Friday, August 28, 2009

"Vertigo" and Extended Meaning

I will admit that I am embarrassingly new to the world of girls. How to act around them, what to say, all that jazz alludes me. Yes, girls are humans, too. All the same, their biological differences from us produce an altogether radical mindset and temperament (generally) that makes them all but inaccessible to me. On a personal level, that is. I can talk to girls rather easily in the most superficial manner. But what about when the discussion gets deeper? When life, love, and lust are at stake? How will I know who to trust, especially when my blazing hormones compels me to obsess over almost all of them? Who do I truly give myself to?

In the course of getting the film shot, I met three of Ben's friends who are girls. I like them all. That's the problem. Obviously, I can't be with all of them. It's not even logical to think I'd be with any of them. Yet, when I was around them, I felt a sudden urge to hold them. Protect them. Share with them my deepest fears and secrets. Needless to say, it's not purely emotional. I lust, too. How nice it would be, simply to rest together for all time. But it's not to be. My emotions are getting the better of me. I wonder how girls feel about us boys feeling this way about them. I wonder if they feel the same.

So, now, I am obsessed with one girl in particular. She is Becky, and she was the first choice for the lead in the zombie movie. As told before, her work schedule prevented her from being able to so. I saw her in person when Ben, Brendan, and I went to the coffee beanery where she worked. Forget that she looks [a lot] like Wynona Ryder. She's beautiful by herself. Apparently, she's a really fun and open-minded person, which is why she was first chosen to play the lead (back when the girl dies and her dead body is raped) in the first play. I'd like to find time to hang out with her. I was even stupid enough (brave enough?) to ask Ben for his permission to go out with her? Agh. Live and learn, kid.

This obsession calls to mind Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, a film about, above all things, a man's obsession over one woman, and how that leads to tragedy. That I should finally realize just what Hitchcock was talking about (and why this film may be his greatest) coincides with our English class' definition of meaning in poetry, literature, and the arts: surface, layered, and extended. Extended as to say, how does this story, poem, etc. apply to me in my life? Vertigo's sorrowful message, accompanied by the brilliant, sinister score of Bernard Herrmann, has taken resonance in my mind and life. I surely do not want to do to any of these girls what James Stewart wound up doing to Kim Novak.

I surely hope I am able to move beyond this insecure and vulnerable stage and eventually find someone I deserve to be with. For all of my alleged "brilliances," I do not do well flying solo. I need support, collaborate, guidance, even if it's from one person. Why can't that person be my soul mate?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My First Time Shooting a Film! - Part Three


I intentionally woke up early simply to watch a movie before Ben and Ian woke up, just like I did yesterday with Pulp Fiction. Today's newspaper had a new review of Inglourious Basterds. Albeit, a really negative one. One star. Doesn't matter. I'm going to see it anyway.

Today's movie: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. First time viewing. Quite a fabulous film. The cinematography and the tension of the final scenes especially made this a keeper. I want to be like Clint Eastwood.

For the first hours of the day, we all had nothing to do.

I called Martin to make sure he actually came today. He said he would. Emily arrived and sat around with us. Ben showed her the trailer and a brand new teaser. At around noon, Brendan arrived. We shot his first couple of one-shot scenes immediately. Then we sat around again. We were getting hungry, and Ben kept mentioning a Digiorno pizza he had in the freezer. Seeing as Emily was merely there (she did take pictures, though), she was promoted "crafts lady" and ordered to make the pizza. She didn't. Ben and Brendan tortured her with feet in her face and their legs spread open in her direction. Weird.

At one o'clock, Ian had to leave for a doctor's appointment. Nothing to do. Soon, Martin arrived. He and Ben immediately began ripping on each other. I was a little upset, but then thought, as with Brendan and Aimee, the tension might be a good thing for the movie. We managed to shoot Quent and Martin's first scene together.

Soon, Ben and Brendan went to go pick up Aimee from her house. Nothing to do. While Martin generously made the pizza, I mindlessly walked around the house looking for good camera angles with no one for a reference point. I can't explain just how out of it I was. I did not feel like working at all. I wanted to quit the movie that day.

