A Filmmaker's Perspective: American Dreamz

PREFACE: Just trying out something new here: 500-word (and I mean EXACTLY 500 words) (not counting this preface) reviews of movies I feel are either timely or significant. Let me know what you think.

“Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more people vote for a pop idol than their next President.” Is it funny because it’s true, or just plain depressing?American Dreamz tries to be a lot of things. It fails at most, but it is a hopeful failure. Too slow to be a good comedy, too gentle to be a biting satire, too optimistic to be an indictment of the so-called “American dream,” it feels like it’s two or three films glued together to make one. I can’t say I enjoyed the film, as I thought it had pacing issues. I also can’t say I don’t recommend watching it. One amazing thing director Paul Weitz pulls off: by the end of the film, we like all the characters.

The character in this film which I found perhaps the most fascinating was Sally Kendoo, a small-town girl whose only dream is to be famous, no matter what the cost. What I found so interesting about this character was that, while it would be so easy to see only her faults, Weitz makes sure that we see the humanity underlying them: we see Kendoo locked in an embrace with her boyfriend while silently mouthing “Are you getting this?” to her camcorder-wielding agent, but we also get a moment to sympathize with her, when she delivers a spellbinding monologue about how she weighed 200 pounds when she was ten years old and decided that she would either lose 90 pounds by the time she turned fourteen or she would kill herself.

This monologue took me by surprise. It came late in the film and the whole thing was seeming rather insipid, but then this change of tone comes along when the main character, whom we’ve grown to hate over the course of an hour, starts telling us about how popular she became after she was thin, not only with her classmates, but with strangers on the street and even her teachers, and you start to feel sorry for her. Still, this monologue is mishandled—it seems to be presented as humorous, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why Weitz thought this would be funny—and even should it have succeeded in changing the tone of the movie, it wouldn’t have been enough to save it.

So what would I have done differently? I would have scaled it back. To make the movie funnier, I would have sped up the plot by removing all of the intentionally funny bits. Let the situational irony take control. I would have paid more attention to visuals, and stylized the hell out of the reality that these characters inhabit. I would have taken the perspective of an omniscient alien intelligence trying to figure out what was up with America. And I would have given all the characters a chance to become more than the stereotypes they portray.

[rate 2.5]

Awful feeling…

You ever edit all night only to wake up and realize that you were just DREAMING about editing? Yeah… not a good feeling. The sad part is that in my dream I was actually making progress.

Diary of a Mad Filmmaker: We were somewhere around Bloomingdale's, out on the edge of the Foot Locker, when the FEAR began to take hold

A little Gonzovision documentary about my recent visit to the Mall of America.

This was written and edited in the style of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, among others).

No movie news this time, just watch and enjoy. Let me know if you like these sorts of things, as I could very easily include other shorts in the vodcast every once in a while.

First AND Second Place! W00T!

Well, life moves fast.

Last week at this time I had just finished shooting RRRR an absurdist, surrealist film written and directed by Parker (my sound guy for Wholesale Souls) and his friend Ethan, and just now I walked out of the Poudre Film Festival with one trophy in my hand (a first-place win for the “Clowns” scenes from Wholesale Souls), and a second win under my belt–a second-place for RRRR (although this win really belongs to the twisted imaginations of Parker and Ethan… but I can at least take credit for adding the nuclear explosions). Unfortunately, Parker was in New York and thus couldn’t attend (that bastard), so Ethan was left to explain the whole thing on his own. I kind of felt sorry for him, but he also kind of deserved it.

First Place!

Speaking of the film festival, I also got to see a truly wondrous film from the mind of Vynni (he plays “Elephant A. Antibody” in the clown scenes) — “The Death of a Parakeet in the Springtime” (actually, it’s that phrase in French, but I don’t trust my French enough anymore to try to spell the real thing) is a parody of “art” and “experimental” films, with characters named “Turkminestan” and “The Rainforest” and phrases like “These cookies will be a winter upon my discontent… DESPAIR,” how can you go wrong? Absolute genius.

Then, on my way out I stole a film festival poster right off the wall and had all the Wholesale Souls people sign it, God knows why. Maybe I’ll have it framed or sell it or something.

Anyway, I still don’t have the next vodcast done yet for a variety of reasons (namely, all this other stuff that’s been going on), but it IS COMING SOON. Maybe I’ll also be putting up a couple shorts and things in the near future.

Briefly: Reshoots, pending vodcasts and other projects

Happy non-denominational Easter to all you agnostics out there! Let’s gather the whole family around the table and eat some rabbit!

