Friday, April 29, 2011

The Next One...

I've been so fortunate with the success that Enter the Dark has had so far: screenings around the world, great reviews and multiple awards.  More importantly, people really seem to respond to it and have encouraged me to keep going.  And therein lies the problem.  That dreaded sophomore slump.  It's time to start writing the next one.

With Enter the Dark, my main goal was simply to finally finish something.  I've been very good at coming up with ideas in my lifetime, and horrible at actually finishing any one of them.  I purposely made this goal embarrassingly easy to accomplish - shooting it in my own house, with my friends, with gear we already owned.  No excuses.  If I couldn't complete a short film under those circumstances, I never would and I should just accept that fact.  Fortunately with the great help of my friends, we did indeed steam forward and not only finished the project, but made a pretty darn good one as well.


But now, things are different.  This time, there can be no excuses - no conditions.  It's not enough to say, "Hey, isn't this pretty good considering we did this with no money and it was just me and my buddies?"  No, this time it has to stand on its own.  This short film has to be good enough that it could be shown to anyone and they would assume it was a Hollywood-produced film.  The story, acting, camerawork, lighting, art direction, sound design and everything else all have to be top-notch.  It has to be seamless - no excuses.

And why is that - you may ask.  Well, it's simple - this has to be my calling card.  There's no more goofing around.  If I'm to ever make it in this industry - to actually fulfill my little ol' BA in Cinema from S.F. State University, then the time is now.  This project has to be good enough for someone to look at and say, "Wow, this guy's good - let's give him a couple million and see what he can do with an actual budget.  Let's give him a feature film to direct."

There, I said it - that's what I ultimately want to do.

So, you tell me, how can anyone actually produce good art under those pressures?  You see, I have to play a game with myself - to forget what my goals are and just concentrate on the task at hand - writing a great story.  But it has to be a story that not only speaks to me, but that enables me to showcase my talents as a writer/director.  It has to be small enough so it is do-able (considering I still will have almost no budget), but big enough to explore inventive ideas. 

In short, I need to produce a tiny, perfect gem of a story that will be the seed to my future.  No pressure there…


I'm stuffing myself with movies, pouring over M.C. Escher prints and reading Borges' Labyrinths to hopefully have all this wash over me so that some of its brilliance may somehow seep into my pores.  But I know I need to find my own true voice - I cannot allow myself to try to write to please others.  Only by making the story personal will it connect with others on a deeper level.  The things that work in Enter the Dark work because they feel authentic.  I must focus on that.

The good news is I think I've found the story - the architecture around which I may be able to create my film.  I still need to flesh out the details, breathe life into the characters, find the heart - but I think I've found the vessel.  Now, if I can just make the damned thing float!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Insidious - An Empty Shell of a Movie

I was worried.

You see - with all the buzz surrounding the new film by James Wan (Saw), I thought maybe someone had made the new classic haunted house/demonic possession movie before I could.

Turns out I needn't have worried.

Insidious is an empty shell of a movie, adrift in a nether nether land, with other nasty, scary movies forcing their way into it's lifeless corpse. Hey... that also happens to be the film's premise - what a coincidence!

It has its moments of great jump-scares, but never really develops the undercurrent of dread necessary to make a movie like this really get under your skin.

And why is that?

Well, it's simple.  It seems like James Wan has made a scary movie about other scary movies - kinda like Scream, but without all the fun.  Starting with the blood red embossed lettering of the title (a la Suspiria), Insidious follows the predictable path of The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Entity (nice casting of Barbara Hershey by the way) and eventually all the way to Carnival of Souls (stumbling white-faced ghoulies anyone?) and back to Suspiria (bright red lighting) once again.

Wan even throws in a sketch of his Saw puppet on the blackboard behind one of the characters just in case we're not getting the hint- THIS IS A MOVIE ABOUT MOVIES!

Now, the whole thing actually almost works because he's borrowing from some really great films, so moments of the film hold your attention, draw you in and elicit some real nice scares, but you find yourself counting the references (a drinking game for sure) more than actually caring about any of the characters.

I did however, like his attempt to stay away from digital effects and go with mostly old-school costume, makeup and lighting, but while this works fine in the buildup phase of the movie it kinda left me wanting more when we enter the third act and we're supposed to accept the fact that this amazing, limitless astral-projecting reality we're entering is just a dark old house with red lights and a dude who look like Tim Curry.

I'm starting to understand why certain horror movies work for me and some don't.  This quote from William Friedkin sums it up nicely:

“The only way I could have made ‘The Exorcist’ the way I did, is if I believed it.  If you look at the film, it’s a film made by people who believe this – we’re not kidding.  The guy who wrote it and the guy who directed it, accept demonic possession and exorcism as a possibility.”
This is exactly why Insidious only works on a superficial level.  These dudes don't believe any of it, and they never expect the audience will either.  Everything is done with a wink and a nod.  The only things that ever terrified James Wan as a kid were obviously other horror movies. If you were ever a kid with night terrors, you would never present them like they are in this film - trust me, I should know.

Real horror comes from tapping those deep lurking fears within us and expressing them for others to see.  Not because it seems like a fun thing to do, or to make the next hit movie, but because you have to.

Because you are compelled.

Wait for my next movie... then you'll see what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What is a Horror Movie?

Ok  kiddos, hate to go on a rant here, but let me make this perfectly clear...


(phew... glad to finally get that off my chest)

It is psychological thriller that examines a young woman's descent into madness.

Is it scary?  Yes.
Is it disturbing?  Yes
Is it a horror movie?  No.

Just because a film is scary, suspenseful, disturbing, even terrifying, that does NOT make it a horror movie.

Let me tell you a little secret...   Are you ready?  Ok, here goes...

Jaws is not a horror movie either.  (uh oh, I can hear the masses grumbling)
Neither is Psycho. (ducks head, awaiting flying cookingware)
Silence of the Lambs? ...forget about it - it's a straight up thriller (hey, put that pitchfork down willya? lemme explain!)
Stop looking at me like that, Lecter, lemme explain
I tend to be protective of the term "horror".  To me, it represents a very specific type of movie, and in this age of inclusiveness, I feel people have tagged many films as "horror" in order to justify the genre.  They want to say, "Hey look!  Look at all the "horror" films that have won Oscars!  We're legit!  We're not the grade-B low-budget degenerate shlockfest that people think we are.  Please like us..."

Well EFF THAT!  Horror does not need justification or legitimacy.  It's just fine as it is, thank you very much - in all its bloody, subversive, thought-provoking glory.

Therefore, I think a little clarification is in order.  A comprehensive definition of what a horror film is, so these constant mis-classifications can stop.  If a term like "horror film" is used incorrectly, eventually it loses its meaning and has no value anymore.

Once we have a solid definition we can use that as a filter to pass a bunch of movies through it and see how it stands up under scrutiny.

I'll take the first stab - here's my definition.  A horror movie has to have the following elements:

- it has to have an element of the supernatural (witches, ghosts, demons, alternate realities, etc)
- it has to have a monster (some creature that does not actually exist)
- its primary aim has to be to elicit fear, horror, disgust or suspense.

This means that many of the most famous movies that you see on those best horror films lists, ARE NOT EVEN HORROR FILMS!

Ok, let's go back to the films already mentioned and pass them through my filter.