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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Phillips’

When I first saw A Quiet Place the films Alien, The Birds, and Them came to mind. But later shades of a strange mix of films have also popped into my mind like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (monster in the house) and  Spielberg’s TV movie Duel. But what I didn’t think about was what Michael Phillips and Adam Kempenaar talked about on the Filmspotting podcast. Here’s an abridged version of their 25-minute conversation on A Quiet Place:

Michael Phillips: Why do I keep thinking of Shane and High Noon when I think about this rugged frontier clan fending off the hostiles in A Quiet Place? Is this some sort of bizarre hybrid of a western and a monster movie in a survivalist anthem?

Adam Kempenaar: I didn’t really think about westerns and High Noon. Though, of course, you get this idea in maybe like Rio Bravo where they’re sort of trapped in a certain spot and, yes, you do have the villains on the outside and you’re trying to survive.

Michael: [It is] in a peculiar way a western—with critters in it. It’s a bizarre hybrid of genres, but it seems to be really hitting people’s appetite very well.  And I can see why. 

Adam: It is about this idea of life of going on. The fact that you’ve got this family who are trying to live as relatively a normal life as they can. There is this sense of purpose. They’re still having school, [the mother is] still teaching her son how to divide properly because there’s this hope, there’s this thought that maybe someday math will matter again. And maybe it won’t be in a larger societal context. Maybe it will just be in the context of you trying to stay alive. The fact that they’re teaching them to fish and provide for yourself—depsite the hopelessness and the despair it would also be our instincts as human beings to do what we would normally do. Or try to make it as normal and to survive and have that sense of hope as opposed to letting everything overwhelm you.

Michael: This film for better or for worse is a completely sincere, unironic embrace of family values. And it’s the most family-values friendly horror film— I guess if you want to call it that—how do you characterize this thing?

Adam: I don’t know.

Michael: It’s running two or three genres at once.  I think the reason it was a huge success opening weekend and I suspect will continue to do well is it really is kind of a red state, blue state crossover. 

Note: A Quiet Place, after a month in theaters, continues to do well.  According to Box Office Mojo it came in third last night. And not only in red and blue or purple states—but overseas as well (whatever color that’s supposed to be) crossing the $250 million mark at the worldwide box office. Perhaps part of the crossover genius of A Quiet Place is you take two micro-budget indie filmmakers (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) with a heart for Hollywood films, mix that with an actor known for his comedic chops on The Office (John Krasinski) and have him do a pass on the script and direct the movie, and then toss in big-budget Hollywood action director  of Armageddon and Transformers (Michael Bay) and have him produce the film and you’re bound to have something interesting.

Scott W. Smith

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“I wanted my first film to be special… but I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to get made.”
Aaron Schneider, director of Get Low

A part of the 10 year journey of Get Low getting made is the writing of Aaron Schneider. He wasn’t the writer of the script, but the director of the movie. But Schneider did take a few days to craft a letter to actor Bill Murray to persuade him to join the cast. In an article by Danielle Hatch, Schneider said, “I decided to write a letter to let (Murray) know the movie was on its way and we wanted him on board. I put my heart on the page. You sit down and you write ‘Dear Bill,’ but that’s too casual. You write ‘Dear Mr. Murray,’ and that’s too formal. And in the business, Bill Murray is known for his bull-(expletive) meter. Not that I was trying to sell him a used car, but you get the sense from watching him and his work that the only way you can approach him is by being yourself and hoping that’s enough.”

Especially in this digital age never underestimate the power of a personal letter.  Murray signed on to be in the film which is in theaters now.

And while Get Low is Schneider’s feature film directorial debut he has actually two decades of cinematography credits, joined the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) in 1999, and won an Oscar for a short film he made in 2003 (Two Soldiers). According to the Chicago Tribune Schneider, now 40, was “born in Springfield and raised primarily in Peoria, Ill.” And Illinois plays a part in one of the more interesting twists and turns of Get Low getting made, as it has links to where a chunk of money came from to get the film produced.

Where do you think Schneider found a key investor— a German management company? “We found them through my high school prom date,” Schneider told Michael Phillips at the Tribune. “She found out I was trying to raise money for this movie. By this time she was in the financial world in New York and knew somebody who was interested in headhunting money for a movie.”

