One Year of #52FILMSBYWOMEN

by Carrie Specht 

women-in-film-logoAt the end of August Women In Film sent out their usual weekly newsletter (via email).  In it there was a message from the communications Coordinator, Morgan Green regarding the approaching one-year anniversary of the organization’s #52FilmsByWomen campaign.  It was on October 1, 2015, that they first launched the ingenious program as part of our Trailblazing Women Initiative with Turner Classic Movies (that’s right, TCM!).  Women In Film asked a simple question: “Will viewers watch a film a week by a woman for one year?” As it turns out nearly eight thousand people said YES.

women-in-filmGiven the number of people who go to the movies every week, watch TV, or stream content in the US alone this may not seem like an all too impressive number.  However, I think it is.  The number is particularly impressive when you consider how many people have taken on the challenge who did not sign up for the pledge online, either because they became aware of the project via TCM rather than through the organization, or simply didn’t feel the need to officially sign up.  What it says is that there are people out there who are interested, and care about giving female filmmakers the opportunity at getting their work the exposure they deserve.  No one’s saying that a film by a women is always going to be great.  All anyone is trying to achieve is having an opportunity, to succeed or fail, by having an opportunity at all.  Get it?

imagesFor those who were on this journey from the very beginning, you dedicated movie watchers may have nearly finished your list of fifty-two (and if you have, WIF would love to hear about it).  However, life may have gotten in the way as it sometimes does, but that doesn’t mean you should give up!  You can always support women creators by watching their work.  If you’re concerned that you can think of fifty-two films by women to watch and need inspiration, check out 245 Films by Women on Netflix.  Not only does it give you an extra 193 films, it’s a pretty amazing list that provides more than enough options for film loving entertainment.  Heck, I just checked out the options that start with an A and there’s easily five films there alone that I’d like to watch!

director-spotlightYou can also check out the personal list provided by Morgan Green herself (personal list).  It’s a little short of 52 films at the time of this posting, but the recommendations are solid ones.  In fact, you may just be surprised at how many of these films you’ve already seen.  And may not even have realized they were directed by women!  Which is kind of the point, isn’t it?  After all, the sooner we stop labeling films by the gender of the filmmaker (or ethnicity, or religion, or what have you) the sooner we can simply enjoy every film for what it is and not view it through an imagined perspective that merely skews the experience.

If this is your first time hearing of the campaign, it’s not too late! You can make the pledge today, and help Women In Film get to 10,000 pledges before #52FilmsByWomen celebrates its first anniversary.  Who will join me in the exploration of some amazing talent?  Who knows, this could lead to you expanding your horizons in a multitude of directions when it comes to your cinematic pallet.  I envy your journey.  Bon voyage!

Some Thoughts on RoboCop

by A. A. Matin

MV5BMTk1MDUzMTQ3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDAwNTk0NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_I was never a big fan of the movie Robocop. That is sacrilege to some.  I saw the movie when I was sixteen.  For a long time I think my distaste was because I expected a straight-ahead action film.  But instead I got “social commentary.” But that never rested well with me.  I usually love films that have a subtext, like how Dawn of the Dead is an allegory for Mass Consumerism.  Or Star Wars is a parallel for the Vietnam War.  But a closer inspection of the film as an adult and I realized why I felt the way I did.  The social commentary isn’t very good.  The car is named the SUX 6000.  I get it!  It sucks!  Is that really funny?  Also the film is outdated.

The original RoboCop was clearly written by adults who were not part of youth culture.  For example,  the first parody commercial we see is for the “Family Heart Center” where a doctor says, “We feature the complete Jarvik line.”  The movie was released in 1987.  Dr. Jarvik and his artificial heart was last news in 1983.  Four years is nothing to an adult.  But to a youngster like I was at the time – that was a quarter of my life!  These relatively recent references would never stand the test of time.

maxresdefaultAnd there’s a later ad for a game called Nukem!  It’s a board game about nuclear war.  But once again it was not new.  In fact it was backwards.  Nukem was a board game version of the video game Missile Command.  A game that was first released back in 1980 (obviously the writers did not spend time in arcades)!  Ironically, one of the film’s taglines is “The Future of Law Enforcement.”  But I guess the filmmakers didn’t know that board games were becoming the past and that video was the future of gaming.  And there was no particularly clever twist on any of the “breaking news” inserts to show the absurdist nature of it: the STI misfires and burns Santa Barbara, a power failure causes the President to experience weightlessness aboard a space station.  Big fucking deal!  

The very first news story says the ruling white military government of South African reveals that they have a French Neutron Bomb and will use it as their last line of defense.  Since the popular idea of a “French Neutron Bomb” is that it kills people and leaves the infrastructure in tact… and this story is set in a technologically advanced future… how about a new Neutron Bomb that only kills black people.  And the South African government detonated it – only to have it not work properly and it obliterated the entire nation.  Now that would be outrageous.

maxresdefault-1When I saw the remake, I liked that they did away with these commercials and attempts at satire.  It was a straight-ahead Science Fiction and action film like I expected back in the eighties.  However the attempted satire, no matter how bad, was one of the things most people remembered about the original.  Removing part of the essential nature of the original turned fans against the remake.  Additionally, the remake suffered from another elemental problem.  It told essentially the same story as the original.  Robocop overcomes his programming, takes his revenge on the people who “killed” him the first time and reaffirms his identity as Alex Murphy and ergo regains his humanity.  The studio wanted a franchise.  But where do you go from there?  