But then, something kicked in. Suddenly, I was tired to doing nothing. Doing nothing got no one nowhere. I was the director, wasn't I? The filmmaker? Well then, let's make a fucking film! How can I work to this goal now? I can prepare for the next scene! The next scene was a big one, too. Roger revealed his bite to the others and they were running away from him. OK. How will we do it? I immediately drew a map of the den and began blocking every camera placement, every movement, and every single shot I would use. By the time I had this all figured out and ready to go by the time Ben, Brendan, and Aimee arrived. Ian arrived sometime later, but I managed to set him straight, too. This was without a doubt the smoothest stretch of filmmaking we'd done. I was quickly able to get everyone in place and shoot maybe only two takes for every shot. At one point, though, Brendan called me out for being too "Kubrick-y." I can live with that. Ben is really good at tough guy improvisation. He should play the big boss in our next film. Oh, and my character (a nihilistic GameBoy player) knocks Brendan out with the shotgun. And then keeps playing the GameBoy.

After shooting the last shot needed with Brendan, we had finished for the time being. Brendan could finally go to college and we had successfully shot just over half of our movie. Yeah!

Everyone but Ben, Ian, and I left. We cleaned up the area to make it civilized again. We tried to see Inglourious Basterds that night, but couldn't. His dad did take us to dinner and then rent a movie, though. We went to an Italian restaurant. Really good bread. We rented and watched I Love You, Man, which, I must say, felt like a film personally made for me. I loved it. Paul Rudd and Jason Segel were fantastic. I totally could connect with Rudd's lovably unconfident straight arrow. He just wants a friend. I do, too. Except, he's lucky enough to be getting married as well. When will I know that kind of love? Will I ever?

So, that was our fun. My experience gained ranged from learning to deal with people (teenagers) and being comfortable giving orders. I could get used to this.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My First Time Shooting a Film! - Part Two


That morning, I decided to watch Pulp Fiction again to get energized and inspired. It helped some, and I got to enjoy the movie on Ben's bigger television (I never noticed before that Tim Roth was shivering in his scene with Sam Jackson).

By 10:00 am, I had finished the entire script. It was definitely much darker than the original, but just as sardonic to the characters (although, the girl, instead of dying and being raped, has an attempted rape scene). Soon, I'll have to post both drafts of the script on the blog so you all can see what my deranged mind produced.

Once the afternoon came about, Brendan came over to get started. He read the new script. And loved it. I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to be complemented on my writing. I was suddenly ready to hit an artistic high. Also, he came bearing good news and bad news: the good news was that he found a girl for the part; the bad news was that it was Aimee, a girl he had broken up with. Will it be that bad? So now we needed four more parts casted. Ben had to play someone, as did I. Ian was playing the zombie. Maybe he could play the wimp, too? A double role more bizarre than Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood? Ah, compromise, you sneaking bitch. It should work if we do it well.

We shot the first major sequence involving Brendan's character, named Roger, packing the getaway van and getting bitten by the zombie. It took about an hour to shoot, starting with an crane shot turning into a dolly shot running parallel to the driveway and Brendan. Brendan is a really good and dedicated actor, even if he can't watch his own scenes. While filming, he chose to run around the block and straight into the shot for realism.

After this, we shot his scene in the bathroom with Ian, now the wimp named Henry, which brought out Brendan's real acting talent. Essentially, Roger wants Henry to kill him before he becomes a zombie, but Henry refuses and runs away.

After this was shot, we stopped for lunch. Brendan and Ben would go get the pizzas, and also pick up Aimee so we could shoot their scenes together so Brendan could leave for college by Friday night. While they were gone, I created a scene list to keep track of our shooting progress. There were 31 scenes. We finished two. Oh boy.

Soon, Brendan, Ben, and Aimee arrived with pizzas and pop. Emily also arrived later for no reason in particular. She watched and enjoyed the production. Aimee looked over the script (she complimented my handwriting, which made me feel even better) and got the jest of it all. We immediately got to work on the garage scene, which required Brendan to be tied to an overhead pipe. Now, throughout this junction, there was a real tension between Aimee and Brendan that in a strange way helped their scene together. Brendan whispers to Aimee to do something for him for him, but she doesn't want to. She looks a lot like Anna Paquin.

Next was the dreaded attempted rape scene. Quent, played by Ben, was jealous of Aimee liking Roger, so he attempts to rape her. No one wanted to do this scene, and it wasn't until it was over that I realized just how serious the matter was. Now I regret doing it, but being naive and silly about it, we went and did it anyway. Originally, I envisioned Quent's angry as equally that of Jake La Motta's in Raging Bull, especially the scene where he beats up his brother for allegedly having sex with his wife. However, Ben was really puzzled by the mere concept of the scene (understandable), so we decided we would improvise the entire thing. This time, Brendan filmed the scene as I directed. Ben's improvising was the creepiest thing we'd ever seen. You'll have to see the final film to truly experience it...let's say it if Jack Sparrow did an attempt rape scene. But worse. That's the best I can do.

