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Written by pronountrouble2

August 18, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Star Man Vs. Green Lantern

Does the image below, seen in the latest trailer for Green Lantern, show the hero against the Sun?

I just saw the latest trailer for the Green Lantern movie. I am not a Green Lantern fan, and have not read many of the comics, but I am interested in seeing what they do with the cosmic imagery. This image, interestingly, resembles one of my Star Man posters:

I want to point out for future reference that I uploaded that Star Man poster on January 8 this year (here), and did not see this Green Lantern image until today.

Alfred Bester was one of the earliest writers of the Green Lantern comic. He also wrote The Stars, My Destination, a book I have read, and which has had some sort of influence on my thinking which has led to Star Man. I can’t say exactly what influence, though, other than, perhaps, the notion that we all have more potential than we give ourselves credit for. But you can probably say this about most adventure stories, especially of the super-hero variety. Including Green Lantern.

Written by pronountrouble2

May 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm

No Guns, No Cars, No Phones

Frank Miller

I’ve often heard writers or artists say something like this: “I write or draw what I like.” For example, Frank Miller says his stories feature so many guns because he likes to draw guns.

The Octopus in a storyboard sketch for Frank Miller's The Spirit

If I were to make a list of the things that I like, it would be very long. So, I’m going to do the opposite, ie, a list of things I do not like and try to avoid in my projects. It’s a list of rules and the list is very short.

  1. No Guns

  2. No Cars

  3. No Phones

I’ve somewhow managed to make or write my films and scripts while, for the most part, obeying these rules.


I made a detective film (see it here) without having the detective use a gun. The characters use a weapon, but it is a Super 8 movie camera.

Kitty uses a Super 8 camera as a weapon against the director in Shadows on the Wall


The characters in Star Man do not need cars because they fly around using jetpacks.

I broke the  no cars rule in The Tears of a Clown, but the car is made of candy and gets eaten.


A sub-rule of the no phones rule is visualize it and shut up! The robot-like characters in Intermezzo do not need phones because they do not talk to each other.

The robot-like characters of Intermezzo do not talk to each other

It’s only recently that I’ve been thinking about these rules, yet they appear to have been applied to my projects without me being aware of them. Why? Perhaps because if I made a list of things that I passionately dislike, prominent on that list would be guns, cars, and phones. Judging by the number of films with an infinite number of scenes built around guns, cars, and phones, the people who make these films must feel the opposite and love guns, cars, and phones, perhaps more than anything else. If these rules were applied to Hollywood films, there would be few films left. In fact, Guns, Cars, and Phones would be a good title for a book about current Hollywood films.

It’s almost as if including guns, cars, and phones in a film is an essential prerequisite for a film in Hollywood to be made. Hence, it is no surprise that my projects The Tears of a Clown and Star Man have been produced only on alternative versions of Earth.

The first appearance of Earth-Two, an alternative Earth, in DC comics

Written by pronountrouble2

April 29, 2011 at 11:30 am

The Masque of the Red Death

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The Masque of the Red Death was the third film of five that I made my first semester in film school in 1990. Of all the films I’ve made, it received the strongest and most negative reaction. I took this criticism to heart so when I transferred some of my Super 8 films to video in the nineties, Masque was not one of them. I almost immediately regretted this and have come to view Masque as being, in some ways, my best film.

Where did the idea come from? I’m not really sure. I do know that, unlike my previous film which had been completely improvised on the spot when an actor did not show up, and my next film, Rocketman, for which I shot a lot of footage without knowing what I would do with it, when I went off to the comic book convention to do the primary filming for Masque I knew exactly what I was going to do. Each time I was asked (and I was asked many times) what I was filming I answered, “A film that compares a comic book convention to Edgar Allan Poe’s story, ‘The Masque of the Red Death.'” The reaction? Always a blank stare. (Remarkably, I was never asked that question by a security person. In fact, I don’t remember seeing a single security person at that convention. I had more trouble getting a shot of a construction site before being chased away by an angry foreman.)

I think the idea for the film began when I knew I was going to the comic book convention to see Stan Lee. (I had the choice of going Saturday, when Lee was there, or Sunday, when Jack Kirby attended. I never got to see Kirby and have regretted this decision ever since.) But I do not recall how Poe’s story entered the mix.

From my notebook, written before going to the Con:

Comics: two worlds: relationships between inside and outside

– ironic parallels

– the idea should have something to do with the way comic fans are generally ignorant of world news – it is really a total escape – but the question is: so what? Does it matter? – are they all suffering from The Peter Pan Complex?

– B/W = wasteland

– Cocteau: “Film shows Death at work.”

– Interviews: “What do you think of death?” Blunt, to the point – see if anything happens – if not, try another approach.

I didn’t do any interviews for the film, although I did record Stan Lee talk. (One of the things he said was that James Cameron had agreed to direct Spider-Man.)

– Death finally reaches the Con – enters unseen – people start fading away – again, unnoticed

– The comics remain, and in color – but the con is empty

– Escape from death – comic book con = womb

The notes suggest that I intended to make a film that’s a critique of comic fans. This was not my intent and I don’t think that’s the point of the finished film. This is why it does not end at the convention, but outside it with everything colored red. (If I were to make a film about comic book culture today I would emphasize the positive utopianism of its alternative reality imaginings.)

