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


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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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desires & Lessons: Articulating A Filmmaking Experience


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.

Desires & Lessons: Articulating A Filmmaking Experience

The Art Of Film Editing & The Plague Of Ego


SPREADINGEDITBANNERThe below video comparisons and text contain massive spoilers. Do not read or watch if you have not seen either cut of “The Plague”.

As anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows, I wrote and directed a film called THE PLAGUE which was taken away from me in post-production and re-cut by the various producers involved into a film that barely resembled the film we had actually made. It was structurally, tonally, and artistically altered beyond recognition. And unlike most studio cuts of films which are merely shorter versions of the director’s vision, THE PLAGUE was re-cut from first frame to last. Not a single edit was used from my cut of the film. The producers decided they knew best and had the artistic sensibility to put the film together on their own without the participation of the writers, director or veteran cinematographer (Bill Butler of JAWS and THE CONVERSATION fame). “We own this now and see no reason for the writers and director to be involved.” That’s verbatim. The result was a characterless mess devoid of tone, style or meaning. It was not, in any way, shape or form, the film we had made. And yet, our names remain as the film’s creators and visionaries. For good or ill.

In discussing this with folks, I discovered that it was quite challenging for some to grasp just how different two cuts of the same film could be. As a filmmaker and editor, I was used to the inner workings of post-production and understood intimately just how powerful the art of editing was to a film’s success. And I’m not talking commercial success, but its success as a story, to dictate what type of an experience the filmmaker hopes to impart on his/her audience.

And in this age of fast moving films with high-tech budgets, audiences have grown accustomed to a certain pace. Gone are the slow-moving films of the past; particularly in the horror genre which has been relegated to gore effects targeted at teenagers and young adults. For example, it would be impossible for a studio to make a film like ALIEN today. They can make another sequel, sure, but it would have very little in common with the tone and pace of the original. Ridley Scott’s long tracking shots of the ship, the eerie, unsettling tone of the entire opening sequence, the static shots of people searching for the creature would be all but removed and Scott would be told with misguided certainty that “Nothing is happening in this shot. Get rid of it” If I had a nickel for every time producer Jorge Saralegui said that to me, I’d have enough money to buy the rights to my film back.

Because I’ve been asked on numerous occasions to give folks an example of some of the differences in tone and style between my cut of the film known as THE PLAGUE: WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT (openly backed by the cast and crew) and the producers’ cut known as CLIVE BARKER’S THE PLAGUE, I’ve decided to offer side-by-side comparisons of a few choice scenes. Now, while this will show you how editing can make a huge difference in storytelling, pacing, tone, tension, etc., it will not show you how proper editing can suck you in and involve you in the characters’ stories and allow you to invest and care. For that, you would have to watch both films in their entireties. Something I hope to one day be able to offer you with an official release of my cut of the film.

As for the image quality of the two cuts you are about to see, the producers’ cut was taken directly from the 35mm negative and has gone through the full and expensive post-production process to make it look “professional.” My cut of the film is from my workprint. It was assembled from DVD dailies and not the original 35mm elements. It has not gone through ANY professional post-production processes and therefore looks like a work in progress. In other words, the image is not as sharp and clean. The music is a temporary score that mirrors my desires. The music in the producers’ cut is, like the editing itself, not at all what I would have gone for or intended.

So, while the producers’ cut is more “polished”, I ask that you take into consideration that THE WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT will, when officially released, be even sharper, cleaner and richer than CLIVE BARKER’S cut of the film as it will not only be from the original film elements, but it will adhere to the specifications laid out by Bill Butler and myself as to quality and color-timing, which was done incorrectly in the producers’ cut.

One of the main things consistently altered from the Writers & Director’s Cut was cross-cutting between story lines. It was my intention, both visually and thematically, that we would cut back and forth between events and characters to connect those events and to build tension. The producers chose to show each sequence in its entirety before moving on to the next. For me, that not only dramatically reduced tension, but it avoided making necessary connections between characters and themes. The style of editing therefore also changed as the producers put these sequences together in an order they were never intended to go in. The earlier scenes in the movie move back and forth between the world of our main characters, and the world of the kids. And both worlds were meant to have unique and different styles. Much like two cars heading on a collision course, one car moving quietly and straight forward, the other swerving and careening. The two different styles were intended to create an inevitable tension and dread of what would happen when these two elements collided.

