybe you can make The Terminator."

Also notable is Maschwitz's writing style. He addresses his audience as peers, in a friendly style that strives to motivate Rebels to make better films. He's indeed one of us, a Rebel. Barnes and Nobel is filled with filmmaking books that either dig so deep into a subject that it scares away most potential readers, or are so general you have to be a complete newbie to get anything from them3. But the DV Rebel's guide speaks directly to DV Rebels, and tells them exactly what they need to know about the craft. Sure, he could have written 300 more pages or separated the chapters into different volumes, completely dumping his brain onto paper, but that's not what The Guide is about. It's about getting out there to make films; not merely reading about it.

The book covers planning and storyboarding, shooting, effects, editing, and mastering--providing information essential to maximizing production value and keeping the recorded image as pristine as possible. Most of the chapter called Onlining4 digs deep into After Effects. The color correction section alone could make a newbie's head explode, but as a DV Rebel, I was exhilarated. I felt the book was written at my level of experience, filling many holes in my knowledge, but not spoon-feeding me stuff I already knew.

The Guide also comes with a companion DVD. The video portion has a short film called The Last Birthday Card that Maschwitz wrote and directed. It's a true Rebel project, and he uses clips as examples throughout the book. In addition to the film itself, there is a version with commentary, and an FX breakdown. The commentary is great. I do wish, however, that he included more in the FX breakdown. There were two major FX sequences in the film, a helicopter and a car crash, but the featurette only covers the helicopter shots.

Also included on the DVD are some Rebel tools for post-production. You'll find some nifty After Effects scripts, including a palette that will make you crave a cigarette when you're finished playing with it. OMG!

There are a couple of topics I wish he had expanded on further. Sound and lighting are, to me, the most neglected elements in low-budget films. Maschwitz does cover both of them, offering pointers, but I would have loved to see more detail on both. Of course, he admits he's no sound expert and doesn't want to come off sounding like one. I can accept that. And his pointers, dos and don'ts, are specific and direct in true Rebel fashion.

Lighting is covered in a little more detail, offering some great advice. But lighting is one aspect I feel needs more than just pointers; I feel the foundation should be laid out, even for Rebels. I've seen too many films where the lighting showed the DP's lack of experience. And nothing takes me out of a movie faster than when something doesn't look right.

But these are minor quibbles. I found The DV Rebel's Guide extremely informative in nearly every aspect of filmmaking. More than that, Maschwitz's love of the craft shines through on every page, which made me want to get out and make a great movie.

About the Author:


From the back cover: Stu Maschwitz is a commercial director and cofounder and CTO of The Orphanage, a San Francisco-based visual effects and film production company. Maschwitz spent five years as a visual effects artist at George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and went on to create the award-winning Magic Bullet software, used in his 1999 short film The Last Birthday Card. Made with the very first DV camera for a budget of around $5000, Birthday Card shocked viewers with its high production value and killer effects.


Maschwits also publishes a blog called ProLost, and hosts a forum as a companion for the DV Rebel's Guide called The Rebel Cafe.

1 NLE stands for Non-linear editor. The most popular professional NLEs are Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and Avid.

2 The Canon HV20 is the first consumer-level camera (under $1000) that shoots 24p (with some tweaking when capturing). It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of prosumer cameras, but it has become increasingly popular--and seriously pimped out. More about the HV20 in future posts.

3 There are a lot of other good books on filmmaking. But sometimes it gets frustrating to sift through the mediocrity to find a gem.

4 Onlining is a term I'd never heard until reading the book. Maschwitz defines it as: "...a noun and a verb that refers to the process of creating the final, high quality version of your film."

I'm a Semi-Finalist in Screenplay Festival

Two out of three ain't bad.

I was elated when I heard I placed in Red Inkworks. It takes a lot of work to write a feature-length screenplay, and I can't think of a better way to gage one's writing ability than becoming a finalist in a contest (other than an option deal, I guess). Plus, the feedback they offered was excellent.

And today Screenplay Festival announced their semi-finalists, and there I was in the Horror/Thriller category. Boy, that felt good. Of course there are about fifty screenplays in each genre, so the competition is pretty stiff, but I'm hopeful.

My plan is to enter one more contest with this script before possibly starting to query production companies and/or agents. Placing in two out of three contests has given me some confidence, and I feel the changes I've been making to the script have greatly improved it. So it seems the time is approaching (after the strike, of course) when I need to get out there and build some interest. I do, however, plan to research the dos and don'ts of querying before navigating those treacherous waters.

By the way, the final contest I plan to enter is the Bluecat Screenplay Competition. Its early deadline is Jan 1, and I should be finished tweaking by then. Bluecat is not only high profile, it offers coverage to all entrants, and a hefty cash prize.

Three out of four would be awesome!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Horror Writers Exorcise Studio Demons

WGA horror writers chime in with a genre-themed video about the strike. It's cute, and you get to see who wrote some of your favorite horror flicks.
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Friday, November 23, 2007

I've Been Simpsonized!



Friend and graphic designer Rob Long has Simpsonized my family. He even got Cyrus's (our one-eyed cat) eye on the correct side. Looks like we have our Christmas cards for this year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Not the Daily Show

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Here's another great video about the WGA strike. This one was created by writers of the Daily Show. It's hilarious! And there's a special guest near the end.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Compelling Argument for Why Writers are on Strike

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I have no stake in the outcome of the WGA strike, other than as a viewer of course. But this video does make a strong case for the writers.

Monday, November 5, 2007

101's Humorous Yet Sobering Take on NaNoWriMo

Sean Lindsay over at 101 Reasons to Stop Writing has this to say about the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Hint: remember the Infinite Monkey Theory?

Thank God he didn't get into NaBloPoMo.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Storyboards for the computer literate but artistically challenged

Stu Maschwitz, author of DV Rebel's Guide, turned me on to a free tool for creating storyboards, without sketching your brains out. It's called Sketchup, an architectural tool offered by Google. There is a pro version that has a lot of bells and whistles, but the free version (along with a downloadable library of models) is perfectly capable of generating detailed panels, and can even offer a sketch-like style to the images if you wish.

Give it a try.

P.S. I plan to review DV Rebel's Guide when I'm finished reading it. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Script Cops

What cha gonna do when they come for you? Drop your script and run like hell.

John August posted these links on his blog. Any aspiring screenwriter should get a kick out of these short films.

Script Cops, Ep1: Dom

Script Cops, Ep 2: McK

Script Cops, Ep 3: Traf

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Proud Finalist in the Red Inkworks Screenplay Competition

As I mentioned in a previous post, I entered a few contests to see how my first feature-length screenplay would fare against other aspiring screenwriters. Well, I'm happy to say that I was selected as a top-50 finalist (27th to be exact) in the Red Inkworks competition, the second contest I entered. Woohoo! :yay:


As a result, my script's title and logline1 will be posted on their Web site, and will also be e-mailed to various industry professionals, who may be interested in reading the script.


So, does this mean agents, managers, and producers will be beating down my door? That would be cool, but I have no illusions. I mean, I hope someone sees the listing and finds my story intriguing enough to contact me. But I doubt it'll be that easy. This is merely the first step in a long process. Albeit, an important step for my confidence.


One reason I entered this contest in particular, besides the fact that it's well reviewed on MovieBytes, is the feedback they provide. I found it very insightful, and was happy the suggestions were for minor changes only.


Folks, the notes alone were worth the entry fee. I highly recommend this contest for any new screenwriter who wants an objective opinion on his or her script--with the added benefit of possibly being exposed to "the industry".