Think I can top that? Well, where do you think Scheider went to college? Yep, right here in Iowa. (Almost three years after starting this blog after discovering Diablo Cody graduated from the University of Iowa I’ve come to expect odd connections to Iowa.) Schneider studied engineering at Iowa State in Ames, but a chance meeting with Billy Crystal on a vacation in Florida led Schneider to go to film school at USC. Phillips points out that when Schneider won the Oscar for his short film, the host of the Oscars that year was Billy Crystal.

Don’t you love happy endings?

Scott W. Smith

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“[Kathryn] Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal…have made the first fictional feature about American soldiers in Iraq that doesn’t fall apart, or preach to a choir, or turn into a position paper.”
Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune

The Hurt Locker had a limited release last summer and never made it to my neck of the woods. Nor did the release in December. Which is too bad, because I think that the story which takes place in Iraq would have resonated well in a part of the country that attracts a lot of men and women into the military.

What’s worse though is it never found an audience in the theater so not many people got to see this great and well crafted film on the big screen. Fortunalty,  the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards which has helped it attracts more of a following. I watched the film this week and found this exchange on the commentary track between producer/director Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: Widowmaker, Point Break) and producer/screenwriter Mark Boal talking about the impetus of the film.

Mark Boal: (The Hurt Locker) sort of came out of a experience I had in Baghdad—in Iraq–where I was embedded as a journalist in 2004 covering the bomb squad and going out on daily missions with them and seeing the kinds of situations they got into. And it was a really eye-opening experience  just to witness the sheer onslaught of bombs that these three man teams would have to deal with at that time in the war. And I think that it took the military a little bit by surprise, it certainly took them by surprise. I wrote a article about the bomb squad and then felt that the story warrented a larger translation, perhaps into a film.

And when I came back from Iraq (I) presented the idea to Kathryn Bigelow, and I think you were intrigued–I don’t know if that’s putting words in your mouth…

Kathryn Bigelow: I was more than intrigued. I thought that these men have arguable the most dangerous job in the world, And that it’s a voluntary military, so that’s a very interesting psychological profile and I thought because we had an opportunity to look at this conflict through first hand observation of Mark’s embed I thought it was a pretty rare and extraordinary situation and could be a very interesting film. I also felt that the war was under reported and that I, being a member of the general public, I had very little idea what was going on over there. What EOD, IED–what these terms meant, And looking at a day in the life of a bomb tech really unpacked it.

Mark: So having secured Kathryn’s interest I set out to write a script on spec. Which means that there was no contract or money involved and we ended up producing the movie independently, raising the funds sort of outside the Hollywood system.

I hope that the film gains traction and I imagine as we look back on this era The Hurt Locker will be one of the defining film of the times.

A second rare and extraordinary situation is this is Mark Boal’s first screenplay.

And third rare and extraordinary thing surrounding The Hurt Locker is Kathryn Bigelow was once married to writer/director James Cameron who also has a little film out called Avatar which also has been nominated for nine Academy Awards. What are the odds of that combo ever happening again?

The Hurt Locker and Avatar are up against each other in the best picture category. Fantasy vs. reality. 3-D vs. 2-D.  Pandora vs. Baghdad. At the box office there is no question who the winner is–Avatar probably made more thanThe Hurt Locker in just its first weekend playing at the Archlight Cinema in Hollywood.

Avatar just became the top box office money-maker in the history of movies, and it would be poetic justice if The Hurt Locker took home the best picture Oscar next month. It would be well deserved.

Scott W. Smith

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“It still boggles my mind that people went to movie theaters to go see a movie about corn.”
Aaron Woolf (on his film King Corn)

On Saturday, while on a flight from Des Moines to Detroit, I met documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf. He was in Iowa to show one of his films at The Fleur Cinema & Cafe. (The Fleur is a funky little theater that is supportive of the arts and helping develop local talent. Over the years I’ve had several short films shown there.)

