Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Film Log

I had a chance to cram in a good amount of movies this weekend. Here's what I saw and thought.

District 9: Though the CGI was what I was worried about going into this film, it ultimately ended up being the best part. I don't care for the shaky hand held style but it seemed to make the effects look more realistic. People rave about this film's originality. I thought the premise is original since it turns the table on the usual aliens invading earth science fiction standard, but the story and plot are completely cliche. It was definitely nice to see what can be done with a small budget (by Hollywood standards) but this film didn't live up to the hype.

Lord of the Flies (1963): The acting in this film was great considering that the actors were a bunch of kids. But I don't think it did the book much justice. The style bugged me too. There were too many edits that broke my concentration. Something just wasn't right.

The Apartment: I'd never seen this Best Picture winner before and didn't know what to expect going into it. I was pleasantly surprised. The acting was spectacular, it was shot beautifully, and the satirical story was refreshingly original. I recently read a quote about comedy, where the writer said they like knowing that the film is getting away with something. This is surely the case with The Apartment, and it worked.

Robinson Crusoe On Mars: I'll admit it, a good looking DVD case is enough for me to give it a chance. And considering that it was part of the Criterion Collection, I had high hopes for this old school science fiction film. It wasn't that I hated it but it seemed like the only difference between this film and any other sci-fi b-movie was a bigger budget and some advanced (for its time) special effects. I know this film has a bit of a cult following, but it has not aged well.

Amadeus: Everything about this film was perfect. Excellent direction, music of course, and delightfully playful performances made it work. I usually hate bio-pics, but the fact that its subject died long enough ago helps. But what really seals the deal is that the story is told from another person's point of view and not that of Mozart's. Its one of the few movies over two hours long that's written and paced so well that it plays faster than some films half its length.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Massive Update

"For anyone who wants to direct but hasn't made a first movie yet, there is no decision to make. Whatever the movie, whatever the problems, if there's a chance to direct, take it! Period. Exclamation point! The first movie is its own justification because it's the first movie." - Sidney Lumet

Thanks for the advice Sidney, I think I'll take it. Its been a while since I've blogged but here's a big update. I'm working on a feature length film "Republic of Pete". I've spent most of the summer working on the script and pre-production for this project. The script is a loose and I mean loose adaptation of another script. So its basically written from scratch based on a great premise I was originally pitched. A grandpa is getting sued so he puts all his money into his grandson's bank account. The grandson Pete and his friends buy an island, then grandpa goes after them.

Nate and I got the offer to do this by Extreme Akim, the television judge of the show "Eye for and Eye". Low and behold I'm directing a film... a low budget wacky comedy about killer lawnmowers, an evil grandpa, and a bunch of kids that buy an island.

Exciting as it may be, its an uphill battle. Shooting on the beach is going to be rough on the photography and sound fronts. Luckily our casting call has yielded some really funny people. We're still in need of our lead actor though, which is slowing things down.

But this gives more time to work on the script. It still has some problems to be worked out, but I think the overall story is there. Its been great getting ideas from a lot of funny people I trust. Writing with the knowledge you have no budget causes you to focus more on characters because there's not much else you can afford. I've written two long form scripts before. You're supposed to burn the first two. Reading up on screenplay theory helped a good deal and I definitely broke through a writing plateau with this script.

I've also been watching a good deal of movies and reading all I can about directing. Comedy is going to be tough for me. Not the making things funny part (hopefully) but the shooting it part. The biggest problem is that the acting is going to be spontaneous as certain points. So scenes have to be shot so that a little improve isn't going to kill the editing continuity. Its not the biggest thing in the world, but shooting scenes with a lot of actors will make this difficult. My goal is to find solid ways of economizing and shooting as confidently as possible... aka not too many setups. This approach seemed to work fine in Last Rites, but that was 2 actors max in each scene. So we'll see. Once we find our Pete, I'll be able to do some minor rehearsals and hopefully work on some of the stagings we'll be using. Now usually, I'd say rehearse the hell out of it. But too much rehearsal is really bad for comedy acting. If we rehearse too much, it will kill the energy.

I'll try to use this blog as a sort of journal of the whole process. There's so much going on its hard to thing what makes for a good post subject.

And finally, my internship at Carolina Studios pushed me back into making music. I set up a myspace band site up to host some tracks here it is: myspace.com/avantgrademusic

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Reel

To start the summer off right I've made a new reel. There are a few shots from "Last Rites" in there.

