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Understanding How a Film Is Made

Jeremiah

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A few days ago, the actor Mark Ruffalo, had to reassure fans in regards to a round of re-shoots for the unfinished Avengers 4. He wanted to assuage fears and state that the re-shoots were merely to finish the film. The internet did not believe him.

The reason is, ironically, largely the internet’s own fault. You see the 24-hour news cycle is a beast that forever needs feeding. Consequently, we have what is commonly known as “click bait” articles. Articles that are meant to have readers click on the link for page views and little else.

Entertainment sites are no different. What this has done though has taken a generation of moviegoers, who know more about movies than almost any generation before them, and made them incessantly stupid. Understand this is coming from me, a member of a generation who thought The Blair Witch Project was a documentary. While moviegoers know more trivia, facts, and are wiser to the marketing machinations of studio goliaths than ever before; they know precious little about how movies themselves are made.

Solo was much talked about because of all the drama that went on behind the set, re-shoots included. The same was said for Justice League. Both of these movies failed to live up to fans expectations but that was hardly because of re-shoots. The problems with both of these movies started long before the re-shoots.

You know what else had re-shoots? Moonlight, Carol, Jaws, Casablanca, Rogue One, and even the first Avengers. The same goes for tweaking a movie after a bad test screening. After all, the whole point of a test screening is to test the movie on the audience.

Some may decry it as crass or one step above being a shill for the studio but that is missing the point. If the aim is to produce a crowd pleaser, shouldn’t one see if it does, in fact, please the crowd? No one is all seeing. Sometimes scenes that directors and producers are sure will land, fall flat. The test audience tells them so. If that happens then it’s back to the drawing board. If you think that a bad test screening is a bad omen, then you would have been worried about almost every Charlie Chaplin film ever made.

Re-shoots are a basic part of any post-production cycle. It means nothing. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying. 

I’ve noticed a terrible habit forming amongst our band of merry movie buffs. We’re passing judgment on movies before anyone has seen them. Why? Because entertainment sites are telling us the gossip behind the scenes and sensationalizing basic everyday occurrences as portents of doom.

Making a movie is a harrowing experience at the best of times. Of all the art forms, movies by far have to be the most complicated, unstable, bureaucratic, manic, and toxic form of expression ever devised. People who choose to want to make movies for a living should have their head examined.

I say this because I believe moviegoing audiences tend to think they have this whole thing figured out. A laughable notion because even the most successful director doesn’t know why anything works. Yet, more and more fans are becoming convinced that the latest big budget movie is doomed before it’s even finished because of re-shoots, or the studio stepped in and re-edited the film, or the trailers look bad, therefore the movie must surely suck.

Trailers are lies told by liars who, more than likely, haven’t even seen the film in question. A trailer is an ad for the movie the studio wants you to see. Very rarely is a trailer for the movie you actually see.

I am not saying trailers do not play a pivotal part in the process. Nor am I saying that trailers are not made with sincere intentions. What I am saying is you can not judge a movie by its trailer.

Movie news sites abuse our ignorance as a way to drum up business. They overplay things that are mundane and underplay things that are serious. For example, the number of people upset over Avengers 4 re-shoots or not having an ending versus the number of people upset over Shane Black hiring a convicted sexual predator and not telling anyone about it, is indicative of how badly we have been served by this model. 

Part of the issue is the unspoken fact that the term “entertainment news” is largely an oxymoron. Trade papers like Variety or sites like The Wrap are legitimate news. Which is to say they have reliable sources and tend to try and couch their news in less sensationalistic verbiage. Most online entertainment news is less interested in helping you be better consumers, moviegoers, and more interested in having you be a fan.

They want your clicks, your subscriptions, and your views. Granted everybody wants those, it’s the way of the online economy. But many of these so-called online entertainment news sites have long ago sold their trustworthiness for merely having the most dudebros. It’s not a coincidence that the Harvey Weinstein story was broken in the New York Times and not by any of the entertainment news sites.