1A logline is a brief description of a script, usually 1-3 sentences, that is often used as a calling card. Loglines are harder to write then they may seem, but can be invaluable in conveying the gist of the story.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Can Blender 3D Compete with the Big Boys?

Blender, the open-source 3D application, has come a long way. According to a 2007 comparison of 3D applications published on the TDT 3D (The Dream Team) Web site, Blender performed well against Maya, Softimage XSI, Cinema 4d, and Lightwave. And considering each of the others costs at least $500, Blender should be especially appealing to a low-budget filmmaker.

As the comparison chart shows, Blender scored Good or Very Good in animation, rendering, particles, and dynamics. In fact, it outscored Cinema 4D in character animation, and Lightwave and XSI in UV tools. It was also listed as the only package with built-in compositing; though, XSI's higher-end versions (the entry-level version was used for the comparison) do have compositing as well.

Blender does need work in some areas. It scored poorly in NURB and curves modeling, and low in 3D painting. Plus, it's still doesn't have an industry-standard interface. But the developers are constantly working on updates, and there is a tremendous 3rd party community adding plug-ins and scripts all the time.

Blender's growth can mean a lot for those who need to use CG for their movies but can't afford a $500+ price tag. Do you need matte paintings, pyrotechnics, space ships, dinosaurs? Try Blender. It's free!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Timewarp's Dead Hunt now available


From director Joe Ripple:

Timewarp Films is proud to present its latest two-disc Horror DVD release, entitled "Dead Hunt."

Synopsis;

Ten movie reviewers are invited to a party by the host of a website devoted to horror films. The party is in full swing when the power - and the lights - abruptly go out. A mysterious, black-hooded figure has cut the main wiring.

The party's over.

After the host goes to check the circuit breakers, the guests are shocked when they find one of their fellow reviewers dispatched in a grisly fashion. Panic sets in after another reviewer is found killed in a bizarre manner. Cryptic notes left with the bodies hold the only clue to the reason for the psychopath's rampage.

The terrified group try to evacuate the building, only to find that they can't - all the doors have been electrified. Realizing they are trapped in a dark, foreboding warehouse with a madman, the survivors look for another way out. Their search leads them to the creepy older section of the building, where danger and death lurk in every shadow.

Can they find another way out? Can the y hide from the demented killer? Or are they all destined to become targets of the DEAD HUNT?

This two-disc special edition DVD set contains the movie, a "Behind the Scenes" featurette, deleted scenes, two alternate endings, Bloopers, a stills gallery, and the audio commentary with co-directors Joe Ripple and Don Dohler. Sadly, this was Don Dohler's last film, as he passed away from lung and brain cancer in December, 2006. (I miss you, my friend!)

DJ Benz, a reviewer for www.Horrortalk.com writes -

"...a fun ride and one I genuinely enjoyed. I have no hesitation in recommending Dead Hunt."

This film Premiered to a standing-room only crowd during Horrorfind Weekend, 2005.

You can purchase your copy today, by going to: http://www.createspace.com/Store/ShowEStore.jsp?id=228629

Friday, September 21, 2007

Don Dohler Halloween Gore Fest!



Don Dohler's legacy is going strong. Here's the latest news, including showings of Blood Massacre and John Kinhart's documentary, Blood, Boobs & Beast, about the cult filmmaker's trials and tribulations in low-budget filmmaking.

From John Kinhart's Newsletter:

There's a lot of really great news this month and more to come soon!

++7 New Film Festivals!++
- Coney Island Film Festival (screens Sunday, September 30th at 5PM) http://www.coneyislandfilmfestival.com
- Atlanta Horror Film Festival (screens Friday, October 5th) http://www.atlantahorrorfest.com
- Secret City Film Festival (screens Friday, October 5th 11:30AM) http://www.secretcityfilmfestival.com
- Freakshow Horror Film Festival (screens Friday, October 20th 6PM) http://www.freakshowfilmfest.com
- B-Movie Film Festival (screens Saturday, October 27 11:30AM) http://www.bmoviefest.com
- Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival (schedule not yet released) http://www.thrillerchiller.com
- Asheville Film Festival (schedule not yet released) http://www.ashevillefilmfest.com

++2007 Fantastic Fest++
The wonderful staff at the Fantastic Fest and The Alamo Drafthouse are flying Director John Kinhart down to Austin, Texas to be in attendance. He'll be flying down there tomorrow and staying with BB&B composer Christian Brown. BB&B will screen on Sunday, September 23rd (6:30PM) & Monday, September 24th (1:30PM) Tickets can be acquired at http://www.fantasticfest.com. Stay tuned to http://www.bbbmovie.com for UPDATES, PHOTOS AND VIDEO OF AUSTIN as it happens!!

++Don Dohler Halloween Gore Fest!!!++
This October 26th at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore get ready for a special double feature: Blood, Boobs & Beast and Don Dohler's Blood Massacre. In the style of Grindhouse we're showing Baltimore-made trailers between the two features AND we're even having a BLOOD MASSACRE DRINKING GAME!!! Tickets can be acquired by following the link on this page: http://www.creativealliance.org/events/eventItem1207.html

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More Great Blogs for Writers

Here are a few blogs I failed to mention in my previous post, Great Blogs for Writers.

Scriptwriting - Oscar-nominated Roger S. H. Schulman shares knowledge from his experiences writing for TV and film.

The Artful Writer - Craig Mazin, who wrote Scary Movie 3, talks about screenwriting, with a focus on the WGA.

Seriocity - TeeVee writer Kay Reindl (Haunted, Millennium, The Dead Zone) shares witticisms on genre writing for the boob tube. Block some time for these posts; they tend to be long.

The Rejecter
- A literary agent's advice to aspiring writers who want to get published. The bad news is about 95% of you won't.

So long, and thanks for all the Goju

Last week my friend Rakesh (back center of the picture), a fellow FX artist and Goju karate instructor left for the west coast. Even with free long distance, e-mail, and occasional visits, I'll still miss him.

We met through a Lightwave user group several years ago, and became fast friends. The group sort of fizzled out, but we had so much in common, we continued working on and discussing CGI on our own. In fact, I recruited him to work on Timewarp's CGI-heavy feature Crawler. Work has been slow-going, but he's made progress--and he insists he wants to keep working in spite of the distance. I'm holding you to that, bud.

One day about 4 years ago, we discovered that we were both long-time martial artists, and he was an instructor. The timing couldn't have been better for me, because I was in between schools and looking for a place to train. His school, a Kodokan flavor of Goju Ryu located in D.C., was run out of a small activity room in an apartment complex. It was a little bit of a trek from Rockville, but worth it. At that time, there were only 3 regulars, including the two of us, so the small space suited us. And it was great training again.

I actually came from a completely different style, Shorinji-Ryu, a Japanese style (Goju is Okinawan.) Boy did I have a lot to learn... or, rather, unlearn. But Rakesh was up to the challenge of dealing with an old warhorse that was a little set in his ways. And with the help of the other instructors, Josh (bottom right), Jay (back, second from the left) and Vu (back, second from the right), I was able to make the transition.

Thursdays became a night-long ritual of training for 2 hours, then dinner (where we'd talk about movies, computer geekery, and Goju, of course), and then more chatting by one of our cars. There were several nights that I didn't get home until 1 or 2AM. That made for an unproductive Friday at work.