Summer 09 Reel from Jesse Berger on Vimeo.


And this will be no ordinary summer as I has graduated. As far as plans for the summer, besides taking a month long trip to find myself in Europe I'll hopefully be making another doc. Lets face it, the job market sucks. I have a part time job with my internship that'll keep me from being an official bum for the summer... so its the perfect time for doing a doc.

I'll hopefully be working with my producer friend Alex Hesemann on this project. Alex and I have worked together since I first starting working for my college television station. We're both done with school and haven't worked on a project together for quite some time.

The project I really want to do will be about a commune. I've contacted a few to try and get things in motion. There are quite a few "intentional communities", which can be found at ic.org if anyone is interested. These intentional communities vary from farm collectives to eastern spiritual retreat camps. The subject has really peaked my interest, and spending portions of my summer at a commune would be quite the experience.

Also, I'm meeting this week with my friend Bundy who will be doing the score for "Last Rites". I a song from his former band's cds in the film, and I'm excited to get a real score!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Charleston IFF Wrapup

Well its been a busy month. Last weekend was the premier of SOB at the Charleston International Film Festival. We sold out our block, which was great! And better yet, we won audience choice for best documentary!

This was my first real film festival. The after parties were lots of fun and I met a good deal of people. Overall, it was a really great experience.

The best advice from the weekend came from a very short conversation with Lisa Napoli, who made the original doc on SOB. She told me not enjoy the after parties too much because they aren't real, and that moving to LA is cliched. How dense and awesome.

I'm still shocked at our win. It will undoubtedly help us get the film distributed or at least in other festivals. But now its time to move on to another project. I figure another documentary might be a good idea.

I didn't have time to post about it, but I wrote and shot a short film "Last Rights" two weekends ago. I made it with friend Sarah Jones for a class we're in. Sarah worked as director of photography, and after working with a DP I will hopefully never work without one again!

We have to finish a cut for class by Friday, but this will not be the final version. Once its tweaked I'm sending it to my friend Bundy who's going to do the score. There are a few scenes in it that turned out exceptional, and I'm psyched on this project. Its super fast paced and I tried my best to shoot it like it was a comic book. I'll post a trailer or some stills whenever I get the chance. Look for a mid-May premier.

Monday, April 6, 2009

SOB Website is Live


Nate has been busy designing the SOB website for quite some time now... and now its up and running and looking slick as can be. Check it out at www.southoftheborderfilm.com
The picture above is a still of the poster. Look for this in flier form all over Charleston in the coming days!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It Lives!

That's me above. What's that crazy looking contraption on my back? Its nothing spectacular, just the ACID MASTER 3000. A lucky find on the side of the road + about $100 and 3 trips to Lowes + a weekend worth of work = my kind of DIY project. I still need to tweak/figure out a few things, but we're still Beta testing.

Why the hell would I build this absurd device? The answer is simple. I've more or less decided my next film is going to be a zombie movie. When I first began dabbling in filmmaking, horror movies were what I wanted to make. Though I drifted away from this after being exposed to good films, I once again find myself searching for something thats cheap to make and entertaining. I love gimmicks and an acid gun is a great one, at least I think so. I'll write more about the zombie script I'm working on if/when things start falling into place.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Festival Win

The City Green won first place at CofC's student film festival last night. This is great news because the winners all took home a rather hefty sum of prize money. Now I can put it in some film festivals. The "phantom producer" of the film Alex Hesemann and I will be spending the next week making a list of festivals to put it in. Figuring out which festivals to submit to is key. Most of the festivals we submit to will have student sections. The three things to keep in mind are:

1. If the film has a chance of being accepted.
2. If accepted, would the film have a chance of winning any prize?
3. Most importantly, would anyone involved with the film be able to attend the festival?

On another festival note, Nate and I have talked about what the game-plan is for submitting SOB to festivals. Our main goal is to submit to some smaller regional film festivals, specifically those in North and South Carolina. The logic behind this is that we'll have a better chance of winning some sort of prize (money) and be able to afford to put it into some bigger festivals. We'll see what happens.