The following examples are from an early scene when the catatonic kids are strapped into their hospital beds and go into a twice-daily seizure. This was meant to be intercut with David’s son, Eric, who was going through the same seizure back home. The scenes were designed to be visually and thematically intercut as you will see here in THE WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT:

Now take a look at the producers’ version of these scenes. You will notice that in removing the inter-cutting story lines and adding digital “zooms” that were not meant to be there, both the mood and tone of this sequence is very different:

Next we have a scene of the kids turning and looking toward an unsuspecting nurse. We’ll start this time with the producers cut. Notice the transitions at both the beginning and end of this sequence. They are different from what you will see later in the Writers & Director’s Cut. The intended connections between earlier and later scenes have been completely removed. You will also notice the placement of shots within the scene is completely different. For example, the long push-in shot on the nurse is placed in a completely different part of the scene, thus greatly reducing the tension and altering the pacing of the scene:

Now for the Writers & Director’s Cut. Notice the transition out of the previous scene between Tom and Sam. We pan away from Sam and the image seamlessly dissolves on the same movement into the nurse. It should also be stated here that the shot of Sam that starts this sequence was a pivotal one for me as it gave us a silent moment to see Sam’s inner workings and vulnerability. It is one of those great shots and performance moments that many producers never see or understand. How much is told through expression and body language. And since one of the reigning themes of this film is silent communication, it is more than a little appropriate. Unfortunately, producer Jorge Saralegui’s goal as he stated it to me was, “We’re going to cut out the characters and turn this into a killer-kid film.” And that is essentially what he and the other producers systematically did. Remember, the kids’ scenes were meant to move and feel differently from the character scenes. And this scene was intended to move directly into a scene revealing Kip and Claire and not a shot of Tom at home watching TV. While the TV news report does connect these two scenes in the producers’ cut, it does not connect the characters in any way. Nor does it work toward the eerie feeling or slow build inherent in the Writers & Director’s Cut. And while the producers chose to put a scene on the TV that tells you about how the world is reacting to the kids, my intention was to show a scene of familiar violence that I felt was current and an example of how we unintentionally show kids that violence is a means to an end. Even when we think they’re not paying attention!

The visual transition at the end of the scene with the kids turning was meant to tie Kip and Claire directly to the kids in the school, kids whom they feel emotionally connected to, and to allow us to –at first glance– believe Kip and Claire to be just two more catatonic kids. Until someone speaks. We disappear behind the head of one kid, and come out from behind Kip’s head. Here’s how the entire scene was intended to play and feel. You’ll notice the editing choices throughout are completely different:

Here is how the intro of Kip and Claire was presented in the producers’ cut. It not only makes no attempt to connect the characters to anything else in the film, but they also changed the Sheriff’s dialogue to something simpler and more “direct” for those audience members clearly incapable of thinking for themselves:

One of the most crucial moments in the film is when the kids awaken. It is the moment the entire first act has been building up to. As a result, it should work on many different levels. Here is the scene as the producers put it together. It is almost completely devoid of mood, tone or purpose:

In the Writers & Director’s Cut, this scene is introduced through a montage of all the main characters engaged in very ordinary human moments, but moments that tell us about each and every individual and relationship. These wordless snippets are the calm before the storm. This montage is accompanied by David reading a passage from the Grapes Of Wrath with Tom’s voice-over. What is said here is essential to not only what is happening in the film, but to Tom’s attachment to the book. Many answers to many of the film’s mysteries lie in this passage. It brings us closer to the characters, gives us crucial tools for the story, and builds the film to this very important moment.

The intention of the above montage was that the camera would dolly left to right across our main characters. That is a comforting direction for the camera to move. But, when we fade up on the kids in their beds, the camera is now moving right to left, a much less comforting direction and in opposition to what we’ve just seen. It is a contrast and it works to make us uncomfortable.

Next up is another prime example of building tension through cross-cutting. I structured the script and film to cut back and forth between Tom’s journey in the air ducts and Sam’s journey in the laundry chute. Unfortunately, the producers once again chose to re-edit these sequences into individual scenes that play out in their entirety before moving on to the next. For me, this greatly reduces tension and, as stated earlier, no longer makes connections between the characters and what they are experiencing. Here is how the producers chose to cut these scenes together, greatly reducing the intended visual style of the film:

And here’s how those scenes were intended to play out and still do in the Writers & Director’s Cut:

If you noticed in the above scene, when the nurse looks down the laundry chute into the darkness, we expect to see a kid. But it is Tom that emerges as we seamlessly inter-cut with the next scene. For a moment, we are afraid of Tom, until we realize it’s him. The line between the kids –the monsters– and Tom is blurred for a moment. They are us. We are them. This connection is absent both visually and thematically throughout the producers’ cut. This is unfortunate since this is what the film is about. Without these elements, it’s just a “killer-kid film”.