This wasn’t Woolf’s first trip to Iowa. Before he moved to New York, he received an MFA in Film from the University of Iowa. He also produced & directed the 2007 Peabody Award-winning documentary King Corn which was shot in Greene, Iowa. King Corn played in theaters and on PBS. Woolf gave me a DVD of Big River which he produced as companion to King Corn. Big River also features Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, who were the two young men in King Corn who set out to see what happens when one tries to farm one arce of corn.

King Corn is still off many people’s radar but  it did receive a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune wrote that the film was,  “A breezy diary from a pair of first-time farmers, as well as a wry rebuke to a nation devoted to eating cheaply but not necessarily well.” After seeing the film, you may never hear or read about high-fructose corn syrup without thinking about Iowa.

Woolf’s narrow focus on making a film about corn is part of a strategy that Woolf thinks is good advice for documentary filmmakers:

“Find the smallest focus possible for your film…In our case, it turned out that even the story of one acre of corn was a colossal topic, and we were still left with dozens of storylines that died a lonely death on the cutting room floor.”
Aaron Woolf
Independent Lens

Woolf’s latest documentary is Beyond Motor City, a 90-minute look at the rise, fall & future of Detroit. The film will air on PBS February 8, 2010.

Scott W. Smith

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One thing that is not going down in price is the cost of going to movies. While you can buy a classic movie on DVD for $5, going to a mediocre one in the theaters can cost just about twice as much. And by the time you add drinks, snacks, gas (and sometimes parking), a family of four can spend over $70 bucks going to a single movie.

Heck, for $70 you can make a movie these days. A feature film, too. That’s how much Welsh director Marc Price spent making his film Colin which made it to the Cannes Film Festival last month. According to an interview with CNN the film took 18 months to shoot and most of the money according to Price went to, “A crowbar and a couple of tapes, some tea and coffee.” Remember when low-budget filmmaking used to be a couple hundred thousand dollars?

Blame it on the Blair Witch guys and their $40,000 film, Kevin Smith’s Clerks for $27,500, then Robert Rodriguez and his sub- $10,000 film El mariachi. Welcome to filmmaking in the new economics. If you can get your hands on the latest cameras that shoot digitally you should be able to cut the tape costs out and maybe cut Price’s budget in half.

The film’s press release says, “Without funding the filmmaker’s goal to make an explosive feature length production fuelled by the creativity and inventiveness of those involved that would not be restricted in any way by lack of funding.”

Casting was done through Facebook and MySpace where 50 people answered the call to “Who wants to be a zombie?”And what sets this film apart from other no budget films is that it not only played at Cannes, but it may be the first one to pick up a distribution deal. It’s another piece of a growing trend.

Another piece of new school filmmaking is Twitter. A couple months ago I said someone was going to write a screenplay on Twitter. Well…Killer Green is reported to be the first screenplay written on Twitter to have been optioned. Writer David Niall Wilson began the script in February 2009 and it was optioned this month by Ambergris Films. Wilson has been writing since the mid-80s and has had over 150 short stories published. He lives in North Carolina and you can follow him on twitter @David_N_Wilson.

Interesting things happening outside L.A.

Things a lot more interesting and original than The Proposal which happens to be number one at the box office this weekend. Really, is that the best that Hollywood can do? Think of the years it takes to sift through thousands of scripts to find the few that will be produced by a studio. Think of all of the creative, talented, and experienced cast and crew that it takes to make a film. The tens of millions of dollars that it takes to produce a Hollywood feature. And we get …The Proposal.

A movie that Rolling Stone critic Peter Travis wrote, “A romantic comedy so numbing it feels like Novocaine,” and that Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The problem is not the acting. The problem is what these actors are required to say and do.”

Now Sandra Bullock could make eating an apple interesting to watch for an hour and a half, my point is simply this — The Proposal reflects the best Hollywood has to offer. My case for this whole blog is the cure — fresh scripts and movies from places far from L.A.

Nov.’09 Update: Story in New York Post of guy who started to Twitter funny thing his dads says and lands a TV deal.

March ’11 Update: In 2010, CBS began airing the sitcom  $#*! My Dad Says starring William Shatner based on the Twitter feed @ShitMyDadSays written by Justin Halpern (and which I referenced in November ’09).

Scott W. Smith

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