In the original film RoboCop asks his partner, “Murphy had a wife and son.  What happened to them?”  Lewis tells him that she thought he was dead and moved away and started over.  RoboCop replies, “I can feel them.  But I can’t remember them.” So what do they do in the sequel?  RoboCop drives by his former wife’s house and spies on them.  She sues OCP.  One of their lawyers says to RoboCop, “Do you think you could ever be a husband to her?  I mean, what can you offer her?  Companionship?  Love?  A man’s love?”  Murphy realizes the futility of his emotions the lawyer gets him to admit that he is no longer Alex Murphy and not human.  RoboCop then sees his former wife and says to her, “They made this to honor him.  Your husband is dead.  I don’t know you.”  How can you care about him as a character and want to follow his story when he treats his wife that way?  They had to undo the point of the first film in order to have RoboCop keep being a cop and have further adventures.

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In the remake, they made the wife and child a part of the story.  She okays his transformation into RoboCop in order to keep him alive.  She is still married to him.  However OCP keeps her and their son from seeing Alex.  In the climax, Murphy overcomes his programming to protect his wife and child and the movie ends with them finally meeting him for the first time as a cybernetic organism.  And therein lies the rub.  The problem is that the story of RoboCop is essentially a tragedy.  He can regain his identity, but not his life.  He can’t share a bed with his wife.  A mostly robotic father playing catch with his son is more pathetic and sad than heart warming.  Once you tell the story of his regaining his free will and humanity and hunting down the people who originally took his life away – there is no more story to tell.  The logical evolution is Alex getting his life back.  But that can never be.

MV5BMjAyOTUzMTcxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjkyOTc1MDE@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_So how do you keep the franchise going?  Well RoboCop was created to fight street crime by the Omni Corporation.  Like most corporations, they don’t care about right and wrong or doing a public service.  All they care about is profits.  As Dick Jones said in the original film, “I had a guaranteed military sale with Ed-209; renovation program, spare parts for 25 years.  Who cares if it worked or not?”  Not too dissimilar the attitude from GM and their faulty ignition switches.  Malcolm Gladwell gave a great talk once where he talks about how all great entrepreneurs and capitalists have a sense of amorality about them.  All they care about is their business.  They will exploit workers or get into bed with horrible governments if that is what it takes for the business to thrive.  

The next evolution of that is from amoral to immoral.  Dick Jones kills a co-worker who disrespected him.  Why?  Because he could.  To that end, OCP put in a directive that RoboCop cannot arrest an officer of the company.  In the original he never overcomes this immoral piece of programming.  In the remake, he just barely is able to – just barely.  So RoboCop regains his identity, but does he really regain his morality?  His ethics?  The moral compass he had as a human?  And ergo does he regain his humanity without them?  Once again, how can you root for him as a hero?  In an age of income inequality, it is clear that the evil is not the mugger on the street.  It is the corporations that create the economic environment for poverty to thrive.

Joel Kinnaman, left, and Gary Oldman star in Columbia Pictures' "Robocop."

Joel Kinnaman, left, and Gary Oldman star in Columbia Pictures’ “Robocop.”

So here’s an idea… Robocop needs to become like Robin Hood.  Alex Murphy’s organic brain is powerful enough to overcome the computer programming and he regains his free will and human sense of morality.  He breaks free from the control of OCP and as a result is forced into the position of a fugitive on the run.  Just like Dr. Richard Kimble in the original TV series of The Fugitive.  He is on the run from the cops, the FBI, and OCP.  But his moral compass forces him to help people in need when and where he can.  All the while he knows that his wife and son are in potential danger while he is out there.  RoboCop re-writes his own program and becomes a Corporate Cop.  CEOs and wealthy people commit crimes and get away.  So RoboCop acts as their judge, jury and executioner where the government won’t.  He hunts down douchebag CEO’s, corporate raiders, and the like.  This is a great way to add back the satire and “social commentary” of the first movie.  For example, lets say RoboCop finds out about a young guy like Martin Shrkeli who buys a drug company and raises the price of a life saving drug by 5000%.  He finds out that this guy is a playboy who likes to sleep with lots of women.  So does RoboCop shoot him in the face?  No.  

3656377-robocop_110616RoboCop corners him and snips off the head of his penis – only the head.  He leaves the testicles alone so his body still produces testosterone and he has normal male sexual desires.  And he leaves the shaft so he can still have coitus.  But without the head of his penis, it will be nearly impossible for him to ever have an orgasm and he is forced to live the rest of his life with Blue Balls.  That is his punishment for being a douchebag.  Lower the price back to a reasonable rate or the next time you see me, you will die.  That’s outrageous!  CEO’s become afraid of getting punished or killed by RoboCop such that many start insourcing jobs, stop trying to break unions, treat customers with more respect.  As a result all these companies see increases in productivity and ultimately gains in profits.  But they don’t care.  It’s not about money.  It’s about being in control.  So they still want RoboCop destroyed.  They buy political will to keep the police and FBI and even hired assassins on his tail and track him down before he makes another One-per center pay in some crazy and tortuous way.  