Now you may be asking, how can you combat this? Funny enough if you want to learn about film, reading is going to be helpful. Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies is a perfect place to start. An invaluable text that puts into plain-spoken terms the big and the small that goes into making movies.

Film diaries can oftentimes shed light on the day to day practices of making movies. Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film or Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making Fitzcarraldo are just two examples. Reading these can put into context some of the more nebulous roles and jobs required for filmmaking.

Movies are art and commerce. A contentious and feisty marriage at the best of times. They require consumers, we the audience, to be knowledgeable of the product. Otherwise, it becomes far too easy to fool or manipulate us into going against our own interest.  The more you know the better calibrated your bull-pucky detector is going to be.

Finally, the biggest defense against the onslaught of hucksterism masquerading as online entertainment journalism is basic critical thinking. Ask yourself, if Avengers 4 isn’t even finished, yet, are re-shoots really that damning?

Now some of you may ask, but what does it say about Avengers 4 if isn’t even finished yet? Simple, it means Avengers 4 isn’t finished, yet. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

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Disney Unveils First Look at ‘Toy Story 4’

Kori

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It’s the franchise that started it all for Pixar, and now with a fourth installment set to drop in theatres next summer, Disney has treated Toy Story enthusiasts to a small look at what some of our favorite characters are up to.

Up to meaning dancing hand in hand in a circle formation to Judy Collins’ seminal hit “Both Sides” now. They look happy, considering the song is far more introspective than most of the scene showcasing the toy family shows. Granted, there’s always a catch, and that comes in the form of a kid-crafted spork utensil turned into a toy, and having a serious case of the wiggins about its identity and hysterically screaming it’s not a toy before running away and causing a circular collision of all the other toys. I’d say there’s an opportunity there for some identity symbolism to be explored in the movie, but that’s probably expecting a tad too much.

Still, it’s nice to see the friends many of us have literally grown up with for over two decades. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are both back as Woody and Buzz, and they’re joined by regulars like Joan Cusack and Jeff Garlin. Bonnie Hunt, Laurie Metcalf, Annie Potts, and Patricia Arquette also lend their voices to the film.

Toy Story 4 premieres in theatres on June 21, 2019.


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

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‘The Grinch’ Doesn’t Skimp on Charm

Jeremiah

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The Grinch is a harmless, but charming, remake of the beloved television classic. The third attempt to tell a story that no one really thought needed to be retold. The original 1966 television special is so perfectly preserved in popular memory as being near perfection it bothers the brain as to why a remake is even necessary.

Thankfully, the latest version of The Grinch understands a very profound and delicate thing: how to tell a story for kids. Dr. Seuss stories succeed because they play with the boundless wonder of a child’s imagination, while also trusting in the simple but potent faith each child possess. In other words, The Grinch doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel so much as add some spokes.

The story is still the same as we remember it. The Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) lives atop the mountain overlooking Whoville. A giant green oval shaped creature with an expressive face he is as his name implies, not a happy being. Every year, around Christmas, the Whos down in Whoville begin their annual celebration of Christmas and it drives the Grinch mad because he was born with a heart two sizes too small. So he steals Christmas.

Like all characters, he eventually realizes the error of his ways; his heart grows three sizes, some say. Look, the original animated special was some twenty-six minutes with credits included. The Grinch is a scant eighty-six minutes, with credits. I mention this only to say, yes they added filling, but not necessarily padding. The directors Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney show a great faith in the Seuss original.

For instance, Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) has a  story all her own. As some of you may know, Cindy Lou Who is the little girl who catches the Grinch in the act of stealing her Christmas tree. In this, her story is simple and in fact, adds to Cindy Lou Who’s character and her relationship with the Grinch.

Cindy’s mother, Donna Lou Who (voiced by Rashida Jones) is a single working mother of three. Cindy wants to get in touch with Santa so she can wish for some happiness for her Mother. Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow have hammered the script into such a shape that we understand Donna isn’t unhappy. But Cindy sees her Mom struggling one morning and is sad she can’t do anything to help. Swerdlow and LeSieur lay the groundwork in a clever roundabout way.

