Thursday, May 28, 2009

Actors & Film: What is a "name" worth?

From io9:
"After hearing about Hollywood's sticker shock over the Bioshock movie's rumored $160 million dollar budget, we knew they'd be coming up with new ideas to try and lower the overall cost. But if the rumored lead actor gets the part, it'll be kind of a steal for Universal. Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller took to his Twitter to let his fans know that he's talking Bioshock. And later tweets seem to imply it's indeed the video-game's movie version.

This means a few things: that Hollywood is moving forward with the long-in-development film, budget problems or not. Plus it means actors like Miller are going to be getting a second look as they are a bit cheaper than the big Hollywood A-list actors. I'm completely for this. I like Miller — he's a solid actor in Prison Break — and I'm interested to see more from him. And I want to see who else they start to tap for roles in this film.

The question that arises from this is: is a known actor needed in an already established franchise/concept?

Let's look to the most popular film adaptations: comic book movies. Recently, the titular role of Thor went to an completely unknown actor, Chris Hemsworth, whose biggest domestic role thus far was 3 minutes as James T. Kirk's father in the new "Star Trek". I couldn't be happier that a big budgeted actor didn't get the role. Or if you want to be even more detailed; Sam Worthington. This fellow is everywhere. He was first cast in James Cameron's "Avatar" as the lead. He was cast in that before "Terminator: Salvation" which was America's biggest exposure to him. He was also just recently cast in the "Clash of the Titans" remake.

All of these castings were done before any of the other films mentioned were released and were able to show his box office "draw". Let's look at the facts; James Cameron, a living legend, can cast pretty much anyone he wants to because people are doing to see what HE does, not so much the actor. Personally, I couldn't be happier to hear about Wentworth Million's possible involvement. I mean, it could have gone to one of several other actors that Fanboys (and yes, these people make or brake a movie through power of the Internet) don't care for.

The R.I. Love: Newport Film Festival Line-up:

2009 Newport International Film Festival narrative films:

”(500) Days Of Summer” (USA) directed by Marc Webb, and starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

“35 Shots of Rum” (France/ Germany), directed by Claire Denis and starring Alex Descas, Mati Diop and Gregoire Colin.

“Adam” (USA) directed by Max Mayer and starring Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Frankie Faison and Peter Gallagher.

“Bronson” (UK) directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Tom Hardy, Matt King.

“Children Of Invention” (USA - Narrative Feature Competition), directed by Tze Chun and starring Cindy Cheung, Michael Chen and Crystal Chiu.

“Entre Nos” (USA - Narrative Feature Competition) directed by Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte and starring Paola Mendoza, Sebastian Villada and Laura Montana.

“Humpday” (USA - Narrative Feature Competition) directed by Lynn Shelton and starring Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard and Alycia Delmore.

“Kisses” (Ireland/ Sweden) directed by Lance Daly and starring Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry.
Moon (UK) directed by Duncan Jones (who will be in Newport) and starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey.

“Natural Causes” (USA - Rhode Island Focus), directed by Michael Lerman, Alex Cannon and Paul Cannon and starring Jerzy Gwiazdowski, Leah Goldstein, Shonda Leigh Robbins.

“Paris” (France), directed by Cedric Klapisch and starring Juliette Binoche, Roman Duris and Fabrice Luchini.

“Quiet Chaos” (Italy/UK), directed by Antonello Grimaldi and starring the masterful Nanni Moretti.

“Still Walking” (Japan), directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda and starring Hiroshi Abe and Yui Natsukawa.

“That Evening Sun” (USA - Narrative Feature Competition), directed by Scott Teems and starring Hal Holbrook and Ray McKinnon.

“The Burning Plain” (USA), directed by Guillermo Arriaga and starring Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger and Jennifer Lawrence.

“White On Rice” (USA - Narrative Feature Competition), directed by Dave Boyle and starring Hiroshi Watanabe, Nae, Mio Takada, Lynn Chen and James Kyson Lee.