Call me crazy, but that sounds like something I would want to see.  That sounds like something that could be played out for a few movies before getting stale.  The Fugitive milked this premise for 120 hours of Television.  The tale of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is over 350 years old.  And isn’t that what we really want the future of law enforcement to be?

Why the New Star Wars Trilogy Might Not Suck

by A. A. Matin

SW-E7-TFAWhat was the most mind blowing moment in the original Star Wars Trilogy?  Was it the first time we saw a light saber  Was it Vader killing the Emperor?  Was it Luke training with Yoda?  Was it Leia in a metal bikini?  No, it was none of these.  When I tell you what I think – I doubt you will disagree.  But first let me give a little backstory.  Star Wars was inspired by Saturday Morning Serials.  These would be a short feature, typically about 20 minutes, that was a chapter of a longer story.  They screened once a week on Saturday mornings in a local movie theater.  The entire story would be about 10-15 Chapters.
 
Lucas said that you would inevitably come in the middle of a serial and not know what happened before.  That is part of the reason why the first movie is “Episode IV.”  When thinking about serials, he remembered two types.  One was the space opera type – which became Star Wars.  The other was the swashbuckler adventure type.  This became the Indiana Jones films.  Now I will go on a slight diversion about Indiana Jones (don’t worry, it is all pertinent).  I have always been a film geek.  Even in elementary school I had consciously thought, “You know Spielberg and Lucas make similar films.  They should work together.”  I didn’t know that they were already friends.
 
11875118_1007880092596925_2204135516599208531_oThen one day I was watching TV.  White text over black saying “Jaws. 1975” appeared on screen and grows.  Then “Star Wars. 1977”.  Followed by “Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977”, and “Empire Strikes Back 1980”.  The narrator says that the two biggest names in Motion Pictures are teaming up. I thought, “Awesome!”  What followed was a lot of fast cutting of the action beats in Raiders.  At one point I thought, “Hey, is that Harrison Ford?” but it was moving so fast I couldn’t tell.  Then the trailer ended with a classic shot from the Truck Chase.  Looking down the hood of the truck, Indy is holding on to the Mercedes Benz hood ornament.  It slowly bends backwards and then breaks off and Indy falls out of frame.  At that point the commercial cut to black and was over.
 
At that moment my mind exploded.  Grey matter was splattered all over my parents’ living room.  I squealed, “OH MY GOD!  I HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW!”  I had to see how Indiana Jones got out of that predicament.  It was a perfect example of the Cliffhanger that was the lifeblood of the serials that inspired the film.  Each chapter of a Serial would end with a Cliffhanger.  We all know what they are. But think about the term.  The hero would be hanging off the edge a Cliff about to die (or some other similar peril).  And you had to come back next week to see how he would get out of it.
 
rp5z2dwjyl7utj8wdphqAnd that was the greatest moment in the original Star Wars Trilogy.  The end of The Empire Strikes Back when Vader says, “No, I am your father!”  That is when collectively all of our minds exploded all over movie theaters around the world.  It was and still is one of the greatest shocks and twists in movie history.  The great part of that age was that people were respectful of it.  No one was blogging about the secrets the next day.  I saw Empire Strikes Back after it had been in theaters for a month.  No one told me about the end or even hinted at it.  And the question of whether Vader was being honest was buffeted by the fact that Han Solo was frozen in Carbonite.  You just knew that his friends were going to have to rescue him. But how?
 
To me that was the reason why the prequel trilogy sucked. It wasn’t the wooden acting. It wasn’t the digital sets.  We all would have forgiven them if we had that one moment where our minds were truly blown away and we were given a reason to want to come back and see the continuation of the story.  The last set of films forgot their roots in the serials. Episode I ended in a neat little bow.  Episode II did have some questions.  Like who was Master Sipho-Dyas that commissioned the Kaminoans to create the Clone Army and where did he get the money.  But this felt more like bad screenwriting than a question that demanded an answer. (and ultimately was never answered).  George got lazy because he knew he had a built in audience who would come back for Parts II and III.
 
luke_skywalkerThe reason I have hope is because J.J. Abrams comes from Television.  TV is the evolution of the Saturday Morning Serials.  Most TV shows are a serialized dramatic story told in 12-23 episodes.  Usually, the end of an episode will dangle a carrot or end on a cliffhanger moment to get you to tune in next week.  I hope Abrams brought some of this mentality to the movie.  Business decisions are often made from a place of fear.  It feels less risky to spend money on a concept or formula that has already shown itself to be successful.  Movies that truly shock and surprise us are few and far between. We are so used to seeing the same tropes recycled time and again that when a film really pulls the rug out from under us – people always enjoy it.  Citizen Kane, Psycho, The Empire Strikes Back, Pulp Fiction, American Beauty, The Sixth Sense, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were all films that shocked us out of complacency.  There is a reason they are considered classics. And if we are lucky we will be able to say the same about Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

2015 Portland Film Festival – a Fun Place to Be and to See

by Carrie Specht

130827-205234-0514The third annual Portland Film Festival starts Tuesday, September 1 and runs through Monday, September 7.  By all accounts the festival has established itself (within just a few short years) as a strong national presence, known for eclectic films and unique events.  Even the esteemed Moviemaker Magazine recently named the festival “one of the coolest film festivals in the world.”  This is strong praise indeed when you consider how many festivals are out there each vying to establish some kind of relevant international profile.  And this year’s lineup is stronger than ever.