I’m over at my grandparents’ house and I just finished reshooting the scene introducing James and Warren. Instead of the infamous “shaking scene,” they are now inside, sitting at the kitchen table and throwing tortilla chips at the ceiling fan. Sounds odd, but it works.

So Greg and Evan were over here and so was Parker, who was running sound. We also had an audience, including my aunt and uncle from Oregon, who are spending some vacation time here (my aunt saved the film early on by bothering UPS until they gave me my camera–maybe more on that later).

So we got chip crumbs all over the place and had to clean them up, which was fun.

This friday I was working as DP and producer on a short film co-directed by Parker. That was fun and I have since done some editing on it. This also entailed working with Vynni Gagnepain (he plays the enigmatic Elephant A. Antibody in my film), which is always a fascinating and surreal experience. The film is about ten to fifteen minutes long and hinges around the intricacies of Scrabble. And no, I’m not explaining beyond that, except to say that Exploding Goldfish will hopefully be a producing partner on this and it may be included on a future DVD collection of short films.

I AM working on a new vodcast. It’s taking a while because I want to do something extra-special about my visit to Minnesota. I’m thinking something appropriate would be a Gonzovision documentary about my visit to the Mall of America (for more on Gonzo, see the writing of Hunter S. Thompson). So that’s in the works and part-way done.

I THINK we MAY still be on target for a final cut by the end of the month, especially if things continue to go this smoothly. Music is still up in the air, but may not be for much longer.

Also: expect a review of a new film soon. I don’t do a lot of reviews, but any time I think I can glean something useful as a director from a film I’ll write a review (or when I see a really good film and I want you all to check it out). My mother found a film I’d been searching for these past few months–Brazil, directed by ex-Python Terry Gilliam–for a really good price. I haven’t watched it yet, but I plan to later today. And then you can all expect to hear about how much I love Terry Gilliam’s films.

I think that’s it for now. I went on longer than I was expecting to because I’m waiting for other people to arrive and for food to be ready. I COULD write even more, but NONE of us want that.

Hoping this season of plastic grass and artificial reality finds you well,

…so that's Minnesota.

Hey, everybody out there in magic fantastic electron-land! I just got back from beautiful (really) Minneapolis–or Mpls., as the Minneapolans (Minneapolitans? Minneapoliticians?) jauntily abbreviate it. I’ve just spent today recovering from jet-lag and reverse jet-lag (I thought that must be a good thing, but on the way back I figured out that it actually meant that I had to stay awake for an extra hour–of course, I “figured this out” at either midnight or 11:00, depending on which time zone I was in, so it may not hold a lot of weight as a scientific observation). I’ve got a little Gonzovision documentary short about the Mall of America in the works; I’ll put it up on the vodcast as soon as it’s finished.

As for MCAD itself, it’s a really cool place. It seems like a very exciting, tightly-knit community. I had a chance to sit in on a documentary & experimental film class, which was quite interesting. I spoke to a junior film major there, who told me that MCAD’s film program tends to focus more on the art of storytelling through film rather than the strictly technical aspect, so it sounds like it’s right down my alley. MCAD is also located right next to (and is apparently connected by tunnel, although I never laid eyes on said tunnel) the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which is a really fantastic art museum. I only had time to see the top floor, but even that was amazing. They’ve got a couple Van Goghs and Monets, and some other work by famous artists, but the really impressive displays are these things where they rebuild an entire room from some other location and time period–they had the study from a manor in 1600’s England, for example, and the lobby of a Parisian hotel from the 1850’s.

So anyway, it looks for the moment like MCAD is probably the place I’ll want to be in the fall. I must be insane, picking Minnesota over somewhere like Georgia.

Anyway… back to the grind.

Of rough cuts & travel

So the time has come, and the rough cut is DONE! That’s right, friends, I have a complete cut of the film (minus a few scenes that haven’t been shot yet) weighing in at just shy of 70 minutes. I’m compressing the video to DVD format as we speak and I’ll have them all ready to go out in the morning.

But of course, as you all know, I won’t be distributing them myself. Greg, my faithful lackey and personal whipping boy, will be doing this because I’ll be in Minneapolis by lunch time.

Speaking of which, feel free to comment here or send me e-mail, but don’t expect a speedy reply as I’ve elected not to take my laptop because I’m afraid that if it gets unplugged it may never work again, so I can’t guarantee that I’ll have access to a computer of any kind, let alone a stable internet connection.