And of course thanks to Taylor Townes, Antonio Robinson, and the Mallard brothers for making this film happen. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SOB Premier Date/Time

The Charleston International Film Festival announced the 2009 schedule today. S.O.B. will officially premier at 12:30 on Saturday April 25th. Tickets are available at:

http://www.charlestoniff.com/tickets-saturday.php

How exciting! Nate's finishing up our poster, and I'll post that as soon as its done.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Student Film Festival

The City Green will be screening at the 4th annual College of Charleston Student Film Festival this Wednesday at 7pm in the Physicians Auditorium. Wow, maybe I should get a Twitter. Just kidding.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Citizen Kane


I was browsing local art theater The Terrace's website when I noticed they were doing screenings of Citizen Kane (1941). By chance I mentioned it to a friend and we called to see how long it was playing and if it was an actual film screening or a dvd. The answer was film and today was the last day. So I went to the one o'clock screening and watched Citizen Kane on the big screen, the way it was meant to be seen. And even better: the theater was almost empty, and the 2 couples there walked out. So I basically had an intimate screening of what is perhaps the most important movie in cinematic history. What a great experience.

I've seen this film before in a small classroom theater for a class once, but the real movie theater experience is completely different. As everyone knows, there is just something about seeing a film on the big screen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wrapping Up

After an extremely productive spring break, I'm finally getting close to finishing up SOB. As my last post indicated, working on the sound mix was an unpleasant experience. To think that people actually work with audio for a living! What an awful life that would be. Though I listened to music throughout my second round of color correction, you simply cannot listen to music while mixing sound. There is no escape from the meticulous hell of adjusting audio.

In the second round of color correction I worked a lot on giving the film a "look". With no artificial lights some interviews ended up with a person's face looking a bit overexposed on one side. I found a really nice filter that adds contrast and color saturation to the brightest parts of the image. This filter, applied in concert with a few others, gives the overall pictures a more even lighting scheme and makes the colors stand out. I like to think this gives the film more of a carnival look. Vivid colors = visual pleasure.

There a few VERY minor things I plan on changing with the audio still, but this sucker is basically finished. I have to submit some screener copies to the Charleston Film Festival by next week, and then I have a solid month to make any other MINOR changes before the premier. A few months ago I thought this film was never going to end... low and behold the time has come to start brainstorming about my next project. And for those loyal followers that are sick of this string of technical blogs... I feel your pain.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Soundtrack Pro Hell

Working on this audio mix has been quite a pain. I took a full day to watch part of a 6 hour video tutorial about Soundtrack Pro, Apple's sound editing suite. Feeling confident, I tried to get started but ran into a huge problem. For some reason some of my audio clips looked blank as opposed to showing a picture of what the audio looks like. Now this is a huge problem because to edit the audio I need to see it. I was basically blind.

I looked through a TON of other problems people have had with this program. My favorite was at the official Apple forum. The problem was considered resolved by suggesting to break larger projects down into multiple smaller projects. With the ever present danger of things getting out of sync, why would anyone want to start messing around with a finished sequence?

I finally found the answer to my problem. Apparently it takes the program a long time to compile or process all the information about the clips. So I have to run activity monitor and watch to see when Soundtrack Pro quits tweaking out. The best part is that it takes about 30 minutes. And after reading other people's complaints about problems they've had with this program, I'm almost positive I'm going to have trouble bringing it back into Final Cut Pro when I'm done. Spring Break 09 Yeah BABY!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spring Break

Forgive my anti-climatic approach to blogging but I've been busy editing SOB for the entire short period of time since we found out about getting into the Charleston Film Festival. So SOB will premier late April.

And that means it has to be done by then... actually by mid-March. Though its only the beginning of my spring break it has been a productive break so far. I just finished a new cut today, and I'll be shopping it around for the next couple of days to get a little more feedback before I finish it up. Then its time to do some more extensive color correction, and the dreadful audio mix. Luckily we didn't end up with many awful sounding interviews.

And the film is coming together well... as far as I can gather. This latest version is much shorter than the first. The first roughcut was a whopping 80 minutes. The latest cut is only 55.

Oh, and thanks to thedigitel.com and palmettoscoop.com for writing about our trailer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

SOB Trailer

The Center for the Documentary at CofC is hosting an event at the American Theater and they wanted a trailer for the SOB doc, which is now called "S.O.B. and the Legend of Alan Schafer". I put it up on Vimeo as well, but I'd rather have the traffic go to Youtube. Here it is:


The whole "kill your darlings" thing is going really well, but I'm hoping this next cut of the film will be close a final version... so I'm taking my time and doing it right. Besides ridding the film of unnecessary clips, quotes, and b-roll among other things, I've really focused on restructuring the story. The first cut had too much emphasis on the employees and tourists. This next cut is mostly focused on Alan Schafer, the hero of our story.