DSC_0395It may surprise some that Portland is celebrating just its third year as host to a film fest.  I mean, it is a pretty mighty metropolis on the Pacific seaboard, and doesn’t just about every major city have a film festival in its gazilliunth year?  Well, it may be late to the party, but Portland is going strong and doing things right as a leader in the celebration of cinema and those who make it.  Fans of the fledgling event will find plenty to feast on with a variety of screenings and events including the highly anticipated ZOMBIE DAY.  This will be a free live (mostly – get it?) event that will be attempting to make a new Guinness Book World Record.  The goal is to utilize two thousand festival-goers as extras in the short film, “Zombie Day Apocalypse”.  I have to say that’s a pretty unique lure that promises to be entertaining even of they don’t make the record.  After all, when will you ever get another chance to play a zombie in a movie?

Culture_Film_FilmFest_PIFF_hollywood_courtesy_PIFFAlso on the schedule is a tribute to WILL VINTON, Portland’s Academy Award-winning stop motion pioneer.  He’ll receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for Innovation in Filmmaking.  WENDY FROUD, the acclaimed creature sculptor and puppet maker will also be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work as a fabricator on Yoda for “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (awesome!).  In the same week there will be over seventy workshops led by top industry pros, the obligatory After Parties with live musical performance, and a chance to meet and network with over three hundred and fifty visiting filmmakers (assuming everyone makes their flights).

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This year’s film slate includes a diverse selection of competition films, world premieres, spotlights on music themed documentaries and local filmmakers.  The talent appearing in films being shown includes James Franco in Yosemite, Jane Seymour in Bereave, Cloris Leachman and Judd Nelson in This is Happening, wrestler Jake The Snake in The Resurrection of Jake The Snake, Patton Oswald in Dude Bro Party Massacre III (the title entices me to check out I and II), and docs on rock the bands Morphine and Twisted Sister.  And that’s just a smattering of what’s in store.  Full the full festival lineup and info to purchase passes and tickets go to: www.portlandfilmfestival. com

The nonprofit Portland Film Festival was founded by filmmaker and Executive Director Josh Leake in 2013, and is made possible by the generous donation of time and skills by over 300 volunteers each year. Last year the festival drew 23,000 ticket holders (no way of counting the crashers), 240 visiting filmmakers (many from outside the U.S.) and more than a thousand industry members, making it one of Oregon’s most popular cultural events. That’s actually saying a lot considering Portland still stands as one of the meccas of the music industry. With credentials like that, there’s no doubt the Portland Film Festival will continue to raise among the “must” festivals for filmmakers and attendees alike. I encourage going now while the event is still young and playful. It may always remain so, but why take a chance?

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Basic Rules for the Background Artist

by Carrie Specht

Background-ExtrasThe background artist, or extra is the most thankless and overlooked position on any production.  In a sense, it needs to be.  After all, if you’re paying more attention to what’s going on with the people in the background than you are to the main actors then someone hasn’t done their job right. Although, there is a lot of time and energy spent on making sure this important contributing factor to the atmosphere of a production is just so, it is vital that it not draw any attention to itself.  This result is virtually the definition of a classic “catch-22” otherwise know as, “mutually conflicting dependent conditions”.  Welcome to movie making!

There are some important basic guidelines that will help the background artist achieve the goal of aiding production to their fullest ability, while at the same time making the most of the experience.  The following are just a few of the more obvious points.  As your experience grows, so will your understanding of what is expected of you and you’ll be able to achieve every one of these goals without thinking about it.  That’s when you’ll know you’re a pro.

18367358_SABe on time.  Punctuality is important for any job.  Yet, there seems to be a popular misconception that tardiness is the norm in the entertainment industry – that it’s no big deal if you’re a few minutes late.  This is perpetuated by the well-publicized antics of name actors.  However, unless your name is used as a tool to promote the project you’re working on you better be on time and ready to work.  This means you are dressed, made up and have already eaten and gone to the bathroom by your set call time.  Period.  There are literally thousands upon thousands of people ready to take your place, so you really don’t want to give those responsible for hiring you a reason to replace you.  Many Assistant Directors (the crew members to whom you answer directly) are jaded by bad experiences with background artists, and they don’t have the inclination to deal with someone who is going to be difficult in any way, shape, or form.  They simply don’t have the time.  So, start off on the right foot by being on time, early even, but not too early.  Someone who is ridiculously early can be as much trouble as someone who is late.  They just get in the way.  Fifteen minutes is early enough.  If you have to, wait in your car before arriving at the designated check in point.  Otherwise, you may be considered a nuisance.

