Two execs, Carlos and Dan, whose companies/bosses oversaw the productions of Brokeback Mountain, Little Miss Sunshine, Into the Wild, and Cold Mountain shared valuable insights with us, the Project:Involve fellows, as we individually pitched our stories to them for feedback.
Carlos and Dan were both very giving and encouraging. Carlos had a wicked sense of humor, and Dan exhibited an articulate cinematic sensibility. They listened to each person's presentation/story, asked questions, and offered suggestions. While nobody discussed explicitly the art and science of pitching, I learned a lot from what people said or didn't say and how they said it.
When it was my turn, I walked up to the table and sat across from them and Jane, FIND's talent development coordinator. Earlier in the day, I practice my pitch many times -- in front of my brother and by myself. I also decided that rather than telling them the plot details, I would make them excited about the concept of my story. I adjusted the mic in front of me, and it fell out of the holder and hit the table. I looked them in the eyes (I could tell they were amused by me) and proceeded to introduce them to the world of my story.
"We'll look back on this as a time of great experimentation," said Tony Safford (Executive Vice President of Worldwide Acquisitions, Fox Searchlight) to a room full of hungry filmmakers, Friday during Film Independent's Distributors Roundtable. Consultant Jeff Dowd joined panelists Eamonn Bowles (President, Magnolia Pictures), Udy Epstein (Principal, Seventh Art Releasing), Jonathan Sehring (President, IFC Entertainment), Tony Safford, and moderator Tom Bernard (Co-President, Sony Pictures Classics) for an open discussion about the state of the industry and the filmmaker's role in their own survival.
My first visit to the Hollywood Magic Castle was an exhilarating experience.
Guests must be invited by club members. It was my luck that my cousin, Alex, was in town. His good friend, David, is a member, so he invited Alex, Alex's fiancee (Nellie), and me to the castle.
I arrived by myself while they waited for me inside. The entrance was narrow and resembled an entrance of an old, upscale apartment. I checked in at the small "lobby," which appeared to self-contained and led to nowhere. The girl who checked me in instructed me to walkup to the wall and chant a spell. The wall slid open, and Alex stood waiting for me on the other side.
Hoop Dreams, which Ebert claims as the best movie of the 90's, observed its 15 anniversary this past Wednesday at the Gene Siskel Center. I remember watching it when it first came out. I was very eager to because I had become a huge basketball fan by that time. I had elevated basketball to mythical proportion. I was obsessed with street ball, with high school basketball, professional basketball (but for some reason not college basketball).
I weaved what I heard, saw, and experienced into epic battles of skills, talents, and personalities. My teammates and I became larger-than-life characters struggling to work together to triumph over common enemies. In the professional arena, the sudden retirement of Michael Jordan left a power vaccuum to be filled by those all-stars who until then had been denied championship glory by number 23.
Such was my state of mind when I watched Hoop Dreams as a 14-15 year-old. Although I felt it was long, I knew right away it was a tremendous film. During the same time, I began to develop a social consciousness, so I was keenly aware of the social context this story took place under. I didn't realize it then, but perhaps this movie served as a companion piece to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, the most important novel I read in high school.
These are the thoughts triggered by Ebert's blog post about Hoop Dreams. I feel as if I just ran into a good friend I haven't seen in a long time.
Film Independent put on a wonderful kick-off party for me and the other Project:Involve fellows at Kodak's Hollywood Headquarters. Hollywood Reporter and Variety, the top entertainment-trade publications, wrote about our party!
"The basic idea of personal branding is to promote yourself as having certain values, skills or expertise -- your brand -- so that if someone needs that expertise, they'll come to you first," Professor David James states.
"This is it," Michael Jackson told his fans in London, announcing his forthcoming concert tour. "This is the final curtain call." The curtain fell sooner than expected. What is left is this extraordinary documentary, nothing at all like what I was expecting to see.
Filmmakers involved with FIND's Project:Involve spent a wonderful evening at Paul Yoo's Venice home. It was a real team effort as people brought foods, drinks, and desserts. Paul was a superb host and grill-master. The atmosphere was chill and welcoming.
Everyone was friendly and cool. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone better!
Ruben Fleischer, the director of Zombieland, spoke to me and other Project:Involve fellows in depth about his career, experience as a first-time studio director, his extensive prep work on projects. For Zombieland, he gathered hundreds of reference photos and video clips from 200 of his favorite movies!!
He is down-to-earth and open to share. I learned a lot from his talk -- both in terms of the nuts-and-bolts and the right attitude to have. For a young writer-director like me, they are invaluable.
I feel even more MOTIVATED than before!
