Have you ever spoken to a filmmaker via Twitter?
When I was a kid, it was unthinkable to have unfettered access to someone who made a movie I loved. If there had been a Twitter account for George Lucas, I shudder to think what kind of lunacy I'd have indulged. These days, you see all sorts of filmmakers signing up for social media outlets that allow the public to speak directly to them in a way that is truly unprecedented. There was one evening in particular recently where we all sort of simultaneously realized Billy Friedkin had signed up for Twitter, and it turned into a three or four hour free-for-all with people bombarding him with questions about everything from "Cruising" to "The Guardian" to "The Exorcist" to "Jade," and he answered everything with grace and charm. It was amazing.
It also may have been contractually obligated.
Until I interviewed Derick Martini recently about his film "Hick" as part of the Motion/Captured Podcast, I had no idea companies were now including a social media clause as part of the standard filmmaker's contract. When he told me, it blew my mind. It seems counter-intuitive to me, since forcing someone to interact with the public rarely ends well. Still, we are in a new age of how media works and how audiences interact with the media they consume, and so I guess things are going to evolve no matter what.
Have you ever spoken to a filmmaker via Twitter?
I hope you guys are having fun with this week's posts. I'm probably at a museum with the boys this morning, and I always enjoy those moments when I help broaden their horizons in ways that aren't about movies. Sure, I consider Film Nerd 2.0 a major part of what I do here at HitFix, but if I've ever given you the impression that all I talk to them about is movies, that would be wrong.
Sports, for example, are a big part of Toshi's world right now, and we're just gearing up for the fall baseball season. Both of the kids also really love anything that has to do with science, and I love watching them attack a new topic, desperate to learn. That appetite for education is something that life tends to beat out of people at some point, but in kids, it is undimmed, vibrant, essential.
One of the things that Toshi is most curious about as we watch movies these days is the music that is created for films. I went to a scoring session last week, and I wish I'd been able to bring him along. He's fascinated by the scores that he owns, and he plays them every time we're in the car. The "Star Wars" scores are big ones, of course, and he's almost completely worn his "Empire Strikes Back" CD smooth from replaying "The Imperial March." As I've mentioned here before, he also loves "Grease" and "Singin' In The Rain" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and he has no trouble buying into the reality of a movie musical. I love that he and his little brother walk around the house singing the "Godzilla" theme, happy as can be. Movie music means something to them. It resonates with them.
But I know people who barely even hear movie music. My own parents often tell me that they can't "hear" a score. They're aware there is music in a film, but they don't hear it as a discrete part of the process. It's background. It's just wallpaper to them. And while I can't imagine that, I can't fault them for it, either. To them, discussion of movie music is like having a conversation about the color in a movie.
Here's my question for you today: how aware are you of movie music, and what movie music would you describe as important or essential to you? If you have specific memories of the music in films, I'd love to hear those memories. If you work in film composition, I'd love to know what inspired you and got you to pursue that as a craft. And if you're one of those people who barely register a film's score, can you explain to me what you hear when you're watching a film?
I look forward to reading your responses to this and all the other topics this week, and I'm thanking you in advance for participating, even if you don't normally participate. If you guys don't respond, this is going to be a very slow week here on the blog. I'm counting on you, and I hope that by the time I return next Monday, I'll know a lot more about you, and that I can use your answers to help make Motion/Captured even better.
I guess technically speaking the Motion/Captured Podcast didn't die. But we are restarting it today with a whole new attitude and focus, and I'm hoping that as we settle into the new format, we're going to end up with something that features the best elements of the old podcast but plenty of things that are brand new to this format.
This is the ongoing series that takes the place of "The Essentials" or "The Basics" or "The Motion/Captured Must-See" or any other ongoing list. This is the collection of conversations about the rest of the great films out there. This is the ongoing curation of films I feel should be part of any film fan's life.
Earlier this year, I picked number one through number twenty as a response to the Sight & Sound poll that was ongoing at the time. I wrote about those, and I'm really pleased with the shape of that list. Those are all films that mean something special to me. Those are the films that I've watched to the point of absorption. But I wasn't kidding when I said that after those 20, there's a tie between about 2500 films that I consider my "essentials." Leave it to Scott Swan to ask me as soon as I was done with the list, "Well, what's number 21?"
One of the projects I'm trying to work on this week during my vacation is an index of all the films I have in the house on laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray and even VHS. I recently realized I'd purchased duplicates of several films I already owned, and it occurred to me that while I like the way I have my movies sorted and stored in the house, it's not the easiest way of keeping track of things.
I'm not specifically sure how many films I have here. I know it's well over 9,000 at this point, and maybe as high as 11,000. That is a massive library for a home resource, and honestly, it's probably more films than I should own. I already know that I'm never ever going to rewatch everything I own, which raises the question of why I would own it. Hell, even if I stopped collecting today and started watching only the discs I have that I haven't seen, I have a feeling I'd have several years worth of movies ahead of me.
Yes, that's right… I'm on vacation.
Right now, my family and I are on a private jet traveling the globe and having amazing adventures. Or we're at my house and laying around in the pool. Whichever version makes you happy, feel free to picture that. The point is, I'm taking a week away from writing here at HitFix to relax before we start the insane crush of work that kicks off with our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival on September 6.