One of the “biggest” sequences in the movie was the escape from the school. My intention here was not only to create a rousing and scary action scene, but to connect our main characters to the kids. The idea of the story is that the kids are, essentially, us. They are doing what they are doing because of us. The violence they learned is directly linked to the violence we teach and set by example. Notice in this next scene how Jean’s violent action is visually linked to the kid banging on the doors. Jean’s hands are bloodied and so are the kids’. As Jean punches and loses control, so do the kids. This builds to the kids eventually breaking down the doors and attacking. Connecting these elements visually is critical to both the story itself and the ultimate impact of this scene. Here is the Writers & Director’s Cut version:

Notice here in the producers’ cut that, instead of cutting to the kids’ hands pounding on the door, the producers chose to insert out of focus shots of the bloody face of the girl Jean is punching. This was not a shot I was involved in shooting. It is a gratuitous moment and works only to make us perhaps sympathize more with the kids than with Jean, the antithesis of what I would want the audience to feel at this juncture in the story. I chose to give us a quick glimpse of that with Deputy Nathan shooting the boy in the shoulder and the boy’s reaction to it, but any more actively works against the story, as you will see here. You will also notice that the producers had actor Josh Close ADR a line of unscripted dialogue as he calls, “Claire…” while watching the kids behind the doors. Another example of the producers assuming the audience is stupid. Overstating the obvious. Also notice how different the rhythm and tone of the entire sequence is from what was initially envisioned. It is sloppily put together, awkward, and not nearly as tension-filled:

Notice how the producers felt the need to add in unscripted dialogue of the characters saying at the end of the scene, “Go, go, go! They’re coming!” when it is pretty obvious to anyone watching that the kids are coming! Once again, the producers don’t trust the basic intelligence of the audience.

Here’s another scene that was meant to be shown without a word of dialogue and was, again, an example of story and character cross-cutting. The moment between Jean and her brother Sam as she gives him the morphine was scripted and shot wordless. In the producers’ cut, it contains dialogue added in post. The producers’ mantra: “if they’re not saying anything out loud, then nothing’s being said”. The most basic understanding of character and theme are lost with such a notion. If you repeat it throughout a film, then the film itself is lost.

The kids in THE PLAGUE communicate silently. We, as a people, communicate with one another beyond the words we use. How do the kids learn to be violent? Through us. How is that done? Did we tell them directly to be violent? No. We showed them through examples we set: hate crimes, police brutality, domestic violence, capital punishment, war… Quite often we relay this message in silence; in actions without words. And therein lies the importance of Jean and Sam communicating silently. The following scenes were designed to cross-cut back and forth between Sam/Jean/the Sheriff, and Tom/Alexis. Once again, that was not the approach taken by the producers. Here is their version:

And here is the Writers & Director’s Cut version as it was written and shot:

Dee Wallace is an extraordinary actress who was all but completely removed from the producers’ cut. Here is a scene that adds tremendous character to both Dee’s Nora and the horror and anger she feels. This moment, however, not only serves her character, but Kip’s character as well as he is the focal point of her anger and hatred here. It is a sample of what Kip (and Claire, for that matter) have been living with all their lives. It draws us closer to those characters; makes them human. We then see the impact this has on Tom and Jean in what is also a crucial moment in the growth of their relationship AND more silent communication through looks and glances that tell us more than words ever could:

And here is the truncated, characterless interpretation by our beloved, clueless producers:

Sometimes even the smallest alteration in cutting can have a profound effect. In this scene when Jean finds her brother Sam dead, it was important that we, as the audience, lose Jean here. By that I mean she goes to a place we cannot follow. It is through Tom that we witness Jean’s actions. He must be our eyes here. So when Jean enters the room, notice that we don’t cut to what she sees (or know yet if Sam’s alive or dead), until Tom enters and we push in on him and THEN we see what’s happened. Through HIS eyes! It’s a crucial delineation and essential once again to the flow of the film and the perspective the filmmaker wants us to have. It is NOT something that can be changed effectively in post. The film would need to be designed and structured differently from that point on. We are also witnessing Jean’s emotions and reactions, not through her face or words, but through the sudden rigidity in her shoulders and all around body language. Here is that scene from the Writers & Director’s Cut:

Now the producers’ cut. Notice how the producers cut to Sam and Nathan on the floor off of Jean’s entrance and don’t wait for Tom. Also notice how anti-climactic that moment is without the restraint and patience that was meant to be on display here. You may also notice that the producers added Jean whispering “Sammy” as she kneels down beside him. Once again, as if the audience didn’t know who it was lying on the floor there!