It's about 4 years since I joined, and our school has really grown. Among the regulars are Sampak (bottom, second from the left), Johann (back left), John-Joseph (back right), and James (bottom left). We also have several part-time students and two more black belts. And we added two more weekly classes on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Sometimes we train outside on Saturdays if the weather is nice.

Of course, the activity room has started to show its size, or lack thereof. As I said, it's small and we share the room with 2 couches, a treadmill, and 3 tables. It's not so bad when we're all doing the same thing, but we often get in each other's way when we branch off. And don't get me started on the parking. But that doesn't stop us. After all, we're Samurai. Inconvenience matters, not.

But the absence of a friend does matter. I'm sure we'll feel the effect, at least for a while. It's certainly the greatest challenge to our Samurai persistence. But I think I speak for all of us in wishing Rakesh Sensei well, and we look forward to his occasional return for a class.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Great Blogs for Writers

I frequent quite a few blogs, many of them posted by professional screenwriters, literary agents, and editors. While some are listed in my blogroll (left), I thought I'd post them and some others, along with commentary on why I read them regularly.

Screenwriters

John August
- He's written many successful films, including Big Fish, Charlie's Angels, Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also wrote one of my favorite dark comedies, Go. His blog is filled with useful, and very practical, information for screenwriters. Lately he's been documenting his experiences as the director of The Nines, a film he also wrote. At the time of this writing, The Nines is in limited release.

Ken Levine - He was a head writer for M*A*S*H (one of my favorite shows), and has written for The Simpsons, Cheers, Frasier, and many more shows. While he mostly posts reviews (including a comprehensive recap of American Idol, which appears to be his favorite show), favorite clips of famous comedy shows, and personal anecdotes, he also occasionally shares script samples and great tips for screenwriters, particularly TV writers.

Alex Epstein (Complications Ensue) - A Canadian screenwriter and former development executive. He also wrote Crafty Screenwriting (which I read and found very informative) and Crafty TV Writing. He posts regularly, and often answers reader questions.

Jane Espenson (Jane In Progress) - A TV screenwriter/producer with credits like Buffy (she worked with Joss, how cool is that?), Battlestar Galactica, Tru Calling, and Eureka. She answers reader questions often, and offers a lot of great advice for aspiring TV writers.

Literary Agents

Pub Rants - One of the better blogging agents (the best, Miss Snark, is gone; more on that in a sec.) She answers publishing, querying, and writing questions, and offers insider advice on the publishing industry.

Miss Snark, the literary agent - Though she retired, her informative, witty, blunt, and, well... snarky blog remains available. This is a must read for any aspiring writer.

Editors

Evil Editor, why you don't get published - A humorous look at the slush pile. With staples like New Beginning, which allows blog readers (minions) to finish someone's opening page, and Face Lift, an amusing critique of submitted queries, this blog illustrates why most writing is unpublishable. But you definitely learn a lot as you laugh, and cry.

Flogging the quill - Home of the Flogometer. Ray Rhamey takes a more serious look at how hard it is to get published. He evaluates the first page of your novel, and explains in great detail why he would or wouldn't turn the page. His editing comments are well worth the exercise.

Just Plain Funny

101 Reasons to Stop Writing - You might as well give up right now; it's just not worth it. That's the message of this site. This blog is a humorous look at how bad most writing is, and why you wouldn't even want to be a writer in the first place. Not everyone finds it funny, as you will see in the comments, but the posts are often hilarious--and sometimes informative. And don't forget to check out the worst cliche' poll.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Not My Big Break

I checked Final Draft's Web site this week and they had posted the semi-finalists for the Big Break screenwriting competition. I wasn't on the list. :(

I quickly went through the stages of grief. Denial - I checked the list three times to make sure my name wasn't on it; Anger - Don't they know a great script when they see one?; Depression - I suck and will never write again (that only lasted a nanosecond :lol:); and Acceptance - What's my next idea?

I'm not too disappointed, really. First, the script was an update to my first, which was written in 2003. I figured it would be awesome if it placed, but since a screenwriter doesn't hit his or her stride until about the 5th script (so I've heard), placing would just be gravy -- albeit good gravy, and maybe a little bread :D.

Second, judging is extremely subjective, and not everyone likes supernatural thrillers. That's why I've already entered a second contest, Red Inkworks, which offers feedback to every contestant (it doesn't hurt to get more feedback). And I'm considering the Gotham Screen competition, which caters to lower budget ($2-12 million) films. With the results of three contests, I'll have a better feel for where this script fits in the screenwriting world. Maybe nowhere. But that's okay; I've learned a lot since writing that script, and have many, many more ideas.

Monday, August 27, 2007

On the Lot

Congratulations to Will Bigham!! You were my choice. I can't wait to see what you come up with for your first feature.

For those who don't know, On the Lot, sort of an American Idol for filmmakers, aired throughout the summer. Ordinarily I avoid reality shows at all costs--I think they represent the beginning of the end for American television--but this one I wanted to see. Some 18,000 filmmakers were whittled down to the top 50 that would be contestants. Each believing they deserve the big prize. But they had to prove it by making short films.

The first episode documented their attempt to pitch a film idea to the judges. The ones that impressed the judges moved to the next round. From that point, they had to produce short films that we as viewers would watch and vote on after the show. Sometimes contestants were assigned a specific genre like horror, action, or comedy. And sometimes there was only theme such as "Two worlds collide." In later weeks, contestants had access to professional crews and actors as well as their pick of locations. They were living the dream. Some films were really impressive, while others were God-awful. One of the early favorites--Danger Zone, created by one-time front-runner Zach--showed a domino effect of mishaps in a lab. It was filmed as one shot, and had some amazing effects.

Like American Idol, On the Lot had 3 judges that offered their opinions of the films. Each week, regulars Carrie Fisher and Gary Marshall were joined by a different guest judge. Among the guests were Wes Craven and Michael Bay. I loved the irony of Michael Bay pointing out a "groaner" in one film, and then explaining why it was a groaner. He really does know what it means. :lol:

But ultimately it was the viewers' votes that picked the winners. That was actually a good thing, because I felt the judges were a little out of step with the mainstream, and didn't get some of the cleverness of the filmmakers. Though, sometimes their experienced opinion was needed to make clear how bad a film really was.

I wasn't surprised that Will won. He was the most consistent throughout the competition. Every film he made was not only creative and original, but technically proficient as well. No other contestant could say that. Sure some of the other contestants were technically proficient, Jason, Adam, and Zach come to mind. Each had some great films, but others lacked originality or a coherent/complete story. Will, however, nailed it every time. In fact, one film (Nerve Endings) that the judges didn't like, but the viewers did (thank God), had a brain surgeon's assistant toying with a patient's exposed brain while the doctor was out of the room. That was one of the best films of the whole competition, but it almost cost him the contest because the judges didn't get it. They obviously don't watch dark comedies.

The final episode had Will meeting Steven Spielberg on the Dreamworks lot. That was really cool, especially since I wouldn't mind that happening to me one day. :) Will won a million dollar movie deal from Dreamworks pictures. I don't exactly know what that means once all the contracts are signed, but it sounds good.

It was a shame that On the Lot never really caught on. It had lackluster ratings throughout its run, picking up slightly at the end. I guess a reality show picking the next generation of filmmakers isn't as interesting to the general public as someone willing to eat live slugs for money. :shake:

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My First Tag

Stewie over at Incoherent Thoughts tagged me with a cultural assignment. Of course that was a month ago, which shows you how long I've been neglecting this blog. Did I just have a kid or something? :lol:

Anyway, here's the assignment: Go to Wikipedia, type in your birthday (month and day) and list 3 events, 2 births, 1 holiday. The tagging has been played out. Besides, I don't get enough readers to tag.