After that was done, we stopped for the night. We were extremely exhausted and had to stop. Brendan, Aimee, and Emily went home. Martin, who was supposed to show up today, didn't. I called him and he promised he'd come on Friday so we could film some stuff with him. That night, Ben edited a trailer for our film with the existing footage that looked really good, especially since it was to be made black-and-white. We tried to watch The Wild Bunch, but I fell asleep after the first violent scene and woke up for the last. According to Ben, I wasn't missing anything.

We'd finish all of Brendan's scenes tomorrow.

Will finish up tomorrow.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My First Time Shooting a Film!

Days ago, I spoke of my experience writing the first draft of my and my friends' production, The Departure. Last Thursday, we actually started filming the short zombie flick. Exhausting. Consuming. Difficult. Exhilarating. Puzzling. Absorbing. Exciting. Educational. Inspirational! These words and more fail to describe the experience had making this film.

I'll tell of my times in chronological order, starting from Tuesday, the day I went over to my friend Ben's house to start Pre-Productive work on The Departure.


Senior Orientation. Blah! I got up early, got dressed properly, and went to school for the first time in months for Orientation. It went by smoothly. I met up with old friends and my brilliant English teacher, still sarcasm and friendly as he was last time. After Orientation and year book photos, I rode with Ben to his house so we could work on the script. We didn't have an actress for our written role yet, so we picked up a friend of Ben's named Emily. She read the script, thought it was funny, but was weirded out by the actions of her character. She wasn't sure she wanted to do it anymore. Soon, though, we were assisted by our college-bound former classmate and somewhat trained thespian named Brendan. He read through the script, loved what he saw, but wanted more. In fact, he suggested using the hidden thematics to make the film more character-based (as opposed to the largely plot and irony driven stuff we had) and dramatic. Shakespearian, even. Cool by me. It's all about the film, not me.

To compensate for our loss of an actress (Emily left some time earlier), we went to visit Becky, a friend of Ben's that I believe he likes, to try to persuade to be in the role. She couldn't: too much work to do. Defeated, we stayed at the beanery, wondering who we could get to play the female and going over dialogue scene. Much talk of Quentin Tarantino, David Mamet, and why and how people talk. We got some good stuff before leaving to get some food. When Brendan left, Ben and I went over the draft together one more time before I had to go home. I promised to write something for the next day and that I'd spend the night to get the film done.


I got up at 7:30am and managed to get two scenes written. That was it. My stepfather picked today of all days to wash the carpet upstairs in my room and the computer room. This took about four hours. To compensate, I started making an outline with index cards.

At four o'clock, I was picked up by Ben's mother and taken to his house. His friend Ian was there to play the role of the first zombie. We discussed our plan: we would stay up all night working on the new script in longhand, making it more dramatic, Shakespearian, and, most importantly, better. After getting Chinese food and Monster energy drinks, we went back to eat. However, we didn't start writing right away. Ben had to leave to meet up with an old friend who was a girl, so he didn't want us to go with him (he meant well, though, so I don't blame him). Ian and I rode bikes, too small and uncustomed, into Downtown Royal Oak. We also stopped by our friend Rob's house for a brief visit.

Once we got home, we got set to start working. Or, at least, I was writing while they stayed up and looked at stuff online. Occasionally (too often), I'd stop and check out what they were doing instead of writing. (Note to self: write about "sacrificing do's and don't's") Upon finishing the outline index cards, I began to write the new script in longhand on a legal pad. This sort of writing practice took about ten hours, from ten at night to ten in the morning (with about two hours of sleeping in between).

I am very, very tired, and will continue writing later today.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What's My Problem with "Avatar" - Introduction

I managed to catch "The Boy in the Iceberg" on television last night, and you know what? It's better than I remember. It has the same flaws that would ultimately undo the series (for me), but unlike those latter episodes, "The Boy in the Iceberg" is quieter, more inviting, had many moments of fantastic animation, and, surprisingly, sets up its story very, very well. A common criticism of mine is that the writers don't know how to plausibly set up situations, but they're brilliant at paying them off. "Iceberg" does the job well enough that one can be forgiven for not picking up on, or maybe even flat out ignoring, the messy elements and continue to watch for what happens next.

Unfortunately, as the story gets deeper and better, these flaws become more apparent and annoying. Since I've set myself up as an enemy within these here parks, my nitpicks will be the main focus. There are plenty of good things in this episode outside of its set-up, but they are mostly technical (and then some of the technical things aren't even that good).