And finally, the end of the film. An ending that clearly makes little sense in the producers’ cut. Here is the “let’s get this over with” version the producers threw together:

Now you will notice in the Writers & Director’s version of this scene how important the kids’ faces are. How important it is to connect the boy in the red sweater with Jean and THEN introduce the other kids and finally see them as KIDS and not monsters, which is the whole point of the film. In the producers’ cut, the connection between Jean and the boy seems directionless, empty. In the Writers & Director’s Cut, more time is given to connect these two in a profound and necessary way. And, once again, in utter silence. What they’re feeling, how they react, is there for all to see and interpret. Nature works its way into this closing scene, a peacefulness, an understanding, an open door to things to come. And our boy in the red sweater may very well be Tom or, we feel, some part of Tom. And we feel that Jean senses this as well:

Well, there are hundreds of other examples throughout both versions of these films that are as important as the ones I’ve shown here. Like I said earlier, they are truly two completely different films. It’s obvious which one I prefer and, hopefully, it’s obvious why.

Editing can make or break a film. And poor editing and a lack of creative insight destroyed the story of THE PLAGUE that we worked so hard to bring to an audience. What was delivered via DVD was intended for a lowest-common denominator audience. The notion that the audience is dumb seems to be rampant in Hollywood today. And usually from folks who are none-too-bright themselves and, sadly, have little understanding of the craft of filmmaking. Were it otherwise, examples like this would not need to be made. But as it stands, the story behind THE PLAGUE is one of many just like it. So next time you see a film that had potential it didn’t live up to, know that there may be a version out there that does. It’s just being kept from you.

To learn more about THE PLAGUE and to help get the WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT released, visit our site spreadingtheplague.com, sign our petition, and join our Facebook group.

The Art Of Film Editing & The Plague Of Ego

A Note From Francis Ford Coppola


Landmark Theatres has posted a “note” from Francis Ford Coppola talking about his career, his decision to return to low-budget, independent filmmaking, and his new film TETRO. As a filmmaker myself who tried to make a unique film only to have it taken away by a studio and re-cut into something more “recognizable and familiar”, and as someone who walked away from a successful studio writing career because I found myself working on films I would never, myself, want to see, I found the following quite inspirational:

cIt is a dream come true to be able to make personal films and have them shown in great theatres such as those of Landmark. Tetro is the kind of film I might have been making 35 years ago, had my career not taken an abrupt and sudden turn as it did with The Godfather. Sure, it was exhilarating to find myself an important Hollywood director, with all that came with it. But as the years went on, I found myself unable to be comfortable making genre films, or trying to avoid becoming a gangster film director, with all that came with that: stabbings, shootings, car crashes and strangulations. It became pretty clear that even if well-paid, a Hollywood director is expected to do what the company who employs him wants, often with the script supplied. And most times it is a genre film of some type, if not a gangster film, then take your choice between a thriller, a caper film, a romantic comedy (nothing wrong with that) but in all cases something that doesn’t veer too far from a film made previously that was very successful. As I stewed in those juices, I found myself dissatisfied, and frustrated over the fact that even though I had made successful films and won plenty of awards, I still would have to go, hat in hand, to beg permission to make something other than what they wanted. 

With Apocalypse Now, I ultimately found I had to finance it myself. Financing movies is a perilous activity, especially when the films are as unusual as I wanted to make. At first Apocalypse Now seemed as if it would bury me—the initial reaction wasn’t good, despite some acknowledged spectacular scenes, but it was deemed too philosophical or worse, ‘arty’—which is the ultimate damning word that can be used on a film. Well, I thought, weren’t most of Ingmar Bergman’s films ‘arty but good’? As were the many films of Federico Fellini or Akira Kurosawa—or perhaps not ‘arty’ but certainly they went their own way, and didn’t just fall into categories by genre. Maybe those films weren’t financial powerhouses, but they stayed with you and were inspirational. And also, they were all different from any other films being made. That in the end is my main criteria for enjoying a film: that I never saw it before or anything quite like it. 