On June 30th, the following crap happened:

Events

1805 - The U.S. Congress organizes Michigan Territory. - so my Aunt would have somewhere to live.

1859 - French acrobat Charles Blondin crosses Niagara Falls on a tightrope. - he forgot his barrel.

1997 - First Harry Potter book is published. - and, according to the religious right, the devil worshiping began.

Births

1286 - John de Warenne, 8th Earl of Surrey, English politician - no clue who this is, but he sounds important.

1934 - Harry Blackstone Jr., American magician - *poofed* into existence.

1959 - Vincent D'Onofrio, American actor - Star of Law & Order: CI. He's older than I thought.

Deaths (not mentioned, but I wanted to check anyway)

2003 - Buddy Hackett, American comic - D'oh, Buddy Hacket died on my birthday. Not funny.

Holidays

Independence Day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. - cool!

Monday, July 9, 2007

What's Happening in the Cellar?

A lot, actually.

First, and foremost, I became a daddy. ZOMG I STILL CAN'T BELIEVE IT! She's so tiny and sweet and cute and...okay, I could go on for hours. Suffice it to say my wife and I couldn't be happier.

And did I mention she's cute?

Anyway, when I'm not feeding her or changing her or just holding her for the hell of it, I've managed to find some time to work on several tasks, some for Timewarp, some just for me.

I submitted a full-length script to Final Draft's Big Break Competition. The deadline was June 15th and I just squeaked in at the last minute. Many thanks to those who proofread and offered feedback; I missed a few embarrassing typos.

I've heard mixed things about screenwriting contests in general, but I wanted to give it a shot so I could see how my writing compares to other potential screenwriters--at least in the eyes of the Big Break judges. If I place, I'll be ecstatic, not to mention the nice prizes they offer. And if some A-list prod. co. is interested in the script, awesome! Final Draft, in case you're wondering, is one of the premiere screenwriting packages on the market. It's used by many industry professionals, and is my software of choice. "Just add words," is so true.

I've also been working on the Dead Hunt DVD set due to be released this summer (We're hoping to have copies for sale at Horrorfind in August). This is the most ambitious DVD project I've worked on. The 2-disk set will have 2 audio tracks for the feature (including commentary), a stills gallery, alternate endings, bloopers, making of, and even an Easter egg. I have a few more tweaks, then it's off to the presses. For those interested, I'm again using DVD Lab Studio for the authoring.

Finally, I've started research for a new feature I'm writing for Timewarp (while I am a wannabe Hollywood screenwriter, I do write for our low-budget film company.) I'm looking into the world of Military Special Forces, so to say the film will be action-oriented is an understatement. But don't worry, it will have plenty of suspense and horror as well.

And for those eagerly awaiting news about Crawler, fret not, for my team and I will be picking up the pace once the Dead Hunt DVD is completed.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Interesting Take on 'R' Rating for Smoking in Film

I have to admit, when I first heard the MPAA would give an 'R' rating to a movie they felt glorified smoking, I was annoyed. What's next? NC-17 for French kissing?

But Craig Mazin over at The Artful Writer has a really compelling argument for why it's a good idea. Take a look.

And don't forget to check out the comments. There are a lot of them, covering the full spectrum of viewpoints.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Come scream, for a good cause!



TIMEWARP FILMS, LLC

PRESS ADVISORY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Come scream for a good cause!

Don Dohler, King of Baltimore Indie Horror: A Double Feature Benefit Screening

Cult hero filmmaker Don Dohler (1946-2006), master of low budget sci-fi and horror films and co-founder of Baltimore?s Timewarp Films, produced 11 movies and influenced generations of DIY (Do It Yourself!)
filmmakers.

Celebrate Dohler's life and work with a double feature of his first and last films.

In Alien Factor (1978), an alien spacecraft makes a crash landing in Baltimore, releasing its bloodthirsty cargo of beasts?the lizard-like Leemoid, slimy Inferbyce, and wild and wooly Zagatile!

And in Dead Hunt (2006), ten movie reviewers at a horror film convention find themselves victims of gruesome traps and danger lurking in every shadow!

Beer, wine, liquor, sodas, juices, sparkling water and, of course, popcorn, will be available at the theater concession area.

Proceeds from the screening benefit the Joyce Dohler Foundation, a charity providing continued care for Don?s sister Joyce, who is developmentally disabled and for whom Don was guardian.

Date: June 23, 2007

Time: 7 PM

Cost: $15 general admission, $12 for Creative Alliance members

Location: Creative Alliance at The Patterson, 3134 Eastern Avenue, Baltimore Maryland 21224

Parking info: ample street parking, especially bordering Patterson park, only a block from the theater

Creative Alliance contact: 410-276-1651 or www.creativealliance.org

Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Creative Alliance in person or by phone or by mail. Cash, checks and credit cards accepted.
Tickets may be purchased online in advance through MissionTix.com.

Of course, tickets may be purchased the night of the event at the box office, if it is not sold out.

More detailed Ticket purchase information can be found at:
http://www.creativealliance.org/tickets.html#advance

More details on the Don Dohler double feature benefit screening can be
found at: http://creativealliance.org/events/eventItem1041.html

Monday, May 14, 2007

Timewarp Stabilizes

Now that I'll be responsible for Timewarp's cinematography, I decided to look into acquiring a Steadicam, a camera mount that allows the operator to move around while keeping the image stabilized. Of course, professional models can cost several thousand dollars, so I decided to look into making one. I was truly surprised how many Web sites provide plans and instructions.

I decided to start off simple and build Johnny Chung Lee's $14 Steadycam (left). I had to alter the basic design to accommodate our larger camera (XL1S), and I added some padding to cover the galvanized steel, but it was easy to build and only took an hour or so.

When I tested it, I discovered two things: 1) it takes practice to make it work. Moving around with a counter-weight takes a little getting used to, plus you have to learn to work around the base as you walk. 2) A rig that relies completely on arm strength can get heavy--particularly with a prosumer-level camera. Ultimately, this rig can only be used for short periods, and I really want one without that kind of restriction. So I kept looking, and I found the ultimate site for home-built stabilizers. The name says it all: http://www.homebuiltstabilizers.com/index.htm

This site has more about the subject than you can possibly imagine. From info and tips on how to build your own rig, to forums to share your experience. There's also a photo gallery that allows users to publish detailed photos of their creation. And these creations are amazing, and overwhelming. At this point, I can't imagine building one. But the forum members are happy to offer advice and answer questions.

My first step will be to buy one of the books a forum member had published. It has detailed instructions on building a Steadicam that has a spring-loaded arm, a harness, and a mount for a monitor. This is serious stuff.

Here's the link for the book: http://www.cafepress.com/stabilizer.31893959

In addition to Steadicams, the site has information on dollies and crane's as well.

Photo provided by Robert Long II

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Blood, Boobs & Beast Premiere

I'm sure Don would have been honored to know that a documentary about his life, and careers in filmaking and publishing, was accepted into the Maryland Film Festival. Though, we that know him know he wouldn't have made a fuss about it. He'd probably have said, in that calm, low Baltimorian drawl of his, "hey, that's great," and would have offered a genuine smile.