539wBe prepared.  If you have been instructed to bring a specific type of clothing or item such as a backpack, purse, etc., then do so.  And make an effort to match the request as precisely as possible.  If you’ve been requested to appear in cocktail attire, country club casual or some other description with which you are unfamiliar then “Google” it.  There’s no excuse in today’s world of instant information for not knowing what is meant by a particular style of dress code.  Also take the time to make sure your items of clothing are presentable.  Do not show up with a couple of quickly selected items that barely meet the description and are obviously in need of ironing, cleaning, or worse.  Remember, you have been asked to bring a specific selection for the purpose of speeding up the process of preparing you for camera, not slowing it down.  This means you should definitely not answer a call for something you know you cannot fill.  If you don’t have a tuxedo, don’t take the job that requires one, thinking you can show up and have wardrobe fit you for one.  It is highly unlikely that will happen and you will be sent home without pay.  The same goes for make up and hair. If the scene you’ll be working on requires extra care in grooming you need to check in with that already done.  That goes for men too! Particularly if you are informed ahead of time that you will be playing a cop or other uniformed position.  Your sideburns and facial hair (let alone the hair around your collar line) is expected to be appropriate to the role.  If it isn’t, then do not be surprised when you are asked if it’s okay to cut your hair or shave your face.  If it is not okay with you (which is absolutely your prerogative) then you should not have taken the job.

inflatable_movie_extras_640_09Be flexible.  If you are booked to be a doctor in a hospital, but upon arrival are asked to switch to being a patient, please be gracious enough to do so without hesitation.  Similarly, if you are given one set of instructions for your on screen business, and then someone else comes along and gives you an entirely different set of instructions, simply and quickly inform the second person that you have already been “set” and by whom.  They will either leave you with your first set of instruction or tell you that your instructions are being changed. Both results happen all the time.  The first because the second person did not know you had been “set”, and the second because things change quickly on set, and you need to be ready to change with them.

background-actors-with-johnBe attentive.  Please use your common sense here.  If a person of authority is talking, do not be paying attention to anything else but that person.  If you are on set, do not be doing anything other than standing by to do your business, whether that’s what you’ve been informed to do or waiting to be informed what to do.  It is most aggravating when someone has very little time to set the background and the background artist isn’t paying attention.  You need to know what you’re doing as well as what others around you are doing, because often times your cue is motivated by the actions of another background artist.  You do not want to be the person who says, “I don’t understand.  Who am I waiting for?  When do I go?  Can you say that again?”  More than likely, you will not be asked back, let alone included in the more complicated setups, thus reducing your screen time.

Be alert.  If something around you changes you need to be aware of it.  However, these changes are not always directed at you so you need to be able to notice them.  If you’re working on a scene where the cue of one background artist is dependent on the next and so on, and one of those cues is changed then there is a domino effect.  So if you’re alert enough to pick up on this whether or not the Assistant Director has told you directly that person will be in your debt for being on top of things.  If in doubt, ask.  This is a good question and your alertness will be appreciated.

s04_e0407_01_136191849957Be polite.  Smiles and good manners go a long way.  I was once told that I looked upset and unapproachable.  After reviewing several pictures of myself I saw that I did indeed look angry in many of them even though I know that I was not.  As it turned out, my face in its natural relaxed state was a scowl.  It took some time and a lot of practice but I trained myself to smile no matter what.  I’m not saying that if a devastating accident occurred right in front of me I wouldn’t respond appropriately, but I now smile when relaxed.  Most people now find me pleasant and approachable.  I don’t think you have to be insincere, but things generally go a lot smoother when those involved make the effort to be pleasant.  Yes, it may be a very long day of repeating the same actions over and over. But remember, the same will be true for everyone else too, so you might as well make the most of it.

Be in the moment.  Don’t be watching the clock.  Your day will go much slower if you do, I guarantee it.  Instead, take every opportunity to learn from what’s going on around you.  It may be a long day, but it will be a much fuller one that goes by surprisingly quickly when you strive to make every moment an opportunity to grow in your knowledge and skills as a member of the on set team.  You never know what you might learn from the every day experience if you pay attention.

20150328_142733-e1427725021475-620x349Be professional.  Do not take anything personally, and take the good with the bad.  Sadly, there will be times when you are treated unfairly and with a manner that may seem disrespectful if not out and out so.  That’s just the way it is.  But more than likely when this happens it will have nothing to do with you.  On the other hand, when you are treated with exception it will likely have a lot to do with you and your ability to go with the flow.

Be willing.  Do not moan about doing the work.  It’s not as if it will change anything any way.  Remember, most people on set are not performing their dream job.  More than likely all most everyone (cast and crew) is looking to move up in one way or another.  Everyone will have something to complain about, but the one that works time and again is the one who is smart enough to keep it to him or herself and readily pitches in when called upon.

Be safe.  I cannot stress this point hard enough.  Sets can be dangerous places.  Watch out for cables, water spills, protruding light stands, etc.  It is important to always pay attention to where you are going.  If you see something that you think may be a hazard then tell someone with production (a PA or AD).  Hazards can’t be attended to unless someone says something.  And don’t do anything that may make you uncomfortable.  If you are asked to do anything that makes you uncomfortable then simply say so.  Don’t make a big deal about, and don’t make a scene, just simply say you are uncomfortable with the request. Don’t feel the need to explain yourself.  In fact, it’s less time consuming if you don’t.  It Selma Filmingdoesn’t matter if you feel unsafe making a cross amid traffic, would rather not lift a heavy item, your reasons are your own and should in most cases be respected.  After all, you need to be able to work on your next job and you don’t want to do anything on this job that will physically prevent you from taking the next one.

