Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pause Reaches 1 Year Mark

A little over a year ago I took a break from smoking -- and have not smoked since then. I say "break" because I fully intend to start up again once technology or imminent death makes the threat posed by smoking sufficiently unimportant. All those cliches about people starting up smoking again on crashing airplanes or just prior to nuclear war breaking out are simply examples of people engaging in rational behavior.

This time I went the chewing gum and mints angle -- simply toss the cigs then, whenever the urge hit, step outside as was my normal habit and chew a stick of gum or a mint for a few minutes. The physical withdrawal symptoms were 72 hours of heightened anxiety, like after drinking too much coffee, 48 hours of which also included fever and slightly accelerated heart-rate. Not even as bad as suffering a mild cold.

I have to admit that watching people on TV or in movies smoke makes me want to smoke too -- so that's some argument for reducing the amount of smoking in the media. However, watching someone on TV or in a movie eating Round Table Pizza also makes me long for a sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom thin crust.

That said, doctors do sometimes speak of different people reacting more or less strongly to addictive substances, so perhaps there are others who actually have real addictive reactions, and not merely the, all too common, anguish of unfulfilled desire that I suffer. The problem, like the problem of knowing what it's like to be a bat, is that one can never really know whether or not others are having experiences just like you, but complaining more, or using the claim of addiction to help excuse the fact that they really don't want to stop that bad, or puff up our opinion of their moral fortitude when they do successfully stop -- or they're really feeling something different: a kind of compulsion that I can never fully appreciate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Strike You with My Four Winds Style Flurry of Posts!

Lots of posts recently from me in part because I've gotten the next script I'm going to send out to the point where I'm ready to spam people with it, and just finished the first draft of the script I'm going to spam people with next. After a first draft I like to give a screnplay at least a week or two to cool off, so I'll be spending that time outlining my June/July spam.

The Written Test posts were interesting for me since they helped me identify some writers that I didn't know I liked.

Elsewhere on the planet, Dan has acquired his dream job, at least for a time -- surfing, lefty lawyering, and probably the most vegetarian friendly town on the planet outside of India.

J'aime is now Doctor Wells, and thus eligible to dispense exposition on time travel and aliens in any number of science fiction films. I think this raises her RPG group to about 4 PhDs -- that's gotta be rough on the gamemaster.

I've also put together a little index of previous posts that I'll maintain a permanent link to off at the right. I'll maybe update it every three months or so, but getting the first batch out of the way really helps.

Finally, I'm back to Los Angeles this Thursday -- staying through until March 6.

Operation Hitman

Sunday night I got a chance to see ScriptWeaver Richard Dane Scott's short film, Operation Hitman: Sacrificial Pets, on the big screen -- while drinking beer! I like this new kind of theater -- if I'm going to spend $4 for a beverage it might as well be Bass Ale.

Richard, the director, and the actors did a great job on this and the film easily walked away with the prize -- you can see it for yourself here.

Archive Index

LAST UPDATED: July 22, 2006

A relatively complete list of previous posts, broken down by category. Post are listed from most recent at the top of the category, to older at the bottom.

Note that if you leave a comment on an older post, it won't appear on my recent comments list (and thus neither I nor anyone else might notice it), so you might want to just drop in a mention and a pointer to the appropriate page on the most recent post.


Learning By Seeing What Others Do Wrong
Second Drafts Are For Structure
The Scary Business of Saying "No"
How Writing is Like Being a Wizard in Dungeons & Dragons
Bad Writers, Good Stories
Writing Novels
Ten Verbs
Written Test, Part Three
Written Test, Part Two
Written Test, Part One
The Liberty of Low Budget Horror
Endurance Horror
There's No "I" in Comedy
Tests and Training Scenes
One Page Post
Notes From Wilderness: Querying
Dire Unsolicited Query Letter
Notes From Wilderness: Getting Notes
Notes From Wilderness
Don't Be Boring
How to Tell the Amateur Production Companies
How Screenwriting Is Like Magic: the Gathering
Assignment Pitch
Humans: Too "On the Nose"?
Character Polish
Game Theory: WGA Writing Credits
The "Screenplay by" credit guidelines
Screenwriting Links
Writing is Rewriting
The Silence?
Triple Post (1 of 3): The Movie
It's a Wonder That Movies Get Made At All
Director's Comments
On Collaborating
Screenwriting Update


Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Horror
Bryan Singer Teaches a Class on Doing Sequels Right
The (I Suspect) Sad Saga of Snakes on a Plane
The Tom Cruise Beat Down
Toxic Memes
Where Are All the Action Stars?
Tricksy Star Wars
Based on True Bullshit
Grizzly Man
Help Find A Cure For Hyperactive Camera Disorder
Red-Eye: Quick Note
Red-Eye: The Posters
Bad Film Week 2 -- Bigger, Badder, Bleah...
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Werewolf Films
Enron and Mom
Bad Film Week


Comics, Hamster Poop, and Art
The Immigration Debate: Where Reason Goes to Die
3rd Edition Nation, 1st Edition Rules
Is Lou Dobbs a Parody?
An Ugly Road to Mideast Peace?
Special Interests
Praying Does Not Count as Planning
Archive Index
The Cartoon Controversy
Speaking of Utilitarianism...
The Brutality Calculus
A Victory for Intelligent Education?
The End of a Genre
Canada Beware
As The Crow Flies
Math Problem
Honk If You Oppose Genocide
The Homeland Security Market
Game Theory: Criminal Recidivism
Hoping Michael Jackson is Innocent
"error in judgement" + "appearance of"
Triple Post (2 of 3): Fair and Balanced
Do Bats Eat Cats?


Stross on Gygax, VR, and World Domination
RPG Geekdom
Book Prices in Dungeons & Dragons
750 Things Mr. Welch Can No Longer Do in a RPG
Dire Unsolicited Query Letter
Game Theory: Football Excitement
Blizzard for Congress!
City of Heroes Update
Triple Post (3 of 3): Online Gaming


The Wisdom of Spam
Personally, I Wouldn't Last To The Check Out Line
The Renegade Province Reloaded
Too Foo-Foo
The Renegade Province
Age is a Lens
In the Future Even the Commercials Will Have Commercials
My Butt > The Environment
Writer's Worries
About this Katrina Report... ooh! Shiny!
The Internet Reveals the Depths of the Human Psyche
The Law Dude
Cock Sucking Kills
Byte: The Ragged Cat
Congrats to Expo 4 Finalists
My Exploding Computer
Fixing Your DVD Player When It Starts Locking Up
The Road to Utopia Smells of Cow
All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues
Why I Hate Television
Paths Less Travelled
The Gaolers of Paradise
Rednecks, Peacocks, and Zen Priests
Finding Your Niche
Jaru's College Cartoon
Dairy Products
Four Pickups
MCI Supports Child Porn?!?!?
Why Does Anyone Live Outside L.A.?
Bats and Cats -- First Post of Blog


What Falls Out Your Behind?
The Secret to Productivity
My Favorite Book Cover
This Just About Pisses Me Off
The Golden Age of Geek TV
Hell Freezes Over
Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.
Truth in Advertising Must Suck
The Future is Now
Visited States
Pause Reaches 1 Year Mark
Jon Stewart, the new Johnny Carson?
Academic Hell Week
Strange Mirrors
Context Is Everything
Expo 4
My Relationship with TV Enters a New Phase
Cheers, Dan!
Bad Motherfucker
The Endless Summer
Young Hotshots and Old Bastards
No Bleepin' Way
I Reap the Benefits of Arcane Copy Protection Rules
Linkage Update
Los Angeles
Vistors, Invaders, and Poachers
Houston Glamour Shots
Pimping the Gmail
San Antonio Improves!


Monday, February 20, 2006

Written Test, Part Three

For the first post in this series click here.
For the second post in this series click here.

My list of good bets -- with "good bet" meaning I could pick a random movie that they directed or wrote, according to the category I've placed them in, and there's a good chance I'll enjoy it. Also, film-makers with frequent good films, but not so many great films, or fewer good films but some really great films, can rank on this list.

Brian De Palma
Bryan Singer
George Miller
John Carpenter
Ridley Scott
Robert Rodriguez
Steven Spielberg

George Lucas
Clive Barker
Hayao Miyazaki
James Cameron
The Coen Brothers
John Huston
Paul W.S. Anderson -- Don't hate me.
Quentin Tarantino
Terry Gilliam
The Wachowsi Brothers

David Koepp
Steven Zaillan
Terry Hayes
William Goldman
Dan O'Bannon
David Peoples
Kevin Williamson
Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Michael Palin

Stanley Kubrick -- Is he a director or is he a writer/director? One of the key things I looked for in assigning people to the writer/director category is that they were essentially just directing their own screenplays (except John Huston who did everything willy-nilly).