Here’s the “script:”

Before the class screening I showed a rough cut to two friends who were also in the class. One of them, Elliott, said, more or less, “You do realize that you are going to be raked over the coals for this?” He was more right than he knew.

You can read the comments by the class and teachers on the finished film here. The comments from the main teacher, Russ,  come near the end of the file and the other teacher’s comments, unsigned, come just before that one. (The best way to read the file at the link  is to click on the full screen icon at the bottom right of the screen.)

Technical note: I transferred the film to digital format by taping a Super 8 projected image with a digital movie camera, except for the cartoon section which comes from a tape produced by a professional transfer house. (I had separated the cartoon section from the rest of the film.)

Written by pronountrouble2

June 17, 2010 at 10:50 am

No Exit

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One of the assignments of my first semester scriptwriting class in Film School was to write a short scene with two acting parts. I called mine No Exit (sorry Jean-Paul). Two actor friends of the teacher came to class and read the scenes. This was my first encounter with professional actors and I will never forget what a great pleasure it was to hear them perform something I had written.

Two semesters later I used No Exit as part of my final exam for a directing/acting class. The exam required either acting in or directing a scene. I was more than a little shy and felt that I had had enough acting in this class to last several lifetimes, so it was no surprise that I chose to direct. The performance was taped in a mostly empty classroom/sound stage, but you can hear some of the students who were waiting their turn. Here is the result:

NOTE: the audio is a bit weak, so you may want to pump it up.

Trivia for future reference: the spectators included the class instructor, Laurie Burton, and some students. The loud and, let’s face it, obnoxious laugh belongs to Bryan Fuller – “Hannibal,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Dead Like Me.”)

Next semester, Fall 1991, I used No Exit for the first assignment of a class that required shooting a scene on a sound stage within a one hour period. No re-shoots. Editing, music, titles, and effects, although done later, were also required. I had wanted the same actor from the stage version (and continued to feel that way when it was all over), but he was unavailable. However, he let us use the same costumes, which he had supplied for the stage version. Here is the result:

After the scene was shot the “dailies” were shown to the class. Everyone, including the teacher, had their say. Here is what the teacher said about my footage:

Please excuse me while I climb up on my soap box and indulge in a little rant. Here goes:

Reading the comments above I cannot help but remember that the tuition for this class, like all classes at this school, was close to two thousand dollars. The teacher was a somewhat well-known filmmaker, best known for his animated shorts, one done with Mel Brooks. I knew who he was before he showed his films to the class (does that count as instruction?), and I had been eager to learn from him. But the comment above is as good as it got. Is a comment such as “set and props lacked, too” worth thousands of dollars? Are they really golden words? I don’t mean to single out this instructor because this was not a problem limited to this class, nor was it even a problem limited to this school. It’s probably a problem with all art type schools. Nevertheless, despite lacking in the instruction department, the class was good because of the experience it provided, experience that I probably would not have gained otherwise. What I learned was that the best way to learn was to just do it.


A year of so after I left this school, they added a service for graduates that involved a former agent who would try to get you set up script-wise or otherwise with some of the makers and shakers in the biz. If you had a script, all that was required was a recommendation from a former teacher at the school. I had a script and I asked the teacher if he would recommend the script. The former agent told me that he had in fact represented this teacher in the sixties. So I dropped the script off at my former teacher’s house. Outside his house, on his doorstep, mind you, as per his instructions. A week or so later, on Christmas Day, no less, he called me up and said I could pick the script up. Pick it up literally from his doorstep on Christmas Day. He did not come to the door, but when I got home, there was already message from him waiting for me. All it said was to call him. So I did. He proceeded to berate me for not being thankful for what he had done for me, implying that his recommendation to this ex-agent had somehow opened a magic door. He said that people such as myself always forgot the ones who had helped them. I was not the only one who thought he was a strange bird. As it turns out, nothing came of this recommendation, not even a single meeting, unless you count the meeting with the ex-agent.  A few years later, my ex-teacher died of a heart attack. Rest in Peace, E.P.


For what it’s worth, here’s the next scene I did for the class, adapted from “great writing,” per the instructor’s request:

Written by pronountrouble2

May 26, 2010 at 9:25 am

Posted in Film projects

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Shadows on the Wall

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(Note: for those looking for an explanation of what it all means, look near the bottom of this post.)

Shadows on the Wall is the film I went to Film School to make. This is what it was all about.

The idea for the film began with Will Eisner’s The Spirit. I had wanted to make a film using The Spirit for a long time. In it The Spirit would have thought he had escaped from the pages of a 2-D comic into the real 3-D world, only to discover that he was in fact in a film being manipulated by a malevolent director, The Spirit’s archenemy, The Octopus. I wrote about it here.

