Archive for the THE PLAGUE Category

Soderbergh, The State Of Contemporary Cinema, & Questions From A Young Filmmaker

Posted in Art, Film, THE PLAGUE with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2013 by halmasonberg

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 10.36.21 AM

This is a daring and insightful speech given by Steven Soderbergh last week at SFIFF. It is one of the most perceptive and articulate commentaries on the state of cinema today and the difference between “cinema” and “movies.” For me, personally, it encapsulates so much of what I have been writing about for years and captures the very essence of why I started Off Leash Films and what I hope to achieve.

This speech comes at a perfect time for me as I have been engaged in conversation with a young filmmaker who recently commented on one of my older posts. The following is a response to several of his questions to me regarding editing choices I made on THE PLAGUE: WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT and my approach and attitude toward making films and whether or not I consider the audience ahead of time:

Question: Hal, one question my friend, did you make the film for you or for the audience? That is what all filmmakers need to ask themselves. I agree with you, I need to see both films from beginning to end to judge and compare, also I’m sure the producers have taken away your characters and their emotions and made it all prokat – a recipe that works generally. I’m only saying I preferred the points where the film cut. The tightness of the shots and the fact that when it didn’t intercut it rounded up my emotional tension which is what I needed.

…I ‘m only young and learning and grown up with the fast cutting generation and think films like Amour are nerve wracking and should be respectful to the current audience and include editing – what is your view of films like Amour or Angelopoulos’s style? I love Fincher, hate Tarantino, love Attenborough, Altman, Nolan, Bergman… I love a good film, I don’t like self-indulgence and auteurs that do film only for themselves and just happen to have a good pr company behind them. I met Lars Von trier and he was horrible to us young students , full of pretentiousness and up his own. But I met Scorsese as well and he was amazing and helpful. It’s truth that I have learned from your site and take on board what you say about the intention. How do you know your intention? You shoot A and you edit B and on the way you might like C… is it always defined? Should it? If you were to do Plague again what would you do differently?

Answer: My answer is very simple: I don’t have an audience that is specific or makes any demands. I make films for myself WITH the knowledge that I am not so unique or unusual that I am going to alienate most or all of the human race. My audience are the people who will be moved and/or effected by my films and want to see more. Plain and simple. I am not a director for hire. If I were, then I would have to consider what the audience is that the producers want to reach if that is their goal. If I direct a pre-existing comic book or a James Bond film, then, yes, I must consider the audience. But if I’m making films that are an expression of who I am and tell the stories I have a need to tell and offer the experience that I want to put out there, then considering some non-existent audience makes no sense. The last thing I want to do is second-guess other people and decide what they might or might not like, what they might or might not “get.” Then I am not honoring anyone, least of all myself.

Hollywood has trained many filmmakers to think in terms of audience (males 16-25, for example). This has nothing to do with filmmaking for me. That is marketing and when marketing dictates what kind of films you make and how you are going to make them, the work itself becomes that much less personal and, as a result, that much less daring. Vittorio De Sica once said, “Art has to be severe. It cannot be commercial. It cannot be for the producer or even for the public. It has to be for oneself.” So I guess the question you need to ask is are you a director for hire or someone who has a vision they want/need to explore and share? Both are completely valid approaches. But they are not the same.

As for the directors you mentioned, AMOUR was one of my favorite films from last year. I love Haneke. I wouldn’t have changed a frame, not a beat. My other favorite from last year was the 3-hour cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s MARGARET. The year before that TREE OF LIFE and MELANCHOLIA. So yes, I love Von Trier. And I don’t care whether he is a nice guy or not. That has no bearing on the effectiveness of his work for me. And you used the term “self-indulgence” negatively. Yet I think it’s a requirement for making any kind of art. Who are we supposed to indulge in making art if not ourselves? An audience? The audience finds the art, not the other way around. At least as I see it. Coppola is still one of my heroes and his approach to filmmaking now is absolutely thrilling to me. My favorite Coppola is still THE CONVERSATION. You like Bergman. He is one of my favorite filmmakers. He did NOT make films for an audience. An audience found his films. For him, it was about him and his actors telling stories. In a way that moved and excited them.

I think Theo Angelopolis’ LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST is one of the most beautiful and moving films I’ve ever seen. Yes, I get why some people find his films too slow, same with Tarkovsky films, but I adore them. They “speak” to me. They move me to tears, excite me in their artistry, in their ability to express and touch me. Ridley Scott, on the other hand, bores me now. He made 3 amazing films early on and the rest feel very empty to me. That does not mean they are empty, only empty to me. His recutting of ALIEN removed the very thing I found to be most effective and daring about his original cut. But several years ago he went back and “picked up the pace.” Shame. He didn’t even see what he had done and why it was considered so amazing by so many. He is a filmmaker whose instincts I no longer trust. I have met the man. I have had story meetings with him. He’s very nice. I enjoyed his company. But his ideas bore me, as do most of his films.

For me, THE PLAGUE needed to linger on the moments that resonated for me. That is the experience that I wanted to share. What happens in those moments and the feelings that come up for people experiencing that. However, it will not be the same experience for everyone. Another reason I do not consider the audience or allow them to dictate my creative decisions. I have no control over what individuals bring into the screening room with them. To try and second-guess that I see as a futile mission and one that has no appeal to me.

My desire, as well, with the editing of THE PLAGUE was to juxtapose certain images and themes, to suggest directly and subconsciously the connection between the kids and the adults. Every cut is made with purpose. Each has something to say, something that is nonexistent in the producers’ cut, which ONLY wanted to make a film with action and bloodshed. A killer-kid film. They wanted to answer as many questions as quickly as possible which, for me, reduces tension. That is something that I have no desire to be a part of. Nor do I find that to be effective in any meaningful way. I believe my cut is more frightening because of what it conjures up under the surface, those feelings that we don’t initially understand, but that rise to the surface nonetheless. I also believe that allows my cut to linger with its audience far longer than the other cut. But that is, as you know, also dependent on who is watching and what kind of experience they are open to. Again, something I have no control over nor do I have a desire to control.

You asked me what I would change if I could do THE PLAGUE again. Ironically, I would think less about audience reaction and more about what moved me personally. I would not have wasted precious energy on worrying about what others might think or how it fit into genre expectations. I would have made the film even more visceral, more abstract. I would have also trusted my instincts about the people I was working with and not talked myself out of taking the project elsewhere when I had the opportunity. And I would have never allowed myself to be talked (threatened) into miscasting the leads which, no matter how I cut the film, will always bog it down and dramatically lessen its impact. The film can never rise above the fact that they were miscast, that they were there to appease Sony’s marketing department despite the fact that they were not who or what we imagined in those roles, nor were they capable of pulling it off to the level that the film and story required in order to be what we intended and hoped the film would be.

There are so many quotes by so many artists that speak to me personally. They mirror my own feelings and articulate my own personal discoveries. They are also full of lessons and instigate thought. I want more from my films, both those I make and those I watch, than perhaps some others out there. That seems to be the case. But I also know that I am not “special.” There are so many people out there yearning and searching for the same artistic storytelling experiences that I am. Now maybe that’s not the majority of male 16-25 year olds (though it might be as so many films supposedly geared toward that audience still bomb), but I trust that what I want to say and how I want to say it has an audience. All I need do is be true to myself and follow my instincts and my passions. I feel no need to attract the largest audience possible. I am also not looking to make films for the studios or work with a budget of $200 million. So I have the luxury of not having to worry about such distracting things as what others might think and that someone might not like or respond positively to something I do. There are more than enough people who will have the opposite reaction, or simply their own complex reaction. I know what moves and effects me and that’s what drives me. I’ve written a fair amount about all this. You can find some of it at my production company site:

http://offleashfilms.com

I suggest reading the list of quotes there as I have personally found so many of them to be inspiring and deeply insightful.

And some other blog posts I’ve written that may or may not be of interest to you. Either way, they do articulate in more detail what I have been trying to say above. And probably more accurately. If you want to read them, they are here:

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/irving-thalberg-and-the-fearful-producers-wilderness/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/facing-the-unknown-the-organic-art-of-storytelling/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/eating-julie-taymor-when-artists-devour-their-own/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/eyes-wide-in-memory-of-stanley-kubrick/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/alas-more-wisdom-from-coppola/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/francis-ford-coppola-and-business-of-movies/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/hollywood-and-the-golden-arches-of-mediocrity/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/favorite-quotes-martha-graham-the-quickening-of-unique-expression/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/accusing-filmmakers-of-self-indulgence-other-storytelling-obstacles/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/great-american-films-still-get-made-theyre-just-hard-to-find-lonergans-3-hr-margaret/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/raymond-chandler-the-monkey-business-of-hollywood/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/desires-lessons-articulating-a-filmmaking-experience/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-or-the-descent-of-american-intelligence/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/sharing-coppola/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/why-fight-for-a-directors-cut-of-a-low-budget-horror-flick/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/articulating-bergman/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/how-dare-you-edit-your-own-film-and-other-creative-alienations/

http://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/where-the-wild-things-are-a-love-song-to-boys/

Desires & Lessons: Articulating A Filmmaking Experience

Posted in Art, Blu-Ray, CLEAN, DVD, Film, THE PLAGUE, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2013 by halmasonberg

plaguefilmstripburnBack in 2009, I was interviewed by illustrious writer and chef (yes, that’s correct, he’s also a masterful culinary expert) Herbert M. Brindl for Rogue Cinema. I’ve been interviewed a fair amount over the years in all kinds of publications — from print to the internet — regarding my somewhat harrowing and sadly-all-too-common experiences as the writer/director of my first feature film. Some of those interviews I’m quite proud of, others I can’t help feeling I could have articulated better. This particular interview, however, I always felt pretty darn good about.

I stumbled across a copy of it the other day and found myself enjoying re-reading it from this new vantage point almost four years later. My film had been taken away from me in 2006 and this interview came at a time, unlike many of the interviews to come before it, where I had a few years to process what I had experienced and what that experience had become, what it meant, and what I was starting to take away as the lessons inherent in such milestone events. Much of what I said then still holds true now, though there are, of course, even more lessons that have emerged and areas that felt a bit grey at the time that have manifested into a somewhat more coherent form today. Time and reflection, mixed with new experiences, will thankfully do that.

