Saturday, July 30, 2011


Alex Epstein on Paul Feig.
He warns that sometimes people audition well in the room, but don't look good on screen, while other times an actor doesn't read well in the room, but "the camera makes sense of their face."
I gotta agree. I can't figure out anything from someone's audition. And I can't even remember hearing of any director who can reliably audition an actor.
It feels like what actually happens is that you hire an actor -- for whatever reason you tell yourself -- and then you adjust your directing to them. The work (movie, play) gets adjusted to do whatever that actor felt like doing and that's what makes everyone happy. I mean, that's not entirely true. But it's a lot of what's true.
On BRIDESMAIDS, they did 8 screenings. They'll do a "p" or polished screening -- their best cut. They'll also do an "e" or experimental screening, where they try stuff out. Sometimes there's stuff that doesn't seem like it will work that absolutely "destroys" in front of an audience.
Comedy. It's a cliche to say that comedy is hard. That's true. What surprises me is how the experts -- absolute experts, mind you -- have no idea what's working and what isn't.
Bunny lick.
I see this on every comedy I've worked on. No matter how much experience the director and actors have, they don't know how long to hold a line for laughs until after the first performance. People with a lot of experience don't know. Don't have any idea.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Three Things from the Pandora Machine

Volpin Props makes a Mass Effect rifle that looks pretty sweet. Plus, he takes you through the step-by-step of making a custom prop gun.
The Straight Dope explains why guns work in space.
You know what doesn't work so great in a spacesuit? Whistling.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A test

For Brian Schiavo's new movie. This is Ethan.
Our own David Frey will be shooting. Should be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frauds (I mean "Producers")

I'll admit, I kinda feel sorry for Bret Saxon. Well, maybe not really. Via William Martell, the life of an independent producer:
Saxon traveled by private jet, had a Mercedes and a Ferrari, and lived in a 10,900-square-foot Pacific Palisades estate with a movie theater, tennis court and swimming pool, according to interviews and court records.
Me? I travel by PATH, and I borrow my stepmom's Civic. I live in a jr 1-bedroom in Jersey City and have a really nice shower. I mean, according to interviews and court records.
Cash has flooded into movies from international tax deals, government subsidies, foreign banks, hedge funds and wealthy individuals.
Yes and yes. This. More please.
Some of those suing Saxon say that even as his explanations for where investors' money had gone became increasingly implausible, they nevertheless gave him more.
Tell me how to get this skill. All the movies I've made in the last 10 years have made their money back (with the exception of Solar Vengeance which only maybe just made its money back but now that I think about it more that's the only picture which had proper "investors" so maybe I better shut up now.) The short answer is that you should send me your money right now.
But wait a minute. Here's a weird sentence from the article:
A trio of investors — fledgling producers Kirkwood Drew, Jordan Udko and Ayman Kandeel — claim in their lawsuit that they gave Saxon $2.73 million in May 2006 to make "The Grand" and contend their contract promised a "guaranteed minimum" return of $2.97 million.
Uh. Really? A "guaranteed minimum"? That, to my non-law-degree'd ear, sound suspiciously like a loan rather than an investment. Now, this could be simply shoddy journalism from the LA Times. Or, we could be looking at a whole buncha fraud. And not just from the producer.
Doug Ames, who helped raise money for Saxon's productions, said he heard Saxon tell potential investors that he already had all the cash he needed. "His pitch was, 'I don't need your money. I could do it without you, but I am giving you an opportunity to make some money,'" said Ames, 49, who later fell out with Saxon.
As far as I know, that's the way to do it. Doesn't Bruce Campbell say that's how they raised money in If Chins Could Kill?
But really this sound to me like more of a morality tale of whom you should accept money from. This, then:
In Tennessee, Saxon met Dennis Sonnenschein, a 67-year-old equine enthusiast and former massage parlor owner who once had been jailed for failing to pay taxes. He had dreamed of making a movie about Paso Fino horses — a breed distinguished by its stamina and smooth gait — and had co-written a screenplay about them.
Lesson learned? Try to not do business with felons. Or, if you do, try to make sure it's just drug-dealers and murderers you work with. You know -- people who won't screw you.
I think that "Unlucky Producer or Hollywood Fraud?" is a false dichotomy. The word here shouldn't be "or". "And" -- "and" is the word you want there.
All producing is is lying. You lie to everyone. You tell them there's going to be a movie. Hell, you tell them there already is a movie. And let me make this clear: you absolutely have to lie. You have to say "We're shooting on September 3rd" or whatever and just keep saying it. Why? Because otherwise the movie just won't happen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What's Going On in the Pandora Machine

  • We're editing away on Android Insurrection -- Joe Beurlein, Rebecca Kush, and Tom Rowen are getting real headway. I believe David Frey is also working on the picture -- I'll have to ask him. ;-)
  • We're finishing up on Earthkiller. This picture is very late. But it's also very good. At least I'm very happy with it. We're six months behind schedule on it but my goal is to be finished by the first of August. We won't be, of course, but we'll be finished by the ides of August. 