Nate and I took a trip to Columbia SC last week to get some shots of newspapers. The climax of the film was rather weak in the first cut but some shots of newspaper accounts of Alan Schafer's voting fraud controversy add another source of information and give me something else to cut to, which is equally important.

All the old newspapers we filmed were on microfilm. Luckily for us, the tight-ass librarian shoved us in a small closet with two microfilm viewing machines. Nate and I joked that if she walked in while we were filming we would have definitely been banned from the library. Ah the spirit of independent filmmaking.

On that same note, the Charleston International Film Festival deadline was January 21st. Around the 19th I sent an email to them asking for a waiver so we could submit later. I didn't receive a response by the 21st, so I looked up the address and drove to North Charleston to drop off the roughcut in person. But the address listed on their website was not their office. In fact it was a UPS store. I asked the employee if we could drop it off in their mailbox but apparently that is illegal. So I ended up shipping the roughcut and the City Green submissions from the UPS store... to the UPS store. It only cost $4 and of course I got the waiver from the film festival in an email response the next day. But either way we're shooting for a spring screening. AKA I'll finish the film over spring break.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

SOB: Kill Your Darlings

School's back and boy was break productive. I had a quick gig shooting in Greensboro last weekend, and with a 4 night shoot of the upcoming comedy festival for Justin Nathanson's Charleston TV starting tonight... lets just say that things are nowhere near slowing down.

A few days before Christmas break I finished a really rough cut of South of the Border, the title of which has since been changed to "S.O.B. and the Legend of Alan Schafer". That cut was riddled with problems including a lack of credits, glitchy footage that needed to be recaptured, and a few insufficient scenes.

After returning to Charleston from my trip home to Indy, I revised a few things, added the credits (which took way too much time), and added a few parts. The first roughcut was about 65 minutes long, and the second was bumped up to about 80 minutes. This was all part of the original plan, to beef up the cut in terms of length before ultimately chopping it back down to around an hour. Keep in mind that these length goals are completely arbitrary.

I finished the second cut Sunday night and dropped it off to our accomplished accomplice Virginia at the school's Documentary Center and waited eagerly for a response. Last night we received the email. Virginia's main advice: "Kill your Darlings".

What exactly does this mean? Well here's a definition lifted from Everything2.com:
"It was author William Faulkner who said it first, and a whole lot of teachers of creative writing, film making, journalism and other kinds of storytelling have been repeating it ever since: Kill your darlings.

This does not mean that you should take a chainsaw to your loved ones, it means that you, in your writing, should cut to the chase and have the courage to get rid of the elements that you love so much yourself, but that don't really add anything to the whole - or, even worse, actually weaken it. Typical "darlings" would be clever turns of phrase, insignificant trivia, funny anecdotes that don't really relate to the question at hand etcetera."

Alas we've received the advice that I both anticipated and dreaded. Though I'm confident that certain parts of the film have turned out well so far, especially the ending which is the most important part in my opinion, its time to cut the fluff. But killing your darlings isn't as easy as it sounds. Certain characters such as a giant man and his small girlfriend may have funny things to say, and the framing of them might have been perfect, but since they don't say much relevant to our focus... they must be murdered.

In fact, nearly all of our darlings are tangents of the story's focus. Tidbits of information about the characters that define them do just that: define the characters but distract the viewer from the story. Though at first I know I'll be remorseful, it won't take long to become a cold hearted serial killer of sorts. Cutting out the cute funny things, aka some of my favorite but wholly unnecessary parts is going to be the hardest part of the whole process for me. But we're gearing toward the home stretch: the final cut.

After I get done cutting out anything that is even remotely irrelevant, its basically back to the drawing boards. I actually did make an editing drawing board a few months ago and I'll post a pic on this blog whenever I get a chance.

Receiving criticism of your work is always tough. Lets be honest about the nature of long term projects. When you work on something with even the least bit of passion, you put a piece of yourself into it. But the important thing to remember with film or writing or almost any other creation is that you're not creating it for your personal viewing pleasure. At least not when you're an unheard of student filmmaker. A film should always be made with the audience in mind.

