Tag Archives: Film Curious

Understanding The Work: Kurosawa and ‘The Cape House.’

5 Mar

Hey all,

Last week, I delivered a new draft of The Cape House to my producer Carolyn, and we are gearing up to start raising funds.

This got me thinking: I have to direct this thing.

Of course I’ve known that all along, but suddenly it’s becoming very real.

I’ve always viewed The Cape House as something of a thriller, believe it or not. A thriller about understanding your parents and understanding yourself. But I figured it would be a hard thing to do: how to make something so domestic and small feel thrilling?

Then I saw this.


Kurosawa uses composition, shape, and subtle performance to racket up tension, and clarify storytelling. No one has done it better. The second I saw this video, I e-mailed it to Carolyn and said ‘we need to show this to our potential DPs.’

But there’s also something deeper about this video, and how it relates to my life and my first feature film.

One of my first exposures to foreign cinema came at the public library in my hometown of Duxbury, Massachusetts. One summer, when I was about 15, they were screening Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai on an August night. My family was actually on the Cape that weekend, but my mother had to come home, and I asked her to drop me off at the library so I could watch the film.

It was an incredible experience. Watching the film made me realize how influential Kurosawa was. I recognized shots from Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan, and many more films I loved as a teenager.

After the film, there was a discussion about the significance of the film. It was my first exposure to cinephiles, and I was in heaven.

There’s no doubt that was a defining moment, and that Kurosawa is, as for many, an important figure in my life. That this video appeared around the same time I started picturing my film in my head feels pretty significant.

Coincidentially, High and Low, one of Mr. Kurosawa’s best films, is screening at MOMI this weekend. Check it out if you can. It’s amazing.

See you all soon.

Best,
Liam.

Understanding the Work: Collaborative filmmaking as the future.

28 Jan

If we reduce social life to the smallest possible unit we will find that there is no social life in the company of one. 

– Jerzy Kosinski

‘Purple,’ my short created in collaboration with the cast.

Hey all,

I hope you all survived the blizzard intact.

2015 is here, and I have big filmmaking goals. One is to shoot my feature, The Cape House, but another is to adopt a new way of working.

Almost 3 years ago, I made a short film called ‘Purple.’ ‘Purple’ was unique in how I made it. There’s a longer post about this specific subject on A-Bittersweet-Life today, but, briefly, I didn’t write a script before casting. I instead came up with a basic idea, cast the film, then, through rehearsal and conversations, wrote the movie in collaboration with my cast.

This is not a new approach. Many great directors, like Mike Leigh and John Cassavetes, have already done it or something similar. But it was a revelation for me.

I come from theatre (Yea, I’m the one rocking out). The best part of theatre, to me, was always rehearsal. Seeing the finished show open was always a rush, but there was never anything more exciting than a group of people in a room trying to solve dramatic, comedic and experimental problems.

This is the approach that I took with Purple. Four people in a room solving problems, writing the story on our feet. It was the most fun I’ve had making a film. Ever.

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The actors warming up before rehearsing for ‘Purple.’

However, traditional screenwriting dominated my short ‘Future Perfect‘ and has been the main approach for ‘The Cape House.’

But a few things have happened in the past few months, which have led me back to collaborative movie writing.

I am currently writing a film with writer/director/actress Victoria Negri, who has a feature called ‘Gold Star‘ in post-production. Victoria and I connected through twitter, and had a few long conversations over coffee. We talked movies and running. Eventually, I showed her a script I had written about the weird connections people make (and don’t make) while running in New York City.

Victoria was interested, but we decided to throw out the script as it was and start fresh. But we weren’t sitting in a room with pens and paper. We’d meet and talk. We tell each other stories about our running experiences. A huge part of this script is based on things people have said to us and thoughts and feelings we’ve both had.  It was informal, but focused. Every so often, I’d write down some notes.

As a result, what we’ve written feels true. Plus, it’s proven remarkably easy to get words on paper, something I’m terribly slow about. We already have a first draft after only 3 meetings, and I feel more confident about it than any script I’ve written this far.

This is a beta test of how I want to proceed going forward. Get a group of people together, ideally an already-decided-upon cast, several other writers, and experts/advisors on the topic, and have long sessions where we work together through conversation and improvisation. I believe the alchemy of people could get something really interesting going.

Most of all, I think it will get out of my own way, which has always been my goal. No idea of mine has been made worse by collaborating with others. It reminds me of why we tell stories, and why I wandered into a theatre when I was kid anyways: to meet and be close to others who understood me. The energy of collaboration always brings out my best.

I am also in the early stages of putting together a collective of filmmakers to make features. We are ironing out the details, but I am excited about its potential. More to come.