2009 Newport International Film Festival Documentary Films:

“45365” (USA - Documentary Feature Competition), directed by Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross.
“21 Below” (USA - Documentary Feature Competition), directed by Samatha Buck.
“58 Harrison Lane” (USA - Rhode Island Focus), directed by Sprague Theobold.
“Afghan Star” (USA/ Afghanistan), directed by Havana Marking.
“Art & Copy” (USA) directed by Doug Pray.
“Boy Interrupted” (USA), directed by Dana Heinz Perry.
“Dancing Across Borders” (USA), directed by Anne Bass.
“The End Of The Line” (UK), directed by Rupert Murray.
“Haze” (USA), directed by Pete Schuermann,
“P-Star Rising” (USA), directed by Gabriel Noble.
“Pop Star On Ice” (USA) directed by David Barba & James Pellerito.
“Prodigal Sons” (USA - Documentary Feature Competition), directed by Kimberley Reed.
“Racing Dreams” (USA), directed by Marshall Curry.
“Trimpin: The Sound of Invention” (USA - Documentary Feature Competition), directed by Peter Esmonde.
“The Way We Get By” (USA - Documentary Feature Competition), directed by Aron Gaudet.
“We Live In Public” (USA), directed by Ondi Timoner.
“The Windmill Movie” (USA), directed by Alexander Olch.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

10 Questions with Producer Toni Ann Baker

Gearing up for the eventual shoot of "Our Last Days As Children", we'll be interviewing the production team over the next 3 weeks. This week features 10 Questions about the film with Toni Ann Baker.

Q: What attracted you to the project?

What initially attracted me to the script was its original title, "Ghost in the Machine". Actually, it was the way the writer (Raz Cunningham) pitched the script to me, which involved mentioning that even though the title included the word “Ghost” in it, it was far from a “ghost” or “horror” film. That intrigued me. I had read about 500 scripts that past year, or I should honestly admit to reading the first 10-20 pages of 500 scripts. In search of a low budget feature that Two Sisters’ Productions, Inc., my company that I co-owned with my sister (Diane St. Laurent) could sink our teeth into since finishing a year long documentary project. But we were being extremely fussy.

We were looking for something that had everything. It needed to be compelling, emotional, intellectual, heartwarming, challenging, and a telling of the true human spirit. Not too much to ask for, huh? Well, the universe was ever so gracious and delivered exactly that to us, by way of Raz Cunningham. Oh, did I mention yet that it had to also be original? That’s right, a story not yet told on screen. Impossible you say? No way! We have it.

Well, I finished the entire script in about an hour and knew on page 14 that it would be my first feature film I was to produce. It was sent off to Diane (director) the next day and we formed a new collaboration instantly with Raz.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge in developing the project so far?

The biggest challenge so far has been getting the writer and director to lock the script! Although the characters now leap off the page into my living room dragging me into their world, and the script can’t possibly shine anymore than it does, I had to beg and threaten them to finally get my first version of the locked script!

The second greatest challenge is raising the last of the funds for our film! Not only are we in a state that can’t seem to ever balance it’s budget and threatens and challenges the film tax credit every chance it gets, but we are also in one of the worst economic crunch of my time. Fortunately, we have extremely loyal investors, keeping our integrity intact as we move forward through the development stage of seeking more investors, partners and attaching actors.

Q: How is this film different from your previous work?

My previous work includes short narratives mostly written by Diane or myself, commissioned documentaries, many which have gone to film festivals and won small awards. We’ve also produced some commercial projects such as commercial and radio spots, promotional videos, and website trailers.

The greatest difference, besides the obvious fact that this is Two Sisters’ Productions, Inc. first feature film, is that we have acquired a third partner for this project. Not only is Raz Cunningham a wonderful storyteller, he is a wealth of knowledge and New York experience in the world of producing indie films. He has rounded out our team perfectly. It is like we have our own Trinity! Oil, Water and all the seasonings we need to make a perfect Salad. They are going to hate this analogy, but I’m sticking to it.