At any rate, things got worse for me after I ventured further into the unknown with another self-financed film, One From The Heart. I have few regrets in my life, if any—but I do regret the decision I made about three weeks before shooting on that film started, not to shoot it as live TV as I had planned, but to go it one shot at a time. So yes, I have one regret in life, which was to back off the style of shooting I had planned. But for my sins, I was punished and my life as a Hollywood director changed. I was in debt for $25 million dollars. I had to make a payment each year, in October I remember, of $3 million, a daunting task and only possible if I directed a movie each year. So now I was sort of in bondage, and needed a job that could pay me at that level each year. I couldn’t refuse and worse, sometimes went begging for an assignment. At least I had the rule that I needed something about the project, even though I hadn’t written it, that I could fall in love with; on Peggy Sue Got Married it was to make it in the style of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, on Jack it was to work with Robin Williams, and so on. Finally, after Dracula the debt was paid, and I just needed to do three more films to have a little money for myself and my family and I could stop. That turned out to be only two more, and I did stop—and wondered what was next for me, what would my place be in movies, if indeed I was even to make movies again.

Many years went by. I set out to do my film of films, something so ambitious that I would be at the very edge of my abilities. It was called Megalopolis and it was meant to be a film about utopia. But the world changed right at that moment and in the light of the wars and dystopia that followed and still persists, my film crumbled in my hands, even if I had been able to raise the many millions it would have taken to produce it. Fortunately, the wine and hotel businesses I had begun with the proceeds of my last two ‘director for hire’ films, were beginning to show vigor and it was possible for me to support my family without making films I didn’t especially want to make, or even types of films I didn’t want to make. 

Then, taking inspiration from my daughter who had learned the very same tricks from me, I decided to return to my youth, and realizing that the smaller the budget of a film the greater the ideas of that film could be, began to self-finance the very kinds of films I had hoped to make at the beginning. It was like trying to find myself, and my place, after being away a long time. Like the Samurai in Yojimbo, weakened and beaten, who lies in a box trying to get his strength and skills back. I took a story from Mircea Eliade, Youth Without Youth, and thought if I followed his guidance, I could find myself. The film was totally unorthodox, in structure and intention, but it was what I wanted to do. When it was done, I found the film audience had ventured even further away from anything other than the pre-made, pre-measured genre films that I had tried to escape from, and now wanted even their independent films to be mini-Hollywood ventures. No matter, I thought, the idea was to find myself and I had done that. Now, the next step was to pick up where I had left off, and write an original story and screenplay, something I hadn’t done for 30 years since The Conversation.

The result is Tetro, which you are about to see soon at a Landmark theatre near you. I hope you will find it moving, as it is drawn from real emotions related to my experiences and life—though not in any way autobiographical. I hope you wish me well on this new career of mine. It was the one I always wanted from the beginning, to be an independent filmmaker, writing stories and making personal films. God knows what will come next!

A Note From Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola: Alternate Quote Of The Week


09scot.xlarge1“The way the language of movies got created was at a period when no one knew how to make them, so the filmmakers tended to try out ideas that then stuck and then became our vocabulary. If you’re not allowed to experiment anymore for fear of being considered self-indulgent or pretentious or what have you, then everyone’s going to just stick to the rules — there’s not going to be any additional ideas.”

In his interview with Stephen Saito at IFC.com, Coppola preceded this quote with a statement of equal importance:

“I think when you make a personal film and you’re not under the thumb of a moneymaking machine that really wants to appeal to as many people as possible — even in independent films, Fox Searchlight or Focus, they’re very concerned about making money, they have to — so the more you have to deliver a big, mass audience, the less you can kind of experiment a little bit.”

Coppola also discussed some of his personal favorites from his long career and their apparent box-office non-performance. One film, TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM was particularly baffling:

“It’s funny. I would’ve thought with all the people who loved cars and car collectors that it would’ve had a bit of potential, but movie attendance is a mystery to me — what they go to and what they don’t go to. Is it that studios choose what they think is middlebrow enough and then put a ton of money behind it so they go? I don’t know the answer. All my personal favorites of the movies I’ve made, if you took them all — “The Conversation,” “Rumble Fish” — and add them up, they wouldn’t buy lunch.”