Big shout-out to FIND, Francisco, and Jane for making this happen. Also to Nori Takei for taking this photo.
As a Project:Involve fellow at Film Independent, I attended its Filmmaker Forum this weekend at the DGA, the walls of which are decorated with photos of directors I admire. At the event, I spoke to John August (writer of Corpse Bride and Big Fish), producer of Juno, COO of Lionsgate, top agents, trailblazers of digital media, and socially conscious docu-filmmakers. I also heard producers of The Last Emperor and Little Miss Sunshine speak.
Unexpectedly, I ran into my directing teacher at UCLA, an ex-co-worker who's a wonderful line producer, and my high school classmate who's a smart, knowledgeable casting director of Inglourious Basterds. How funny? What a small world!
(photo courtesy of Lisa Stacilauska, fellow P:I comrade)
This summer, I took an amazing directing class at UCLA Extension with a bunch of talented students and a teacher who loves to teach. Every student must put on a scene in class using professional actors. I took the extra step of filming the scene (from The Fast and the Furious) outside of class as did a few other students.
Clint Eastwood, one of favorite directors, is going into production on a supernatural thriller with Spielberg producing. Last time they teamed up, the result was The Letters from Iwo Jima, the type of movies I aspired to have the competence to make one day.
The last shot Michael Jordan took as a member of the Bulls was the game-winning shot over Byron Russell in the NBA title-clinching game. Last week, when the Hall of Fame inducted Jordan, Jordan made sure everyone remembered that moment and how Russell caused his own misery by claiming he could guard Jordan given the chance.
Russell responded to Jordan on ESPN. As a big NBA fan, I find it all very hilarious...
The climatic sequence in Better Luck Tomorrow is a high achievement in American independent cinema. Tension, suspense, even a primal feeling of disgust are created masterfully through simple yet effective applications of cinematography, lighting, editing, acting, and directing.
In this clip, a narrator has taken the effort to break down the sequence beat by beat.
I came across Jan Svankmajer in my film theory class at UCLA Extension. In the tradition of Surrealism, his work is bizarre and fantastical. The first clip, titled Meat Love, anthropomorphizes men’s untamed sexual desires.
This second clip, titled Dinner, uses evocative images and events juxtaposed for disturbing effects. Through a behavior that defies logic and reason for most people, Dinner seeks to unleash the “superior reality” of our sub- and unconscious. (I have to warn you; it's Disturbing!)
Bottom Line: flashes of brilliant dramatic and action sequences throughout the movie, but I wish director Justin Lin took the combustive relationship between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker to its explosive climatic conclusion. If you like fast cars, hot women, and strong men, this is the movie for you.
More: Paul Walker's portrayal of a policeman as a borderline sociopath is at times scary and brilliant, reminiscent of Andy Lau/Matt Damon's portrayals in Infernal Affair/The Departed.
It will be interesting to see if Justin Lin and Paul Walker decide to take the darker side of Brian O'Connor to the next level.
Vin Diesel gives his one of his best performances ever. Gone are the blank stares that make the audience wonder did he forget his lines and the unintentionally comedic hollering. This time, Diesel lets his eyes and actions speak for him. Keep it up, and the Diesel has the chance to become the best action-hero in current cinema.
Dan Lin is an up-and-coming Hollywood producer who has a special knack for shepherding blockbuster projects through the studio system.
He helped reboot the Terminator franchise and is working on the finishing touches of the action-oriented Sherlock Holmes. He spoke about these movies and the new Lara Croft prequel at the premier of Terminatorhere.
After graduating from Harvard Business School, he rose to become a creative executive at Warner Brother's. He later decided to strike out on his own "to be more entrepreneurial." He spent his childhood in Taiwan and Hong Kong before moving to the States, which mirrors my own childhood.
Dan is perhaps the most active and powerful Taiwanese-American producer in Hollywood. He comes across as articulate and intelligent in his interview. Tracking this "pioneer's" career will be interesting from both an artistic and cultural stand point. Along with Ang Lee winning the Oscars and Justin Lin directing the wildly successful Fast and Furious franchise (to name a few other examples), it signals that Chinese and Taiwanese people's passion for cinema is beginning to bear fruits on the American-global stage.
Bottom Line: This is the type of movies the most critics hate, but come on, you bought the movie ticket because you loved the Terminator series and were dying to see the post-Judgment Day world, not because you were looking for good drama. Terminator fans, don't be turned off by the reviews, go watch the movie!
Surprise!: The action sequences are amazing. You actually care about whether the characters live or die. The decisions these characters make in heated moments reveal their values and beliefs, and they set off real consequences.