Q: What made you choose to shoot in Rhode Island?

Why not make it in Rhode Island is the question! A film friendly state with a great film tax credit, a film office and film community biting at the bit to support, encourage and see great works come from it’s back yard. Rhode Island takes only a little over an hour to get from corner to corner of this state. It is historical and modern. It has forests, oceans, sand dunes, country sides, city and rural neighborhoods; it is multi cultural and has every economical portrait imaginable, such as the wealthiest estates of Newport right down to the 7000 homeless people that live throughout our inner city communities.

Rhode Island has 1000 locations wrapped up in just one location! What could be more perfect for a low budget indie film? Oh, and there is the fact that we all have lived here for our entire lives. Except for young Raz, although born and raised a Rhode Islander, he was educated elsewhere and like I mentioned earlier, has been on several New York productions while living in the city for several years before moving back home. Two Sisters’ Productions, Inc.’s mission has always been to make films in Rhode Island, adding to the economic development here at home and giving opportunity to use it’s widely diverse artist community. Truly, there are so many obvious reasons for us to make Our Last Days As Children here in Rhode Island.

Q: What aspect of the project are you looking forward to most?

I most look forward to selling the film, seeing it on the big screen sending the message of our film into the hearts of government, social environments and into the intellect of the conservatives and the liberals.

Oh, and hearing the Director’s first “action” and then the First AD’s “it’s a wrap”! That would be equally as exciting for me. It’s been quite a journey thus far, I’m eager to get to the next level. I’d humbly accept Pre-production to finally begin though!

Q: There are a lot of new and interesting films coming out in the next year, what do you think will make yours rise above the rest?

Our Last Days As Children is a story that’s been waiting to be told. It is bold and original. It’s been the pulse of the human spirit since the beginning. In my opinion, we live in a world that is complex, complicated, confused and judgmental, from every direction and angle including right and left winged whether liberal or conservative. It is a world that has lost its simplistic understanding of basic reality and natural laws.

The Studios would not attempt such a controversial film. This alone, makes it valuable. The world we live in today, gives us its perfect timing.

Q: How do you think the audience might view the film?

If we do make it right, each individual should have received the gift of feeling something very personal.

Q: Without giving too much away, what in the film do you think your audience might connect with most?

We have gone to great lengths to keep this story under wraps. Even our parents and children have signed Non-Disclosure agreements. So, you won’t get much in way of the storyline from me. I will say however that there is something in Our Last Days As Children for everyone. It is a global story.

Q: When producing a film like this what is your biggest concern?

My greatest concern is that the Writer will unlock the script and make another slight modification at the urging of the Director before we get into pre-production. LOL!

Seriously I don’t have many concerns in making the film, timing is everything in life. I have learned that lesson personally and know it all so well. Our Last Days As Children is a story that has been in growing in the uterus for 18 months, waiting for it to be safe to come out. It is ready when it comes time to push.

Q: Once the film is completed, what do you think its biggest obstacle will be?

Well, from a business standpoint and a responsible one at that, we will be working hard and fast to get Our Last Days As Children through post production, working with our incredibly talented team (all who are standing by for the starting bell) to meet our current marketing strategy in making our preferred film festivals.

Next will come another 10 Questions with Director Diane St. Laurent.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rian Johnson: All About The Experience

If you head on over to iTunes or you'll find the company's Ad page for The Brother's Bloom. Aside from the trailer, the first 7 minutes of the film and a mesmerizing scene featuring Rachel Weisz, you can now download the audio commentary for the film, put it on your MP3 player, Zune, iPhone or iPod and bring it with you to the cinema; listening to it with headphones as the movie plays.

I have to hand it to Rian Johnson; he completely lives for new things in film. And, correct me if I'm wrong here, but this is the first "bring your own commentary" to the theatrical release of a film that I'm hearing about. Here's a filmmaker who completely understands that film isn't just an art form, its an experience.

edit: i've just been informed that Kevin Smith has done a portable commentary for one of his previous films.