Francis Ford Coppola: Alternate Quote Of The Week

Accountants, Lawyers & Fratboys: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL


the_day_the_earth_stood_still_movie_poster_onesheet_2008It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m not fond of the studio movie-making machine and haven’t been for a long, long time. Taken over decades ago by accountants, lawyers and frat boys, the Hollywood film industry is like one of those terrifying zombie flicks where the dead just keep on walking even though their bodies have long since deteriorated. And what is it that keeps them going? Us. The audience. So isn’t it time we had a wake and moved on? 

I recently had the displeasure of watching the remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Why, you ask, did I even bother? Well, first there’s simple curiosity. But second, I had read a review claiming that if this film hadn’t been made in the shadow of the original, beloved classic, it would have stood on its own as a smarter-than-average science fiction tale. 

Not true.

The new THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is the perfect example of the Hollywood machine at work. It is a beat for beat what-not-to-do guide to filmmaking and storytelling. And what makes this so apparent is the film’s first 15 minutes which seem, quite surprisingly, to hold real possibility. Watching it, I thought to myself, “Wow, maybe a good remake of this film IS actually possible.” And I still believe that’s true. However, not in Hollywoodland. Despite director Scott Derrickson’s moody opening passages, the film quickly descends into the most ridiculous and obvious studio notes clearly given by execs who, despite possible good intentions, don’t know anything about filmmaking and/or storytelling. Every commercial trap is on display here. Logic is tossed headlong out the window as Klaatu, who is under minute observation by every scientist and government official, is interrogated by one man with no other supervision! Where did everyone go? Kathy Bates as Secretary of State, the military, the scientists? Are they all gathered somewhere watching DANCING WITH THE STARS instead of hearing what this alien has to say about the fate of mankind and a possible impending attack on the planet Earth? Whatever the reason, this minor oversight allows Klaatu to escape, only to seek out the one place where an alien can find help. 

McDonald’s. 

Yes, that’s right. Because McDonald’s is crucially important to the film’s plot and a known meeting place for aliens who want to discuss whether or not to save or destroy mankind. I mean, where would you meet? As soon as I saw those golden arches reflected in Jennifer Connelly’s car windshield, I knew that good storytelling was not the main concern of this motion picture. 

And then there’s Jaden Smith, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s son. I hate to get on the case of child actors, but young Jaden is EVERYTHING that’s wrong with Hollywood kid actors today. Precocious and completely unbelievable as anything more than a manufactured idea of what a kid should be. Again, I don’t blame Jaden who clearly is committed to the role, but it’s a type of portrayal that makes me want to run screaming. There is zero believability here. Jaden’s Jacob Benson is to children what McDonald’s is to hamburgers.

As for the other performers, I’m a big fan of Jennifer Connelly and she is what allowed me to stick this film out to the end. Even Keanu Reeves is acceptable in the role. Sure, an actor of more depth would have brought more weight to the role, but we do get a glimpse early on of just how Mr. Reeves would have worked here if a script and vision had been present. John Cleese as Professor Barnhardt is simply an odd bit of casting and a complete waste as this character is gone from the film mere seconds after being introduced. 

As someone who has worked as a studio writer for a time and had the misfortune of watching my directorial debut taken away by a studio and re-cut into an incoherent mess, I can recognize the mark of studio interference a mile away. I don’t know what the original script looked like for this remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, but I’m not ready to blame screenwriter David Scarpa or director Scott Derrickson for the mess that is this film. I’ve worked with producers that have gone on and on about wanting to make a quality film, about wanting to push the envelope, take chances, appeal to a smarter audience… And never once in my personal experience have they been able to follow through. After dozens of rewrites and meetings, the scripts always came back to the same tired formulas that plagued the previously produced films of these vision-less individuals. And it’s not to say that making good films is not somewhere on their priority lists, but I’m afraid it’s either far enough down that when something has to go, the quality and integrity of the storytelling is one of the first to get the axe, or they simply have no idea what good storytelling is. It’s also that many modern day execs do not understand–nor do they want to–that they are not the creative individuals behind the film. Gone are the days when producers would be proud of the creative team they’d assembled; when they understood that there are those folks who can do something they can not. Just as a great filmmaker might not make a great producer, most producers do not make great storytellers. But most producers working in Hollywood don’t seem to be able to find pride in pulling together talented individuals to make the best film possible. Nowadays, they need to do it all. 

