Movies

Vamp X and Gen Con

Next month I'll be fulfilling a dream I've had for most of my life - I'll be going to Gen Con! I've played Dungeons and Dragons since I was 8 years old, and other games too. As I've gotten older and my interests have expanded, my love affair with Role-Playing Games is a bit on-again, off-again; but fantasy, games, and storytelling are a constant presence in my life. I've wanted to go to Gen Con since about 1982/83 when I first saw an ad for it in the back of (I think) my AD&D Player's Handbook, but for whatever reason I've never gotten round to it.

But now I have the perfect excuse.

"Vamp X," a short comedy-horror film I shot a few years ago - before leaving Texas - is being screened at the Gen Con Indy Film Festival (Indy as in Indianapolis, not indie as in movie). So I'm going. David Glenney, the man behind Vamp X has kindly hooked me up with a badge and so off I go to fulfill my childhood dream. Can you say Nerdgasm? You can find the full version of Vamp X on Vimeo, but I'll drop the trailer here for you to check out.

Vampire X Trailer from David Glenney on Vimeo.

I'll be there to check out some film making and writing panels, and, oh yeah, do some gaming. I may also drink a little and take photos of cosplayers. I'm very excited about this opportunity and I really owe some thanks to David Glenney for entering the film and for inviting me along. I owe you at least one beer, Dave, maybe two. 

Additionally, Vamp X is screening at the Indie Gathering Festival in Cleveland, OH that same weekend, and the Horrific Film Fest in San Antonio, TX later in August. It seems our little film is having quite the whirlwind tour - not that it doesn't deserve it; it's just coming as a pleasant surprise a few years after shooting it. Good work Mr. Glenney. Glad I was part of it.

Update (1/11/2013):

Looking back on this post and I thought I'd give it an update. I didn't make it to Gen Con for Vamp X, unfortunately because my stepfather passed away the week before. Well, perhaps I'll get a chance to go again someday, and go there just to game!

Also, turns out that after a round of Festivals, David Glenney decided to take down the trailer link and post the full short so the video above has been updated accordingly.

Give a Buck...

I seem destined to stay on the topic of crowd funding. Actually, it's not crowd funding in general that I want to write about write now; it's a specific project. A couple days after my last post about Kickstarter, I found this project and I think it's also worth supporting.
Net neutrality is a big issue facing us and the way that it plays out will determine our society's path forward in the 21st Century. It's a free speech issue. It's important to small business and enterpreneurship. It's incredibly important to the future of the entertainment industry, especially regarding streaming and video content. It's something that more people should be passionate about but for some reason it flies under a lot of people's radar. 
I feel passionate about it and that's why I think this is an important project to fund. And since this is something where numbers count, where the voices of the people count, I encourage people to contibute one dollar. As it says right on their Kickstarter page, "Just imagine what the impact of 27,000 $1.00 pledges would be..." 27,000 $1 pledges would be much more powerful than 1 $27,000 pledge. 
I've said that the smart money in crowd funding goes to kickstarter because of minimized risk. You can't have much less risk than a buck. So give a buck if you give a fuck about the future.

(D)Riven

Writer & Director Brian Ramage is crowd funding his project and if you're reading this I want you to consider contributing. I'm not recommending this because Brian is a friend. He is; but he's a friend because he's an intelligent, passionate, and respectful filmmaker and a deeply sincere person. This is a project he's been working on for a long time now and, tired of struggling through the gauntlet of Hollywood, he's decided to go his own way. In my opinion (for what it's worth) he's gone the right way with this. He's chosen the right crowd-funding site and attached a talented and popular cinematographer (Philip Bloom) to the project. Brian (@reubal on twitter) is a capable director and Riven is a project that ought to be made a reality

A couple of weeks ago I shot out the following tweet: "Dear indie producers: I've seen many indieGoGo projects I'd have contributed to were they on on Kickstarter. Just sayin." I actually tweeted this in relief that Riven was trying to be funded through Kickstarter. I'm not saying this to belittle any filmmaker who is funding or trying to fund through indieGoGo - I have friends who have done so and they have my full respect - however a Kickstarter project suggests to me a higher degree of professionalism. I followed that tweet with: "In other words I'd put $100 toward a $1k movie made for $1k before putting $10 toward a $10k movie made for $1k."

Making a movie is a business venture. Once you want to move past, or do something besides, making zero-budget shorts (don't get me wrong, I love independent cinema on all scales), you're talking about investing large sums of money and you need to be serious about not throwing that money away. indieGoGo allows you to set a budget target for a film; but if you don't hit that target, you walk away with the money and can make the movie anyway. As a prospective investor I have a huge problem with this. The $1,000 movie you make isn't the movie I paid to get made - I paid for the $10,000 version of that move (and hopefully something even better). I understand that the contributions aren't exactly investments and that there are incentives for contributors, but let's get real - unless I'm contributing at a high level, I'm not contributing so much to get a signed DVD copy as I am to see a movie I'd like to see and to see something I believe in come to fruition.

On the other hand, if someone has set up to attempt funding through Kickstarter I know that they've given careful thought to what their budget should be. They've had to plan to pay what it takes to get the movie made, not less and not more. Well, maybe less if they're creative with their financing, but you get the point. If you don't hit your target you don't get to use my money to make a half-ass version of the movie. And your target is probably a reasonably low bid at production cost without being too much of a compromise. And, coming back to the topic of incentive packages, you can actually budget for them because you know how much money they will cost IF you need to fulfill them.