Here is that interview, unedited, as it unfolded:

Director, Writer Hal Masonberg Rogue Interview. First published June 01, 2009:

hm1HMB: Mr. Masonberg, tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and what was the reason you decided to go into filmmaking?

HM: I grew up in New Jersey. I left when I was 16 and never looked back. I’ve moved around a lot since then. As for filmmaking, I’ve always been passionate about film. From as early on as I can remember. Even before I knew what directing was, I knew I wanted to be the guy who was telling the story up on the screen. For a lot of people, I think film works as an escape from daily life. And it certainly is that for me at times, no doubt about it, but even when I was a kid, I loved going to films that forced me –no allowed me, to think. I was lucky enough to grow up in the 60’s and 70’s so the “mainstream” films at that time were pretty incredible! Especially compared to what we have now. We didn’t know at the time that we were in a golden age of cinema, but it turns out we were! That period in my life still infuses my approach to storytelling today. That and classic films, which I watched incessantly growing up and continue to do so today. I guess I’m just a good old-fashioned film geek.

HMB: What are the movies you grew up with?

HM: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was the film that captured me and changed my life forever. I saw it in its initial release and then again in its first reissue. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, talking about it… I was also a big Charlie Chaplin fan as a kid. They showed MODERN TIMES at a local movie theater for a number of weeks and I went several times each weekend. I was also an avid reader so I would buy the paperback of the latest film, and the “making-of” book if there was one. Regardless of whether or not I’d seen the movie yet, and I’d consume them all. I just loved everything about film.

HMB: I know you spent some time in Sweden. What was the reason behind your move there?

HM: Initially it was an invitation from friends. I looked into studying film there and found that I could. So I jumped on the opportunity. I was already a big fan of Bergman films, but I also knew there was a ton of other fantastic filmmakers in Scandinavia that I didn’t have access to. So I went there, learned Swedish and had a blast. And yeah, that experience still influences my own approach to filmmaking. I’d probably fit in much better there as a filmmaker than I do here in L.A.!

HMB: Any European filmmakers you admire and what do you see as the differences between US and European filmmakers/films for you?

HM: Well, this is a big question. It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m not a huge fan of American films produced at the studios. For the most part, they’re fairly empty, despite the big budgets and the technical expertise. I’ve worked in the Hollywood film industry now for over 18 years and my personal experience has been that it’s almost impossible to make a film at a studio that actually reflects the vision of the writers and directors. So many people working in Hollywood are there because they love business, not film. But they have little-to-no understanding of the business they’re in! If you ran a tailor shop, I’d expect you to know something about tailoring. If you owned a restaurant, I’d expect you to know something about food and appetites and ambience. It’s the same with the film business. Only at the studio level, so many of the people working there don’t have a love of cinema. Nor do they have a very deep understanding of the artistry behind it. There’s an attitude that’s rampant in Hollywood that there’s only one way to do things. And any variation from that is wrong. There’s also an assumption that the audience is not as savvy as the executives making the big decisions. And that’s a scary thing because my experience has been that a lot of film execs are not all that savvy!

In my personal experience–and the experiences of many of my friends and colleagues–there seems to be a lack of respect for filmmakers at the studio level. And by that I mean the writers and directors. On my film, THE PLAGUE, we were told by the VP of acquisitions at Sony that they owned the film now and saw no reason for the writers and director to be involved. Now you have to understand, no one at Sony had ever met nor spoken with either myself or my writing partner Teal Minton. The film was sold to them by Armada Pictures, who let our contracts run out, and then took what we had shot and re-cut it into something completely unrecognizable. And then Clive Barker (whose producers were largely responsible for re-cutting the film and keeping both Teal and I out of the editing room) had the gall to say in an interview that the film we made wasn’t the film we had written or pitched. Nothing could be further from the truth. But Clive was almost entirely absent from the development and production of this film. Even his own producers were fond of commenting on how clueless he was as to what was going on with THE PLAGUE. They were constantly telling us things behind his back to prepare us for the fact that Clive was out of the loop. God knows what they told him when they kicked us off the film. I read in an interview with Clive sometime later that he claimed I had gotten in my car and drove away from the editing room before the picture was locked. And that’s very likely what his own people told him. Meanwhile, they were telling us that Clive no longer wanted us on this film and that they were re-cutting it into what producer Jorge Saralegui called a “killer kid film.” Of course that was the exact term we all used to describe what the film was NOT. Jorge’s choice of words was no accident and was accompanied by “get the hell out of here you fucking piece of shit! This is MY film now, not yours!”

Now in the almost 3 years I worked with Jorge, this kind of behavior wasn’t uncommon. I glimpsed it early on in small ways, but once we got on set I felt like I had to do a lot of damage control with some crew members who ended up on the receiving end of what I saw as intense verbal abuse and public humiliation. But again, Hollywood seems to be a place where people can act like this and still continue to work. Jorge’s not unique here. For me, I find people work better if you treat them like the human beings that they are. I know I’ll bend over backwards to help someone who appreciates what I do and knows how to express it.

The good thing here, of course, is that I now know exactly the kind of producers I DON’T want to have on any of my other films. Between Jorge and the Armada producers, I have a pretty good idea of what the tell-tale signs are of the kind of people that simply have no place on the set of any film I’m directing. The process of making a film should be thrilling. Damn hard work, crazy long hours and extremely stressful at times, but thrilling nonetheless. The last thing I need is for someone to be vomiting up their dysfunction all over the very same crew I’m depending on to get this film in the can on time and under budget. Not to mention whether or not they have what it takes to see the film through post-production without sacrificing the integrity and artistry of the project itself.

Which brings me back to your question… (laughs). I haven’t worked abroad, but I have friends who do. And it seems to me that there is a slightly different attitude toward writers and directors there. The types of films that can be successful in Europe are often more daring than what we produce here. But that said, even our worst films do business there so it’s not like everyone’s an intellectual looking for “art” films. I recently attended a British/American filmmaking conference as my next project is set largely in England. I asked the panel of actors whether they felt there was a difference between the final integrity of the films they made here in the States versus the films they made in England. All of them agreed that the integrity and vision of the film and the filmmakers was more respected in England. BUT… they also said that there often wasn’t enough money to shoot what was needed and those films suffered as a result. Here in the States, we have more money which allows you to get the takes you need. Unless you were working on THE PLAGUE! (laughs again). So I think you have to find the right balance. There are pitfalls to both.

As for contemporary European directors I admire, Krystof Kieslowski was one of my favorite contemporary directors. I think THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE and BLEU are two of the best films I’ve ever seen. And THE DECALOGUE. I wish he was still with us and making films. That was a great loss. I also love Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Though not European, I think he’s really pushing the edge of films that work on a primal level. They’re “felt” before they’re understood. I also admire Julio Medem. And Isabel Coixet. I think she’s just terrific. And I love that Pedro Almodovar refuses to heed the sirens call of Hollywood. And why should he? He has everything he needs to make the films he wants right there in Spain.

HMB: Mr. Masonberg, before we get to your petition and the problems that surround “The Plague”, tell us about your version of the film which you wrote and directed. What inspired you to write a story about kids and violence in society?

HM: My writing partner Teal and I missed seeing smart horror films. It was as simple as that. Our favorite horror films were all clearly reflections of fears that existed in society at the time they were made. And those social fears still managed to resonate no matter how many years later they were viewed. Somewhere in the eighties, horror in America became a genre geared toward teenagers and concentrated more on graphic violence and gore effects than on story, character or, in my opinion, anything truly horrifying or terrifying. I stopped going to horror films for what seemed like ages. So, Teal and I decided that we wanted to make a film that harkened back to those films we loved and were so effected by, and at the same time make the themes a reflection of our time and some of the fears we face today. Kids and violence in society and how we act and react out of fear seemed incredibly timely for us. And while writing and shopping the script, the massacre at Columbine happened and other school shootings, the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… All the themes we were exploring were coming to a head right before our eyes. And I still think the Writers and Director’s Cut of THE PLAGUE is as timely today as ever. Maybe even more so. But the producers’ cut is devoid of those themes. It is, in essence, just another teenage horror flick. It’s exactly what we DIDN’T want to make!

HMB: What are three Horror movies that left you thinking, asking questions and looking inward?

HM: There are many, but the ones that come to mind are DON’T LOOK NOW, THE INNOCENTS, THE EXORCIST, ROSEMARY’S BABY, Lon Chaney’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS… It doesn’t take much to look into these films and the periods in which they were made to see what social fears they were addressing. But the best thing is that they still scare the piss out of you today. When Jorge was informing me that he was cutting down the characters and turning THE PLAGUE into a killer-kid film, he used THE EXORCIST as his reasoning. He claimed that THE EXORCIST was about a girl possessed by a demon. He proclaimed that the title of the film we were making was THE PLAGUE, not THE TOM RUSSELL STORY –Tom Russell being the main character in the film played by James Van Der Beek. But I couldn’t disagree more. And this is where I get back to my earlier point about many producers working in the film business not understanding the very business they’re working in. THE EXORCIST is not about a girl possessed by a demon. It’s about two priests and a mother. We never spend a single solitary second alone with the little girl played by Linda Blair. Our entire experience of that girl is through the eyes of others. The first 40 minutes of that film is dedicated to Father Karras, Father Merrin and, most especially, Chris MacNeil, the girl’s mother played by Ellen Burstyn. It’s their story! This film is about a question of faith and a mother no longer recognizing her own daughter and feeling helpless. How many parents must suddenly find themselves thinking, “That’s not my child. I didn’t teach him or her how to talk like that, act like that.” This girl is cursing, acting out sexually, lashing out at her family… Hello? If it was just a film about a girl possessed by a demon, it wouldn’t have been any better than the dozen or so EXORCIST knockoffs that followed it! No, what happens to that little girl is frightening, but it hits home because we’re witnessing it through the eyes of a mother. Now THAT’S terrifying! Take out those characters and all you have are spinning heads and pea soup. Which is pretty much what I think of the producers’ cut of THE PLAGUE. Spinning heads and pea soup.

