Friday, October 29, 2010

Baseball - a Modern Solution

Now that my home team, the San Francisco Giants are deep into the hysteria of the World Series, it takes me back to the last time they were in the series - 2002.  Unlike this series, where an unlikely hero seemingly steps up each game for the Giants (Cody Ross, Freddie Sanchez, Edgar Renteria), in that series, the buzz was mostly around Barry Bonds, who had broken the single season record for home runs (73) the previous year.

Anyone who went through that season can remember what a bizarre summer it was.  Bonds was chasing a mark just recently set by Mark McGwire in 1998, but nobody seemed to care.  Unlike the record chasing season of 98, in which McGwire and Sosa captured the imagination of a nation, Bond's accomplishment seemed more like a begrudgingly forgone conclusion.  The reason was simple.


Ken burns did a great job examining this complex issue in his recent update to his outstanding Baseball documentary - Baseball: the Tenth Inning.

Although it is clear now that McGuire and Sosa were obviously juiced during their amazing home run derby, the public was under a haze of denial.  The story was too compelling to let shady accusations of drug use get in the way.  Fans wanted heroes and they got them.

By 2002 however, things had changed.  Accusations had become too many to overlook, and Bonds' sudden offensive explosion at the end of his career was too obvious to take at face value - not to mention his huge friggin' head!  By the time Bonds went after the all-time career home run record in 2007 most of the country didn't want him to break it and the commissioner didn't even bother to attend the record-breaking game.

It was a strange time to be a Giants fan.

I never want any fan to have to go through that again.  And I don't want any more Grand Jury or Senate inquisitions into the state of steroids in baseball, so I offer you a simple solution:

The Designated Steroids Hitter.

Think about it for a second.  Wouldn't you love to see another season like 1998?  Home runs jumping out of the ballparks.  Previously scrawny utility infielders jacking obnoxiously huge bombs into center field.  Endless hyped-up replays on ESPN.  And all of it legal, out in the open and blessed by the league.

Here's how it works:  Everyone on the team is drug-tested on the team except for one player.  The Designated Steroids Hitter can do whatever he wants.  Any kinda crazy souped-up concoctions dreamed up by Eastern European block countries in the 1980's are totally fine.  Joe Canseco injections in bathroom stalls? - go for it!  Cream & Clear? Bring em on!  HGH? please, ingest 'em until you look like Andre the Giant.  The more the merrier!

Then, once a batting order, you'll get to see some freakishly hulking michelin-man looking bobble-headed maniac jack impossibly long home runs into the feverishly screaming throngs of bleacher fans.

What could be more American than that?

Hey, I can dream can't I?...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monsters - A Love Story

There's been a lot of buzz recently about an amazing new indie monster movie called... well, Monsters.

The filmmaker, Gareth Edwards took two actors, two crew, a Sony EX3 HD camera and a whole lotta ingenuity to Mexico and Central America and shot a feature film for about $15,000 (if you believe the hype, that is).  We'll never really know what the true budget was, but suffice it to say, the dude made a great looking monster movie entirely out of the studio system. 

He also did all the the effects shots.  By himself.  On a PC.

Now, it helps that he happens to be a professional digital effects artist, so don't expect that you're going to buy Maya and After Effects and be able to replicate what he did on your own.  But nonetheless, this homegrown movie looks almost as good as the big boys.  Most of the fx shots are not even the obvious monster shots, but ones that take advantage of compositing elements in post-production that would normally have to be bought or rented for large sums of cash during production - things like signage, planes, tanks, and destroyed buildings.

As for the story itself, Monsters takes place in a post-alien infected world where a large chunk of Mexico has been quarantined while the military does battle with the creatures.  The story follows two people as they try to get across the "Infected Zone" of Mexico, back to the good ol' USA.  It's a simple road movie, with the occasional monster thrown in.  At it's best, Monsters reminds me of elements of Cloverfield, Children of Men, District 9 and Jurassic Park.  Its cinema verite feel lulls us into a sense of psuedo-reality which makes the occasional monster interactions that much more intense.  The movie's unavoidable political undertones regarding immigration and the U.S. military add a nice touch of depth without overtaking the plot.

The film this movie really wants to be however, is Before Sunrise - two unlikely people forced to spend time together while they wait around, banter and take in the scenery.  Now that's not necessarily a bad thing, except that in Monsters... well, the dang thing is called Monsters and there really isn't much of them in this movie.  The story only really gets going when they finally enter the "Infected Zone", and honestly it should have just started there and developed their relationship as they went along.  The other issue is that the characters are just not very interesting, and their performances are just kinda flat for the most part.  For an intimate road movie like this, the audience needs to fall in love with the characters as they inevitably do each other.  If you watch interviews with Gareth, you will discover that much of the scenes were shot in an ad hoc improvised method, and unfortunately, it shows.

And please don't get me started on the character design of the monsters themselves (an issue I also had with Cloverfield) - I had hoped to see something a little more original than giant walking octopi.