I have to say I'm probably a bit better off betting on directors than writers -- De Palma, Singer, Carpenter, and Speilberg make for a large volume of quality films. However, there's a surprising amount of consistency amongst the writers too, if one bothers to really track them.

One additional reason people might normally assocaite directors with films is because people normally think of writer/directors as simply directors.

Amongst the writers, I do think there's a greater standard deviation in how I'll respond to their films. For the directors and writer/directors even the films that don't work so well for me I'll often enjoy watching once, but for the writers there will be films that just don't work for me. I take it this is due in part to the fact that directors control more aspects of the production than writers.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Written Test, Part Two

For the first post in this series, click here.

On with the test. I'll start with just the DVDs that I've purchased. On a side note, consider this one of those voluntary memes – I’d enjoy seeing what conclusions others come to and whether or not you’re surprised by any trends you discover, but I won’t tag anyone specifically.

Mission: Impossible: D-- Brian De Palma; W-- David Koepp, Robert Towne, Steven Zaillan

Koepp also wrote Carlito's Way, Jurassic Park, Spiderman -- so he's a good bet. Steven Zaillan: Clear and Present Danger, Schindler's List, Searching for Bobby Fischer, another good bet. And I imagine most screenwriters don't need me to tell them about Robert Towne. De Palma is always a good bet for me too -- but probably no better than the writers on this project.

The Usual Suspects: D-- Bryan Singer; W-- Christopher McQuarrie
I liked The Way of the Gun, probably about as much as Singer's other film, Apt Pupil -- but I need something more before making a call.

X2: X-Men United: D-- Bryan Singer; W-- Zak Penn, David Hayter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, Bryan Singer
I liked some of Zak Penn's other stuff, Last Action Hero was fun and PCU had funny bits -- overall not great, but generally solid. David Hayter's writing credits are short now, but growing. Scorpion King was pretty fun. Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris have a tremendous looking list of upcoming films, but the only other thing currently out I've seen is Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, which was solid but not spectacular.

X-Men: D-- Bryan Singer; W-- David Hayter, Bryan Singer, Tom De Santo
Tom De Santo has almost no credits yet -- we might be seeing a trend here of writers on films I like either being young and just starting out, or older and hyphenating themselves into directors or at least producers.

Lord of Illusions: D-- Clive Barker; W-- Clive Barker
It's Clive Barker! 'Nuff said. Well, not actually enough -- I'm probably just as keen on him as a pure writer, as I am on him as a writer/director. Looking forward to Abarat.

Constantine: D-- Francis Lawrence; W-- Kevin Brodbin, Frank Cappello
These guys don't have many credits yet -- director even moreso. I saw Brodbin's Mindhunters and that was okay. But overall, a wash here.

Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones: D-- George Lucas; W-- George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
Is Lucas a better writer or director? That's a tough call. Better in collaboration though. Haven't seen much of Hales's work, other than The Scorpion King (still liked The Mummy better -- what's with having The Rock play a sneaky guy??).

The Road Warrior: D-- George Miller; W-- Terry Hayes, George Miller, Brian Hannant

Here's an interesting one -- other than the Mad Max films and Babe: Pig in the City, I'm not so hot on George Miller's work. But Terry Hayes has done Dead Calm, Payback, Vertical Limit, and From Hell -- not all great, but enjoyable, and a better bet for me.

Spirited Away: D-- Hayao Miyazaki; W-- Hayao Miyazaki

Aliens: D-- James Cameron; W-- James Cameron
Let me float an argument on favor of Cameron being a better writer than director -- Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, he wasn't a good enough director to save this dog, but the movies he also wrote were strong. Okay, that's the kind of argument only a philosopher seeking tenure could love, but it is logically coherent...

Terminator 2: D-- James Cameron; W-- James Cameron, William Wisher
Wisher also wrote Judge Dredd, the Exorcist prequel, and the 13th Warrior -- a bunch of geeks like the 13th Warrior but all of those are sort of mid-range for me. I need to dig up this Xenogenesis somewhere though.

Fargo: D-- Joel Coen; W-- Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Are they even wearing the same hats in their IMDB photos? How on the nose is that??