HMB: How much was the budget for “The Plague”?

HM: I was told three and a half million. Though I don’t know if all of it ended up on the screen. Some questions have been raised about that.

HMB: What was it like to work with Dee Wallace and some of the other actors?

HM: Dee was a champion. I’d work with Dee again in a heartbeat. In fact, I’m counting on it. The producers seemed to have absolutely no appreciation for what she gave to this film and that is witnessed by the fact that most of her astonishing performance was left on the cutting room floor in the producers’ cut. Dee is not only a team player, she’s an incredible human being and an amazing actress. Most of the other actors were a joy to work with as well. John Connolly as the Sheriff. Here’s an actor who I think is just fantastic and very underused. I was honored to have him in THE PLAGUE. Bradley Sawatzky, a local Winnipeg hire who played Deputy Nathan Burgandy… An amazing actor and the sweetest human being you’ll ever meet. Brad Hunt who honored the film, myself, and the role of Sam from before we started shooting till the moment we wrapped… Josh Close, Brittany Scobie… There were so many incredible people on this film, both in front of and behind the camera. I was truly blessed in more ways than not. I only wish the film itself reflected their commitment and passion. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to me to get the proper cut released. No one who worked on this film got what they wanted at the end of the day except the people who only cared about putting a paycheck in their pockets. And I know a few people on this production who are still fighting to get all of that!

hm2HMB: What happened during post production that caused you to be thrown off of this project? Was Clive Barker responsible for that? Also, when did you sense that you were losing control of your film?

HM: Well,I addressed some of this above, but I’ll add a little more here. One of Clive Barker’s producers, Anthony DiBlasi, confided in me that if Scott Shooman, the VP of acquisitions at Sony, got what he wanted, then the film would never resemble what we set out to make. This was once we got back to L.A. to start post and Anthony and some of the other producers had their first meeting with Shooman. Anthony wasn’t happy. In fact, he seemed pretty scared and distraught. About a week later, I put in a call to Clive to let him know how the cutting was going. It was my understanding that Clive had final say over the cut since his name was gonna be above the title, although at that time we all thought it was going to be Clive Barker Presents THE PLAGUE, not CLIVE BARKER’S THE PLAGUE. I think that one may have even taken Clive by surprise! Anyhow, I told Clive that I had cut the first 40 minutes together and was really happy. He wanted to see what I had done and I was eager to hear his thoughts. He asked if I thought I would need to do any reshoots and I told him I was hoping not to as I had been discovering some truly great workarounds to the footage we didn’t get (our shooting schedule had been reduced from a supposed 28 days to a mere 20 at the last minute). We had a great chat and we hung up and I returned to the editing room. Next thing I know, my manager calls telling me he just got off the phone with Jorge Saralegui who was screaming that I had “gone behind his back” by calling Clive. All I could think about was how often these guys kept saying that Clive didn’t know what was happening with THE PLAGUE; that it was a waste of time talking to him. What I didn’t see coming was that they would actually become frantic at the mere thought of me calling him. What were they worried I would say? Clive never managed to come to set while we were shooting THE PLAGUE and so I hadn’t talked to him for several months. So far as I was concerned, it was about time I checked in. But something else was going on here. Something beyond my understanding of the relationship between Clive and his producers. I called Jorge. He admitted that he might have overreacted, but he was already in full defensive mode and remained cold and distant.

Next thing I knew, Anthony called me to tell me Clive no longer wanted to see what I had been working on, but would instead wait till I was finished editing. So I asked Anthony to be in the editing room with me from that point on to represent Clive’s interests. It was important to me that they were happy with the film as well. Anthony was very supportive and loved the cut that we had put together. It was still rough, but Anthony had told me repeatedly that I shouldn’t try and complete the cut in the six weeks allotted  After the six weeks, then the producers get to step in and make any changes they want. But the plan was to continue working together. As it should be. When we finished the first rough cut, Anthony was thrilled. He really felt like the movie was coming together. I asked him if he thought Clive would like it and his response was “I don’t know what I’d do if he didn’t!”  Turns out Clive didn’t. And now I know exactly what Anthony would do in that situation. I was told Clive wanted me off the project. I tried to contact him, but my calls went unanswered. It was like walking head-first into the Twilight Zone. Friends disappeared into the shadows, everyone became cold and distant. Suddenly, all the collaboration, shared vision and hard work was tossed headlong out the window. Jorge claimed they were turning the film into a Killer Kid flick, which is what they claimed Sony wanted it to be, and my participation in the process came to a screeching halt. I knew there was more to the story than I was being told, but what that was I still couldn’t say. It’s my suspicion that there were people putting words in Clive’s mouth that may never have actually come from there. But I don’t know.

One of the major themes in THE PLAGUE was how we react out of fear and the damage it can cause both internally and externally. It seemed ironic and, perhaps, grotesquely fitting that fear appeared to be a major driving force behind-the-scenes as well.

HMB: This sounds like it’s more a Studio standard method than an exception, what happened to you with the “Plague”. After that, were you in contact with other directors that had the same experience as you, meaning no final cut and and being excluded from the editing process?

HM: Yeah, other directors poured out of the woodwork once I went public. You hear about this happening all the time, directors having films taken away from them. But I think it’s more rare when it’s a low-budget film. Though I could be wrong. Sadly, many of the directors I came in contact with chose to stay quiet about it. I think that’s the norm. Lord knows my lawyer and agent at the time both strongly advised that I just “walk away”. So I did. But not from the film. I walked away from them. They didn’t seem to get that it was the film itself that was most important to me. Not my career or how this film was gonna “help me.” It’s funny, you know, after I was removed I had a ton of people say to me repeatedly, “Yeah, but at least you got to make a film!” And I’d say, “No. I didn’t.” They didn’t seem to get that having my name on a film, any film, was not what was important to me. So far as I’m concerned, I’ll never be done making this film until it’s out there as it was meant to be seen. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t move forward and keep making other films, I’m already in the process of putting together the next one, but THE PLAGUE is also something I’ll keep working on until it’s finished and available to the public. And by that I don’t mean to suggest that the experience of making THE PLAGUE wasn’t successful, because personally I have gotten so much out of the experience. What happened on THE PLAGUE defines how I will approach any film I make from this day forward, my attitudes toward artistic expression and the things that are most important to me. Including listening more closely to and trusting my gut. But the film itself, as a film, isn’t finished. Not until people can see it as we made it.

HMB: How did you handle this disappointing experience emotionally, and how did you overcome it?:

HM: I had several friends hold me down and keep me from tossing myself out a window! Truthfully, it was the most painful experience of my adult life. Which I realize is really hard for some people to understand. To lose something I had invested so much into… To be betrayed by people I had put my trust in… Filmmakers talk about their films being like their babies. And it’s true. I know for some people it’s hard to imagine a film being that important. But I had fought on and off for eight years to get this film made. I had been dreaming and struggling to do this from as early on as I could remember. And this was a story that was important for me to tell. And to know my name was going to be on a film that in no way reflected who I was and, in fact, was adding to the deluge of horrible, mindless horror films flooding the shelves of every corner video store… It took a long time for me to even start to recover. But part of the recovery process was not allowing myself to be a victim. I gathered the dailies that I’d kept on DVD and started putting the film together as it was intended to be. It was a fantastic experience in every way. Liberating and creative, exciting… It reminded me of exactly why I wanted to make films in the first place. Something that’s easy to forget working in this town. I remember reading about Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film SYDNEY, which was taken away from him, re-cut and re-titled HARD EIGHT. I believe in the article I read that Anderson climbed into bed and didn’t get out for six months. Exaggeration or not, I understood the feeling. Same with Stephen Gaghan who claimed in an article that his experience with his first directorial feature ABANDON was more painful than the death of his father! A pretty extreme sentence. But again, I got it. Here was the Academy Award winning writer of TRAFFIC, and he was ready to pack his bags and leave Hollywood forever. Instead, he made SYRIANA which broke all of the “rules” he had been taught by the studios on how you write and make a good film. He threw formula right out the window and made a truly extraordinary film. One he might not have made if his experience on ABANDON had gone differently. You never know where that silver lining is until much later. And that’s my attitude with THE PLAGUE. I’m only now just starting to see all the great things that have come and are yet to come out of this extremely painful experience.

HMB: Is it true that you are still owed $70,000 in director’s fees by Sony?

HM: I deferred $70,000 of my salary. Sony now claims CLIVE BARKER’S THE PLAGUE lost upwards of a million dollars and therefore no money is owed to me. So I’m back at the old day job earning some survival money while I put the next film together. But it does strike me as odd that the folks at Sony put together a cut of THE PLAGUE, marketed it to Clive Barker fans, released it straight to video, and then lost money. I mean, my understanding was that Sony owned the film now and knew what to do with it. It seems to me someone tried to sell a film to Clive Barker fans that was never intended to be for Clive Barker fans, though they certainly tried to pass if off as such by re-cutting the living hell out of it, adding stock footage and recording tons of new dialogue. The irony here is that never seems to work and no one ever seems to learn. And the very people that the film was originally intended for would NEVER have rented or gone out to see a film with Clive Barker’s name above the title. That’s a very small, particular audience. And I’m not saying anything derogatory about that audience. It just wasn’t the target audience for THE PLAGUE. And I’m talking either cut! But it seems the studio had a marketing plan that was more important than whether or not the film we had made fit into that particular strategy. So some brilliant person made the same mistake made by a thousand people before him and tried to change the film to fit the mold. But you know, when someone keeps trying to wedge the square peg into the triangle hole… You either pump ‘em full of medication or you simply take the peg away from them and give it to someone who knows where the square hole is.

HMB: The producers cut is called “CLIVE BARKER’S THE PLAGUE”, was Clive Barker actually involved in the film?

