Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On the Lot: Camera! Action! It's a Buy!


On the Lot: July 17, 2007: Action! Cut! It’s a Buy! (The script goes something like that.)

Tonight, Adrianna Costa started by announcing the eliminations, as usual, of directors. This time it was a double elimination, of Shalini and Hilary.

As I noted in the TV blog, I once worked as a boom operator on a soap opera set, and when a scene is accepted, “it’s a buy!”

This contest seems to be very “masculine” in nature and has been hard on the female directors. Films that appeal to women are a huge part of the market, especially in independent film. Yes, I can imagine work like “Marie Antoinette” (Sofia Coppola) from these directors. But women have directed major action movies, like the futurist “mind-reading” Y2K cliffhanger “Strange Days” (1995, 20th Century Fox) from Kathryn Bigelow (written by James Cameron, with Ralph Fiennes as the voyeur Lenny Nero), a film that I had to return to see because the reel broke at the most climactic moment.

So tonight, what did we have? A lot of work that follows the paradigm: there has to be a concept that engages the viewer, even if it would be meaningless in real life. But all of these films meant something.

Key Witness (Sam Friedlander, “the Tall Man”) has a chase through tenements with a swallowed key, giving the stint a double meaning. There was so much activity that the totality might have seemed a bit perfunctory. The audience liked it, and booed Carrie’s criticism. Of course, you can have a lot of threads of action in a story and make it all work; suspense authors do it all the time. The movie reminded me of the excessive “threads” in my own novel, something I ponder with comments from a literary agent. (No, Sam isn’t Billy the Kid.) This film does echo a Mountain Dew commercial in which Chuck Norris appears.

Sweet (Jason Epperson) gives us the marital pampering that would please Maggie Gallagher. On wedding day, hubby notices the calendar 15 minutes before his wife is due home. He goes on a wild chase (bouncing from being hit by a car, dodging a bank robbery) to pick up the flowers. His wife comes home, and she forgot, too.

Zero2Sixty (Andrew Hunt). FBI agents enlist a car salesman to help catch a car thief, when the salesman wants to just run the credit check. The salesman becomes the hero, of course.

The Losers (Kenny Luby) Like filmmaker Shane Nelson in Minneapolis, Kenny went for the extreme sports idea, in fact, the old favorite, skateboarding. Kenny actual played cameraman and did a little skating himself. The actual story punch threw me, except that it redeems the father and son bond, I think. One thing that is original is combining extreme sports with humor and comedy. The Dogtown movies from Sony didn’t do this. I wonder what Kenny would do with the services of Shaun White in the cast – and Shaun obviously has the presence for movies (First Descent, and even his American Express ad). White, known for snowboarding, recently competed in a Venice CA skateboarding championship on one of the sports channels.

Catch (Mateen Kamet) is a nice, twisty smash-and-grab job sting in the Bronx, with the Po-Lice at the end, and all the way through. You expected to see the Rat Pack.

These movies all used professional stunt men from major studios and unions.

It’s worth noting that all of the contestants in the Lot series are very composed and professional on the show, and all are capable of representing to the public the capabilities of “show business” well. You know the song – “there’s no business like…” And there are no people like show people. This show tonight was broadcast live. There was one accidental shot of Adrianna that shouldn't have been made.

AMC Theaters have been showing a Verizon Wireless short (oddly in full 2.35:1) "On the Lot" including a one minute skit with a director trying to make a contest film, where one of the actors says, "You need to hire a new writer." That's an interesting view of screenwriters.

While on the topic of short films, it’s worth noting two Pixar films.

Ratatouille (2007) is accompanied by the short Lifted (2006, 6 min, dir. Gary Rydstrom) in which aliens try to abduct a little boy from a house but wind up with the house sans garcon. Had shades of Whitley Strieber’s Communion.

The rerelease in 2006 of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) was accompanied by Sunny (dir. unknown) which was like a kid’s rendition of the Seven Wonders of the World (which was a Cinerama film in the 1950s).

CBS 60 Minutes (on July 22) aired a commercial attributed to Consumer Freedom and Rick Berman, in which the "Food Police" constantly grab unhealthful food away from people. It was a good comical 90 second short, and could have worked in a director's competition.

Don’t confuse with the upcoming sci-fi Sunshine (2007, Danny Boyle) or the 1999 German film Sunshine from Istvan Szabo, about three generations of a European Jewish family. We covered a lot of ground tonight.

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