Miller's Crossing: D-- Joel Coen; W-- Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

In The Mouth of Madness: D-- John Carpenter; W-- Michael De Luca
Carpenter is actually one of the most reliable directors for me, or at least has made some of my all time favorites -- but the big ones for me mostly have other writers: Big Trouble in Little China (Gary Goldman -- Navy Seals, Total Recall, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter -- Needful Things, Brubaker), The Thing (John W. Campbell Jr., Bill Lancaster), Starman (Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon -- Stand By Me, Dean Riesner -- Dirty Harry), ....

The Maltese Falcon: D-- John Huston; W-- John Huston
Do you realize that this was a stinkin' remake? I found a copy of the script online, looked like it was the original, like 180 pages or so. Looks like Huston just went through the novel and added sluglines and camera directions.

Resident Evil: D-- Paul W.S. Anderson; W-- Paul W.S. Anderson
Don't hate me.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: D-- Peter Jackson; W-- Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Interestingly, on a pure predictive measure, Ms. Walsh and Ms. Boyens are just as useful as Mr. Jackson since they all have worked on the same films.

Kill Bill: D-- Quentin Tarantino; W-- Quentin Tarantino

Pulp Fiction: D-- Quentin Tarantino; W-- Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary

Reservoir Dogs: D-- Quentin Tarantino; W-- Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary

True Romance: D-- Tony Scott; W-- Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary
Have to say that Tarantino has been a little more consistent for me than Avary -- so far at least.

A Bridge Too Far: D-- Richard Attenborough; W-- William Goldman
I'm quite fond of Attenborough's Ghandhi, but Goldman is easily the better bet for me here: Butch and Sundance, All the President's Men, Stepford Wives, Great Waldo Pepper, PRINCESS BRIDE... sweet Jesus.

The Stunt Man: D-- Richard Rush; W-- Lawrence B. Marcus, Richard Rush
This is an obscure-ish film but it has one of my favorite opening sequences.

Alien: D-- Ridley Scott; W-- Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusset
Actually, Ridley Scott hasn't been that consistent for me, besides Blade Runner and Blackhawk Down, the others have been a bit more middling for me; maybe he became an artist. Dan O'Bannon also wrote Blue Thunder, which I really liked, then Return of the Living Dead, Invaders from Mars, and Total Recall.

Blade Runner: D-- Ridley Scott; W-- Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
But making just one Blade Runner in your life makes you a maestro. Fancher hasn't written much else. However, Peoples also wrote LadyHawke, Unforgiven, and Twelve Monkeys! One nice thing about doing the slog work through all this is that you find some new film-makers to keep your eye on.

The Faculty: D-- Robert Rodriguez; W-- Kevin Williamson, David Wechter, Bruce Kimmel
Both Rodriguez and Williamson have some credits on great films, though I'd give Rodriguez the nod here after Sin City.

Sin City: D-- Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino; W-- Frank Miller

2001: A Space Odyssey: D-- Stanley Kubrick; W-- Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick

A Clockwork Orange: D-- Stanley Kubrick; W-- Stanley Kubrick

Barry Lyndon: D-- Stanley Kubrick; W-- Stanley Kubrick

Dr. Strangelove: D-- Stanley Kubrick; W-- Terry Southern, Stanley Kubrick, Peter George
Terry southern also wrote Barbarella and Easy Rider.

Eyes Wide Shut: D-- Stanley Kubrick; W-- Frederic Raphael, Stanley Kubrick

Full Metal Jacket: D-- Stanley Kubrick; W-- Gustav Hasford, Michael Herr, Stanley Kubrick

Lolita: D-- Stanley Kubrick; W-- Vladimir Nabokov

The Shining: D-- Stanley Kubrick; W-- Diane Johnson, Stanley Kubrick
After looking through the list it's surprising how many of the screenwriters on Kubrick's films didn't write very many other films. Compare that to Spielberg's screenwriters, who often have busy careers. It also makes me wonder to what extent he's a director, like Spielberg or Singer, or to what extent he's a writer/director like Tarantino or the Coen Brothers.

Jaws: D-- Steven Spielberg; W-- Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
My God, 48 films directed by Spielberg -- so far. I don't own more of them because I'd need to sell more movies just to cover the costs. Gottlieb also wrote The Jerk and Doctor Detroit!

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: D-- Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones; W-- Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
It's a statistical mystery how this much talent appeared at the same location at the same time.

The Matrix: D-- Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski; W-- Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
More brothers. Perhaps a key to classic films is having siblings...

The Matrix Reloaded: D-- Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski; W-- Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski

The Matrix Revolutions: D-- Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski; W-- Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski

The Manor: D-- Ken Berris; W -- Ken Berris, Steven Moses
Woot, Ken! I still wonder how a movie with Peter O'Toole in it can't at least find its way into Blockbuster.