I went to film school because I had no other way to make the film. One requirement of the first semester writing class was to write a script that might possibly become a film in the advanced class. The Spirit was of course already gone when I wrote the first outline:

There is more than one reason why I was lucky to make this film. First, only a small fraction of each class at this school got the chance to make such a film. The selection process began with the submission of a sample reel of previous work, usually the second semester’s project, and from those submissions a small group was chosen to pitch. A prerequisite was having crewed on one of these projects. Getting on a crew was not a foregone conclusion and I had been chosen almost at the last possible moment, probably thanks to my friend who had been one of the first chosen. I had no chance the first semester of my eligibility due to its also being based on teacher recommendations. See here for that story. But  I lucked out again when they removed the recommendation requirement and I got to pitch the next semester. My project was not chosen, but my script was made eligible for the pool. The readers gave it a split decision:

Another semester, another pitch. Third time proved the charm, possibly because it was just the second semester of having a student on the selection committee and the student was someone I knew.

Here is one of the notices put up on bulletin boards around the Film School announcing the selections:

(The members of the selection committee were especially concerned with how I would be able to pull off the cinema effect. This effect, with the indispensable help of a for-one-weekend-only art director, proved to be one of the easiest things to do in the film, as demonstrated above. However, although we eventually used the sound stage for the scene, as I had hoped, it was only when another director gave up his scheduled use of it that we had a location that worked. In the meantime, we had wasted a lot of time tracking down and looking at possible locations. A friend of one of the actors offered to rent us a space for what they thought was a cheap rate, more than $1000! The fitting topper to that episode was finding a parking ticket waiting for me when I returned from the interview for that space.)

So I was one of just four chosen to direct an advanced project. Not only that, but my friend, Trygve, was also chosen. Also, as with Intermezzo, I had all summer to prepare.

Actually, it wasn’t quite like Intermezzo because while I had all summer, I was also working full time. (About $8/hr at Philips Media, testing CD-i. I could not have survived without overtime.) That didn’t change just because I was directing and writing a film, not even when the shooting began. Nevertheless, the pre-production went well. The main characters were cast and I couldn’t have been happier. I even had a storyboard/concept artist for a short time. Here are some concept drawings he did of Mortimer the Sun:

I even had a storyboard artist. Here’s a storyboard sequence in which Kino-Eye shows Kitty how to use a camcorder:

Storyboard for early version of Kino-Eye sequence

My idea was not that storyboards should be used to represent the final script, but to work out ideas visually on paper. This meant many revisions to the script. (One of the minor changes was to replace the camcorder, as seen in the above storyboard, with a Super 8 camera.) In fact, I changed the script so many times that I drove the storyboard artist crazy and he stopped responding to my calls. However, his work was a great help.

Here’s a clip of the first rehearsal:

I was still way ahead of the game. Classes had not even started, and Trygve, for one, had not even begun to cast his film. Yet here I was with my main actors rehearsing a scene.

You can tell things are going well from the video. However, note that the actor playing Kino-Eye is not the same as the one in the film. Bernie had a tight schedule, and I had hoped we could work with it, but after the first weekend of shooting, seeing how slow the pace of the shoot figured to be, I knew that that was a pipedream.

After classes actually began there was one small problem that I had to take care of: paying the bill for the class. I did not have the money to pay for the class. I may have hoped that I would be able to work enough overtime during the summer, or win a bet on a horse race, to pay the bill when the time came. But when the time came, I could not pay the bill. There were three classes to pay for, the general film-making class, a directing class, and a writing class. A friend told me that the graduate class did not have to pay for the writing class. I went to the head of the school and told him my problem. If you were to think that this was one of the top 10 most embarrassing moments in my life, you would be correct. Of course, I was also afraid that I wouldn’t be able to take the class. This was unlikely, but a possibility nonetheless. I told him that I thought it was unfair that undergraduates had to pay for something that graduates did not. He got on the phone, and a few minutes later the bill had been reduced. (Not just for me. Trygve was pleasantly surprised when he learned about it.). The rest of the problem was solved when I was allowed to pay the tuition off in monthly installments. It took almost two years, but it was eventually paid in full.

It’s funny about the problems we had making this film because they were pretty much the same kind as the ones we had making Intermezzo. However, unlike Intermezzo, we were unable to recover. It always came down to the inflexibility of the schedule:

We had a test shoot weekend, three weekends for principal photography, and a final weekend for pick-ups. A total of 10 days, although we couldn’t shoot very much on four of those days because they were the test shoot and pick-ups weekends, meaning that we were supplied with limited film for those shoots. (We actually had a role of film left over and I joked that I was going to scrap Shadows and make completely different film with that role.) That’s it. This was a “student film,” but it was made under very different conditions than student films such as “A Grand Day Out,” which took Nick Park 7 years to finish, or “9,” which took Shane Acker 4 1/2 years to complete. Those two were able to work on their films until they felt they were complete. I was not. Despite the different rules, our films are all lumped together as “student films.”

Why did this school have such an iron fist when it came to deadlines? Their philosophy was that if you wanted to work in the industry, you needed to learn to work on deadline. Well, industry folk don’t have to deal with actors who put an audition ahead of your shoot;  if a crew member doesn’t do his job, you can fire him.  Schedules and deadlines are meant to be guidelines. If the film isn’t finished by the 9 am Tuesday deadline, you don’t say, “That’s a wrap. We’ll have to make do with what we have.” It’s called going over schedule or going over budget. But the film is finished. You would think that this school would want its students to produce the best work possible instead of being such a fanatic about schedules. Who sees the finished film and makes adjustments for the obstacles overcome during production? No one. Instead, a film’s shortcomings are attributed to lack of skill or talent.