I’ve told this story before, but I’ll repeat it here as it is wholly appropriate. A producer friend of mine who was working on a sequel to a blockbuster action film at the same studio that produced THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL once claimed that I, by Hollywood standards, would be termed a “difficult director“. When I, somewhat shocked, asked why, the answer was revealed, “Because you have an opinion and you’re not afraid to voice it. You have a vision.” Yes, this was the answer I was given. Verbatim. This producer went on to explain that the film she was working on had a director who appeared to have no vision. “He does what we ask him to. If he has a vision, he doesn’t express it.” She then went on to explain that this lack of vision was why the first film they did together was a bad film. Her term, not mine. She then went on to explain that the sequel she was now working on would also be a bad film. But the first made money despite critical and public trashing. And, as fate would have it, the sequel was also trashed by audiences and critics alike. But I’m sure it made money and therefore justified its existence. But what would those films have been like had there been a creative vision behind them? What if the producers of those films had not only allowed the filmmakers to express themselves creatively and do what they do best, but had actually inspired them and created an environment in which that creativity could flourish; where that kind of vision would be encouraged? I’m sure the opening weekend would have been just as successful. Hell, that’s all marketing anyway. But at the end of the day they could have also been proud of the film itself and not just its box office performance. And I dare say that even that would, most likely, have been even stronger. But the creatives are not important in today’s Hollywood, despite what many producers will tell you.

When Sony Screen Gems took my film, THE PLAGUE, away from me in the editing room, we were told point blank by Sony Pictures Executive Director of Acquisitions, Scott Shooman, “We own this film now and see no reason for the writer and director to be involved.” At that time, no one at Sony Pictures or Sony Screen Gems, including Mr. Shooman, had ever met nor spoken with me. The film was re-cut from scratch into something so bad it didn’t even appeal to the audience Sony targeted it to. It failed. Both artistically and, if one is to believe Mr. Shooman who claims the film lost money, financially. Even veteran cinematographer Bill Butler who had shot such classics as JAWS and THE CONVERSATION among so many others, was not invited to color-time and complete his work. The film was put together, frame for frame, by producers. One of those producers, Jorge Saralegui–who had been an exec at Fox at one point in his career–spoke endlessly on and off set about his experiences working with certain world-renowned directors whom he didn’t appear to either admire, respect nor understand. Saralegui couldn’t refrain from commenting on how director John Woo, during the filming of BROKEN ARROW–which Saralegiu apparently oversaw the production of while an exec at Fox–was “shaking in his boots the whole time.” Saralegui then went on to claim that Woo had no idea how to direct an action scene! Yes, the very thing thing Woo was known for the world over long before he ever came to Fox to make the disaster that is BROKEN ARROW, was the very thing Saralegui was criticizing him for. As it stands, BROKEN ARROW is a film that does not seem to represent the filmmaker at all. Saralugui would tell this story over and over again (to hear more observations on this by Seattle filmmaker Janice Findley who spent some time with Saralegui, go HERE). Jorge Saralegui also complained endlessly to me about working with French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet on ALIEN: RESURRECTION. Saralegui went as far as to suggest that Jeunet didn’t have a clue where to put the camera! This about a director known for his extraordinary visual sense! In listening to Saralegui’s stories, I got the sense that he actually felt as if he’d single-handedly saved these films not only financially, but artistically. I knew for certain at that point that both I and my film were in deep trouble. I turned out to be correct. In the editing room, Saralegui, displaying what I can only call a seemingly uncontrollable viscousness and rage which had become a familiar sight to many of us on set, vomited up “This is no longer your film. It’s mine!” When I calmly pointed out that he had done exactly the same thing to John Woo and Jean-Pierre Jeunet,  Saralegui’s response was, “That’s right! And now I’m doing it to you!” 

I suppose at least I’m in good company. 

But how, I must ask, in this environment, can a good film be made? One starts to believe if a good film does come out of Hollywood, it will be a result of an oversight on someone’s part. It is simply something that does not exist at the studio level. Producers no longer know how to produce. And writers are not allowed to write and directors not allowed to direct. But the films keep coming and they are miserable. 

It took a lot of effort on the part of many to make THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL as bad as it is. They took a great story and a timely concept, and stripped it of all integrity. It is truly an amazing feat. But not surprising. Just shamefully disappointing. But it is the rule in Hollywood these days, not the exception.