Whew! That's actually my current DVD collection (that I've purchased). I imagine any readers have developed a strong opinion about my tastes now.

An analysis is in the third part.

Written Test, Part One

There's recently been some discussion about the role of the writer versus that of the director in the film, and how that plays out on the business end. Craig Mazin posted a debate he had with Josh Olson about this here, and here. And some others have picked up on it.

While I don't think anyone has specifically asked this, I believe that one issue informing the debate is the question: "Who has a greater impact on the overall film?" -- Note, that even if we came up with a clear answer to this there'd still be a distinct question as to how much that should matter in parceling out blame, praise, and bucks.

Initially, to me, and certainly to my pre-screenwriting, merely a film-fan self, it was the director. I'd track movies by director since the director would often be a good predictor of whether or not I'd like the film. Actors would be a good indicator of whether or not I'd like a particular performance in the film -- but it doesn't matter how cool Samuel L. Jackson is, I'm still not going out of my way to see a drama about adopting crack babies.

Moreover, there's a logistical reason the director has a greater impact -- the director comes in later in the project and controls it largely to the end. For a sort of analogy, imagine that you split the driving with your friend across country. If your friend does the second half, it'll be the friend that controls whether you end up in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

That said, there is a sort of special kind of control you get by going first. If it's a spec, you control the whole thing really: what genre, types of characters, type of ending, and so on. Any changes made will be made off the basis of what you wrote. However, this is a strange sort of control, since your spec will only be picked up if producers want it, and then only by producers who are looking for that kind of film -- the producers act like a filter and that filter has a huge impact on the kinds of movies that eventually get made.

Even in assignments, unless the first early screenplays are completely scrapped, the approaches used there color the rest of the production.

Anyway, this sort of pure theory can be fun, but if you really want to find something out you need to do empirical experiments. So, what I decided to do is look through my collection of favorite movies and for each one compare the list of others films the director has directed, and the list of other films the writer has written.

In essence, run a test to see how good the writer is as a predictor of whether or not I'll like a film.

Note that this isn't exactly fair as a means of determining contribution -- in part because of the "doing the second half" rule above meaning that a sloppy director can mess up a good script, moreover, a director gets to do his own filtering and better directors will only choose scripts that are already pretty good, or have potential.

I run the test in a separate post that you can link to here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My Butt > The Environment

In decision theory one can extract one's preference ranking via a series of pair-wise comparisons. For example I prefer Round Table Pizza to McDonald's French Fries and McDonald's French Fries to their hamburgers, thus the pizza goes on top and the burgers at the bottom.

So, by observing my own behavior, I can see the relative importance I assign things.

For example, I tried using 7th Generation toilet paper because I'd like the world to be safe for people to poop on for at least the next 7 generations -- however, that's some raspy stuff to be rubbing my poor, tender butt with. Seriously. It's like those wood-chip infested paper towels you got in grade school as World War II surplus or something. I have since gone back to the gentle puffy quilting of Cottonelle.

However, the environment is more important to me than clean dishes -- as indicated by my willingness to put up with the miserable sudsing power of ECOVER dishwashing soap.

Probably not surprising since I'm a guy and still haven't grown out of my college student phase.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Writers' Worries

Does anyone ever worry about what the government must think about you after data-mining your web searches?

No. No! It's for a story!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Internet Reveals the Depths of the Human Psyche

And dont try to get defensive and try to insult me. Because i wont even come back to read what you say, i just want people to read this. -- some person on an internet message board

That is such a perfect example of how the internet empowers people to reveal their true selves.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Cartoon Controversy

Jamie Tappenden at Left2Right has a fairly lengthy (and interesting) post regarding the cartoon controversy. Amongst other things he talks about how some added cartoons, of indeterminate origin but far more inflamatory nature, are being used to stoke the fires. This is probably a good justification for newspapers to publish the actual cartoons just so that it's clear what came from where. Prof. Tappenden also points out that some of the original cartoons are actually critical of the project, and thus the cartoons themselves are a nice little microcosm of the debate.

Professor Tappenden also inadvertently comments on another of the issues salient to the comic controversy: moral authority. You see, Prof. Tappenden is Left2Right's resident Scandinavian, and thus in a special position to criticize or comment on Scandinavian political affairs.