We applied for an additional day of shooting, but were denied.

If the schedule had not been so inflexible, many of our problems would have been mild annoyances. The crew was made up of students, and we were all learning. We all made mistakes. The lighting effects that I wanted took a long time to set up. Actors, perhaps feeling that they had sat around twiddling their thumbs on the set enough, started showing up late, or not at all. Sometimes they would call us every hour giving us updates from their audition or spur of the moment paying gig, on the likelihood of their showing up; sometimes they didn’t call at all. Then there was the problem that no one seemed to understand what I was doing. Here are some comments on the script by the other three directors in the class:

I never explained that I was going for an Ed Wood-ish aesthetic, the kind talked about by J. Hoberman in “Bad Movies.” (I wrote about “bad movies” here.) I’d read it when it was first published in Film Comment. In any case, attempting the kind of film I was attempting with the budget we had, what other choice was there? And as Ed says in Burton’s Ed Wood, hadn’t they heard of suspension of disbelief? Watch the clip here (about 6:30 to 8:14):

I was almost constantly being pressured to make changes that I felt were wrong, and sometimes I made them. I should never have listened. At one point one of the other directors told me that a change I had made at the suggestion of others in the class need not to have been made. Why did this person change their opinion? They said it was because they did not understand where I was going at that time.

And so it went. Slow on the set; AWOL actors; and pressure from others in the class to make changes. At one point I went AWOL myself. I went home and called my mother. It was at that point that I had a clear vision of the future, the same future from which I am writing this. It was a sad day.

However, every director probably has such a moment. The truth is, as I later told Valerie, my production manager who had been the first to commit to my crew, that while the film didn’t turn out as good as I hoped, it was not as bad as I feared. But it’s also true that we didn’t get the chance to shoot the entire script and the film is choppier than it should be. Greg, the camera operator, remarked that it seemed more like a trailer than a film.

Here is a late stage rough cut that includes some stuff that was cut that would have helped tie things together a bit better. (Image and audio quality are less than great because it was taped from the screen of a flatbed editor.)

Here’s the original ending that was not filmed due to “do you have permission to use Godzilla” types and, once again, time constraints:

Kitty, the main character, is a librarian and one of the scenes takes place in library. After McBain, the detective, is hit by the train in the library, his hat flies off and lands on Kitty’s head. It’s meant to be funny, of course, but it’s also a key moment of the story because it represents the transfer of power from McBain to Kitty.

This is one of the shots that drives me nuts. The gag is lost because you cannot see where the hat comes from. The camera should have begun on the hat and followed it as it fell to her head. Of course, this could have been solved with a re-shoot, but this would have been difficult because even if we did have the time, we had been banned from from the library where the scene had been shot.

Why were we banned? When we shot this scene in the main library of the campus we violated not one, but several rules. First, we shot both earlier and later than we were supposed to shoot. (Into the wee hours, as was the norm for us.) Second, we used a smoke machine. Third, we had unscrewed the fluorescent bulbs making the section dark and inaccessible. Students complained and about a week later I was summoned to the head librarian’s office. I did not know what to expect. It could have meant expulsion and the end of the film, for all I knew. However, I was immediately relieved by her first question which was, “Why shouldn’t I make the library off limits for all future film students?” Before we shot in the library, our DP and camera operator were required to tour the library. During this orientation they were told the do’s and don’t’s of filming in the library. I had not been part of this orientation, so I feigned ignorance when answering the librarian. I said that I had not known that we were not supposed to use a smoke machine. I said I had not known that we were supposed to stop filming when the library closed. Etc. Etc. When it was over, the film was untouched and all that was changed was that future directors who were going to film in the library would be required to be part of the orientation. We still needed closeups of the “train” in the library, but we used another library on campus without problems, even though we used the smoke machine excessively.

Eventually, the film was “finished.” It was all over except for the big class screening.

A few years earlier I had had a dream about screening a film in front of a large audience, then addressing them. The dream came true, sort of. As I said then, even though I had reason to doubt it would get made, there it was on the screen.

About a year later, after what seemed like interminable preparations, the film was shown as part of the student screening festival (not free for the students in the show, by the way, although admission to the show was free for the spectators) at the Academy theater on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. It’s a theater my family and I have been to many times. In fact, we usually sit in the back row as I did when my film was screened. Every time we see a film there, I remember how Robert Wise, who had worked on Citizen Kane, had sat a just a few seats away from me, watching my film. I’ve always felt lucky to have that connection between my film and Citizen Kane.

By the time Shadows was screened at First Look in Fall, ’93, my film had the disadvantage of being associated with a flop. A film called Last Action Hero (released in June ’93) had come and gone. It  was one of the big time Hollywood disasters of the nineties. However, enough people who saw my film remembered the Schwarzenegger movie and linked Shadows to it simply because both movies feature characters who realize they are in a movie. Perhaps some people even thought that Shadows was “inspired” by it. If only they knew!