Michael Walker looks forward to growing up.

Filmmaker Michael Walker has a wonderful Blog you can view here: and I highly recommend you do. I browsed through most of his past posts and they're great reads. He spends a great deal of time pointing out our culture's pragmatism and media mania. I could go on for days about the points he makes. In one of his posts, "Death of grown up films" he asks a very interesting question: "The big non-news in Hollywood this week is that STATE OF PLAY did crappy at the box office. This means that, in case you’ve missed this message which they deliver over and over again, grown ups don’t go to the movies so why is anybody still making movies for them?"

I've brought up this topic with several peers and the consensus seems to be the same: "we're patient." Hollywood is a young man's game, and while I myself and quite young (being born in 1983) I'm often worn out by the Hollywood Hype Machine and although I enjoy the occasional popcorn flick, I can't keep up. Being a recent graduate of Childhood I found that, like my older peers, my tastes have changed. I haven't been to a film on opening weekend since Freshman year of college (with the exception of The Dark Knight) and for me, the term "movie event" has lost all meaning.

As Michael points out in his post, "Grown ups have lost the habit of going to the movies because for the last twenty-plus years they’ve had less and less reason to go. It’s not enough to make one film every once in a while and say, where’s the audience? Only years of grown up films playing in theaters could ever bring that audience back, which many hits and misses along the way." Clearly, Hollywood only cares about the dollar, and that's to be expected, they're a business, there's not fault in their model, just a lack of appreciation. What do you think?

I'll be right there, just let me find my shorts (films)


well, if you're Scottish....

Markets and Festivals Fund
This fund enables Scottish-based talent to attend international markets and festivals to promote themselves and/or their projects. Please check our Markets and Festivals fund for more information.

Film festivals and events
There are many film festivals both in the UK and around the world that you can submit your film to. Some are specifically for short films, others have a theme or a genre. Some have entry fees, other require nothing more than a tape to be sent. Some of the main festivals and events throughout the world are listed in our World Festivals page on this site. Pay close attention to the entry criteria and what the festival’s aims are to see if your film is a good fit.

For more information on festivals and events, the British Council has a comprehensive Directory of International Film and Video Festivals. Visit for this list.

List of sales agents and distributors
One way of getting your film to a wider audience is to engage a sales agent or distributor to promote and sell your film to TV and media companies around the world. Here are just a few:


Future Shorts

Cinema 16

Trigger Street

Brit Shorts

Shorts online
There are many online video sites which can host your video and show it to the world. This is a great way for you to reach a wide audience with your film, however, sales agents and festivals are less likely to be interested in a film that is freely available online.

Basically, we can learn from the Scots. Their model isn't all that different from our own at all. You've Got it Made is available to download here:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Let it be...

After reading an interesting piece on where the film industry is going, I did a little research and complied a list of all the green-lit remakes. Aside from the little frustration of having to see remake after remake done over the past few years and sequel after sequel, I’m getting a little tired, but the MAIN complaint I have is that not only do some of the films not translate (timely or regionally) but they also take away from what made them so special. Not that all the following films were great in their original form, but remaking a film is like remaking a memory.

Several studies have shown that one of the reasons we rewatch movies is because as humans we have a natural inclination to re-experience times and events we like. We rewatch movies because we know that memory is going to be EXACTLY the same each time. Now, we seem to be steadily moving away from a memory culture into a storyteller culture. Like an old tale passed down from generation to generation, elements of the tales will change. Characters will change, locations will change, motivations will change, tone will change; all of these things will change when a different storyteller gets their hands on it. I’m not saying its necessarily a bad thing, but it can be.