The bottom line: its time to take a film that's watchable and make it good. That'll be the 3rd cut. Then its time for some more feedback... and hopefully finish it up with the 4th cut thats a little better. I'm a firm believer in letting things digest. so I'm going to take a week off of editing S.O.B. and play catch up on some other projects. Then its time to get my hands dirty.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle’s latest film Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of a young Indian man’s rough and rich childhood growing up in the slums of Mumbai. This is told through a series of flashbacks brought about as he’s being tortured and interrogated under the accusation that he cheated on the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to be A Millionaire. In a clever and well written move Jamal Malik’s wholly coincidental knowledge of the obscure questions asked on the gameshow came directly from his real life. The result is a delicately woven mix of his cruel childhood intercut with his gameshow crisis. Slumdog offers a modern and fresh take on the classic rags to riches story.

The telling of two portions of Jamal’s life is what ultimately gives the film its best feature: a quick pace that keeps the audience's interest peaked. Slumdog is based on a novel, which yields writing that’s simply better than a script written solely for film. The mood of the film is also commendable especially because of the young age in which Jamal’s story begins. Children always have a humanizing effect and Slumdog doubtlessly sings to the soul because of it.

The slums of India offer a great landscape for film. Rich color schemes and the depiction of a completely foreign way of life, at least to American eyes, gives this film a fresh and visually pleasing look. However the stylistic choice of shaky camera work is a bit overbearing at points, and there are a few sloppy edits which are unacceptable in my book. Without nitpicking too much the constant use of static dutch angle shots to establish large spaces quickly becomes redundant and comes off as uninspired. My last complaint concerning the visuals is more so the poor editing choice of using slow motion shots in post production. This “fake” slow-mo looks choppy, sloppy, and is almost always a poor choice in my opinion.

But these problems aside the real beauty of the film is the story being told. And though the story itself is good, the manner in which it is told is what makes this film unique. Juxtaposing the realistic slum life in India with the surreal game show is quite a novel idea. The flashbacks slowly build the story of Jamal’s childhood life, bringing out a plot involving his childhood love Latika which becomes the driving point of the film.

But the character of Latika is rather flat, and the large gap between the cast's childhood and young adulthood omits a large portion of their lives. While I’m glad the film was only a solid two hours long, the missing link between these two portions of life could have been helpful considering that not all the childhood characters translate well into their adult selves. Jamal is rambunctious in his youth, a rich character built through a series of traumatic experiences. As a young adult he comes across as timid, even boring, and if it wasn’t explicitly spelled out, I would never have expected the young adult Jamal and his childhood version to be the same person.

And the love story which arises and brings the film to a close just didn’t do it for me. Its understandable that Jamal would remember and hold feelings for his childhood crush, but for this to come full circle delves into the realm of the unbelieveable, almost a cop-out of a way to bring the film to an end. But this portion of the film is only as contrived as everything else that happens. Considering that I really appreciated the technique of telling this wild story, I suppose its somewhat forgivable.

All in all, Slumdog is a good film. Its not great or magnificent or even Oscar worthy in my opinion, but definitely refreshing and for the most part well done. I’m a big fan of Boyle’s Trainspotting, but some of his recent films were nowhere close to as good. His last film Sunshine was deplorable, so I’m glad to see he’s taking a step toward redemption with Slumdog Millionaire. And on a final note, American audiences have quite a fascination with hip slum stories, ie. City of God, so the fact that this film has become a smash hit in the States is no surprise.

The Good: Excellent pace and forgive me for being redundant but a truly unique story. The childhood actors are great for children and the host of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire puts out a stellar performance.

The Bad: The transition between childhood and young adulthood underdeveloped, and the love story is missing something as well. A few poor stylistic choices but nothing horrible. And a flashback sequence at the end is cohesive with the nature of the film, but a bit cheesy.

The Ugly: The fancy subtitles were unnecessary and tacky. Along those same lines, music from M.I.A. is too hip for my likings.

The Unforgivable: The end credit sequence. I’d like to know who thought having colorful and flashy credits over the main characters dancing at a crowded train station was a good idea. The whole thing came out of nowhere and had nothing to do with what the rest of the film was going for. It looked more like the end of a High School Musical type film than an award winning Indie flick. It left such a bad taste in my mouth that it nearly ruined my impression of the film!

You Should See This Film If: An Indie flick about poor people in India!?! If you're American the answer is duh.