Did I get anything for my troubles from the First Look screening? Sorta. A New York-based distributor that specialized in short films for children was interested in the film until I told them that I did not own the copyright; a film production company wanted to see any scripts I had written, but I blew them off when I learned that they were producing films such as a remake of Ivanhoe; and the producer of a public access TV show who was quite persistent in asking me to let him put my film on his show. I eventually relented, but didn’t even see the broadcast because I did not have cable access.

In other words, I did not get an agent as I had hoped.

I did not submit the film to festivals mostly because I had very little money and submissions to festivals was not free, but I also felt the film stood little chance of receiving any awards, with emphasis on the first reason. As a gambler I know enough to stay away from longshots that are unlikely to come in.

My film passed with little note, but there were some films on the program that did make a splash, however small. Note that there was a film called Silver Surfer that played both Tuesday and Thursday night.

Yes, it was indeed supposed to be the Marvel Comics Silver Surfer. Although resembling an action figure commercial, the film was a hit. It was a widescreen film that used CGI for the Surfer, and  combined that with live action actors. Technically it was supposed to be a student production. In fact, that was a requirement. But most of the people, with the exception of the guy who did the Surfer animation (so far as I know) were either no longer or had never been students at this school. Here’s where I come in. To take advantage of the school’s sound equipment, they needed someone who had done sound on a film for credit. Ever since I had done sound on a film, I was in high demand for this reason. So I was supposed to leave work and trek on down to the school to check out the equipment for their shoot. I actually spent most of a Saturday on the set of the film, but doing nothing more than talk to the kids who were starring in the production, some of whom had been in James Cameron’s T2. I was supposed to be there to do the dialogue recording, but no dialogue scenes were shot that day. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw my name sharing the sound credit with someone else who had been used in the same manner. He was equally amused. The sound, i.e. the sound design, for this film was obviously done by a professional and stood out against the other films screened at this festival. In fact, I received more congratulations for this phony credit that I did for my own film. “You could get a job with this credit,” I was told.

There is a chapter about the film in The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made by David Hughes which seems to be based solely on an interview with Erik Fleming and Robert Letterman, who did the actual animation, is mysteriously referred to as “RL.”

Nearly 20 years later, Mortimer the Sun still lives!

So what does it mean? Or, as my friend Andrew would say, “Explain it in a nutshell.” Directors tend to be coy when asked that question. I heard a woman ask Wim Wenders to explain The American Friend. He said something like, “If I could explain it, I wouldn’t have made the film.” He has a point. If a film can be reduced to a few words, or a “meaning,” why make it in the first place? But what the hell…

So what is Shadows on the Wall about?

Let’s call these signposts pointing the general way, rather than a detailed map.

  1. The title, Shadows on the Wall, is a reference to Plato’s allegory of the cave as well as film projection.
  2. What’s up with Mortimer the Sun? He’s the logo for Sunnyside Pictures. The idea was planted when I read an article in American Film about Orson Welles and The Other Side of the Wind. The article describes a scene in which crew members were impressed by a sunset. Welles said, “It looks fake.” Mortimer sits on the light side of the “light and shadow” that produce the film image.
  3. Why does the scene after the scene in the detective’s office take place in a library? Because Kitty works there. She’s a librarian. And I liked the labyrinthine nature of library stacks. Shadows itself is labyrinthine.
  4. Kino-Eye. That’s the cinematographer, of course. No big meaning here. It’s just a name that represents film, a perfect name for a cinematographer. For what it’s worth, it’s the phrase used by the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov to distinguish what he considered his more truthful films from false fictional films.
  5. What’s up with that train in the library? Lean wears a train engineer’s cap and overalls, and fondles a toy train. He’s big on trains. But trains and films go together like birds and feathers.

    Train fanatic Orson B. Lean fondles his toy train

  6. The film is about an absurd world. It might be helpful to read up on Theatre of the Absurd. Or watch a film based on one of those plays, for example, Rhinoceros.
  7. The film is anti-detective. The detective’s reasoning is of no use to Kitty. She succeeds where McBain fails because she knows how to adapt to the absurdities. She does not want to run and give up like McBain, whose brain simply collapses, unable to understand this world. I really wish the sequence in which she dances with Mortimer the Sun was not cut because this was an important scene for demonstrating this trait. It’s worth mentioning that the madness of this world began when she attempted to kill herself, as she mentions in the first scene with the detective.
  8. The film is about empowerment. “Now we can be anything we want to be.”
  9. The film is about the empowerment that comes from taking control of your world and understanding who you are.
  10. If it still doesn’t make sense, perhaps it’s because it’s a film, not something that can be summed up in a nutshell. Perhaps it would help to be a bit like Kitty and just go with the flow.
  11. I wanted to make a film that works as a visual metaphor of the world, something that is true of each of my projects.
  12. I wanted to combine the looniness of Looney Tunes with a dash of philosophy.

Addendum (12/20/10):

Reading this post in which David Bordwell addresses the question, “At what aspect ratio should Lang’s While the City Sleeps (1956) be shown?,” reminded me that I had originally wanted Shadows to be shot widescreen, ie with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. We did shoot the first weekend using a special viewfinder that had markings for the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. But after seeing how slowly the shoot went that first weekend, I thought it best not to add another level of difficulty to the shoot and abandoned the widescreen notion.  It was not common to shoot films for this class in widescreen and there had been some opposition from the teachers to the idea, so there there was no problem going back to the standard Academy ratio. However, although I had hoped to re-film everything we had shot that first weekend, we ended up using most of this footage in the final film. This is the reason for the excessive headroom in some of the shots of the first scene.