Imagine “Jaws” or “Alien” being remade today; it couldn’t happen. We’ve been exposed to more special effects monsters than H.P. Lovecraft could ever dream. We’re no longer exposed to the fear of the unknown. We hadn’t seen a killer shark before, or an alien, and even in the films themselves we barely saw them. The film was built around atmosphere and characters. I remember my Uncle Buddy telling me when he first saw Godzilla. He was just a young kid at the time. When Godzilla (which we would now consider to be merely a Halloween Costume) popped his head over that mountaintop for the first time, the audience went nuts. People had to leave because of how horrifying it seemed. It was THE FIRST time something like this happened to us as a culture.

In my opinion, that’s what makes a great film. Yes, I understand and appreciate the need for mindless popcorn films, sometimes you just want to watch things blow up and look at awesome battles. There will always be remakes, and definitely retellings; our screen writing teachers told us there are only 28 storylines after all.

Films being remade soon:

The Thing
Karate Kid
Drop Dead Fred
The Gate
The Evil Dead
The Mechanic
Old Boy
Battle Royale
Angel Heart
The Warriors
They Live
The Crow
Red Dawn
Time Cop
District B13
The Host
The Lives of Others (don’t even get me started)
Short Circuit
Red Sonja
Top Gun
The Witches

Just let it be, Hollywood. Let it be.

Baby(ies) find a family

Some good news in the Distro world: Focus Features acquired domestic and select international rights to nonfiction feature “Baby(ies)” by filmmaker Thomas Balmes. The film is an original idea by Alain Chabat who produced the feature with Amandine Billot and Christine Rouxel through his Chez Wam production company. Focus will also release the film in Mexico, Italy, Scandinavia, Korea, and South Africa. In related news, Focus has also entered into a first-look deal with Chez Wam’s Los Angeles-based subsidiary Wam Films. “Baby(ies)” is currently in post-production for release in 2010.

The Plot: Capturing on film the earliest stages of the journey of humanity, “Baby(ies)” simultaneously follows four babies, in Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco, and Tokyo, respectively, from birth to first steps. Every shot tells a story, as the adventure of a lifetime begins.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ted Hope asks "Who Can Really Help Indie Film?"

There are a lot of people who in a position to improve our culture -- if they want to. If they don't, does it mean they really want us to suffer? And if they want us to suffer, does that make them our enemy? And if they are our enemy, how are we supposed to respond to them. Well, that's all something to discuss, but for now I was just more interested in who can be indie film's savior.

Why don't more people do more things to make this world a better place? If you ask me, they could even do well while they are doing good -- or in other words, I bet it would be profitable if they put a little more effort into making sure we saw the best work in the best, most convenient manner possible. Maybe if we talk about them, we can motivate them to act.

I hope to make this a regular feature at TFF and would love your suggestion on whom, with a little effort, could make a big difference to us all. Let me know your thoughts on this.

Today's suggestion is the unknown editors who pick what is featured on the iTunes store home pages. They wield tremendous power. Just by featuring a short film, app, or film prominently they influence purchasing habits in a very big way. Check out this article that I was tipped to by Variety's Anne Thompson. It pretty much says it all. Unfortunately, we don't know their names so for now they are but gods who names we can not speak. Yet imagine if they took initiative to save indie film. Think of the good will they would have in the community. Wouldn't it entice more filmmakers to want to work with them? How sweet would that be for everyone, eh? - Ted Hope

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ted Hope on Respect for your Audience

Film is a dialogue between the audience and the screen, and like an individual, film can talk down to its audience or ignore its audience’s needs. Respect is an equal relationship and in film it is reflected by the creative team indicating that they don’t think the audience is a bunch of fools or unwilling to work for a deeper and richer experience.

After 100 years of filmmaking, most audiences recognize that a handgun introduced in the first act will most likely go after in the third. Audiences know that an overt close-up at the end of a shot sequence means that the subject is important or will be important in an unexpected way. Filmmakers who don’t acknowledge our shared cinematic language demonstrate a lack of respect for an audience.