HM: I met Clive maybe 5 times. And three of those times were no more than 30 seconds apiece. The story wasn’t based on any of his work, he wasn’t involved with the writing or development, he never visited the set and I never saw him in post. The script existed for 5 years before anyone at Clive’s company even read it. Yet the film’s titled CLIVE BARKER’S THE PLAGUE. Does anyone else find that a tad misleading? Clive gave me two pieces of advice: The first was that there should be a big scare every seven minutes. Every seven minutes! This was the day before I left to head up to Canada to shoot the film. First, one has to wonder if Clive had read the script cause there certainly weren’t scares written in every seven pages! What was he suggesting here? Second, is anyone else sick and tired of these ludicrous “rules” on how to make a film? It’s like taking one of those silly connect-the-dots children’s puzzles and using it as a sample of great sketch artistry.

The second piece of advice was that I should pick one or two scenes that were most important to me and put all my creative energy into those. The rest of the film I should shoot like a TV movie. Now I’m sure that was probably the best advice he could give on how to shoot a film like this in 20 days, but it sadly had nothing to do with how I want to make films and why I was making this one. It was more or less the antithesis of my approach to anything I care about. But I think if you watch the films Clive’s directed, you may realize that, if nothing else, he at least takes his own advice.

HMB: Mr. Masonberg don’t you think it was ironic that later on, Mr. Barker himself had to deal with miseries of his own because a distributor (Lionsgate) was screwing him on one of his movie (Midnight Meat Train). Not re-cutting it, but messing with its theatrical release?

HM: I did find that ironic, yes. Especially as he was asking fans to gather together and write Lionsgate in protest. I wrote a blog titled CLIVE BARKER’S KARMA? That said, I do hate to see anyone have their film messed with. Anyone. I know that film was important to Clive. But from what Jorge Saralegui had told me while we were shooting THE PLAGUE, he already felt like they had lost control of that film and had been pushed out by Lionsgate even back then. It was a bit of a sore subject already and they hadn’t even started shooting yet.

HMB: Mr. Masonberg what happened as you delivered your film to the editing room? Is it true that “henchman’s” forced you out of the building?

HM: Well, there were no henchman. Only Clive’s producers Jorge Saralegui, Anthony DiBlasi and Joe Daly. Anthony and Joe sat quietly with their heads down while Jorge, beet red and screaming at the top of his lungs, called me a fucking piece of shit, threw my editing notes on the floor and claimed THE PLAGUE was no longer my film but his. When I confronted him with the fact that he had done the same thing to John Woo on BROKEN ARROW and to Jean Pierre Jeunet on ALIEN 4, his response was, “That’s right, I did! And now I’m doing it to you!” What I was referring to was a set of stories that Jorge would tell ad nauseum on set claiming that John Woo didn’t know how to direct an action scene and was “shaking in his boots the whole time,”  and how Jean Pierre Jeunet didn’t have a clue where to put a camera, etc., etc. Jorge seemed to be not only putting these filmmakers down for the very talents they were most renowned for, but seemed to also be suggesting that he had saved those films by taking them away from those directors in post. There were other directors he’d worked with that he didn’t speak highly of, but these were the two I chose to reference in that moment. Specifically as he was so fond of repeating those stories with what seemed to me like rather misplaced pride.

HMB: Why did you choose Oscar nominee Bill Butler as you cinematographer?

HM: I knew Bill’s work on JAWS, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST, FRAILTY, so many, many others, but most specifically THE CONVERSATION which is one of my all time favorite films. I knew Bill would understand that I was not looking to make a film with lots of wild camera moves and quick cutting. This film was to have a slow build and allow the actors to move within the frame. I knew he would understand my compositions and bring a world of wisdom and knowledge to the table. Bill’s the best. And his lighting technique is beautiful and subtle. I’m not fond of the harsh lighting of many of today’s films. There’s a “slick” look that is just not appealing to me. Unfortunately, Bill was not allowed to color-time his work on this film so the producers’ cut looks nothing like we had intended it to. The colors are all wrong, but worse, it’s too damn bright! We chose to shoot the film brighter than intended for maximum detail, it’s why we picked the film stock we did. So we exposed the film with the intention of then bringing it down several stops to create those rich, deep blacks. And this stock would allow for that. We were also promised a digital intermediate. That was included in the budget. It never happened. Bill was not invited to complete his work on this film. It’s really a major insult to the man and his work. Last time I spoke to Bill, he still wanted to know if we would ever get the chance to color-time the film correctly. I still fully expect to pick up that phone one day soon and let him know it’s time to finally make this film look the way it was shot to look! But for the moment, that decision lies in Sony’s hands.

HMB: Your next move in the “Plague” story reminds me of a biblical fight, “David vs. Goliath”. You started a petition and the Spreading the Plague website to get your own cut of the film released. When did you decide to fight back? And where you concerned that you could get “Blacklisted”?

HM: Ahhh, the age-old Hollywood blacklist… I think it was what my lawyer and agent feared. But I was never really concerned about that . My attitude was and still is that I have no interest in working with anyone who would “blacklist” me for fighting to get the proper cut of my film released. Like I said before, my career is not as important to me as the film I’m making. Which isn’t to say I don’t want the film to be successful. I do. And in fact I believe my cut of the film would have been very profitable were it released as intended and marketed properly. And it’s my intention to prove that, even with the bad taste the other cut has left in the mouths of most of the folks who have seen it, if the online reviews are any indication. The thing is, so many folks are running around trying to be successful in Hollywood, but they don’t seem to see that they’re running scared. You don’t need anyone’s permission to make a film. Especially these days. The studios no longer wield that threat. You want to make a film… Make a film! Hell, I used some of the top filmmaking software on my Macintosh in my living room to complete my cut of THE PLAGUE. Sure, if I want to make a $200 million film, I’m probably gonna need a studio behind me. But I don’t need $200 million. My personal definition of success seems to be very different from the definition of the people who were telling me my career would be over if I finished my cut of the film.

HMB: After you started your petition and your website spreadingtheplague.com, did you get any response from Sony or Clive Barker?

HM: Nothing. Clive’s people called my manager to ask “What the fuck?”, but that was all I ever heard about. It wasn’t until a bunch of fans started an email campaign to Sony to ask for a release of the WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT that Scott Shooman, who had never met nor spoken with me before, called my manager to find out what was happening. When I heard he called, I picked up the phone in the hope of starting a dialogue. He called me back a few days later and seemed rather irate that people who had nothing to do with THE PLAGUE were receiving hundreds of emails. He asked me what I wanted and I told him I wanted Sony to release the proper cut of the film. He told me straight up that would never happen as Sony had already lost money on the project. I reminded him that he was largely responsible for the cut that lost money, not me. So I said that if Sony wasn’t interested in releasing the proper cut, then I wanted the rights to distribute the WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT myself or take it to another distribution company. I was fine with them continuing to make money on their cut. I just wanted mine out there as well. I even proposed a split-rights deal in which they wouldn’t have to put a single penny into the film, but would get a significant percentage of whatever profits it made. As I saw it, this was a chance for them to recoup some of that lost money AND satisfy the fans AND get me off their back. No go. “We don’t do that.” What Scott Shooman offered instead was that Sony would be willing to sell me the distribution rights to all things PLAGUE for $1 million. I searched my pants pockets, pulled out a couple of quarters and told him I didn’t have enough. So the campaign continues.

hm3HMB: What’s important for you when you attach yourself to a project and what have you learned about your experience with “The Plague”?

HM: John Cassavetes once said something to the effect that you should pick the five most important reasons why you want to make a film. Now those will be the first five things they’ll try and take away from you in Hollywood. I’ve learned that I should never give up anything that I don’t think I could live without. If the film itself is what is most important to me, then I don’t hand the film over to anyone who doesn’t care about it as much as I do.

HMB: One of your upcoming directing projects is the indie feature “CLEAN”. What can you tell us about it?

HM: When my old agent saw what happened to me on THE PLAGUE, she stated that maybe next time I should try and make something more commercial. I had to laugh. THE PLAGUE is probably the most commercial film I have in me! CLEAN is, for lack of a better term, a psychological thriller about identity. And I say for lack of a better term because nothing I write seems to fit snugly into any one genre. Even THE PLAGUE is more a drama with horror elements than what a horror film is thought of by today’s definition of the term. CLEAN is fairly challenging in that it follows four interconnected characters all spiraling downward as they frantically search for some meaning to the question, “Who the hell am I and can I trust my own memories?” The stories move back and forth in time and out of sequence. I think it will be very successful on the indie circuit. It leaves a lot up for interpretation. Which is something I love. I found when films don’t do what people expect them to or want them to, they tend to think the film is flawed. Some even get angry. I have a feeling CLEAN will elicit that response from some. But others will gravitate toward it and hopefully be blown away. The last two people who read it had two very different reactions: One claimed that it left him numb. The other said she starting weeping as soon as she was finished reading even though she wasn’t sure exactly why. And I love that! I love that two people sitting next to one another in a theater could potentially have two completely different reactions to the same film. I remember when I went to see Terence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD. The friend I was with felt like the film had missed all the emotional beats. It left him cold. Meanwhile, I was sitting in my seat crying like a little schoolgirl. I thought the film was almost entirely emotional. Like the most effective poetry. I was blown away.

HMB: What do you like and don’t like about the business?

HM: That I haven’t already mentioned?

HMB: Some advice for newcomers in the directing and writing world?

HM: Don’t believe anything anyone tells you. Especially if they’re trying to tell you what you CAN’T do. And decide what’s most important to you and why you’re doing it. And know that there are good people working in the film industry. They’re just surrounded by some of the most dysfunctional people you’ll ever meet! And ask yourself honestly if the people you’re working with want the same things you do. It’s not a crime to want different things. It just might mean you shouldn’t be working together. And try and move beyond your ego. It’s not good for collaboration or for creativity.

HMB: What’s next for Hal Masonberg?

HM: Well, getting CLEAN made is top priority. Then another film I’ve been writing set in Cornwall, England. A really beautiful story. Also looking at putting together a web series so that I can start working with all the amazing actors and other talented people I know out here. There are only so many roles and jobs on a film. There’s too much unused talent in my little circle. I can’t just sit by and not create something designed specifically for them. And how great to work with people you love and admire. What could be more satisfying than that?