Be smart.  If you end up being called out for your work because in someone’s eyes you made a mistake, don’t throw the blame on anyone else by saying something like, “But the AD told me to do that”.  That’s considered “throwing someone under the bus”.  Just listen to what they want you to do differently and do it.  And if you realize you’re about to collide with another background artist (or worse, a lead actor) use your best judgment to adjust your timing.  You can pause, change your pace, hesitate longer at your start mark, but be sure not to cause a distraction that will pull the focus from the main action.  The ADs will thank you for it.

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Be tolerant.  Not everyone around will have the same attitude about the work.  Do not let them bring you down, and be patient with them.  The Assistant Director who is currently being less than charming may have just had a bad run in with the Producer or Star of the show.  Their bad mood will pass; so don’t give them any reason to associate that previous bad experience with you.  Nor should you let the jaded background artist contaminate you with their negativity.  Take what the complainers say with a grain of salt and consider the source.  You’re also going to have to deal with those who have dominant personalities and strong opinions.  You may vehemently disagree with someone you are forced to work with, but the set of a movie or TV show is not the place to debate anyone.

Be positive.  This is probably the most important thing to do.  The set of any production is a great place to learn about your craft, about the behind the scenes needs of the business, and about dealing with all types of personalities, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity.  You may not be working under the best conditions, nor be treated with the greatest respect but you can’t let that effect you.  Remember all of the positive aspects of the job.  After all, you have a job in a clean and safe place where you don’t have to dig ditches (unless of course you’re cast you as a ditch digger).  You’re attitude will make all the difference in what you get out of every experience, so do your best to make each experience an enriching one.

 

ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel Releases 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films in Theatres

by Carrie Specht

THE_BIGGER_PICTURE_still-e1422561119223-625x375Following the tradition of ten years, the world’s only short movie channel, ShortsHD is responsible for the theatrical premieres of films in the Live Action Short, Animated Short and Documentary Short categories of the Academy Awards. This year’s Oscar Nominated Short Films opened in Los Angeles theaters and across the country on January 30. The Live Action and Animated shorts began their run at The Nuart in West L.A. and the Documentary shorts stepped things off at the Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. All three programs opened in Orange County at the Regency South Coast Village.

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Not to confuse you too much, but the Live Action and Animated programs are separate programs with individual admissions, whereas the Documentary shorts are separated in to two programs due to length but have only one admission price. Got it? Don’t worry, either way it’s worth the price to see these inspiring, innovative and thought provoking mini films. I’m particularly found of the animated ones, which show an unusually high caliber of quality. In past years there has been a clear stand out in the competition making it seem as if the other nominees were included just to round out the field. Not so this year. Each animated short is a true gem and could capture the coveted statue come February 22. I can’t help you out with your Oscar pools here, but I will tell you I’m leaning toward The Dam Keeper.

THE_DAM_KEEPER_stillI honestly got caught up with each and every short, believing I’d seen the winner after each one had ended. Which is particularly notable since most of these little wonders are very short – I mean really short. A Single Life is just two minutes long! I suppose it’s unfortunate for the filmmakers to be nominated in such a truly competitive year, whereas each could easily win had they been eligible a year earlier or a year later. But the situation is a blessing for those who enjoy animation at its best. 

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The entire program of animated films is 77 minutes in length and includes entries from Canada, the US, the UK, and the Netherlands. The styles (as usual) are diverse and the stories tend to be on the sentimental side with plenty of comedy thrown in to keep things from getting too heavy. After watching the five nominees (and four additional honorable mentions) I was elated. With most of the films running under seven minutes the program has a crisp pace that will keep your attention, and likely have you wanting more. A terrific program for all ages, this is a day at the movies the entire family can enjoy. So I encourage you not to miss this once a year experience and expose yourself to the art of animated short films. After you try it once you may discover that this could be a tradition worth continuing year after year.

Check your local listings for theaters and times. Tuesday, February 17 at 7 p.m. there will be a screening of the shorts at the Academy, hosted by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sean Astin. Come Oscar eve, Saturday, February 21 at 9:30 PM you can catch these spectacular shorts at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, located just blocks from the site of Sunday’s show. 

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Carrie, Randy and Ruben Are Back Rambling About Movies

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Carrie, Randy and Ruben like to talk about movies whenever and where ever. Sadly, Randy couldn’t be with us so Dick Hollywood is filling in for him for this quick (8 minutes or so) revival of a once grand plan.

We roam from topic to topic pretty quickly, and Carrie is a lot louder than her subdued counter parts (Dick can be such a wallflower, poor thing). We’ll be sure to iron out the technical difficulties for our next submissions, but for now give us a listen and let us know what you think. Is Carrie an insufferable know-it-all? Is Ruben an obstinate jerk? Is Dick Hollywood the coolest guy in town who just knows everything about films on the edgier side? You tell us.