I'm sure that Indiegogo has its perks too, and, as I said, I don't want to criticize filmmakers too harshly that go that route. It just seems to me that in order to properly execute a movie you have to have your shit together. Having the confidence to effectively say, "I will not make this movie unless I can get my shit together," will part my cash from my wallet far faster than otherwise. It did with Riven

The First Artists, Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"

Spoiler Alert: These are my thoughts on Werner Herzog's latest documentary and I find it difficult to describe my feelings without giving away some details of the movie. This isn't as bad as narrative spoilers where plot points are given away, but if you prefer to see this film on its own terms then stop reading now. Below the trailer I'm going to start writing.

First thing's first: let's get the 3D chat out of the way. I've written before about how I'm not bothered by stereography. Whether it's a gimmick or not is irrelevant to me so much as the filmmaker's reasons for applying it and how it's used to tell the story. I do not think the idea here was "come for the 3D, stay for the anthropology;" but even if it was, is that such a bad thing if the end result is a little enlightenment? I was interested to see how a serious filmmaker would apply stereo to his story and I wasn't disappointed. Yes, the element of spectacle is ever-present but spectacle and wonderment are at the heart of this documentary. In my opinion the 3D was elemental to this story, which is rooted in cave paintings found in the Chauvet Caves in France - the oldest cave paintings ever discovered and the first examples of human art. I say that 3D is elemental because these paintings are not applied to a flat surface but follow the contours of the cave walls and how you see them is very dependent upon the angle and depth at which you view them. I recall a painting of lions that seems entirely natural at the beginning of a shot but elongates as the camera tracks around the curved wall to reveal a different view which seems natural in its own way. In short, the feeling of presence and sensitivity to the grandeur of the cave was enhanced by the 3D.

It's difficult to say whether Herzog understood the movie he was making or not. The story, such as it is, is told in terms of repetition. We spend quite a bit of time staring at cave paintings, often returning to the most spectacular examples again and again. I think the intention is that each time we return with new eyes. At first we are lured into the overwhelming sense of wonder that one feels when first seeing the cave. It's all about astonishment. The second time we come, we do so as intellectuals - we've met the scientists studying the caves and they've begun to explain the importance of the paintings. We have an armchair anthropologist's comprehension of what the artists were and what world they lived in. From here we start to venture out into the world outside the caves so that we can be given a bit of context. We see demonstrations of how these people might have hunted, how they made music. We see their fascination with sex in the fetishization of the female form. We even get hints of religion and spirituality. We essentially begin to relate to the people who lived here 35,000 years ago. Now properly initiated, we can enter the cave one last time as the film crescendoes into a 10+ minute stereographic montoge set to an intense but simple and exotic score and we can experience the caves as our ancestors did.

Or at least I think that's the idea. Opinions may vary as to whether Mr. Herzong pulls it off or not. I think it's mostly effective and I quite enjoyed the journey. I could see the argument that the film goes on too long and that there's more movie than the subject requires. Even if that is the case, the filmmaker should be applauded for delving deeper into the subject than his medium might be able to support. His thesis is that this may be the very place where the modern human soul was born. I think this is probably true, or at least this is an example of the sort of thing that was happening during this time frame. Neandertahls were roaming Europe at this time and this is certainly where our species began its dominance. It is these primitive - though remarkably elegant - abstractions that began to make us Human. Creativity, self-realization, the recognition of the world around us as something more than just a habitat - Art - through this film Herzog seems to be telling me that it is Art that makes us human and I am glad to share his awe at this opportunity to reach back through time and stand among the first artists.

A moment that might be described as goofy or hokey shows an experimental archaeologist recreating a paleolithic lifestyle for himself. He wears furs as the prehistoric men would have at a time when all of this was under a glacier and he plays for us on a replica of an early flute. Though it seems a bit funny, this is the moment that for me - a music lover and long time musician - has the deepest impact. A flute from over thirty millenia ago is tuned to pentatonics! The song that he plays for us? The Star Spangled Banner. An instrument from a time long before civilization can be used to play the anthem of one of the most advanced nations on the planet now. Nothing can further demonstrate more to me that we today are echoes of the people who drew lions, horses, and bison on the caves of France so many ages ago.

The Betty

It's been a while since I posted any news here. There's been a little here and there but mainly I've been doing two things: ramping up for the 52 Weeks Project and working on The Betty. The Betty is a (somewhat) short film I directed a couple years ago in Dallas with HateCity Pictures, my ongoing collaboration with Glenn Bailey. I've been working on it off and on since then and have finally come to a point with it where I'm comfortable sending it out to some film festivals for consideration. There's still some polishing to be done on it, but I have what can basically be considered a final cut. I'm not unleashing it upon the world just yet but I'm letting cast and crew take a first look at the work they did.

The Betty is a heist movie about a couple of misfit criminals who botch a job and continue to make their situation worse. It's a moderately comedic flick starring another long-time collaborator of mine, the perpetually funny Eric Rhoades. Pretty much the entire cast, myself included, came out of Dallas's R.E.A.C.T. actor's studio and did a wonderful job. The crew were amazing as well. This film was shot on weekends over the course of a year and a lot of people contributed to making it what it is.

The Betty is also the film that made me decide to pursue cinematography. While my friend Eric Gunter started off as our Director of Photography, the movie took over a year and in that time he got an irresistible job offer in Germany. A lot of people sat behind the camera after that but I pretty much had to step in, create the shots, set the lights, and when I wasn't in front of it, work the camera. It was the first material I ever shot that I was really proud of.

Any way there's a lot of history and love in this movie. I'll let the world see it soon, but for now I want to celebrate with my cast and crew the fact that we finally have a real movie to show for it.