Since audiences generally have seen many films, to not show them something new, make them feel something new, or think of something in a new way, demonstrates a disrespect of the audience’s time and investment. Movies have to do more than just get made or made with high technical standards; they have to aspire to taking us somewhere not just new, but something that will provoke us beyond the common place conclusions of the concept.

Studios and financiers frequently ask filmmakers “who is the audience?” in regards to a project, and they never want to hear “everybody”. They expect to have a clearly defined group whom they know how to reach and communicate with, but even this demonstrates the beginning of a disconnect with the true nature of any community. Nobody likes to be defined as a specific demographic. One of the true joys of cinema is that it speak to the expansiveness of the human spirit. Sure we have our favorite things, but generally what we initially respond to, are just a few of them initially – film can expose a greater part of ourselves, and filmmakers willing to do this, show the greatest respect for an audience. A movie does not have to be a singular tone. It does not have to fit firmly within the dictates of a specific genre. Great movies do not require that all the lead characters are people we “love” and “sympathize” for. We show audiences respect when we recognize that everyone likes to experience new things and recognize them as part of themselves.- Ted Hope

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Americanization: Some Things Just Don't Translate

I knew this was coming for a long, long time.

This post is a bit personal for me. I love "Death Note", a Japanese Manga/Anime that was one of the best and smartest things I've ever seen. WB has decided to bring the live action version to America. The english dubbed anime was horrendous, there was so much lost in the translation; the dialogue, the inflection, the tone, ugh... the nightmares still haunt me. Death Note is, in my opinion, THE SMARTEST story of the last 10 years, it will have to be dumbed down for American Mainstream Audiences, and it will lose everything that made it great. This is the one time I wish I had the power NOT to make a film happen. I don't want it ruined. Some things just don't need to be adapted. But, I understand the power this industry has; and I can't fault it for being what it is... can I?

What is Death Note? A college student stumbles upon a misplaced “death note” and acquires the power to kill simply by writing a person’s name on the page while thinking of the person. How’s that for power? That could be someone you’d want to keep as a friend. Or an employee whose request for a raise you wouldn’t want to turn down. It’s the premise of the 13 volume Japanese manga best seller “Death Note” and it looks like it will be coming to a theater near you in a live action adaptation. Warner Bros. has picked up the rights and will use the first three books written by Tsugumi Ohba with illustrations by Takeshi Obata, published by Shueisha Inc. as the basis for the film.

Warner Bros. previously made three Japanese language Death Note films, which were... sub par, in terms of plot, but the new versions will be inspired by the original manga.

Roy Lee and Doug Davison of Vertigo will produce with Brian Witten and Dan Lin’s Lin Pictures. Screenwriters Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, War of the Gods, Live Bet, will be penning the screenplay.

No cast has been announced yet. Personally, the only two people I can see playing these the roles of Light and L well would be Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emile Hirsch; they're deep characters and there are not many young actors around who can pull it off. Maybe it WILL be good, but in our experience, these kinds of adaptations rarely are.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Things This Movie Web Site Does Wrong

From Scott Kirsner: Here's a Wednesday challenge for you: have a look at this Web site (, and think about the things it does wrong from a digital marketing point-of-view. (Note: this is a movie I'm very interested in seeing, as a fan of Disney history, so I would *like* to see them doing a better job.)

I'd note at least four things:

1. The title of the movie, "the boys," is very hard to "own" on Google. The words are just too common (try searching on "the boys" in Google). Pick a title that is non-generic enough that you have a shot at appearing on the first page of Google results. ("Burma VJ," a doc from this year's Sundance Film Festival, is a good example.)

2. Site is built entirely in Flash, so there is no way to link to a specific part of it. Sites in Flash are close to invisible when it comes to search engines. There's also no way for bloggers or other Web sites to easily "grab" text, like the movie synopsis, when they want to write about it on their site.

3. There's no info whatsoever on where I can see the film (at festivals or in theaters).

4. No way for me to give them my e-mail so I can be notified when the DVD goes on sale.

What else can we learning, using this as a case study?