But his family, friends, and fans were elated. We couldn't wait to see what documentarian John Kinhart had put together, and we weren't disappointed. We were able to spend 90 minutes re-living fond memories of a man we all admired.

After the Friday showing we were invited to a party hosted by Greg Dohler (Don's son) and his wife Cindy France. I had a great conversation with John, absorbing all the inside information on how the film came together. I also got to meet Christian Brown, the film's composer. We compared notes (as it were), me being a wannabe composer myself.

I also met one of John's friends, Rich, who gave up a major in political science (thank God) to pursue filmmaking and writing. We talked shop for quite a while--he seems to think I know what I'm doing behind the camera :lol:

Also, Rob Long presented Don's wife Leslie with an original painting of Don.

We stayed out way too long, the old farts that we are, and were dragging all the next day, but it was worth it.

The next showing was Sunday. This time I brought my own entourage, and some folks from Horrortalk (Steve, Eric, and Robert) also made an appearance.

When the weekend was over, I was exhausted, but felt as if I had spent the time hanging out with Don, like I used to. If only that were true.







jpdan.jpg


All photographs provided by Leanna Chamish.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Filmmaker's Exam

My wife noticed that at the bottom of the Fantasy Novelist's Exam is a link to a filmmaker's exam. It's even funnier for us filmmakers.

http://rinkworks.com/filmmaker/

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

I found this little gem in one of Miss Snark's posts. I followed the link and found a hilarious, yet true, take on fantasy fiction.

Enjoy.

http://rinkworks.com/fnovel/

P.S. A novel I tried to read recently couldn't get past question 1.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Web Site Dedicated to Cult Filmmaker Don Dohler

Don and Greg Dohler on the set of Fiend Greg Dohler has launched a site dedicated to his father's creative legacy. Check it out: http://dondohler.com/

Don, best known for writing and directing the 1977 low-budget film The Alien Factor, also helped start the underground comic movement with his unique character Pro Junior, and published the filmmaker how-to magazine Cinemagic.

In 2000, he co-founded Timewarp films with partner Joe Ripple. In all, Don produced 11 films, including Fiend, Night Beast, Harvesters, and Stakes.

Last summer, Don was diagnosed with cancer, and passed away in December. But his legacy continues. A documentary about Don, produced by filmmaker John Kinhart, is premiering at the Maryland Film Festival the weekend of May 4th, 2007. For details, visit John's site: http://www.bbbmovie.com/

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Grindhouse

Reposted from my review on Horrortalk.

[rate 3.5]

Grindhouse, the collaborative effort of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino (R&T), pays tribute to the schlock and exploitation films of the 70's. It's broken into two complete films: Planet Terror, written and directed by Rodriguez and Death Proof, written and directed by Tarantino. Filmmakers Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and others also contributed fake trailers that are shown in between the two features. The fake trailers alone are worth the price of admission.

The first thing I noticed watching Grindhouse was that R&T took great pains to re-create the nostalgia of the drive-in experience. They dug up old coming attraction promos and feature intros, complete with the corny music--imagine going to see "I Spit on Your Grave" introduced with music that sounds like a high school marching band.

R&T chose two different paths for their respective films. Rodriguez actually made a schlocky movie from the 70's with Planet Terror, while Tarantino made a Tarantino movie that captures the spirit of the time.

Planet Terror



Planet Terror's plot is simple, and perfect for schlock. A group of mercenaries, making a deal for some dangerous chemicals, use an abandoned military base two miles outside a small town to complete the transaction. But, naturally, things go awry. The airborne chemicals find their way to the town (why do they always pick on small towns?), and the good town folk start turning into--zombies. The sheriff (Michael Biehn) and his deputies are on the case, but seem to be out of their league. So, true to a schlock movie, it's up to a drifter (Freddy Rodríguez), his stripper...er, go-go dancer girlfriend (Rose McGowan), and an abused nurse (Marley Shelton) to save the day. To complicate things (sort of), the story has an "As the World Turns" style subplot that takes place in the hospital where the nurse works. Of course, if this were an actual movie form the 70's, the subplot would disappear mid-movie, leaving the audience confused. But this one actually makes its way to the end, and leads to a satisfying conclusion.

I liked Planet Terror a lot. It was fast paced, over-the-top violent, and extremely funny--all the elements of a good zombie movie. The gore effects were done in "Dawn of the Dead" style, but updated. Ironically, Tom Savini--who pioneered those gore effects, and played a deputy in Planet Terror--didn't work on the makeup (at least according to imdb, but he's probably proud of how it turned out.

The acting was perfect, at least for its purpose. While the film never takes itself too seriously, the characters very much do. They express a seriousness that suggests the actors are subconsciously winking at the screen. And that works here.

Rodriguez also added a ton of film grain to make the movie look old, and added jumps and splices, often at opportune moments.

For anyone that likes zombie movies and/or schlock, this segment is just right for you.

Death Proof



Tarantino took his segment in a different direction, one that Tarantino fans will love, but cult-horror fans may not.

This segment follows two different groups of chicks, as they go out on the town, and on the road. Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) is a radio personality who needs to blow off some steam. She gathers her drinking buddies and they head for their usual watering hole. One of them catches Stuntman Mike's (Kurt Russell) eye and he follows, but keeps a low profile. For a while, the chicks have a great time. They drink, tease, flirt, and talk shit in a way only Tarantino could dream up. But when they leave the bar, Stuntman Mike has plans for them.

The next group, played by Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, drives out to the middle of nowhere to find Zoe's (Bell) dream car, which she desperately wants to drive. Zoe is in from New Zealand to visit Kim (Thoms), a fellow stuntwoman. They convince the owner of the car, who's selling it, to let them test drive it (the argument between the girls on how to pull this off was hillarious), and they take off. Unfortunately for them, they run into Stuntman Mike while trying some daring stunts with the car. But, look out! These chicks don't take any crap.

I liked Death Proof about as much as Planet Terror, but for different reasons. It's more a film for Tarantino fans than cult movie fans. True to Tarantino form, Death Proof has snappy dialog performed perfectly by a first-rate cast. A better portrayal of realistic banter you will not find. The film also has a soundtrack that would make Scorsese jealous. I imagine Tarantino sitting his his house, a juke box filled with songs from the 60's and 70's next to him, blaring away.

Death Proof also has some of the best driving stunts and cinematography I've ever seen.

But there is little story to speak of. A man stalks two groups of chicks sums it up. Of course, whether or not character-driven stories have or require a strong plot is debatable.

Overall, I recommend Grindhouse, if not in the theater, than on DVD, where it's sure to have a lot of extras.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The How-To for YouTube

A couple months ago, I started uploading videos to YouTube (you can find my videos here); basically, some of my old shorts and a couple of Timewarp's trailers.

The first thing I noticed was that the format in which a video is uploaded can make a difference in how it looks and sounds on YouTube. My first attempts had muffled and distorted sound and a pixelated picture--yuck!

So, I did a little research, and here's what I found:

First, YouTube makes the requirements for the best quality clear in the help center. They are:
We recommend the following settings:

  • MPEG4 (Divx, Xvid) format

  • 320x240 resolution

  • MP3 audio

  • 30 frames per second


Resizing your video to these specifications before uploading will help your videos look better on YouTube.


Second, how do we accomplish this? Simple. Here are a few tips and free tools to help improve the quality of your uploaded videos.

  1. Download the Divx codec. There are free versions for PC and Mac.

  2. Download Virtual Dub, a free video editing tool that converts between various video/audio formats. If you already installed Divx, you will see it as an option in the conversion menu.