Example of the excessive headroom (with boom operator shadow)
Closer to the intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1

For what it’s worth, Kitty Monroe was modeled after Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday, but the actress modeled her role after Ellen Greene’s version of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. Of course, Greene was doing Holiday, so it all worked out, didn’t it?

Ellen Greene as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors
Kitty Monroe
Judy Holiday

Written by pronountrouble2

May 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Rocketman Meets the Invisible Gravity Monster

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PARENTAL ADVISORY: the film includes a brief shot of a live birth

Note: you can click on any image for a larger, “unsquished” view.

Rocketman Meets the Invisible Gravity Monster was the fourth of the five films I was required to make during my first semester in Film School in Spring 1990.  My previous film had been declared inscrutable and pretty much a disaster, so I was more than a little nervous about my fourth one. I didn’t have much of an idea about what I was going to do beyond “something with model rockets” when I wrote to the head of the nearest model rocket society. Here is the letter:

(Why’s it in negative? Beats me. But that’s probably the way I sent it.)

The part that describes the film as a love triangle between a boy, a girl and a rocket was pretty much bullshit. But I had written a script involving a boy and a rocket:

Fear of Flying had no chance of being made at that time and when I went down to film the rocket society I had no idea what I was going to do with the footage. I ended up shooting about 12 minutes of film, but less than a minute of that ended up in the film. I have little idea how I ended up with Rocketman from there. I may have been inspired by a lecture class on parallel montage; I may have been inspired by the use of moving lights for fade-like transitions in Bill N.’s third film. Wherever the idea came from, I was happy with the result. The class reaction was mostly positive and I sent their written critiques to my parents. My teachers, however, were not all that enthusiastic and I think it was when I said, while looking at the head teacher, “almost everyone got it,” that I came close to being given a failing grade for the entire semester.

For what it’s worth, here are the comments on the film by my class:

For what it’s worth, below is the page “explaining” the film, a required part of the script what I wrote when it was supposed to be my Fall project as explained here.

What did I learn?

1. For god sakes, don’t make films about Death! Death = bad, as in, “That was a bad movie, horrible!” Before you even start, you’re already on the shit list. People don’t need no stinking momento mori. (See here.)

2. Despite every other word coming out of our mouths being a metaphor of some kind, some people, perhaps most, just don’t get it. My high school art teacher had no idea: “Are you saying we don’t treat babies as well as we should?”

Postscript: the letter to the Rocket Society mentions that I had a Cineroc and a Transroc. I had had the Cineroc, which was a super 8 camera on a rocket, and the Transroc, which transmitted sound from a model rocket, since sixth or seventh grade. However, after losing one or two rockets I was afraid of losing them, so I never actually used them. I had had my mother send them out for this film, but did not use them for this, either. Eventually, they were stolen from the car where I inexplicably stored them. My room was very small, but I should have made room for them.

Written by pronountrouble2

May 21, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Film projects

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Intermezzo is a film that I made at Film School in the Fall of 1990. It was during the second semester of the program. The script was meant to have been written and approved as part of the Spring semester’s writing class. I somehow convinced my writing teacher to approve a script that was based on a film I had already made that Spring. Here’s the cover page of the script with the teacher’s signature under “recommended:”

Rocketman was a weird, actor-less film. I had no intention of making that film (again), but needed to buy time to think of what I was really going to do. Time had been in very short supply that first semester (we had to make five short Super 8 films and most of us were completely unprepared), and I didn’t want to repeat any of the mistakes that I had made, caused primarily by a lack of preparation. In fact, I nearly failed the main production class that semester. So I was lucky that, despite having to get a script approved in Spring, the official deadline for the script was not till the end of August. I intended to use the Summer well.

Although I had the luxury of the entire summer to come up with a script that I liked, such was not the case for coming up with a partner. Everyone in the program was required to form a partnership with another classmate, and how this happened was entirely up to us. Although not without a bit of drama, due to my films that semester scaring just about everyone away, someone who I would have been happy with agreed to be partners. I say, “Would have been happy with,” because, despite having agreed weeks before the end of semester, my would be partner called me up almost at the last minute to tell me that he didn’t think we’d be good partners. So that left me scrambling for another partner. Luckily, I found one, but my would be partner ended up with a graduate student and they were only allowed into a class when another team, who happened to be friends of mine, showed up a full week late for orientation, both of them having marked their calendars wrong. (This is especially amusing for those who know that one of these tardy filmmakers later went on to a professional career in his home country of Norway.)

The seed for the idea that I finally landed on for my project was probably planted by Henri Bergson’s essay on laughter which I re-read that Summer. Here are some excerpts from notebooks in which I developed the script. The first entry for is little than a title:

The Clockwork Society: Instead of a society that treats people as machines, it’s people who go through life like machines – so when the “clock” breaks down, it has to be repaired.