As Cindy is trying to deliver a letter to Santa she runs into the Grinch, who is in town shopping for food. Being the Grinch he yells at her and comes dangerously close to doing something one of the most unforgivable things one could imagine: tell Cindy that Santa isn’t real. He doesn’t tell her, but he does imply. So when Grinch is disguised as Santa and he meets little Cindy once more, well let’s just say the Grinch was not the only person whose heart grew three times that day.

Mosier, Cheney, LeSieur, and Swerdlow allow The Grinch story as a whole to be visually expressive. From the Grinch’s sparse, cold, and granite home to the warm embracing circular geography of Whoville, the universe of the Grinch looks and makes sense.  Well, sense enough. Blessed be the script never tries to overreach and explain logistical fallacies or complex municipal services. They simply allow Whoville and the Grinch to exist.

The animation by Illumination Studios is, far and away some of the best they’ve done. The studio’s movies such as Sing, Despicable Me, and Smallfoot have all been nice to look at but The Grinch has texture and depth that the other movies were lacking. It’s one thing to look good, but it’s another to understand camera placement and cleverly figuring out comedic gags that don’t feel forced.

Cumberbatch Grinch is impressive for its lack of vanity. You could argue that Cumberbatch has been working towards his role his entire career considering all his characters tend to be akin to either the Grinch or Oscar the Grouch. His voice work is so complete I had to remind myself who was doing the voice. Notice the timber of his voice as he realizes Fred, the reindeer, who he’s captured to help pull his sleigh, has a family.

Keean Thompson has a small role as the jolliest Who in Whoville, Mr. Bricklebaum. Thompson walks a fine line between playing him as naive without mocking him or making him a fool. Thompson’s Bricklebaum is a man so in love with life and Christmas that he can’t understand how anybody could be so happy. His faith in people is such that he somehow believes the Grinch and he are the bestest of friends. A fact that the Grinch is as baffled by as we are.

Pharrell Williams takes place of Boris Karloff and Anthony Hopkins as the narrator. His laid back smooth voice anchors The Grinch. He handles the Seussian rhyming scheme with aplomb and even gives his own remix of the classic You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. A perfect fit, Williams narrates without treading on the words. Being a musician he treats the words as Seuss intended; music to the ears.

There’s not a lot to say about The Grinch. It’s a simple straightforward and charming children’s movie which never panders. For being the third attempt at telling this story, it is remarkably free of any cynicism. The humor is both sly and broad and the emotions are genuine. After sitting through the cynical tripe of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The Grinch feels like a soothing balm. It’s not Christmas yet, but at least with The Grinch, I didn’t mind celebrating a little early.


Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

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Vince Gilligan to Make Breaking Bad Movie

Bo

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Five years after “Felina” ended the landmark, all-time great show, Breaking Bad is set to return in film form. Details are scarce, with the plot mostly unknown and no confirmation yet whether the movie will release in theaters or on television. Obviously, it’s also unclear whether this will take place before or after the series’ timeline.

Does this matter at all to me? Nope. I’m the kind of hesitantly excited that’s bordering on speeding past hesitancy.

What little we do know is that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan will write, produce, and possibly direct. Better Call Saul producers Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein will also be involved. The rumored plot right is said to “follow the escape of a kidnapped man and his quest for freedom.” This has everyone (obviously) thinking the movie will feature Jesse Pinkman post-series as he escapes his kidnapping by the white supremacists Walt kills in the finale.

This sounds like a very, very good idea, even if I’m worried to see Jesse suffer more. Can this movie be about him changing his name, moving to LA, ending up on the couch of a former sitcom star, and going on a series of wacky adventures?

Whatever my natural worry, about taking Breaking Bad to the big screen, Vince Gilligan’s heavy involvement deserves optimism. After five fantastic seasons of Breaking Bad, he and Peter Gould have gone on to create another brilliant show in Better Call Saul. Gilligan clearly knows this universe. If he says he has a story to tell, then I want to hear it.

The Breaking Bad movie will be the first project of a three-year overall deal Gilligan signed with Sony TV this past July.


Images Courtesy of AMC

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