  3. Now open your video in Virtual Dub (File->open video file).

  4. Next, open the video compression screen (video->compression), and select Divx.



  5. If your video is not 320x240 (or 360x240, which I use) then you need to add a resize filter (video->filters->add) and select resize



  6. Now to audio. To convert to MP3, you must first select "Full Processing Mode" from the audio menu. Then you can open the audio compression menu (audio->compression) and select MP3.


  7. Finally, select Save as AVI from the file menu and you're good to go.


Of course the quality of your video is subject to the quality of the original version. But with the variety of affordable digital video camcorders out there, that shouldn't be a problem. However, all bets are off for camera phones.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 Does Encore

Adobe recently announced the release of their upcoming Creative Suite 3 (CS3). I always keep an eye on Photoshop, After Effects, and Premiere Pro to see if the update will make my life easier. And it looks like Premiere Pro CS3 definitely will.

In addition to some nice perks like direct-to-disk recording, DVD / Blue Ray output, support for mobile devices, and the long-awaited time remapping, Premiere Pro CS3 will also include Encore, Adobe's DVD authoring software.

To date I've been using DVD Lab, a capable, low-cost alternative that got me through my first professional project. But the makers of DVD Lab are the first to admit that if you're doing professional authoring work, you should get a professional authoring program. So, now that I fit into that category, I've been looking a little harder at Encore.

Even before the announcement, choosing Encore over other professional authoring software was a no-brainer. It has a good reputation, and integrates extremely well with Premiere and After Effects, which I use. And now that it comes with Premiere Pro CS3, it's just an upgrade away.

Thanks, Adobe.

Click here for more information on Adobe Premiere Pro CS3.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Cool Toy for Bloggers

My buddy Stewie, from Incoherent Thoughts, mentioned ScribeFire in his latest post.

In a nutshell, ScribeFire is a Firefox extension that turns the bottom half of your browser into a blog editor. Once you set up a connection to your blog, you can pull this bad boy up and blog away, publishing directly to your blog -- without logging in to your site.

The interface is simple, yet robust, and you can even work with images:


Powered by ScribeFire.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Evil Dead: The Musical

[rate 4]Evil Dead: The Musical Logo

When we heard someone had produced a musical based on Evil Dead, we couldn't pass up the chance to see it. So, six of us hit the trail to New York, and made a day of it. We rented a mini-van and left at about 9 AM for the 3 1/2 hour trip.

The play started at 7 PM, so we had time to take in some sights, particularly Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, which was awesome in itself (but I'll leave that story for another time).

When we arrived at the theater, in plenty of time to grab a couple of drinks, I noticed that the attire wasn't typical for a play. Instead of men wearing suits, and women wearing dresses, nearly everyone was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt (a movie t-shirt, at that). This was definitely a crowd you'd expect to see at Horrorfind, not Cats. And we fit in perfectly.

The theater was small, fitting about 400 people. We sat toward the left about mid-way back, with a decent view of the stage. I noticed that a plastic poncho rested on each seat in the first three rows (more on that later).

The opening scene, much like the opening scenes of the first two movies, has the main characters riding through a wooded area heading for a cabin. They instantly set a hilarious tone as we see five actors riding in a 2D jalopy probably made of plywood, each actor hanging out the side. Behind the car, prop masters slide 2D cutouts, attached to sticks, to show the car's movement. The gang passes by plants, animals, and even some road kill. This in front of a cartoon backdrop of a forest, the actors singing "Cabin in the Woods".

Once they arrive at the cabin, the full stage opens to reveal the cabin's interior. The set designers did an amazing job recreating the cabin's interior look in the films, down to the moose on the wall (more on the moose later). All of the other sets -- including, believe it or not, an airport -- are created with a backdrop in front of the cabin set. A tiny airplane attached to a cable flew above the set. There is also a forest, used to replicate the trees that attack Cheryl (as seen in the first film).

The story is a mixture of all three movies, Evil Dead (ED1), Evil Dead II: Dead byMy wife and I in front of the theater Dawn (ED2), and Army of Darkness (AOD), taking most of the plot from the first two. Our hero, Ash, and his friends sneak into a cabin for some fun. They find a book of the dead and a tape recording left by a scientist. When they play the recording, Candarian demons are awakened in the woods and come after them.

Ash's sister, Cheryl, who is even more of a whiny pain-in-the-ass in the play, wants to leave. Ash takes her, but they're stopped by the the bridge being impassable (the bridge is, of course, a tiny Styrofoam prop with crime scene tape in front of it). So, they head back. Cheryl, still freaked out, runs into the woods by herself (the natural thing to do when scared, she says), and is attacked by the trees.

She returns to the cabin, bruised and bloody, but seemingly normal. Until she turns into a demon. That's when pandemonium ensues, and it's every man, woman, and demon for him/herself. The demon scenes led to some great musical numbers, such as "Look who's evil now", "All the men in my life [were killed by Candarian demons]", and my favorite "What the...[fuck was that]?"

They are later joined by the scientist's daughter (Annie) and her boyfriend (Ed). After finding the "bridge" out, they needed help to find the cabin. They run into a local named Jake, who, reluctantly, takes them. When they arrive, blood is all over the house, and they find Ash cutting off his girlfriend's head with a chainsaw. So, Ash has to convince them he's not homicidal, and encourage them to help stop the Candarian demons.

One of the funniest moments, also taken from ED2, had Ash arguing with the furniture, believing he's going crazy. He's particularly spooked by the moose head on the wall, which appears to be picking on him. Another memorable part is the song "Bit-Part Demon" in which Ed feels sorry for himself because he's a minor character that doesn't make much of a contribution to the story.

Earlier, I mentioned that the first three rows had plastic coverings. This is due to the gallons of blood that fly around on the stage when Ash fights the demons. It was impressive to see them pull off moments from the movies that I couldn't imagine being done on stage. For instance, Ash has a battle with his own hand. As in the movie, his hand has a mind if its own, and slaps him around, cracks dishes over his head, and flips him over several times. That was cool. Then, Ash grabs a chainsaw and cuts his hand off -- and the blood flies. But that doesn't compare to the carnage in the finale. We saw many folks after the show that had "blood" stains all over. They must have been too slow with the plastic.

The only flaw I found with the production was with the Cheryl character. I felt she was over-the-top whiny, and at one point she spews out a barrage of puns, which grew tiresome after a while.

The play as a whole was great fun, and non-fans will probably enjoy it, too. Though, it mainly caters to true fans. In fact, the audience cheered, and sometimes got to their feet, when Ash used a line from one of the movies -- particularly, "Groovy," which I think aptly describes the experience.

Monday, March 12, 2007

ZBrush 3 Coming on May 15, 2007

The future of digital art is about to take a quantum leap forward.

Pixolator has posted an announcement on the Zbrush central forum that on May 17th, Pixologic will release the latest version of ZBrush, their digital sculpting and painting tool. The announcement has a downloadable Quicktime that demonstrates ZB3's capabilities.

If you create digital imagery of any form (stills, animated films, visual effects, etc.) and need detailed characters or other organic models, I recommend taking a look at it.

And take a peek at the Pixologic gallery to see some amazing art, all created with ZBrush.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Oscar Picks

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE


Who I think should win: Adriana Barraza – BABEL. She was outstanding as a housekeeper who gets stuck at the U.S. - Mexico border with the children she's supposed to watch.

Who will probably win: Jennifer Hudson – DREAMGIRLS. Since it didn't get nominated for best picture, my guess is that Dreamgirls will take many of the other categories for which it's nominated.