But I’ll be back on Sunday. Maybe I’ll post pictures, if they’re interesting. I also have some ambitious ideas for the future of the Diary of a Mad Filmmaker vodcast that I want your feedback on. Stay tuned.

Apple "Boot Camp"

So when Apple says that they “won’t support” Windows installations on any of their Intel Macs, what they mean is that they’ll write software to make installing Windows on a Mac ridiculously easy and then include it in the next release of their OS.


Awesome! FINALLY Apple realizes that they actually CAN compete with Windows because OS X is just plain BETTER and NICER! I predict a tiny spike in Microsoft’s earnings over the next five years and then an ENORMOUS dip when people realize they don’t actually need Windows anymore. Then Apple will conquer the world and Steve Jobs will turn into an enormous fire-breathing demon-beast.

And you GOTTA love Apple’s passive-aggressive marketing tactics. This is an excerpt from the Boot Camp home page:


Macs use an ultra-modern industry standard technology called EFI to handle booting. Sadly, Windows XP, and even the upcoming Vista, are stuck in the 1980s with old-fashioned BIOS. But with Boot Camp, the Mac can operate smoothly in both centuries.

Word to the Wise

Windows running on a Mac is like Windows running on a PC. That means it’ll be subject to the same attacks that plague the Windows world. So be sure to keep it updated with the latest Microsoft Windows security fixes.

I love you, Apple.

Down to the wire!

OK, here’s the deal:

Last night I sent out an e-mail to all cast and crew announcing that, with their cooperation, the film will be finished by April 30th. To meet that deadline, the following will have to be accomplished:

I’m leaving to Minnesota to visit Minneapolis College of Art & Design on Thursday morning. By that time, I need a rough cut of the film finished. That gives me two days to edit an hour’s worth of screen time. Normally, it would take at least a week and a half. But I can work fast. “They” always say you’re lucky if you can shoot 9 script pages in a full working day. For Stan’s office scenes, we shot 20 in an evening. So it can be done. Greg will be coming over this evening (I’m skipping out on a review session for my AP Government test to fit this in, so it’d better be productive) and we’re gunning for the finish line. Hopefully that and Wednesday afternoon will let me get a rough cut finished and burned out to DVD for Kabir and Parker and a few other people involved with music composition and sound mix. I’ll then sneak up to Greg’s front door at approximately 4:00 A.M. and leave them leaning up against what I can only describe as a giant cement frog. From there, Greg will take them to school and hand them out like candy on Halloween. But let’s cut the bizarre analogies for the moment.

While I’m relaxing in luxury at the Ariport Days Inn next to the Mall of America in Minneapolis, I’m expecting both Greg and Evan to get their hair cut so we can schedule reshoots, and Parker and Kabir will no doubt be slaving endlessly over building cue sheets for the film.

Then, once I’m back, we’ll have to pull off the most difficult scheduling feat of the entire production: getting EVERY actor for EVERY scene into the Channel 10 studio for a period of four hours spread out over two separate days, so that we can record ADR.

Then there’s re-shoots and supplementary shots and screen shots and scenery shots and prop shots and thank God I just bought another hard drive because otherwise I don’t think my computer could handle it and then I have to take the ADR and sync it up with the picture and mix in the music and wild tracks and foley and grade the picture and re-author the video in anamorphic widescreen. All in a period of approximately three weeks, while school is trying desperately to grab onto me and pull me down into the mud.

But it’s not impossible.

And I’ve done similar things before. Besides, I’ve never missed a deadline in all my years of editing. Let’s see if I can keep it up.

UPDATE: I flew tonight. The master timeline jumped from 30 minutes to well over an hour in a single evening. While Greg was over I cut a minimum of three scenes (I lost count around physics class scene #2). We even had time to watch part of a documentary on Hunter S. Thompson and do some planning for the making-of featurette.

Tomorrow I edit the remaining scenes (only two, that I can think of now!) and then burn as many DVDs as I have time to burn. I love being the kind of person who relies on pressure to succeed, because right now I’m feeling a tremendous amount of pressure (with both the movie and school and the fact that I’ll be traveling later this week) and I honestly couldn’t be happier because I know that I do my best work under duress. (Remind me to tell you a story or two about that when it’s not 3:45 in the morning).

Sigh… maybe it’s all been worth it after all.

Diary of a Mad Filmmaker: Equipment Update

A quick update on how I’m going to deal with this change in my equipment.

Also: You can find the free script-writing program Celtx at http://www.celtx.com

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