A little later:

Birth to death – everything is done on time and to the beat, which is constant.

Then I had another idea, which I called The Gift:

Character lives in harmony with universe – because it’s the same routine everyday – the same quirks – the same squeak in the floor – the objects, furniture, space and he make love – the room is his lover. Then something changes – not a new roommate – maybe someone – the girl next door – gives him a present – it doesn’t fit – but he keeps it – and it ruins everything – eggs fall on floor, he trips – he bangs his head.

The routine should be as beautiful and intricate as a clockwork mechanism, but at the same time suggest machine-like deadness.

The gift became a plant.

The gift should be a plant-like object, but unlike any real plant so it can grow bigger and bigger.

The balloons in the final film probably derive from this plant.

He goes to sleep – wakes up – there’s something on the bed – and it’s all over the apartment. (it’s the plant)

I added roommates:

It would work better if there are three roommates – they go through their routine like the figures in a clock – just failing to touch each other – and not noticing each other – except to pass the pepper.

Then I decided that I didn’t like the addition of rooommates:

This might work better choroegraphy-wise, but it ruins the story. I need to figure out ways to make it work with just one guy.

I began to think about its meaning:

What’s it about? Love of things is easier than love of people. Also, love of sameness, habit. Things equal the same, while love, true love, requires adaptation to different, strange, uncategorizable surprises. Our society is, despite the hullabaloo about love, a society that prefers objects. We treat our things better than we do other people – we treat our family as if they were possessions.

The plant became mobiles:

Mobiles, stabiles, too, with messages: “I love you, John – Joan.” “Thanks for last night.” They begin to spin. If B & C stand in one place, they have to duck every so often.

It just occurred to me that this is pretty much what’s happened in my house with mom hanging plants all over the place, making it necessary for me to duck.

I was getting nervous about getting the script done:

I’m running into problems with this script with less than a week to go. It’s probably helpful to think that the script will not be set in concrete – it’s merely necessary to have a script – changes can be, and will be, made later.

Plants are out because of the expense, but I think that mobiles may be better.

Problem: what power keeps those mobiles in place? Why don’t the other two tear them down instead of trying to get along with them? Maybe it’s a father and two sons…

I have to stick to an idea and Clock has to be it. Don’t give up just because there’s a little trouble.

More thematic musings:

Love can turn to routine – it’s just a mometary disruption in the course of things.

The routine isn’t perfected yet, but close enough. It’s the love that I’m worried about.

I found the solution to my “trouble.”

Ma, Pa and son – instead of three men – this helps avoid woman as disruptor.

“Three years later.” 1. Son; 2. Wife; 3. Kid. The kid walks down the hall, exits.

What am I looking for? What’s the film about? A crazy mirror – I want people to say, “That’s true,” and by looking at it, not accept it, but hopefully do something about it – I don’t want the end to appear inevitable.

Once I replaced the three male roommates with a family, everything pretty much fell into place.

July 5, 10pm – I finally have a script!

I sent a copy to my friend James who had been in most of my Spring classes and would get an Assistant Camera credit on Intermezzo. He said he did not understand it:

This proved to be a common reaction to my film ideas and scripts. Many seemed to have difficulty visualizing what I intended to do, but the biggest doubters often became the biggest supporters of the finished film. This was especially true for Intermezzo.

Here’s the script:

Even though the script is just four pages long, there are some scenes that did not make it into the finished film. I wasted a lot of effort trying to find a location to shoot the Bathroom scenes. It worked out in the end.

Here some storyboards for the Bathroom scenes:

The bathroom scene may have been cut, but my partner’s film, Flush, made up for it by taking place almost entirely in a restroom.

For those interested in the behind the scenes of a relatively smooth student production, you can read my (unedited) Production Diary for Intermezzo here. (The best way to view it is probably to select the full screen button in the bottom right of the screen after selecting the link here.)

(Notes on abbreviations in the Diary: “>” represents “out;” a period (.) represents “ing;” “fr” represents “from;” “U” represents “that; inverted “U” represents “the;” a “w” with a line over it = “with.”)

I say the production was “relatively smooth” because few productions are without problems and, while this one was not one of those, the finished film was pretty much the one that we started out to make. The primary problem with productions of this type are the artificial deadlines and the limited time imposed by the class schedule. We shot the film mostly in sequence, which means the first shot, of the clock, was the first thing we filmed, and the last shot, of the girl going down the stairs, was the last thing we shot. But we didn’t have the time to shoot everything and we didn’t have the time to shoot what we did shoot the way we wanted to shoot it. This is mainly true for the latter pancake making scene – the one that ends with the parents’ encounter with the refrigerator door. Compared to the first pancake making scene, the latter’s setups and lighting are not as satisfying to me and that’s simply a matter of not having enough time to do the setups I wanted. But like I said, this was a relatively smooth production and others in the class were not as fortunate.

The list of my out of pocket expenses:

The program for the big screening:

So who the devil was Frederick Winslow Taylor? Wikipedia has the answer.


For what it’s worth, here is my partner’s film. It has sound, but I think it works better with the audio off.