HMB: Please choose 5 film people out of the film business (dead or alive), you want to have at your dinner Table.

HM: Ugh… I hate these questions… And can’t resist them… Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, Michael Powell, Carole Lombard, Krystof Kielowski. All gone now.

HMB: Any people that came along in your life you wish to give a special thanks to and credit in this interview?

HM: You, for one! This interview wouldn’t be taking place if you hadn’t been interested! And to every damn person who has been putting up with my endless PLAGUE campaign!

HMB: Thank you so much for the interview Mr. Masonberg, and all the best for 2009 for getting your cut of “The Plague” released on DVD!

HM: Thank you.

Hollywood And The Golden Arches Of Mediocrity

Posted in Blu-Ray, DVD, Film, Home Theater, Politics, THE PLAGUE, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2011 by halmasonberg

As a writer and filmmaker, I have, for as long as I can remember, felt strongly about storytelling. I was also lucky enough to have grown into adulthood during the second golden age of cinema (the 1970’s). Therefore, my most cherished form of storytelling has been through movies. It is the medium that most speaks to me, the language I most thoroughly embrace that best articulates, for me, what it means to be human. So it seems I take the current state of cinema far more seriously than do certain others for whom films are a mere distraction or, at best, a simple pleasure.

Which leads my desire to draw your attention to an interesting article by Mark Harris in GQ magazine. It’s called THE DAY THE MOVIES DIED and it’s about Hollywood today and the state of films and filmmaking. I think Mark makes some terrific points and observations and they are in keeping with my feelings about the industry and the art form. That said, I think there are areas that are even more complex than Mr. Harris spells them out to be. Though he does an excellent job of offering some very appealing conversation starters. I would also state, as a criticism, that I wish Mr. Harris had offered up some more detailed information regarding his sources as they would have added even more credibility to his stories and insights (e.g. his stated industry reaction to INCEPTION). But all in all, it’s an article worth reading and it paints a picture that, in my opinion, has more truth to it than not. Which saddens me.

I would also turn attention to a book by Columbia professor Tim Wu titled THE MASTER SWITCH: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. Here, too, you will find answers to why we are where we are, why the film industry is what it is, and where we might be heading. The book will also place those questions, answers and concepts onto a much larger stage. It’ll certainly equip you to handle just about any conversation on the subject that might arise and then some.

Here is David Siegfried’s Booklist review of MASTER SWITCH:

A veteran of Silicon Valley and professor at Columbia University, Wu is an author and policy advocate best known for coining the term net neutrality. Although the Internet has created a world of openness and access unprecedented in human history, Wu is quick to point out that the early phases of telephony, film, and radio offered similar opportunities for the hobbyist, inventor, and creative individual, only to be centralized and controlled by corporate interests, monopolized, broken into smaller entities, and then reconsolidated. Wu calls this the Cycle, and nowhere is it more exemplary than in the telecommunications industry. The question Wu raises is whether the Internet is different, or whether we are merely in the early open phase of a technology that is to be usurped and controlled by profiteering interests. Central in the power struggle is the difference between the way Apple Computer and Google treat content, with Apple attempting to control the user experience with slick products while Google endeavors to democratize content, giving the user choice and openness. This is an essential look at the directions that personal computing could be headed depending on which policies and worldviews come to dominate control over the Internet.

Bear with me now as I take you down a seemingly random path that, I assure you, will lead back to the overriding themes at hand. I once knew a man for whom the idea of eating food was nothing more than a means of attaining nourishment and proteins. So much so that after a workout, he would take a beautiful prime cut of beef and toss it headlong into a microwave. The fate of that particular portion of cow was to become a grey, rubbery slab of flavorless meat, with not so much as a sprinkle of pepper or salt to provide some modicum of dignity to the poor deceased beast.

As one who genuinely loves and appreciates a great meal, watching this nightly parade of food abomination was distressing to me, to say the least. So, if you’re like me and you truly love a great meal, imagine what your food world would look like if most available meals were manufactured by McDonalds. Sure, the occasional restaurant might pop up here and there offering something lovingly concocted by a real chef, someone with a deep love of food and food preparation, but that establishment wouldn’t last long enough to build up much of a customer base. No, I’m afraid most of your dining options would be, well, off the McD’s menu. Now, by comparison, an occasional meal at the Olive Garden would suddenly seem downright luxurious, downright masterful in both its preparation and combination of flavors. Olive Garden might even become the Holy Grail of good cooking in the hearts and minds of many. But in truth, we’d be salivating over a plate of supreme mediocrity. To me, Hollywood is the McDonald’s of filmmaking. And occasionally something comes out of the system (usually as a result of a big favor owed) that wows people. And that, my friends, is a meal at the Olive Garden. If you were a chef, you would not want to ply your craft at either McD’s or “The Garden.” They are not designed for you to do what it is you love. And the people who would most appreciate your work, your passion, your gift, would not frequent these places looking for what you have to offer. Anyone who knew what a good Italian meal was –or a good burger, for that matter– would mourn the loss of something exquisite, something great. They would shake their heads in collective misery at the loss of such an elegant art, the loss of that cherished human capacity to create and recognize something that embodies both complex and simple flavors, something which excites the taste buds and satisfies in such a gloriously primal way.

And so we return to my feelings about the current American film industry.

The state of Hollywood today is not good for films, filmmakers or audiences. And it hasn’t been for a long time. We’ve been in a steady decline for many years. And that’s more than just sour grapes or being a curmudgeon. Film is an art, a language, a beautiful and complex animal that mirrors the human condition. But Hollywood today is far from being a place to nourish such desires or, worse, to even dream of them. Perhaps with the way technology has changed, there will be no need for Hollywood anymore. Or maybe there will be a resurgence of filmmakers who truly love film and want to push the boundaries of the medium once again. To explore, to grow, to seek, to touch. But for every one of those, there are still thousands of others whose final destination is Hollywood. And that will yield nothing but mediocrity at its best. I wish it were otherwise. But in a town inundated with accountants and frat boys at the helm, we must look elsewhere for the fruits of the medium. But all of this is in keeping sync with the state of the union, not just the state of Hollywood. The Tea-Party, hard-core conservatism, rabid anti-intellectualism, money over people. It’s why Netflix is becoming the new Blockbuster and corporate interests override human/customer interest or loyalty. It’s why universal health care is demonized and Workers Unions the enemy. All of these things are reflected in one another. Reagan fueled the fire and it’s been snowballing ever since. Not just in politics or the economy, but in every corner of our collective consciousness. Our own Capitalist sensibilities have turned around and bitten us square in the ass and we’re only now starting to comprehend that those are our own teeth embedded there.

Nothing reflects the moods and tone of a nation better than its art. Our priorities as a nation and our ability to fight to accept as little as possible has been a deepening, festering wound. We will either heal it or die from it. I’m rooting for the former myself. But in the meantime, one of the repercussions is that our artists must look elsewhere to create their art, while businessmen and women parade around as filmmakers. And as caring politicians. All of whom would very much like you to try that bold new Angus Burger at McDonalds. Really, you’ll love it.

THE PLAGUE Spreads To Italy

Posted in DVD, Film, Home Theater, THE PLAGUE with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2011 by halmasonberg

It’s always exciting to see a campaign to save one’s name and work reach the farthest shores. Since starting my campaign to make people aware that the film titled CLIVE BARKER’S THE PLAGUE –despite having my name attached as writer and director– was not, in fact, my film, word has spread far and wide and there seems to be no end in sight. Most of you familiar with me and/or my blog know this story backwards and forwards. I won’t repeat it here. But I will share a recent article with you that was printed in the Italian movie magazine BLOW UP earlier this month (February 2011). I will link to both a PDF of the actual Italian language article, as well as an English translation.

Again, though it’s been over 5 years since I went public with my story and a Writers & Director’s Cut of the film, this tale still manages to have legs, regardless of whether or not I instigate activity around it. And I won’t lie. That makes me very happy. And it also inspires me.

Blow Up: PENSIERO STUPENDO – by Pier Maria Bocchi (in Italian. PDF).

Blow Up: THIS STUPENDOUS THOUGHT – by Pier Maria Bocchi (English Translation).

Why Fight For A Director’s Cut Of A Low-Budget Horror Flick?

Posted in Blu-Ray, DVD, Film, THE PLAGUE, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2011 by halmasonberg

Every once in a while someone asks me that. And it’s a valid question. THE PLAGUE, even in my cut, is a flawed film. It was compromised before we shot a single frame and that’s the sad truth. But regardless, everyone involved –well, those who cared about the integrity of the film and its story, rather– believed that even a low-budget genre film could have something to offer, could extend the reach of the genre’s more recent conventions and create something unique, something with a voice, a film with something to say, questions to ask. So for all the people who had hoped this film would offer something of that, however small, myself included, it remains important to stand up for the film we set out to make and the intentions behind making it. For our reputations, for what the film attempted to say, and for future films and filmmakers that find themselves in a situation like ours. For me, it’s being true to who I am and to the promises I made to both myself and others. And, strange as this may sound, to the audience that may have actually gotten something, anything, out of watching this film.

I make no claims to THE PLAGUE being a masterpiece or even great cinema, but it’s better than what was presented. It’s more than what was handed to the public with our names and reputations attached. And for anyone who saw some trace of something decent, something interesting and possibly thought-provoking hiding at the edge’s of the producers’ cut and wondered to themselves, “What happened here?” and took that extra step to find out the answer to that question, I wanted to make sure there was an answer out there; I wanted them to know that someone gave a shit and tried to offer them something better, smarter, than what they were given.

Here’s the latest comment posted to our ever-growing petition to Screen Gems:

“Having watched part of the clive barker film last night I was frusutrated as there was clearly a message that the film didn’t properly show, leading me to look at the grapes of wrath and to the website for the film. I find horror films very boring which is why i turned over part way through as it was just a slasher pic and what is the point of those?but flicking through the channels happened to see the last few minutes so tried to see some of the film on the +1 channel but it was still just a slasher pic. leaving me unsatisifed and thinking it was a good film gone wrong. THIS WAS ALL BEFORE I SAW THE INFO IN THE WEBSITE AND KNEW ITS HISTORY.”