Red Carpet Morning at the Oscars

by Carrie Specht

IMG_1643Today is an unusual day. Today is the day the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out Oscars for what they consider to be the best of the industry produced during the past year. Today was also the day I, and two of my production students spent the morning on the red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre shooting a segment for my site RetroSpecht.com. For most college students that’s an unusual morning.

That’s the two of them in the picture standing next to an oversized golden statue. They were acting as my crew as I oversaw my sister and her husband (that’s us in the next picture) as they reported on the tremendous impact Australian actors have had on the Oscars. That’s it that was our whole crew. That may seem small, but in actuality, most of the reporters populating the pre-show red carpet were either in pairs or by themselves pulling selfies with their iPhones and other portable cameras.

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Although it was early morning (we started at 5:30am ) there was a hive of activity happening all around us and it just got busier and more hectic as the morning went on. The feeling became palpable and an overall sense of excitement came over the entire area as the clock ticked closer and closer to the time where we were required to leave the area in order to make room for attendees, entourages, and the rest of the media hullabaloo.

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After driving into LA, finding a spot to drop our equipment and then park we spent an exciting two and a half hours getting the footage we needed. When we got to our spot just inside the entrance to the Dolby stairs it was notably busy, but by the time we finished there was a constant drone of sound tests, a steady rush of reporters whizzing by with hand held cameras talking about the famed Oscar staircase, and an automated recording blaring with information for attendees about which escalators to take to get to the Governor’s ball. It was an electrifying circus… and the real show hadn’t even started yet.

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Because our bit was to be a record segment to be edited with “B” roll pictures of the surrounding scenery we had to shoot many takes, or repeats of the same information. There was no way we were going to be able to control any of the action in the background, so we decided it was best to just go with whatever came our way. This included dealing with competing reporters standing so close we could pick them up on our microphones, and paparazzi helicopters circling above. It was rather impressive how our on air talent kept their composure through all of this. I think the Ugg boots helped. And a great big woolly jacket between takes. Of course our appropriately dressed reporter became so uncomfortable with the cold during part of the shoot that I stepped in as her double to hold the microphone during a close up on the interviewee. Sine the picture was framed in such a way that you couldn’t tell whether the original reporter was there or not, she took the opportunity to get warm, and I got my moment on the red carpet. It was an unseen moment , but it’s a step in the right direction.

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Unlike the on-air talent I was not dressed for camera. I never am. However, I noticed that most of the other camera crews were dressed to the nines with many members of the behind the scenes crew looking ready to jump in front of the lens at any time. I suppose this is  befitting of a red carpet event, and reflects a certain level of professionalism, but I think most of these people were either overly excited about being involved with the Oscars (even if only in a minor way) that they over-dressed, or they knew they were going to be interacting with the nominees as they arrived, so dressed for the occasion. We on the other hand had only limited passes that required us to leave by 11:00am. So we were never going to be anywhere near the stars.

IMG_1654No indeed, it wasn’t until hours later when we had already packed up our camera, had a good breakfast and driven back home that any of the night’s honorees had even stepped into their limos to head for the red carpet on which we had earlier been standing. But then this is only a first brush with Oscar for my two students. It’s entirely possible that they will have future opportunities to spend a greater amount of time on the red carpet, and in better outfits. It’s even possible that there will come a day when one of them will walk up the same tapestry without the need of a press pass before taking his seat as a nominee. And he will be calm and feel right at home. Because after all, it won’t be his first time at the Oscars.

Oscar Nominated Shorts in Theaters Now

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by Carrie Specht

The regular movie-going audiences generally overlook short films because usually there’s no sure way to see them. That is unless you happened to go to a movie in Los Angeles where one was linked with the feature film you went to see. Otherwise, short films are traditionally reserved for festivalgoers and even then it’s only those at a festival who go out of their way to attend a shorts program who see them. Fortunately, that has recently changed. For the past nine years the Oscar Nominated Shorts have been organized into a group presentation for public viewing, and this year is no exception. ShortsHD, the Short Movie Channel will be screening the 2013 Academy Award Nominated Animated and Live Action Short Films at the NuArt in West Los Angeles and at the Regency South Coast Village 3 in Orange County starting Friday, January 31. The films will be presented as two collective programs with separate admissions for each group, with the Oscar nominated Documentary Shorts set to open as a third program later in Los Angeles on February 14.

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The world’s only channel dedicated to short films, the Short Movie Channel (www.shorts.tv) is working with Magnolia Pictures to make this special presentation happen in over 250 theaters across the United States, Canada and Europe, with more than 400 theatres slated to screen the films during its theatrical release. These screenings will be the only opportunity for audiences to watch the nominated shorts prior to the 86th Academy Awards® ceremony on Sunday, March 2, 2014. After that you’ll already know who the winners are and have lost your chance at having an edge in your office Oscar pool. Truly a wide open category where anyone can win, this year’s nominated Shorts originate from all parts of the globe, representing the pinnacle of filmmaking from Japan, the UK, Denmark, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Finland, the UAE, Yemen, Canada and the United States.