I really wanted to love this movie - but in the end it's a near-miss for me.  I think I like the idea of it more than the actual finished movie.

Overall, I'd say that Monsters represents a great example of the new leverage of digital indie filmmaking - being able to do so much with so little.  The movie is very well-made, with a great idea and some very cool scenes. I loved the verite approach and the attention to detail. I just wish Gareth Edwards had spent a bit more time in the script writing phase to develop his characters and allow his story to live up to his amazing technical achievements.

Monsters is available now on Comcast OnDemand, and also iTunes.  It will be in limited release in theaters starting Oct 29.  Check it out, but just be aware that you won't be in for 90 minutes of monster mayhem.  This is a quiet, reflective movie that gets under your skin and answers the question, do giant alien octopi have feelings too?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Disobedience is Good - Two thoughts to live by

When I was growing up, I was taught to pay attention to rules; to ask before you do something; to try your best at what you do before you finish it; and these simple rules helped me to succeed in school, and I assumed they would lead to success in life.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

In the dog-eat-dog reality of the grown-up world, those who succeed are rarely those who wait for permission, or who do the most thorough job.  The winners are more often those who seize the moment, take action and get things done.

In the last couple of years, as I've tried to make a course correction in my own life and strive to make a name for myself as a filmmaker, I've had to fight against some of my ingrained tendencies in order to succeed.  Through this process I discovered two thoughts to live by that have helped me immeasurably:

1) Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
 As children, we are constantly reminded to follow the rules, ask before you do something - look to those in power for confirmation.  We look to our parents, teachers, coaches and later, our bosses asking them, "Is it okay if I do this?"  While this is good behavior as a child, it is not useful as an adult.

As an adult, this puts you at the whim of incompetent bosses, and arcane rules.  Yes, obviously you shouldn't break the law, but short of that, everything else is up for negotiation.  If you wait around and ask for permission to do something, the stock answer is almost always NO.  You will need to get around many NOs to succeed in what you want to do, whether that's make a movie, start a business, or plan a vacation.  Why place more phantom NOs in your way? You're a grown-up now - make a reasoned decision and take action.  If someone doesn't like it, ask for forgiveness after the fact.  More often, however you won't even have to ask for forgiveness as your actions will have proved that you were right.

2) Ready, Fire, Aim!
This was a huge one for me to overcome.  I am a natural perfectionist, which is what makes me a good editor.  I am paid to notice an edit that's 2 frames off, or a logo that should be eight pixels to the left.  However, as someone who is now trying to get my own projects done, this tendency can be crippling.

My natural tendency is to want everything to be perfect before I can accept it and send it out into the world - whether that's a movie, a business idea, or even a blog-post.  The problem with this however, is that those who get things done are rewarded more than those who do it better, but who take too long. The lesson for me is that good enough is good enough!

I spent many years coming up with ideas for movies, web sites and products and never finished a single one of them.  I would always be crushed under the weight of my own expectations - if it wasn't perfect, it wasn't worth doing.  I never wanted to hand in B- work, when I knew I could do an A.  But, you know what I realized?  The world gets by on B- work.  Heck, most people can barely do C level work, anything more than that looks like friggin genius level!

What Ready Fire, Aim! taught me is to do a good-enough job, get it done, get it out there, and make course corrections on the fly.  This is how the world really works.  Ever wonder why it seems you're always Beta testing software that you have bought?  That's because you ARE!  The software developer is fine-tuning their product with your help - yup, Ready, Fire, Aim!

When I made Enter the Dark, my main priority was to actually finally finish something.  I had to let go of a lot of things in order to do that.  One of them was my fear of rejection and putting something out there that wasn't perfect.  What I learned however, is that the process of completing this project, of making the movie, submitting to festivals, getting reviews, making connections, is WAY more important than having a finished perfect movie.  Enter the Dark is not perfect - far from it.  If I were to grade it, I'd probably give it a B.  But you know what, it's done, it's out there and I learned tons from the experience.  And people seem to like it.

Warts and all.

(p.s. - I'm going to post this blogpost without spell-checking it... so there!)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Enter the Dark - Reality Check

First the good news - my short horror movie, Enter the Dark will be playing at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival, Friday, Oct 22nd as part of their shorts program that starts at 5:00.  Myself, my wife and a number of folks who worked on the movie will be caravanning up to Sac to enjoy the evening.  If you are in the area, please stop on by!

I know there has been a lot of Enter the Dark news of late and I never intended for this blog to become just a marketing machine for my indie movies, but that's what my brain has been wrapped around for the last few months.  My intent was always to present my honest opinion of things that interest me, and right now that's been writing, shooting, editing, and now screening my horror movie.  I've tried to give you a little insight into that process, and into the indie scene in general.

Enter the Dark has been fortunate to have been selected by three film festivals and has had a number of positive reviews so far, but as with everything in life, that is not the whole story. I give you now the complete unadulterated truth that most filmmakers will try to hide.