In the meantime, I'm going to be publishing a topic for conversation every day between now and when I come back, and I am going to ask you guys to carry the weight here. I've said in many place, during podcasts and in articles and even in person, that I consider all of this a conversation. It doesn't work in a vacuum. It doesn't work if it's just me talking at you. You are an essential part of the equation, and that's why I want this week to work a little different.
Yes, that took longer than I promised.
Yes, I should stop mentioning a deadline if there's any chance at all I'm going to miss it.
On that note, let's dig back in. The first piece I published covered only one third of the characters I wanted to discuss. I broke them all down according to the broad archetypes of "The Good," "The Bad," and "The Ugly." Based on the comments section, I think some of you missed the point I was making. This isn't a re-review where I'm using "The Bad" and "The Ugly" to point out flaws in the film. Instead, I'm looking at "The Bad" as people who are motivated only by their own desires, who are willing to hurt others to get what they want. And with "The Ugly," I'm talking about people who fall into some grey middle zone between good and bad, people who can occasionally do the right thing but who are often driven to do the wrong things. I think those characters are the most fun to write and to watch because they get to have all the shameless fun of being a bad guy and all the cathartic release of being a good guy.
Hopefully after you read today's conclusion, you'll see what I meant, and I want to thank you guys for both being patient and for being such an active part of the conversation once I finally posted the first piece. I want to challenge you to participate even more next week while I'm on vacation, but more on that later this morning.
"Premium Rush" is a very silly, very slight film that is invigorated by David Koepp's obvious fascination with how to capture the visceral thrill of being a bike messenger in modern Manhattan. It barely holds together as a narrative while you're watching, but there are some basic pleasures to be had.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has, fate willing, a long and exciting career ahead of him. He's comfortable with comedy, drama, romance, action, dancing, singing, and who knows what else. He seems unafraid of any subject matter, and his work with HitRECord, his art collective movement, reveals him as someone with a hunger for the pure thrill of invention. So when he says in the press notes for the film that one of the things that helped him decide to do "Premium Rush" was the thought of riding bikes in New York in the summer, I buy it. I can see how he'd want to mix it up, and there is a physical challenge inherent to a film like this that would be appealing to an actor who is as keenly aware of his body as Gordon-Levitt seems to be. Koepp has staged some remarkable bike action in and around Manhattan, and I'm not sure how much is real, how much involves stunt performers, and how much had to be created in a computer or massaged in some way digitally. I sort of don't want to know, either, because the trick of the film is that Koepp makes it all look like he just got a camera next to Gordon-Levitt or Dania Ramirez or Wole Parks when they were hauling ass through the terrifying daytime traffic of New York City. It's a seamless trick, and that's a big part of what Koepp's job was in making the movie.
It is increasingly uncommon to have a day on a set alone, with no other press, but with Judd Apatow's films, there is a long precedent that is on my side. After all, I've visited him on all of his films, as well as many of the movies he's produced, and I've built a rapport with Judd and with many of the people who work on his films that makes it very easy to hit the ground running when it comes time to write about what he's working on.
When I got the call to drive down to the set of "This Is 40," I was told that they'd picked the day specifically so I would have a chance to talk to Albert Brooks. That was a priority for me because of how much I adore his work. I'd talked to Paul Rudd a few weeks earlier about how excited he was to have Brooks playing his father in the film. Considering he had just finished a film where Jack Nicholson played his father, I told Rudd he was rapidly defining a very strange niche for himself as an actor, but one that seemed like it would be a lot of fun.
Mike Birbiglia has gotten a surprising amount of mileage out of telling the story of his early days in stand-up comedy and the sleep disorder that forced him to take stock of his life. First, it was material for his act. Then he did an episode of NPR's "This American Life" based on that material. Then he developed it into a book. Now, based on that book and all the other previous versions, he's finally turned it into a movie. He stars in the film, he wrote the script with his brother Joe, "This American Life" producer Ira Glass, and his co-director Seth Barrish, and the result is intensely personal, a laser-accurate look at the self-imposed pressures of a life in show business.
When I first heard Birbiglia was making a film version of the story, I assumed it was going to be a documentary of sorts. It isn't, though. Instead, it's a slightly fictionalized version of the events he lived through, and while much of it is funny, I think it's ultimately a small-scale character drama, well-observed, and Birbiglia reveals himself as more than "just" a comic presence.
I do not envy Adam Berg.
Many first-time feature directors are cutting their teeth on found footage films or remakes these days, simply because that's so much of what is being produced. It's a tough spot to be in.
On the one hand, you get a guaranteed greenlight, and you know the studio is going to promote the movie because it's an investment for them. These remakes are about extending the copyright on something. They're about keeping intellectual property in circulation. They are expensive marketing campaigns to sell the original in a super-deluxe home video edition. They are business, pure and simple, and as such, you know the studio is going to put a certain amount of muscle into making sure people see the movie.
But on the other hand, you are competing with another film before you ever roll a frame of film. You've got this original film out there, and audiences have whatever relationship they have with that film. If they love it, they might hold that against you. If they hate it, they might never give your film a chance. The percentage of great remakes to uninspired remakes is daunting, to say the least, and I think when you tackle a title that has a devoted fanbase, you're really daring fate.