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE


Who I think should win: Alan Arkin – LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. He had me in stitches the whole time he was on screen.

Who will probably win: Eddie Murphy – DREAMGIRLS. First time nomination (I think), and he's famous. Think: Sean Connery in The Untouchables.

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEAD ROLE


This one is a total shot in the dark, but here's my guess:

Who might win: Meryl Streep – THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. She's an academy favorite, and plays a smarmy bitch -- something a talented actress can have a lot of fun with.

Who will probably win: Helen Mirren – THE QUEEN. She was already honored for Elizabeth I, so it's not a stretch. Plus, the Academy loves characters based on real people.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE


Again, a shot in the dark.

Who I think should win: Forest Whitaker – THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. And I think he will win, too. He's a talented actor, long overdue for an award. And he's playing a famous person.

BEST DIRECTOR


Who I think should win: Paul Greengrass - UNITED 93. He did an amazing job on this film. It was gripping and tense, but also thoughtful and appropriate.

Who will probably win: Martin Scorsese - THE DEPARTED. He's long overdue, and the movie was popular. Though, I still wish he had won for Goodfellas.

BEST PICTURE


Who I think should win: Letters from Iwo Jima. The second part of an epic saga, masterfully crafted.

Who will probably win: The Departed. With Dreamgirls out of the way, this could be Scorsese's year.

Best Picture Nominees Part V: Babel

[rate 3.5]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/9R0WfYhwATU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel is sort of an anti-Crash. Where Crash (last year's Best Picture) focused on one city's pent-up hostility between people of different races, Babel shows how well-meaning people from different cultures can fail to communicate.

Babel, like Crash, follows several stories that are interconnected by one incident -- in this case, a shooting.

Story one is about a Moroccan family that recently received a rifle from a grateful Japanese hunter (played by Koji Yakusho). The father gives his two boys (played by Said Tarchani and Boubker Ait El Caid) about a 5 minute lesson in target shooting, and then sends them to protect the family's heard of goats. Bored, the two boys decide to test the rifle's range and shoot at a tour bus passing by.

Story two is about an American couple (played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), who apparently lost an infant recently and have been having problems dealing with the loss. They decide to get away for a while, and for some strange reason chose the Moroccan desert as their destination. While on a bus tour (are you getting the connection yet?), the woman is shot through the window. The trouble is that the nearest hospital is four hours away.

Story three is about the American couple's housekeeper (played by Adriana Barraza), who is unable to find someone to watch the couple's two children (while the couple deals with the shooting), decides to take them to Mexico for her son's wedding. Upon trying to return to the U.S., her intoxicated nephew driving, they have a run-in with the border patrol.

Story four is about the deaf daughter (played by Rinko Kikuchi) of the Japanese hunter. Troubled by her mother's suicide, and filled with teen angst, she roams around Tokyo looking for something to ease the pain -- and for her first sexual experience.

Babel is a completely believable study in misunderstanding and culture clash. As an American, I can understand how nightmarish it would be to be stuck in a foreign country, unable to speak the language, and my wife is injured. Even when the locals try their best to help, and they do try, it doesn't take away the frustration.

The same goes for the housekeeper's plight at the border. She wasn't trying to do anything wrong; she's lived in the U.S. for 15 years, and was returning. But her nephew, drunk and arrogant, made misunderstanding inevitable.

Babel's greatest strength is realism. Each culture is captured in all its beauty and ugliness, down to the smallest detail.

But realism is also its weakness. While there were a few tense, dramatic moments, such as the shooting itself, most of the film went at a slow pace. Scenes tended to be long, with many moments not related to the story. This can be a powerful tool for character development, but if overdone, as I believe was the case here, it can take away from the drama.

I also found the story in Japan to be too disconnected from the plot. It would be interesting on its own, perhaps as a separate film, but its connection was in theme only, and that wasn't enough for me.

Overall, I'd classify Babel as well-crafted, but not entertaining per se. It's more like watching a tragedy on cable news, seeing every possible angle of a story -- who was shot, the victim's family, the shooter and his family, and they guy that originally owned the gun. -- no matter how distant the relation.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Monster Planet Web Site Gets a Makeover

I took a little time and updated the Monster Planet site. I also moved it to a new location: http://monsterplanet.silentgraywolf.com. It now has a snazzy gallery (2, actually), and the trailer is embedded via YouTube. Check it out.

For those into Web development, I used a content management system (CMS) called Joomla, which has a huge array of functions, such as WYSIWYG editing; category, section, and menu management; site-wide search; user accounts (requiring registration); and a host of others.

Once set up, it only requires someone to add content. Plus, it's fully customizable, and open to plug-ins -- of which there are a ton already available. And the best part is that it's completely free!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Best Picture Nominees Part IV: The Departed

[rate 3.5]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/VqKZ8ARPgC4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The Departed is the story of two men from South Boston who were raised within the sphere of Irish organized crime. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a "connected" family but wants to get away from that life, while Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is taken under the wing of Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a major mob player, as a child.

Costigan and Sullivan join the police force with different agendas: Costigan to become a good cop and fight crime, and Sullivan to gain a position of power and feed Frank Costello information that keeps the cops out of his business.

Sullivan breezes through life as easily as he does through the police force. He's well liked, confident, and can't seem to make a mistake. Costigan, on the other hand, is insecure, and hated by the other officers (they know his family is "connected" and don't trust him).

Costigan, therefore, is given the option to go undercover and infiltrate Costello's gang. "You will never be a cop," they say to him. This is his one chance to make a difference.

Eventually, the police and the mob realize they have rats in their midst, and try to find them. Sullivan, as usual, is the lucky one. He's put on a one-man task force to find--himself. Costigan, however, is suspected of being the rat and kept under scrutiny.

Things get interesting when their paths cross.

The Departed is an enjoyable movie to watch, but lacks the style of Scorsese's earlier mob classics. In Goodfellas and Casino, we're exposed to the cultures within the New York and Vegas crime families, we see their camaraderie, their night life, even how they treat their wives. In the Departed, we only see Costello barking orders and behaving strangely. We barely get to know his crew.

What is also lacking is the witty, conversational dialog. A case in point from Goodfellas is the now famous moment when Tommy (Joe Pesci), believing he's being made fun of, confronts Henry (Ray Liotta): "You think I'm funny? I amuse you?" Henry doesn't know how to take that, and the situation almost comes to blows, but doesn't; though, there was always doubt in Henry's eyes.

There are moments in The Departed that attempt this conversational style, but those moments seem forced and insincere. For example, when Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) addresses fellow cops in a board room, he gets into a shouting match with one of them. They shout obscenities about each other's mother, or something. That seemed completely out of place and unnecessary.

I also found the climax disappointing. It was interesting, and got my attention, but it could have been more compelling. In a story filled with dramatic irony, the dichotomy between these two men, resorting to shock value is a real let down.

Where The Departed really shines, however, is the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Both are believable in their roles, and both outshine Jack Nicholson (as it should be, since they are the leads). DiCaprio, of course, has the more challenging role as the introverted, angst-ridden Costigan, and he never loses his focus. I suspect his performance in The Departed will help his chances to take the statue for Blood Diamond.

Being that Martin Scorsese has never taken home a Best Director Oscar, my guess is that he'll take it this time. But I'd rather he had gotten it for Goodfellas.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Timewarp Moves Forward

Since Don Dohler's passing last December, we at Timewarp Films have been contemplating our next steps. To that end, we've been holding (and will continue to hold) monthly production meetings to discuss our goals, plans, ideas, gripes, and whatever else. You can read about our new production staff, and some of our initial plans here.