As it gets cheaper and cheaper to make films, more films are being made and less are getting equal levels of attention. Great films receive little-to-no traction. A good way, I believe, to counteract this trend is to give your team ownership on the film, thus getting them excited about the film. How to do that? Involve your team in the creation. Make them part of the conversation. Filmmaking is a social art.

So make it social.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the post on ‘A Bittersweet Life.

Best,

Liam

Understanding The Work: The Cape House and Process.

28 Apr

 

IMG_1186

A screen grab from an impromptu shoot for a film I’m making this summer.
Stayed tuned on twitter and instagram.
#secretproject

Hey there friends and followers,

Well, it’s spring, and with the beginning of spring comes the inevitable spring cold.

And with that cold has been a chance for me to sit and reflect. Something I hadn’t done in over a year. Well over that long, actually. Despite oodles of free time last fall, (owing to lack of employment), my mind was trapped on

1)WORK! WORK! I NEED WORK.

and

2)I HAVE TO MAKE THIS FEATURE FILM OR I’M NOT A FILMMAKER.

I couldn’t escape any of this thinking. I had lots of time to think, yet the only thing I could think about was my failings and financial insecurity. Not the best place to create from, right?

So where did this need for a ‘feature or bust’ come from?

Let’s flashback a little more. January, 2013. I was finishing up film school, and didn’t have a clue as to what was next. I was advised by a professor to start working on a feature. This professor believed that you should have the next project ready-to-pitch. To me, the idea of doing another short was terribly unappealing. Why waste my time with that? Now I needed to be a feature filmmaker.

Thinking economically, I briefly considered ‘what in my life do I have that could make for an interesting location and story?’

My mind quickly came to my family’s house on Cape Cod. I dutifully sat down and sketched out a story. Within a month, I had a first draft that peopled liked and saw potential in. I wrote a second draft over the summer that even more people liked. Drinks were poured and everyone was excited about it!

I was ‘in development.’ I had a PRODUCER. Now came the time to start telling the world.

I started pitching the film all over the place: workshops, subway trains, loud bars after film events and screenings. To anyone who would listen, really. People loved the story of a man returning to his family’s vacation home and having to confront his past. They identified with the painful family dynamics and the issues of divorce and death in the family. I felt great. I was becoming a feature filmmaker.

Then the other shoe dropped.

I spent so much time talking about the film I forgot to keep working on it. I was squeezing writing sessions into tight hours when I wasn’t off talking about it. I networked like hell and got people interested and excited. I started a Facebook page. ALL OF WHICH IS GOOD, and I’m glad I did it.

But my head wasn’t in the movie. It was in the idea of making the movie. It was ‘playing at the thing’ instead of ‘doing the thing.’

Everytime I sat down to ‘write’ I just got distracted and looked on the internet, reading about people getting more work done than me, which is the equivalent of looking on Web MD when you have a headache.

I spent months avoiding the script. Why? Because I hated it. Because I had no ideas. I was bored with it. There were too many characters. Details I could see in my mind weren’t on the page. I was bored with the story of a ‘white guy finding himself’ and I was terrified that was all the script had going. The initial excitement of exploring personal themes in my life made me queasy. I couldn’t work on it, and I needed something else to think about, at least to make returning to the script more bearable.

I then came to a personal conclusion: I wasn’t being a filmmaker. I was a guy making one film, and I was barely making it. Sitting in a room and writing wasn’t enough. I had to be out, making stuff, channeling my energy and working. I need a constant workflow.  Paradoxically, This has helped me to think more clearly.

So what’s happening now?

Easy: I’ve diversified. I’ve just finished shooting a short piece on a painter friend. I’ve started teaching media classes. I’ve begun shooting a new film. I just had a wonderful meeting about it. Here’s a photo.

Sticky

A big part of my process. Note cards on the wall.

I’ll be directing, shooting, editing, and probably exporting the film myself (with a great deal of help from friends). I also have another short film in the ‘thinking’ phase that deals with some of the issues explored above.

All of this is an attempt for me to remind myself why I love filmmaking. To remind myself that this is supposed to be fun.

And what’s going on The Cape House?

Good things, exciting things. I’m writing a new version of it that has a lot in common with my short film Purple. I consider Purple to be one of my better films, and it was definitely the most fun I’ve had making a film. I’m going to detail the process in an upcoming post, but until then, take a minute and give it a watch.


So, what’s the lesson I’ve earned? 

Make long term and short term plans. Be working on a bigger project, and let something you see inspire you to shoot a film next week, the next day, or at that very minute. Embrace it as a life style. This gets more accomplished than going from one project to the next. It keeps you moving, thinking, and creating.

I spent a long time being frustrated with The Cape House, but then the simple thought occurred to me: This is just part of the process.

So I’ll continue the film. What it is, and what will be, continues to evolve. The process is what makes it.

Thanks for reading.

Best,
Liam.