The credits on these films, as with many films, are not entirely accurate. While Jonathan was credited with camera and lighting on Intermezzo, I actually did most of the lighting and camera setups, and Trygve did the camera work for this key shot:

Flush began with Jonathan intending to do the lighting and camera himself, but I eventually convinced him to let me do it. I had nothing to do with the graffitti on the bathroom walls (putting it there, or taking it down), but rearranged some garbage and tried to frame and light it to make it as much like hell as possible. He printed it lighter than it should have been for the effect.

This is how the film looks:

This is closer to my intention:

The film:

What I wanted:

This was my (obvious) gag:

The shoot went even more smoothly than Intermezzo‘s. Some actors even worked for crumbs (another of my ideas):

The only major crisis I remember was when I dropped and broke my light meter on the last weekend of the shoot. Luckily, Jonathan found one to borrow.

Unlike most of the other teams for this class, Jonathan and I were still talking at the end of the semester. Jonathan even told me that he would like to work with me again. Unfortunately, he did not tell anyone else, and it seems I had acquired a bit of a reputation for abuse due to rumors about how I had treated him during the filming of Intermezzo. You can never be sure about rumors, but whether it was due to something like this, or something else entirely, despite having made two good films I still had a hard time finding a spot on one of the four projects set to be produced the next semester. Crewing on one of these was one of the requirements for graduation, but more importantly it was also a prerequisite for directing one of those films. It was only at the last minute that I was “hired” to work on a film called Joel Was Here, which was directed by Erik Flemming of The Silver Surfer fame.

What is Intermezzo about?

I’m a bit intrigued by the similarity on the thematic level to WALL·E (which, of course, was released 18 years after Intermezzo). Andrew Stanton, WALL·E’s director, says his film is about how “irrational love defeats life’s programming.” He said:

I realized that that’s a perfect metaphor for real life. We all fall into our habits, our routines and our ruts, consciously or unconsciously to avoid living. To avoid having to do the messy part. To avoid having relationships with other people, of dealing with the person next to us.

The main difference as far as theme goes between Stanton’s and my film is that in my film love does not win. The robots in Wall-E are metaphors for people who act like robots; the people in Intermezzo act like robots settled into a routine. In Intermezzo, love disrupts the routine, but only momentarily and routine wins out in the end.

Will Eisner, The Spirit, and Me

The Spirit Archives

In 2008 Frank Miller appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con to promote his upcoming film version of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. One of the things he addressed was the need to cast someone like Samuel Jackson as The Octopus.

As he says in the clip above (at about the 26 seconds mark), Eisner depicted The Octopus, who is a recurring character in the Spirit, only as two purple gloved hands.

Miller said that while it was ok never to show more than this of The Octopus in a seven page Spirit story, it would not work for a feature film.

Many years before Miller solved the problem of how to depict The Octopus by dismissing Eisner’s solution, I had hoped to film The Spirit. I even wrote to Will Eisner. Here’s his response:

Of course, I was excited that he expressed interest, but after I sent him a copy of the “script,” this was his reply:

Of course, after getting the “script,” Mr. Eisner no doubt realized he was dealing with a kid who did not even know how to write a coherent script. I was disappointed, but I continued to work on the project.

Here’s how I represented the big fight sequence between The Spirit and The Octopus without showing The Octopus:

That is, my solution to the problem of how to show The Spirit fighting The Octopus was to represent the fight using stop-motion animated tops from the game called Battling Tops.

By the way, this was not the “script” that I sent to Eisner, but a psuedo-storyboard version which I did a few years later. This later version is a lot clearer and easier to follow than what I sent Mr. Eisner. Here’s a passage from an earlier version that is closer to the version that I sent to Eisner:

Confusing, eh? The passage that begins, “On floor of gym,” represents the smuggling operation of a gang of jewel thieves. I used my closet full of toys to create a Rube Goldberg inspired sequence. (I used the Rube Goldberg inspired Mousetrap game in another scene.) Here are some of the wannabe props from the scene:

It’s a sign of Mr. Eisner’s graciousness that even after seeing this script, which could not have been anything other than headache-inducing, he replied as courteously as he did.

For what it’s worth, this was the idea: The Spirit is a comic book character who wants to be real, Pinocchio-like. However, although The Spirit initially thinks he has become real, having “escaped” from the 2D world of the comic book page to the real 3D world, he slowly discovers that he is in a film, which, as Rudoph Arnheim said, is neither 2D nor 3D, but somewhere in-between. (I wanted to begin the film with this quote.)

Although I never made a film using Eisner’s characters, my idea eventually morphed into a film that I made in film school called “Shadows on the Wall.” Unfortunately, by the time the film was finished, The Last Action Hero had been made and my film was seen by some as being “inspired” by it. A few years later, while walking through the main hall of San Diego Comic-Con, I was startled to see Will Eisner at the Kitchen Sink Press booth signing books. I bought a second copy of one of his books, he signed it, and while shaking his hand all I could say was, “Thank you.”


Shadows on the Wall did not include a Rube Goldberg-type sequence, but another project I worked on, The Tears of a Clown, did. Here is the scene from the script in which a book is printed by a group of clowns that operate a machine constructed using Rube Goldberg principles:

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Written by pronountrouble2

February 4, 2010 at 5:44 pm