  • I'm doing another round of edits on the screenplay to Dragon Girl. This is by far the most commercial script we've ever gotten. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sheet Beat

The best thing, to me, about using the Blake Snyder 15-point beat sheet (with the 5-point finale) is that as one is writing a script it's easy to know where you are.

Do you ever look at the counter on the DVD player when watching a movie, or the clock when watching TV, and say to yourself "Where are we in this thing?"
I do that all the time.

The same thing happens to me with screenplays. You work on the thing for so many days that sometimes you can get mentally lost about where in the story you're supposed to be. If you look down and see you're on page 60, they you're all like "Well whew, I can slow down now, this is a quiet part of the picture."
But first, what is the name of this movie?

Dragon War
Dragon Girl
Dragon Mistress

Right now I'm leaning toward Dragon Girl.

Here are my notes on this screenplay.
It's important that Miranda tells Amelia how to operate dragons. The key is that whomever gave the dragon some blood last the dragon is beholden to. And from that previous sentence surely you think "Do NOT let Drew actually write this thing!"

If Amelia has an opportunity to kill Fennec at the beginning of the picture, and doesn't, then it makes sense that Fennec follows her around for the rest of the movie.

Monday, July 18, 2011

From Our Friends at The Asylum

The Asylum:
This is one squared-off rabbit. And no, it has nothing to do with the rest of this post.
"We apologize for screwing up the physics on our giant, transforming robot movie."

I'm still not buying it

Back at a theater I used to work at, Clay Shirky used to say "Never give an intern an intern's job."
And my response was to agree with "Interns aren't worth what you don't pay them."
So I got to admit that if all interns disappeared, it wouldn't make any difference at all. Especially if interns are what enable people to work 80-hour weeks.
Because if you're working an 80-hour week, you're probably only getting about 12 hours of work a week actually done. And the intern is just taking away time from that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Are you low on tactical assault crossbows? I know that you are. These are crossbows which use the receivers of AR15 assault rifles. No, I'm not kidding. But the TAC15's are pricey -- plus you have to add the AR15 to them.

Also interesting is that many people, apparently in fear of the coming zombie holocaust, have made their own repeating crossbows.

Which is pretty amazing if you ask me.

What we need are the anti-aircraft version of a crossbow. The equivalent of the German 88's in crossbows.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Not That Impressed

So, color me churlish, but I'm just not impressed with the short film Plot Device. Presumably it cost just under ten thousand dollars in cash.
I mean it's OK. It's funny. It only overplays the joke by two "environments". It's one location. There's a behind-the-scenes which is longer than the short.
But it's a short. In one location. For more than a thousand dollars a minute.
If you make a feature for ten thousand dollars (which is basically what you have to do nowadays) then all right, I'm with you.
But a short? Meh. You've overspent.

Plot Device from Red Giant on Vimeo.


Back in the olden days, when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was in my early 20's, I somewhat studied musical composition. Honestly, it's embarrassing how little I know (and how lousy my ear training is) considering that I once took that pretty seriously. Well, lazily. Yes, I guess I took it pretty lazily.

In any case, basically the first thing one does when learning composition, is to model the structure of your compositions against other pre-existing works. You aren't likely to just sit down and intuitively write a sonata allegro, you really need to study how (say) Bach did it and write a few his way first. Then when you really have the structure in your head, you go ahead and party with sonata allegros (or whatever) to your heart's content.

In popular music the structures are even more conservative. Intro, verse, verse, bridge, chorus, (intro), verse, bridge, chorus, instrumental verse, verse, bridge, chorus, chorus, chorus. There, that's the form of almost 80% of popular music. The remaining 20% of popular music are slight variations on the above.


So I'm kinda trained to not be prejudiced 'gainst the idea of a hierarchically imposed screenplay structure models.
Like, for instance, the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.

I suspect that for many people, applying a heavy-handed structural template to a screenplay seems oppressive. I suspect that's for at least one of a few reasons:

  • They really don't want to go back and re-write the story they have to match the template (actually, I have been guilty of this)
  • They are already so good at story structure that it's all "intuitive" to them so they don't need someone saying (the equivalent of) "do the theme again here, but in a new key!"