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The Live Action Short Film Nominees run about 108 minutes all together and include That Wasn’t Me, a story set in Africa amongst child guerilla soldiers, Just Before Losing Everything, which is a French film about domestic abuse, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything, a family comedy from Finland, The Voorman Problem a high profile effort from the UK that stars Martin Freeman, and what I believe to be the front runner, the Danish fantasy/drama, Helium. Each of these films has tremendous production value and is well deserving of the recognition, but there can only be one winner and my money’s on Helium. I’ll refrain from saying why because I don’t wont to give anything away, and I truly want you to see these films for yourself. More than likely they’ll be the best things you’ve seen all year. And no doubt, there’s bound to be a future feature filmmaker or two emerging from the group in the coming years.

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Likewise, I was impressed with the Animated Short Film nominees. Running just a bit longer at 110 minutes, the diversity in this category is even more wide spread. With films ranging from the traditional to the innovative, do not be surprised if this is a tough one for you to make a conclusive call on. The first US submission, Feral is unique in its use of sketches and a style that suggests flowing watercolor. Whereas, the other US contender, Get a Horse is a product of the Walt Disney Company and uses a combination of old school Mickey with creative story telling to keep you laughing (honestly, you’ve never seen the world’s most famous mouse like this before!). At the same time, France’s Mr. Hublot has a dystopian whimsy that charms like no other nominee. Whereas, Possessions, a very styled entry from Japan is a feast for the eyes. And England’s Room on the Broom is a sweet tale with a sort of Toy Story-ish quality to its look.

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I recommend seeing these films in the theater while you can. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to see such high quality filmmaking with such entertainment value from all over the world. And they are shorts after all. So, if there’s one that’s not really to your liking all you have to do is wait a few minutes and something completely different will be along in no time. But I don’t think you’ll want to leave your seat or even turn away, not even for a moment. The films here may be short, but they have the power to hold a viewers attention with the full impact of a feature film, and then some. Given the choice of the typical offerings at the Cineplex and these short little beauties I’d pick the latter. After all, a satisfying five-course feast that out-entertains any single film far more deserves your hard-earned dollar than yet another potentially disappointing current release. You won’t be disapointed.

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For a sneak peak at The Oscar® Nominated Short Films 2014 program, go to http://theoscarshorts.shorts.tv/

10 Live Action Shorts Advance in 2013 Oscar® Race

The-Oscars-e1381262416749by Carrie Specht

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced that 10 live action short films will advance in the voting process for the 86th Academy Awards®. This is out of the one hundred and twenty pictures that originally qualified in the category. That’s an impressive number, I suppose, but I would like to know if that’s an unusual amount, high or low. And just what do these filmmakers expect to get from all this hard work? Fame? Money? Well, not if they know anything about the filmmaking world. The best they can ever hope for is a pretty statue, one that represents the ultimate validation of their artistic endeavors.

www.indiewireBut the odds are stacked against them from the start. After all, if you break it down the chances for the current list of competitors is about a 1 in 12 chance of making the cut. Not bad, but that’s of all the films that officially qualified. That’s out of all the shorts that went to all the festivals that didn’t qualify, let alone the films made last year by eager short filmmakers that didn’t even make it to a festival. So now the accomplishment is somewhat staggering and far more impressive than the feature films that make it to Oscar night. I’m just sayin’ let’s give the short filmmaker some respect and give them their due when they walk the red carpet this March, whoever they may be. If one of the many commentators takes the time to interview one of these lucky few, please don’t take that moment to visit the restroom. And be sure to listen to their acceptance speech. In my experience these speeches tend to be the most sincere, full of heartfelt gratitude, becoming the most meaningful moments of the night.

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An added aspect to the Short Film category is its growing representation of the future of filmmaking on a global scale. The current list represents a broad spectrum of nations and cultures, which is not surprising considering the fact that other countries actually support the art of short filmmaking. Things are tougher here for the American artist who ventures into the unprofitable world of shorts. I mean let’s face it; there’s no true outlet for a short in the US other than the festival route. And that costs the filmmaker money to submit. Where as, in other countries there are supportive art councils and other government agencies, not to mention the standard practice of showing shorts on TV.

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So, if you’re going to make a short film in the US you better love what you’re doing, because the odds are highly against any financial rewards. Which is all the more reason to celebrate the hard work produced by these filmmakers who will truly mean it if they get the chance to say, “it’s an honor just to be nominated”. Heck, when all is said and done, it’s an honor to make the short list. Here they are in alphabetical order:

“Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me),” Esteban Crespo

“Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything),” Xavier Legrand

“Dva (Two),” Mickey Nedimovic

“Helium,” Anders Walter

“Kush,” Shubhashish Bhutiani

“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?),” Selma Vilhunen

“Record/Play,” Jesse Atlas

“Throat Song,” Miranda de Pencier

“Tiger Boy,” Gabriele Mainetti

“The Voorman Problem,” Mark Gill

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The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch Reviewing Committee viewed all the eligible entries for the preliminary round of voting at screenings held in Los Angeles. The members of this branch of the Academy will now select only three to five nominees from among the 10 titles on the shortlist. Branch screenings are being held in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco this month. The final nominees for the 86th Academy Awards will be announced live on Thursday, January 16, 2014, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater along with all the other 2013 nominees. And then the Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. ABC will televise the event live to more than 225 countries and territories worldwide. Good luck to them all!