Makes it all worthwhile for me every time someone writes something like this. So long as the truth behind this film and its intent is out there for people to discover, then there’s still some hope that at least people are still trying to make decent films and that, next time you see a film that should have been better than it was, you might realize that there’s a good chance it actually had been. At least at some stage. And then maybe, MAYBE, if we’re really lucky, people will start asking for what they should have received, all those films that might have effected them in some way that they were denied for a myriad of reasons. One of those reasons being a lack of faith or respect for the vision and passion behind the work itself and the people imagining and fighting to bring it to life. Yes, even if it’s just another low-budget horror film.

Working in the film industry, it is so easy to forget that not everyone knows how things work here and what happens behind the scenes. Too many people believe that the films they see are the films that the writers and directors intended them to see. It is very often not the case. The average person doesn’t know the lengths to which a film can be entirely re-imagined in editing and post. And then there are the people within the industry and elsewhere –in this bizarre age of celebrity obsession– who believe that it is more than enough to simply get a film made, any film, no matter how it turns out. That it’s the credit that is important. For some, that may be true. But for many out there, the credit means nothing if the creative vision for the film never makes it to fruition, if the storyteller’s voice is rendered obsolete. During post-production on THE PLAGUE, when we were told point blank by Sony Screen Gems’ Head of Acquisitions “We own this now and see no reason for the writers and director to be involved,” I knew my work on this film was just beginning. And all these years later, I’ve never been more proud of that work.

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/plague/

http://www.spreadingtheplague.com/

PLAGUE Director’s Cut Gets Review At DVDBeaver

Posted in DVD, Film, Home Theater, THE PLAGUE with tags , , , , , , on October 10, 2010 by halmasonberg

One of my favorite DVD/Blu-ray review sites has reviewed my unreleased work-print cut of my film which, for those who don’t know (is there anyone who doesn’t know at this point?), was taken away by the producers and distributor and re-cut into something unrecognizable from the original film. Though there has been quite a lot written about this cut and its history, having a review at DVDBeaver is quite an honor for me. I thank them for their interest and support and the very nice review.

http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film3/dvd_reviews52/the_plague.htm

“How Dare You Edit Your Own Film,” And Other Creative Alienations

Posted in Art, Film, Los Angeles, THE PLAGUE, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2010 by halmasonberg

Why is it that so many people have such rigid definitions of what constitutes art or the artistic process? To me, it seems to defy the very definition. My experience working as a filmmaker in Hollywood has brought me face to face with folks who are striving to say something, and others who place little value on artistic self-expression. But what’s most difficult to navigate for me, is the artist who appears to have given in to the notion that there is a right way and a wrong way to make a film.

I recently had a conversation with two friends about film editing. They are both extremely intelligent, extremely creative people. One of them has directed a feature that got taken away from him in post, the other is about to embark on his directorial debut. Both suggested that it was not in the best interest of the film or the story for the director to edit his/her own movie.

“You have no perspective,” was the reasoning.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I do not believe every director should edit his/her own movie. Quite the contrary. Editing is an art form all its own. It is also a skill that is developed. And there are some extraordinary director/editor relationships that are downright biblical (Scorcese/Schoonmaker, Coppola/Murch, Tarantino/Menke).  These artists have found a creative connection that inspires; they each feel that they are better together than separate. It has become an integral part of their creative process. And, of course, this extends to writer/director relationships (Powell/Pressburger, Ivory/Jhabvala, Lee/Schamus), director/cinematographer relationships (Bergman/Nykvist, Mann/Alton, Bertolucci/Storaro), and director/actor relationships (Scorsese/DeNiro, Allen/Keaton, von Sternberg/Dietrich). I doubt there are many people out there who would rather these relationships didn’t exist. But just because these teamings are successful, does that mean writers should not direct? Directors should not shoot? Actors should not direct? Or in the case of this discussion, directors should not edit?

There are no rules to the creative process. Every artist must approach their art in the way they believe leads to the end goal. And to do so, one needs to have an end goal in mind. That goal can be something concrete, or it can be something amorphous, more a feeling, a tone, something instinctual. I love the collaborative creative process. And I love the solitary creative process. As a writer, I remain solitary. Until I feel that I can go no further without the creative input of those I trust and admire. Some folks prefer having a writing partner. I’ve done both and, currently, I prefer the former. I have found it to be more creatively freeing and inspiring. For me.

There is not a one-size-fits-all roadmap to making art. To storytelling. To self-expression. To filmmaking.

Woody Allen claims that one should never try and write a script without knowing exactly where it’s going; that if one attempts to write that script otherwise, they will hit a wall around page 60 and have no idea where to go from there. I am a life-long admirer of Allen’s work. I think he is a brilliant, insightful writer/director. However, his take on writing is true for him. And, I am certain, for many, many others. It is not, however, the approach I have found works best for me in achieving what I want from a script. I prefer to work stream-of-consciousness. I have learned to trust my subconscious to create things in the moment that reveal themselves to me later. It is that very same experience I want to take with me onto the set AND into the editing room. As the writer/director/editor of a film, I am fully engaged in the writing process which, for me, not only continues through editing, but finally arrives at editing. It does not cease simply because I have moved beyond the script. I am telling a story. Hopefully, with a unique voice. The writing of that story, in film terms, is not complete until the picture is locked. So until that happens, my subconscious is allowed to run free.

After writing and directing my first feature, I lost that film in post-production to the powers-that-be and the film was re-edited from scratch without my participation. The result was a story and film that showed virtually nothing of who I was as an artist, filmmaker, director, writer or human being. During our editing conversation the other night, my friend suggested that there are only so many ways an editor can change what you’ve shot.

There are very few things in this world I disagree with more.

There are infinite possibilities for how a film can be put together based on the footage shot. Tone, style, pacing, meaning, even the very story itself, can all be different from what was initially intended. All via the editing process. Performances can be dramatically altered. Even main characters can be turned into secondary characters. Unless, of course, one is editing an Alfred Hitchcock film. Hitch, to maintain creative control, would edit his films, essentially, in-camera so that there was only one way to put the images together. He found a way to be the editor on his own films without entering the editing room.

Barring that approach, anything is possible in the editing room. There are thousands of ways to edit together a single scene. Millions to edit together an entire film. One has to truly understand this in order to comprehend the enormous power and potential of film editing. It has been my experience that most people do not.

When I sat down to create my own cut of the film that the studio took away (something I was told I could not do, but did anyway), I learned something I never knew before: I loved editing more than any other phase in the filmmaking process. I experienced a level of intimacy with the story, performances and footage that turned this part of the journey into one of the single most satisfying creative undertakings of my entire life. I was connected to the film in a way that transcended where I had been. And believe me, after 8 years of fighting to get the film made and living through the all-encompassing experience of directing it, I was already pretty damned immersed in the world of my story. But this was far more intense and personal than the seven weeks I spent working with an editor before the film was taken away and re-cut by the studio.

It was thru editing that I was able to complete the story, in my own voice, and impart an experience on to others that matched, not only what I had envisioned, but what I had felt. By that, I don’t mean to suggest that I put the film together exactly as I had storyboarded it. Or even exactly as I had shot it. There is no point in the creative process when I want to close myself off to inspiration. Editing was more creative and instinctual a process for me than the actual writing itself. It was a crucial extension of the storytelling journey and the final piece of the puzzle I was looking for. And I am certainly not the first filmmaker to feel this way.

“I love editing. I think I like it more than any other phase of film making. If I wanted to be frivolous, I might say that everything that precedes editing is merely a way of producing film to edit.” –Stanley Kubrick

When asked which area of filmmaking he most looked forward to, filmmaker John Sayles replied:

“It’s editing, actually. So often when I write a movie I have no idea if I’m going to get to make it — or make it in the next decade. It’s taken us so long to get some of our movies made, and I’ve had to do other lower-budget things first, that you can feel like a real sap when you sit down and write. I like a lot about directing, but it’s really stressful because there is always disaster looming with each new shot. The sun may go away, or you might have an actor who starts a new film tomorrow and you still have five scenes to shoot with him. So many things are totally out of your control. It’s a bit like trying to write something very serious with a taxi meter next to you. You just see the money ticking off every second you’re thinking. When you get to the editing, you’re still making the film, you’re still working with the actors, their performances, the rhythm of the film. You’re still rewriting, but there’s not that pressure. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining or not. I know, at that point, I’m gonna make the movie. I know it’s not going to fall apart and the money isn’t going to disappear from the bank if we get it that far. It’s one of the reasons I continue to edit. It’s more fun.”

From what I was able to gather, my friends felt as if, in denying the editing of the film to be done through fresh eyes, I was not taking advantage of all of the opportunities offered in the filmmaking process, hence not putting the film first, but my ego instead. I suppose the same could be said of a writer who does not allow another director to take over and interpret the script through fresh eyes. Or a director who does not allow someone else to shoot and light the film. Or a director who does not allow someone else to star in the film.

I will repeat: there are no rules in art.

There is no question that a healthy, creative relationship with an editor can and will yield amazing results and unpredictable discoveries. But it is not the only valid approach to making a film. The filmmaker’s storytelling palette, if it extends to editing, may bring something of equal or greater value. It works both ways. To suggest that the filmmaking process is dependent on hiring someone else to edit is to limit the creative process of the individual. It is just as valid to edit the film oneself as it is to have an editor. But one must want to go on a solitary editing journey. And have the skills to do so. And they must have a strong vision and be open to discovery. And trust their instincts. And their subconscious. All approaches will yield something different. All are equally creative. But to limit that process to one way and not another is, well, in my opinion, a misguided lesson to impart to future filmmakers. Were everyone to believe that a director should never edit his/her films, then the filmmaking world would be missing some of the great works by the Coen Brothers, John Sayles, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh… All filmmakers who edit their own films. Some, like Soderbergh and Rodriguez, even shoot their own films. Are they not artists who serve their stories?