Needless to say, we're all excited about our future prospects. While I can't go into details, I would like to mention a little about what's on our slate.

First, we will continue to work on Crawler, and plan to complete it soon. We're finishing the last two scenes with the monster, about 7 or 8 shots, and then we have some miscellaneous FX shots, one scene to cut, some sound effects, and maybe a little tweaking (though we're not messing with Don's edit). That's it!

Then, our first new project is a 3-part anthology, with a common theme threaded throughout. A first draft is completed for the first segment, and we've cemented the ideas for the second and third. We're hoping that working on 3 short films will help our new team develop a synergy that will carry over into our upcoming feature-length stuff.

Speaking of feature length, we have 5 potential projects in the queue, all horror/thriller oriented: A zombie/action movie, a vampire movie with religious elements, a serial-killer movie, a supernatural thriller, and vampire movie that begins during WWII. That's enough projects to cover the next 6-8 years. So we'll definitely be busy.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Blood, Boobs, and Beast

John Kinhart has been putting the finishing touches on a documentary about Don Dohler. He's just announced that it's complete.

Posted with permission from John Kinhart

I'm happy to announce that our documentary about Don Dohler is complete! It will be titled Blood, Boobs & Beast, which are the three components needed to make a successful b-horror movie. The documentary follows Don and his collaborator, Joe Ripple, as they make their latest low-budget film, Dead Hunt.

The movie also features:

• key moments in Dohler's career, such as his pioneering underground comix character ProJunior, and his influential Cinemagic Magazine.
• behind the scenes footage of his low-budget films from the 70s and 80s
• interviews with J.J. Abrams (Creator of TV show Lost), Tom Savini (Effects artist for Dawn of the Dead), Tom Sullivan (Effects artist for The Evil Dead), Lloyd Kaufman (Director of The Toxic Avenger), and underground comix artists Jay Lynch (Nard n Pat) and Skip Williamson (Snappy Sammy Smoot).

Visit the website at http://www.bbbmovie.com to view the trailer. The website also has more information about the movie and will be updated weekly.

Thanks!

John Kinhart, Director Blood, Boobs & Beast

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Best Picture Nominees Part III: The Queen

[rate 4]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/P8nD2KB0a_E" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

All that I heard about The Queen before seeing it was that Helen Mirren was superb playing Queen Elizabeth II. I definitely agree. I also believe that Michael Sheen was a perfect Tony Blair. In fact, all of the performances were first rate.

What surprised me, at least at first, was that a movie about a woman who reigned over England for more than 50 years, oversaw Prime Ministers such as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, and whose country went to war several times since 1952, was about how she handled Princess Diana's death. Why was a week of silence that angered her country more interesting than the other fifty-some years? Then I thought about it. Since biopics about her have already been made, including one this year also starring Helen Mirren, that wasn't the point of The Queen. The film wasn't really so much about Queen Elizabeth II as it was about how the world, particularly England, has changed in the 50+ years of her reign. And how little she has changed.

In the film, the royal family follows century-old protocols in dealing with Princess Diana's death. They consider it a private matter, so the Queen makes no formal statement to her subjects, and they do not travel to London to appear at Buckingham palace; thus, do not fly a flag at half-mast.

The public, however, seeing Diana's death as a tragedy for the whole world, disapproves of the Queen's behavior, believing it has more to do with her disapproval of Diana than protocol. This makes for a week of angst and embarrassment for the Queen, and the rest of the royal family, as they watch the public and the press rebuke them.

On the other hand, Tony Blaire comes off smelling like a rose. He runs interference for the royal family, and offers them advice on handling the public. The press praises him for this.

Ultimately, the Queen must decide whether to follow tradition or cater to the public.

The Queen was thoroughly enjoyable, filled with great performances and a realistic, if not a bit too light-hearted, portrayal of they royal family and Princess Diana's death. However, the movie lost its focus on the Queen at times, as it ran actual news clips of Diana. Though, I suppose that couldn't be helped.

Monday, February 12, 2007

HorrorTalk Reviews Dead Hunt

DJBenz over at HorrorTalk reviewed our latest film, Dead Hunt. Check out the review here. Then watch the trailer (below).


Update 4/5/2014: I had originally uploaded the full res trailer to Youtube years ago, but some douche with a personal grudge against one of our Timewarp folks had it flagged for inappropriate content and Youtube took it down. This version was uploaded by someone else, so the sound quality is a little over processed and tinny. But it's the only one up there.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Best Picture Nominees Part II: Letters from Iwo Jima

[rate 5]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/_fGgkDGF2Ts" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

What a well-crafted film. Films like this are the reason I go to the movies, and the reason I want to make movies.

In the tradition of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, Letters from Iwo Jima brings an introspective, human side to WW2. But this time we see war from the Japanese perspective. The film focuses on how the Japanese prepared for the American attack on the small island of Iwo Jima, ill equipped and undermanned. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), a western-educated, academic takes command and finds he has his work cut out for him. While he prefers to use military tactics and careful planning to lead his men, many of his officers intend to use brute force and loyalty to the empire to keep men in line--and oh how these methods are incompatible.

Upon his arrival, he prevents two men from being beaten to death for disloyalty. One of them is Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a drafted baker who is perhaps the worst soldier in the entire pacific theater. His crime: suggesting to his friend that the Japanese should just give this worthless hunk of rock to the Americans. Such undisciplined behavior was not tolerated in the Japanese army, but the new General knows they need every man for this battle, and wanted Saigo and his friend spared.

The film portrays the men on both sides as shades of gray, not black and white caricatures. We see die hard Japanese soldiers torture Americans, kill themselves rather than be captured, and shoot underlings for showing cowardice, but we also see an officer speak kindly to an American POW, soldiers care for a captured American, and honest discipline for irrational behavior. And we see the same benevolence and cruelty in American soldiers. Were we really so different? The movie says we weren't. I doubt, however, that a German perspective will be produced by Hollywood any time soon.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Best Picture Nominees Part I: Little Miss Sunshine

[rate 4.5]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/VWyH_twcMl0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

In the spirit of Oscar season, I plan to review each of the best picture nominees. If I do actually manage to see them all before Oscar night (I have for the last three years), I'll post my pick for best picture.

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE


After last summer's vast desert of forgettable movies, Little Miss Sunshine was a true oasis, a real find. It was a light hearted satire that wasn't afraid to visit the darker side of human nature.

The Hoovers, a dysfunctional family if there ever was one, took a road trip across the country so their pre-teen daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) can enter the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. That was the plan, and they all wanted Olive to go. But with the dynamic hodge-podge of personalities--A dad who's a wannabe motivational speaker, a mom who tries too hard to keep everyone happy, a son who took a vow of silence and hates everyone, a suicidal, homosexual uncle, and an I-don't-give-a-crap-I'll-say-anything-I-please grandfather--the trip was anything but "A to B".

Each obstacle they faced was harder to overcome, and funnier, than the last--with a climax that you have to see to believe. I laughed so hard, I cried.

What I really liked about this movie was that it didn't turn into a feel-good cliche where all the characters realize how much they love each other at the end. This movie is only about one thing: getting to the beauty contest at all costs, and not being a loser.

In addition to best picture, the screenplay, Abigail Breslin, and Alan Arkin were also nominated.