Me? I'm not one of those people. Tell me where to do the thing again. In a new key.

So, what are you doing?
I'm writing a screenplay based on Mad Max 2.
I thought you had already done that.
I started to but... it got derailed.
So what's this one then?
Teenage girl, crossbow, dragons.
So you're writing The Road Warrior but with a teenage girl and a crossbow instead of a supercharged V8?
Actually, the "vehicles" are dragons.
What are you doing? Crossing out the name "Max" and writing in "Teenage girl"?
Not exactly. But I'm going through (mostly) scene-by-scene and putting the new story elements in which do the same things in the scene.
So, you're using "equivalents" in the new screenplay?
Exactly. Instead of a Gyro Captain, our heroine encounters a witch.
What about Max's dog?
That is a hologram of a cat.
Of course.
And, of course, we have other differences too. Right now the teenage girl is looking for her lost brother.
That's a bit more "humane" than the Mad Max motivation.
I know. We're just using The Road Warrior as a structural model. Not really as a exact analog for all the story elements.
So how is the story similar to The Road Warrior?
There's a compound and its under siege. Our heroine gets them extra dragons to protect them.
Isn't that just cheating?
If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying hard enough.

Mohawkers, Skinheads, Smegma Crazies, Gayboy Berzerkers, the screenplay to Mad Max 2 is simply brilliant. Filled with typos and brilliantly choreographed action. What's even better is to see the stuff they took out or changed before filming.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish

Eve Annenberg's Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish is reviewed in the New York Times. Woo!
Ooh, look! Update! I found a picture of Eve in Apostasy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Story Notes From Hell

"It's missing some tits and guns. That's how you sell a movie: tits and guns."
I'm enjoying the Story Notes from Hell blog. Especially amusing is that I agree with a lot of the notes. Especially the Save the Cat note. As much as writers like to complain about the notes they get, and like to cherry-pick the bad notes they get to use as examples of how they, as writers, know everything, writers frequently turn in pretty useless scripts. I know, because I've read so many of 'em! ;-)
And by the way, you really should read Save the Cat. And you really should put the catalyst on page 12.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Order from Netflix

Clone Hunter on Netflix
So, you can "pre-book" Battle: New York Day 2 on July 15th. That's only 10 days away! Our official release date is the 23rd of August.
One thing our distributor wants is for us to use teh social medias to push the movie. That's fine by me, I'm willing to Twitterize and Facebookcide the picture.
Pandora Machine on Netflix
Of course, we also need the cast and crew to do the same. Everybody go nuts!
Alien Uprising on Netflix
Our distributor explicitly asks for us to blog/tweet/'book the movie using the Netflix widget.
Millennium Crisis on Netflix
The problem is that Battle: New York Day 2 isn't actually on Netflix's servers in order to let people queue the movie. And Netflix (as a rule) won't buy the movie unless enough people have queued it. It's kind of a beautiful Kafka catch-22 isn't it?
Oddly, I feel fairly certain that Netflix did not pick up Millennium Crisis when it first came out. But they have it now. I don't think Netflix existed when Pandora Machine came out (although I might be wrong about that now that I think about it.)
And that's what's happening on July 4th in the Pandora Machine.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Porkchop Effects

Porkchop Effects is Russell Porchia's VFX company. Check out his reel!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hours per day

  • Back some 25 or nigh-on 30 years ago I worked part-time in an office. One of the first things my dad pointed out was that when you work part time you're working all the time you're there. If you're a full-timer you're making phone-calls to your spouse at home, you're running off with your car to the DMV to get it inspected, you're ordering lunch. But me, as a part-timer, I was sitting in front of a computer (doing what turned out to be completely useless data entry) all four hours of my day.

  • The thing I've noticed about having multiple part-time editors is that they edit quickly. They get a LOT of work done in 4 hours or so. Sure, they're only maybe coming in a couple days a week, but they party hard on getting work done.

Executive Summary

When used long-term, Crunch Mode slows development and creates more bugs when compared with 40-hour weeks.
More than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40-hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks.
In the short term, working over 21 hours continuously is equivalent to being legally drunk. Longer periods of continuous work drastically reduce cognitive function and increase the chance of catastrophic error. In both the short- and long-term, reducing sleep hours as little as one hour nightly can result in a severe decrease in cognitive ability, sometimes without workers perceiving the decrease.

That's all I got. There seems to be little modern data out there.