Yes, film is almost always a collaborative effort. But what portions are collaborative are up to the artist, assuming one has control. Does the writer have to have a writing partner, or is it equally valid to write the script oneself? By dictating an artist’s palette, we risk destroying the very creative process itself.

From Sean Smith’s dismal, misguided Newsweek article “Career Intervention.”

“When someone is given total artistic freedom,” says one blockbuster producer, “the result is usually bad.”

Yes, there are producers who feel directors should never have creative control. Does that make it so? This is undoubtedly true for that particular producer’s approach to making a film, but if it were to be accepted as the way to make a film…

In an excerpt from that same article, one indie exec comments on the negative repercussions of filmmakers (like Stanley Kubrick) who choose to live and work outside of Hollywood:

“The smaller you make your world, the less of an artist you can really be.”

As if there were only one true way to be an artist. As if Hollywood were the center of the universe. In a town where people are told how things are done and what can and can’t be done, there are many who fall into the trap of believing what they’re told without actually finding out for themselves. “No one gets final cut.” If you’re a filmmaker in Hollywood, you’re going to hear that line uttered more than any other. It is not true. But I’ve heard it repeated by filmmakers themselves, regurgitating what they have been lead to believe. Yet, there are directors who get final cut. Yes, even some first-time directors. So what happens when the facts outweigh the statement, but the statement is perpetuated? What is the psychology behind this? If having final cut is not important to someone, then it is a non-issue. However, if maintaining creative control is important to you, then it can be done. It is every day.

If, as a filmmaker, you look forward to working with an editor, if that excites you, inspires you, then that is what you should do. But to dictate that approach to all other filmmakers is creatively restrictive. Every filmmaker has a different reason for making their film. Every filmmaker envisions a different outcome, enjoys a different process. We all find what works best for us as individual artists. As individual creators. As individual storytellers. Even in a town where the word “individual” is dirty and creative alienation is the soup of the day.

For more thoughts on film editing, check out my post: “The Art Of Film Editing & The Plague Of Ego.”

America: A Culture Of Bullies & Violence?

Posted in Politics, THE PLAGUE with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2010 by halmasonberg

America loves a bully. Despite the word’s definition: A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. We, as Americans, celebrate the bully at every turn, while accusing those who use brains over brawn as being weak. Take our current president, for example. Here is a man who is consistently painted as being weak by his critics, both Republicans and Democrats alike. America’s love of the bully is what, for so long, made Russia such a formidable opponent. They were bullies and they were threatening our global bully position. Yes, we often claim to be the saviors of other “weaker” nations, but when given an opportunity to move a couple of notches up the evolutionary ladder, we almost always resort to our most basic, animalistic tendencies. That being said, we often do manage to grow eventually, but not before enacting irreversible brutality on both ourselves and those around us.

Barack Obama is fully capable of devouring his enemies and critics. But he does so with a knife and fork and a bib tucked neatly into his shirt. His recent live Q&A at a House Republican retreat in Baltimore proved that to be the case. Despite the ongoing insistence by the radical right that Obama is nothing without his teleprompter (that he’s all smoke and mirrors and his “illusion” of intelligence and knowledge has more to do with his well-rehearsed oratory skills), Obama cleaned the floor with these fools on live national television while suggesting “a tone of civility instead of slash and burn will be helpful.” And no teleprompter! His victory here was so complete that, according to MSNBC’s Luke Russert, one Republican official and other GOP aides confided that allowing the “cameras to roll like that” was a “mistake.” Even Fox News cut away from the live proceeding 20 minutes before it ended! And Ezra Klein of the Washington Post called it “the most compelling political television I’ve seen…maybe ever.” But in perfect pathological fashion, folks like Florida Republican Marco Rubio continue to insist that Obama is helpless without his teleprompter. It should be noted that Rubio made that claim again the other day while standing before a set of teleprompters and flipping through pages of notes on the podium before him.

So what exactly is this pathological rewriting of reality? I had a handful of very disturbing interactions with a Libertarian acquaintance of mine recently and felt I got a series of first-hand examples of this kind of mindset. The same mindset that allowed Fox News to cut away from Obama in Baltimore and replace him with talking heads who immediately started rewriting history even as it was happening! And what was most terrifying about my exchange with this Libertarian fellow who sees himself as “an extremely socially, ultra-liberal independent voter” was the complete and utter lack of self-awareness that accompanied it. This fellow would make accusations against Obama and other politicians, basically regurgitating “facts” which he’d heard or read elsewhere and, when confronted with proof to the contrary, would either A) delete his previous comments (when interacting online) or claim never to have said any such thing; or B) refuse to respond to any rebuttal by changing the subject entirely or simply calling his debate opponent crazy. All the while NEVER backing up any of his statements or admitting when he’d been proven wrong. Even when confronted with deleted comments he claimed never to have made (they were, unbeknownst to him, saved on our email accounts), he would then backpedal by saying “Well, that’s not what I meant to say.” But when asked what it was he had meant to say, he would again resort to name-calling, but never actually answer the question at hand. It seemed, time and again, truth and reality were of no interest to him. There was a complete and total pathology at work that would allow him to create new realities in any given moment to suit his desires. With this tact, logic and reason had no effect and were therefore of no importance. And while, in certain situations, an interaction like this might serve as a source of mild amusement or come across as innocently baffling, here, in the political arena, it was downright terrifying. And I took it to be a signifier of a mindset all too common by some of today’s most vocal political protesters.

Meanwhile, political henchmen and possible presidential candidates like Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin stir the pot by publicly proclaiming Obama weak for apologizing internationally for America’s past transgressions (mostly committed while Cheney was Vice President). As if admitting you were wrong or apologizing for mistakes was ineffectual and spineless as opposed to honorable, ethical and, that dirtiest of all words, conscientious. They also condemned the president for politely bowing before asian world-leaders (despite it being tradition and a sign of respect–much like a handshake). But to the bully, showing respect or admitting that there may be common ground is tantamount to surrendering. So while Obama continues to act like an intelligent, thoughtful, educated and civil world leader, many Americans simply can’t stomach the fact that he’s not more outwardly aggressive.

Recently, the National Review’s Daniel Pipes outlined his thoughts on how Obama (“a president whose election I opposed, whose goals I fear, and whose policies I work against”) can regain the respect of the nation and lift his sagging poll numbers in an article he called “How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran,”:

“[Obama] needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a light-weight, bumbling ideologue, preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge, and where he can trump expectations… Such an opportunity does exist: Obama can give orders for the U.S. military to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapon capacity.”

Because, let’s face it, two wars is not enough. And they weren’t Obama’s. Obama needs his own trophy war if he wants to gain the respect of all those Americans who believe him to be a socialist wimp. And of course the simple-solutions everywoman, Sarah Palin, agreed wholeheartedly with Pipes:

“If [Obama] decided to toughen up and do all that he can to secure our nation and our allies, I think people would, perhaps, shift their thinking a little bit and decide, ‘Well, maybe he’s tougher than we think he’s—than he is today,’ and there wouldn’t be as much passion to make sure that he doesn’t serve another four years.”

And what’s saddest about all of this is that they may be correct. This would, quite likely, make a significant percentage of Americans more comfortable with Obama. Sure, it would plunge our already disastrous economy deeper into the toilet and hundreds of thousands of lives would most likely be lost in a war that would extend far beyond any comprehensible expectations (not to mention result in the further alienation of our Nato partners and other countries and citizens around the globe), but at least Obama would take his rightful place as another American bully and save face among his fellow citizens who think him a sissy boy. Or would it? We already know that, despite appalled denial, many Americans still struggle with racism and are not comfortable with a black (or even half-black) president. So what would happen if this president suddenly got tough, angry even, and became the bully we’re all so used to seeing in that highest of political offices? Well, he’d have a whole new set of problems to face that, well, a white guy might not, as Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times discussed back in April of 2008:

“For new school black politicians, it is an essential question: How do you recognize the righteous anger of those frustrated by racial inequality without looking like just another Angry Black Man?

Those of us who write often about black folks and politics knew there would come a moment when the first black man with a realistic shot at becoming president would have to face this challenge — reconciling black anger and frustration with white fear and resentment.”

Would Obama go from intellectually-threatening wuss to scary, angry black guy in the eyes of the fearful? I mean, in this country, as sad a commentary as it is, a white president and a black president are still not treated equally in the eyes of some of our citizens. Take that Wingnut email being forwarded that takes outrage at Obama putting his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office:

Does this photo of President Obama in the Oval Office convey anything to you about his attitude?

Would you speak with the Chief of Staff, your Chief Economics Adviser, and your Senior Adviser with your feet up on the Resolute Desk – a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880?

We should inundate the White House with emails demanding he keep his feet off of our furniture.

This arrogant, immature & self-centered man has no sense of honor, or of simple decency.

While this posture is disrespectful in any culture, it is absolutely never done in any executive setting.

Further, in over half of the cultures of the world, it is recognized not only as disrespectful, but as an extreme insult.

He thinks of himself as a king — and not as a servant of the people, humbly occupying our White House for his term in office.

Electing him was an enormous mistake — and will cost us in many ways, for generations.

Where were all the letters of appall and outrage when our last (white) president did the very same thing?

So one wonders if it is possible for a man like Barack Obama to be the bully America loves without being stamped “another Angry Black Man.” Would he gain some level of twisted respect from the very men and women who fear him (after all, in America, fear equals power and strength, right?), or do we only like our bullies to be white?

Personally, I’m thrilled not to have another bully president even though I find myself at times wanting Obama to be a little more forceful in his political dealings. While I admire and celebrate what I hope will turn out to be a more evolved approach to politics (it’s one of the reasons I voted for him), I believe he would actually be more effective if he were a bit more ruthless. Sadly, the current climate in Washington is set up to keep Obama from achieving any successes, regardless of whether or not they are in the best interest of most Americans. So he is essentially bullied by a divided House and Senate who will try and keep his hands tied for as long as he’s willing to allow them. At the same time, I believe Obama has a bigger picture in mind and is actually putting his money (and career) where his mouth is:

“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president… There’s a tendency in Washington to think that our job description of elected officials is to get re-elected. That’s not our job description. Our job description is to solve problems and to help people. And, you know, that’s not just the view of elected officials themselves. That’s also the filter through which the media reads things.”