After the controversy exploded an Iranian paper responded by calling for cartoons about the Holocaust -- which felt a bit to me like, after being insulted by Bob, going over and spitting on Harry.

The point is -- and I don't think it's completely illegitimate -- that they're trying to highlight a double standard about the way Europeans (and the rest of the West) treat Islam versus the way it treats Judaism. Had Iran instead published cartoons about Jesus, which would have been more consistent, a whole raft of American and European newspapers would have had no problem reprinting them, in fact, probably would have done so just to score ratings or extra sales -- these are the countries that made Life of Brian a hit, after all. And, certainly, that wouldn't have been a very effective way of demonstrating a double-standard.

The legitimate feature of their argument is pointing out:

Is a there a difference between cartoons associating Islam with terrorism because there's some prominent examples of Islamic terrorists, and, say, older cartoons associating Judaism with banking or controlling the money because there were some prominent Jewish bankers?

Nowadays we'd be uncomfortable with even that kind of relatively innocuous sweeping generalization -- it smacks too much of foul stereotypes.

That said, the Holocaust also places Europe in very special circumstances and any reasonable person should be able to understand that Europeans would be extra-senstive about how Jews are treated by their newspapers given that history.

The follow-up question then, is: does the history of Western colonization of the Middle East mean that there should be an equal sort of special consideration given to the formerly colonized?


Prof. Tappenden has a fascinating, detailed analysis of the original cartoons up now that's definately worth checking out.

He also makes the following point (check this site for cartoons, numbering 1 at the top and working down):

The basis for the objections is often cited to be at least in part the religious injunction against depictions of Mohammed. The reason given for this injunction is that such depictions potentially foster idolatry. But if that is the basis, then cartoons 1 and 3 are much more serious violators. Insulting caricatures incorporating aggressive messages are unlikely to induce idolatry, and if anything would discourage it!

I imagine the majority of people getting angry over the cartoons have no better an understanding of the theological nuances of why depicting the prophet is bad than the majority of any other religious group on this planet has of their religions' various dogma. My guess if you ask most people why drawing pictures of Mohammed, or taking God's name in vain, or showing Jesus on the cross from above, is bad, they'd think it has something to do with showing disrespect, then wave their hands a bit.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Liberty of Low Budget Horror

One advantage of horror in general is that, as long you provide the scares, the audience is very open to you being wildly experimental, or trying stuff that doesn't work out that well, in other areas.

For instance, it's the rare romantic comedy that can go with the unhappy ending. But horror films routinely have the hero end up dead, insane, trapped in purgatory, or turned into the monster at the end. And, just as often, the hero survives (perhaps only to be further tormented in a sequel).

David Cronenberg has been highly experimental with his horror stuff. It's okay to be surreal, as long as you're being scary.

You can even break $100 million with a horror film that has no plot.

One of the production advantages of horror films is that they don't need stars. For studio based films this means you score bargain prices on attractive young TV talent that's trying to break onto the big screen.

For smaller, pure independent movies, this means you can get talented, but not famous or stunningly attractive, actors. These people are often quite good, and apparently willing to work for exposure.

For example, I was impressed with the performances of the actors in the $2,000 production, Red Cockroaches. What's 2k nowadays? The price of an undergrad quarter at UCLA? Very interesting visual style in that film as well, though the director, Miguel Coyula, might be overstylizing it, whch could hurt the DVD as a calling card for getting other work.

I also rented The Off Season recently. The story meanders pretty hard in this one but there's a few nicely done dramatic scenes and I liked a lot of the performances. I'm not sure about the budget but undoubtedly low. The interesting point about this feature was that about half-way through the movie we switch main characters. We go from the PoV of the guy, to the PoV of his girlfriend. Normally, this isn't such a good idea, and in this film I suspect it might be more an accident of changing the story during production or editing, but I still enjoyed it. This could not happen in even a low budget studio film, like Cabin Fever, because in those films we've got our star, the audience knows who the star is, and that star is damn well going to give the producers (and audience) their money's worth. In the micro-budget film these are all a bunch of people you've never heard of, so you can experiment in ways that won't be available in bigger movies.

One other fun bit about the tiny films is trying to figure out who might go on to bigger success. Someone originally saw Following and Public Access and figured there was something there worth gambling a lot more money on -- and they were right.

While I think the visual style of Red Cockroaches was a bit too experimental (like trying out every possible camera angle) I do think Miguel Coyula has definite potential and could mature into a major film-maker.