Here's how these posts will work. In each thread, I will focus on one element at a time, so that debates don't become too chaotic. Maybe, I'm not sure, whole episodes will be the subject of debate. The topics will range from technical to artistic, from contemporary to historical. Hopefully, such debate will pinpoint exactly where I'm coming from and why I feel the need to remake this series, and, hopefully, allow you more chances to fix me straight and stop all this nonsense. I'll tell you what, though: after watching some featurettes on Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull and how personally the project came about, my passion to remake Avatar is greater than ever.

P.S. These posts will also be on Avatar's IMDb message board page so that debate among fans can ensue, hopefully so they'll convince me of how wrong I am.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Inspiring Quote

I take dictation from that place within my mind that knows what to say. I think most good writers do. There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration. The idea of "diagramming" an essay in advance, as we are taught in school, may be useful to students but is foolishness for any practicing writer. The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before. - Roger Ebert

Now if that doesn't get you off your ass to start writing as it did for me, I have nothing else good to tell you.

Here's the entire journey entry: I think I'm musing my mind.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

First Draft of Zombie Script Done; Shooting Starts Sunday

Even since school end, my friend Ben and I have wanted to use the summer to make short films to build a portfolio between ourselves. Needless to say, my new job got in the way, and it isn't until now that we are finally going to actually shoot the film.

It is a zombie film called The Departure about a group of teenagers who survive the meltdown in their town, but now must get out of town. That's pretty much all I can say without spoiling the surprises, of which I believe there are enough to match a Coen Brothers' film. We came up with the idea during the last days of school when trying to find a movie idea that could be done within our limited resources. Luckily, The Departure is within our reach (I believe), so shooting should go very smoothly. It will be our first completed production (our first attempt at shooting a zombie film ended horribly because of creative differences between Ben, generally the director, and I, generally the writer) and it should be very fun.

All this summer, I procrastinated in getting the script finished because of my fear of the writing process, my laziness, and my new job. Hell, it wasn't until Ben called me last Saturday that he boosted my spirits up for the project again. Last night, I went on an all-out writing spree. I'd write at least a page or so, and then look at more things on the computer, and then write for more time, and back and forth I went until two-thirds of the first draft was completed.

Now, the interim between conception and solidification was never too bleak. For one, I learned how important personality was to art. One of the reasons I procrastinated had to do with my disinterest in zombie films in general. The solution: make it for me. What kind of zombie film would I want to see? I also started looking into film history and my favorite filmmakers again (speaking of which, I need to start Surrogate Fathers), especially Quentin Tarantino, since his new film opens in two weeks. David Bordwell's great On the History of Film Style is an excellent read, an examination of different views of cinematic development. Then, yesterday, I watched A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies again, and came out much more enlightened (particularly by John Cassavetes' archive footage) than I ever was before.

The result for the first draft: an overlong, very talky, stylish but realistic, post modern take on the zombie flick. Revision is in order (Ben will read it tomorrow), but I like it so far. I can't wait to start shooting.

Habit Check:

1. Read summer reading book everyday - haven't started yet
2. Stop messing with hair/biting nails - unsuccessful with hair
3. Add a new entry to blog everyday - done
4. Stay positive - tested by theological discussion; so-so
5. Be compassionate - so-so

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Have to Habit

The past seventeen years of my life, as in anyone else's life, are widely the result of the habits I developed over those years, and my failed attempts to change them. Whenever I start something, I'm compelled not to finish it because of my "psychological complacency," which all but convinces me that whatever new thing I was doing wasn't worth the trouble anyway. Bullshit, I say, but then I find myself in the same hole.

No more, I say. I must work hard, not just this last year of high school, but my whole life. I cannot expect the world to lay it out for me. I must lay it out for myself. And the first step to doing that is to change myself. And to change myself, I must change my habits.

Every week, possibly every Sunday, I will post a list of habits I seek to establish. Note I mean to say to do things I should, rather than not things I shouldn't. I will try hard to refrain from losing bad habits. On the other hand, I will try hard to cultivate new, good habits that will simply do away with the bad. One habit I need to develop is to stay positive, and that shall be my start.

According to some studies, a habit can be broken in three weeks with much will power. In subsequent entries, I should be able to reflect on how well those experiments go, and why they seem to fail. This self-aware should bring me closer to realizing the problem so I can better confront it. A brief reflection everyday, and a whole one every Sunday, should keep me in check.

It is no longer Sunday, but I shall start today with my list anyway for this new week:

1. Read summer reading book everyday
2. Stop messing with hair/biting nails
3. Add a new entry to blog everyday (like I promised when I started)
4. Stay positive
5. Be compassionate

Here is my start. Now the real work begins.