So while I am frustrated and angered by the eternal roadblocks put in place by lesser men and women, I am also thrilled to see America with an intelligent, self-aware leader who recognizes the changes that need to be made if we are to grow out of our infancy. Sadly, our love affair with violence (both verbal and physical) and our passion for vengeance and our need to be “stronger” than any potential opponent regardless of ideology or purpose, gets in the way of our actually making strides in the betterment of our people, our nation, or our world. And perhaps the above-mentioned live Q&A in Baltimore is a significant step in Obama bridging the gap between substance and politics. NBC’s Chuck Todd commented on the live event:

“The president should hold Congressional ‘town halls’ more often. Public needs to see this if they’ll ever trust Washington again.”

The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein added:

“Obama assumed the role of responsible adult to the GOP children, or, at the very least, of a college professor teaching and lecturing a room full of students.”

Dee Dee Myers, Clinton’s former press secretary, backed up that statement with:

“On one level it looked brave but on another he was the substitute teacher there, lecturing the audience. A lot of us have been waiting for that moment, a little more fight, a little more politics.”

And then there’s that poor fella so outraged by the IRS he decided that violence was the only answer to his problems and so he created his own 9/11 by crashing a plane into an Austin IRS complex. It seems in our celebration of bullies, we simultaneously send out a non-stop message that violence is a justifiable means to an end. I tried to address this concept metaphorically in my film THE PLAGUE, but the studio behind it decided that the film should actually be the polar opposite of its intent and set about systematically removing the film’s message and attempt at cultural self-reflection. Instead, they tried to turn it into a film about killer-kids; essentially, they were far more attracted to the notion of a film that celebrated its violence rather than one that made an informed commentary on it. And this is, as many of us already know, not a new development in the industry. God-forbid anything should illicit individual thought or stir conversation or promote questions. The studios would rather keep people right where they are (our base impulses sell more tickets than our intellect or common sense). Like Sarah Palin, who actually sells herself as a presidential candidate by publicizing the fact that she’s not qualified to run this country:

“I’m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I’m not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I’m going to fight the elitist, because for too often and for too long now, I think the elitists have tried to make people like me and people in the heartland of America feel like we just don’t get it, and big government’s just going to have to take care of us… I want to speak up for the American people and say: No, we really do have some good common-sense solutions. I can be a messenger for that.”

Good common-sense solutions. Like bombing Iran. And I don’t know about anyone else, but the thought of a president who doesn’t know more than I do about running this country scares the shit out of me. But somehow this comforts many. They can relate to Palin. And she can be a bully. Unreasonable, unrealistic, ignorant, under-educated and completely incapable of admitting –or even understanding– when she’s wrong… Sounds like someone else I know. Or a vocal group of people I read about daily.

Here’s a quote I thought hit the nail on the head:

“If you were to imagine a bunch of middle-class white people who conceive of themselves as the oppressed productive backbone of the country, and who embody a strange collection of unbridled ignorance and bizarre ahistorical conspiracy theory, you’d have a pretty good handle on the teabaggers.”

Yep. That pretty much sums up Palin and her many followers and fans. That gun-toting, angry mob you see on the news pretty much every day. And like so many people in this group, they struggle, fight and vote against their own best interests. Blogger Ben Grossblatt put it quite eloquently, I thought:

“The Tea Party is a quasi-Libertarian collection of people who think Obama is a socialist, and who delude themselves into believing they’re more than just ventriloquist dummies for the Republicans. They fancy themselves populists, but they support the same economic and legislative policies that have put regular people under the heel of big business.”

Big business, in the form of corporate entities, is the friend to the “tea-bagger”, despite any claims they may make to the contrary. And why is that? Because big business are bullies. And, no matter how much we may fear them, they give us some measure of comfort in the fear they illicit. We have a certain twisted “respect” for their power over us. And to make matters worse, we secretly hope to one day become a member of those wealthier-than-god, untouchable bullies. I think Reagan’s trickle-down economics proved that to be true. A failed economic plan that put the biggest tax breaks in the hands of the wealthiest Americans and opened the door for what turned out to be the complete corporate takeover of our nation (the world?) and still has the support of some of America’s least-wealthy and most-hard-hit-by-the-recession individuals. And despite the gross reality of this backward economic plan, there’s always a chance that one of us may find ourselves a member of that elite group (you sure you don’t like elitists, Ms. Palin?) and then we can finally reap the benefits of a misguided nation which fights to eliminate its middle-class (despite true Capitalism’s dependency on it) and broaden the division between rich and poor. Because the rich have historically always bullied the poor. And, as I said before, America loves and respects a bully. Even when we’re under their heel.

Quotes By Artists About Their Art: Bruce Springsteen

Posted in Books, Favorite Quotes, Music, THE PLAGUE with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2010 by halmasonberg

From Robert Hilburn’s terrific book CORNFLAKES WITH JOHN LENNON: AND OTHER TALES FROM A ROCK ‘N’ ROLL LIFE:

“The mistake a lot of musicians make, is they imagine an audience and then try and make a piece of music to fit it. “They get caught up in the race, and it can be dangerous to your creativity, and probably your sanity. What you have to do is start with a piece of music and then search out the audience for it, and if this is the audience for the new album, that’s fine. That’s where I should be right now.”

Of course, this quote applies to all artistic fields. While prepping my film THE PLAGUE, it was agreed and understood that we were making a film that did not fit snugly into any one genre and therefore it would be best to do the festival circuit in search of the film’s audience instead of seeking out a domestic distributor with a marketing department that had pre-conceived notions of what the film’s audience should be. Unfortunately for us, and the film, the powers-that-be, despite having verbally agreed to not seek out a domestic distributor until after a festival run, sold the distribution rights to Sony Screen Gems before we ever shot a frame.

The film was then taken over by the producers and marketing department in post-production and re-cut from scratch in an attempt to appeal to Clive Barker’s horror audience, an audience the film, in any incarnation, would never have appealed to. As a result, the film was both a commercial and artistic failure.

It was living through this experience, and in understanding that it is a common experience, that allowed me to complete my cut of the film despite warnings by my lawyers and agent at the time. It was and is the best thing I’ve ever done. Even though very few have seen my version. An artistic work, be it great or small, needs to be completed. If only for the artist him/herself. And there will always be an audience. Especially if one trusts the work.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

2010: The Year I Make Contact

Posted in CLEAN, Film, THE PLAGUE with tags , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2009 by halmasonberg

2009 seems to have been a tough year for many. I know it had its share of challenges for me. I move toward 2010 with some real-world optimism as I have signed with a new agent and have some projects in the works that I am actually quite excited about.

No one knows how it will all pan out. But like many, I have my desires and my goals. One of the biggest for me is getting my next film off the ground. After losing THE PLAGUE to a set of producers and an industry-mindset that are the creative equivalent of artistic genocide, I have found myself with an opportunity to re-examine my goals and the way in which I try and manifest them. I have also tried to look even more deeply at my desires, actions, reactions, instincts, strengths, and weaknesses.

One of the realizations that I’ve come to understand on my journey is my need to be seen for who I am. Maybe not a unique desire, but one that has guided my actions and emotional reactions for many years. A lifetime, in fact. As a Scorpio, I seem to fall into a category of folks who somehow manage to never actually feel like others see us for who we really are. While that belief may be true in some instances, it is indeed a definition of myself that I maintain and create in my worst moments. Having THE PLAGUE taken from me in post production put me face-to-face with one of my worst nightmares; that the part of myself I was sharing with the world –the part I felt showed me for who I was– was taken away from me, dramatically altered, and placed out there with my name on it for all to see.

What an odd experience. I suppose not every filmmaker feels that his or her film is a reflection/representation of who they are and therefore losing that film is not quite as traumatic an experience. But for me, even though this was a low-budget genre film, it was the culmination of a lifetime spent trying to figure out who I am and how to share that.

Why is this so important? I don’t know that it is in the grand scheme of things. My closest friends and family members know who I am and can see me quite clearly, I believe. As best as anyone can. But I still have this desire to express myself in an even larger sense. I’m not talking fame here. That holds very little interest for me. But expressing some part of myself that comes from deep inside, some human element, something unmasked and vulnerable, something pure. So how does that translate into a low-budget horror film, you ask? Damn good question.

I suppose it has to do with the fact that I rely quite heavily on my subconscious in both my writing and my filmmaking (not altogether unique as this often can’t be helped regardless of intent). It is not just “technique’ that interests me. It’s like telling someone the details of a very personal dream, but bumping it up a notch and allowing others to actually participate in and even “feel” what my subconscious has exposed. So any film that comes from that place in me is going to be quite revealing, even if the viewer does not see it as such. And honestly, that part is not for the viewer’s benefit, but my own. But hopefully that element brings something unique to the film and the experience of watching it that is true to who I am and an honest reflection of the human being inside. An honest reflection of Hal.

A bit much to place on the shoulders of a movie? Not in my eyes. Anyone who allows themselves to create, in any medium, has the opportunity to reveal themselves through their work. Quite often, for some, it is impossible to do the work and NOT reveal themselves. But Hollywood is a town and an industry not particularly concerned with the human element or in being an avenue for self-expression. It is not anywhere near the top of their list of requirements or demands. But these past few years have taught me that it is at the very top of my own personal list.

So I enter 2010 with the knowledge that this is within my reach. My next project, CLEAN, is a part of me unlike anything else I have written. It is my goal to turn that script into a film that reflects me equally. And to make it my number one priority to put that film out there unadulterated. Pure. Regardless of how it is received or interpreted. It is the only reason I have for doing it. In many ways, it is my therapy. But it is also my gift. To both myself and to anyone else who takes interest in or is effected by it.

And while I fully expect this to be another tough year, I at least believe I have a legible roadmap and a pretty damn good sense of direction.

So to speak.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 82 other followers