Accountants, Lawyers & Fratboys: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

An Old Fogey Watches The WATCHMEN. And Mourns…


poster-theatricalI must be getting old because I find myself referring back far too often to my youth and how things “used to be.” Granted, I came of age during Hollywood’s second Golden Era: the 70’s. Actually, to be more accurate, I started living and breathing cinema in the late 60’s and was exposed to first releases of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and BONNIE AND CLYDE among so many others. And for a good decade or more, films were a sight to behold. Daring and edgy while dipping ambiguously into alternate realities and tackling subjects and characters with an inner desire to strip away the outer layers and look closely at what lies beneath, all the while pushing the boundaries of the medium in a way unseen to date.

So in my old-age, I have to shake my head slightly when I hear directors like Zack Snyder hailed as “groundbreaking” and “visionary.” Now I have nothing against Zack Snyder personally, but I have yet to witness any real visionary storytelling in his films. I haven’t found any of them downright “bad”, but they have sadly left me feeling rather empty. DAWN OF THE DEAD stripped away the social commentary that made the original so damn effective. And 300 looked really cool, but was ultimately lacking in character or depth. At least for my tastes. WATCHMEN isn’t a horrible film by any stretch and there are some interesting themes and moments, but at the end of the day, I was bored through a good portion of the film and almost walked out in the first half hour. I found myself slightly more involved as the film continued, but only slightly. And as for the visuals, as with 300, the images were ultimately empty, though at times striking. These films left me with very little to hold on to after the end credits rolled. I never felt challenged or stimulated or moved. These films never got past my first layer of skin, no less into my gut.

The world of special effects these days has dulled something in film for me. When used sparingly, it can be a wonderful tool. However, when a film is allowed to ride on its effects budget alone, the results are often artistically disastrous, regardless of box office intake.

The STAR WARS prequels were vapid. Yes, even REVENGE OF THE SITH which, despite the claims of those desperate to find something of value there, was a lesson in non-storytelling. It was a wonderful display of effects devoid of performance or script.

The other side of the coin could be, say, the recent Swedish vampire flick LET THE RIGHT ONE IN which used its effects sparingly with the result being that each effect was a part of the story and therefore had far more impact than if the film were an effects extravaganza, as the American version would have been (or will probably be).

418px-straw_dogs_movie_posterAnd then there are films like STRAW DOGS which I had the pleasure of watching again recently. You know, when all is said and done, STRAW DOGS is a film that could only get made today as an indie. If that. Very few locations, a handful of great actors, a challenging script and theme, and a director with something to say and the talent to say it. It is the powerful and incredible editing in STRAW DOGS that is its greatest “effect.” So you won’t see ANYTHING like STRAW DOGS worming its way through the Hollywood system today. No, not without having its guts removed piece by piece until any trace of humanity, artistry and/or meaning had been thoroughly stripped from it. Sorry to be such a sad sack, but it’s the truth. And, sadly, even the indie world is filled with filmmakers yearning to walk away from the creative goldmine that is indie filmmaking, to pass into the ranks of Hollywood star directors. Just like so many visionary foreign filmmakers who come to Hollywood and never make another film of vision or substance. I take my hat off to the Pedro Almodovars of the world who recognize the glory of their current situations and turn away from the siren’s call of Hollywoodland.

So it was that when I read Kyle Smith‘s review of WATCHMEN in the New York Post, my head shook uncontrollably with despair:

Director Zack Snyder’s cerebral, scintillating follow-up to “300” seems, to even a weary filmgoer’s eye, as fresh and magnificent in sound and vision as “2001” must have seemed in 1968, yet in its eagerness to argue with itself, it resembles “A Clockwork Orange. Like those Stanley Kubrick films – it is also in part a parody of “Dr. Strangelove” – it transforms each moment into a tableau with great, uncompromising concentration. The effect is an almost airless gloom, but the film is also exhilarating in breadth and depth.” 

Really? Comparing Snyder to Kubrick? REALLY? Luckily, my loneliness and horror can be eased by comments like Kenneth Turan‘s in the Los Angeles Times:

Despite being prematurely canonized by the film’s publicity apparatus, Snyder stands revealed here as more of a beginner than a visionary in his uncertain approach to making an on-screen world come alive. 

Now I know my comments here will be met with some hostility from the fans of the above-mentioned films, but like I said, I’m just some old fogey complaining about how things were when I was younger. “Back in the day,” as they say.

So I’ll just shut up and go back to my little home theater to take in another viewing of THE CONVERSATION or MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER or POINT BLANK. And maybe I’ll follow those up with some antiquated old-timer fair like BLACK NARCISSUS or THE BIG PARADE. You know, films that were made before the visionaries came along.

An Old Fogey Watches The WATCHMEN. And Mourns…