The Alexandre Aja remake Piranha 3D was effective enough that it inspires confidence in any new thing he directs. Regardless of the content, the direction is solid. He holds back information just enough with his choice of shot. I got around to watching one of his most recent flicks, Crawl, that involves a young woman who has been a competitive swimmer defying the authorities during a storm and returning to her father’s home to make sure he is okay. Barry Pepper is the father, and we are reminded that a couple of decades have passed since Saving Private Ryan. Together, along with would-be help from without, they fend off alligators that are taking advantage of a flood.

Most of the movie is contained in one house, mostly in the crawlspace or basement, and while the tenancy is to “open up” movies the fact is that the most effective horror and suspense involves isolation. The Shining, Misery, most cabin in the woods movies, have a sense of being trapped and having to confront the problem at hand. From the ordinary opening scenes through the building crisis to the choice of music that plays under ending credits the movie is well thought out and presented. In earlier decades, it might be taken for granted. But the decisiveness of Aja takes a bsic premise and keeps it, beat for beat, pumping along. It is not Jaws but it is more Jaws than Jaws 3 or Jaws the Revenge. It has less humor than his Piranha movie, but it is still quite solid entertainment.

The “It” Girl and her Grown Up Self

The last girl to play Beverly Marsh went on to do Ginger Snaps. This girl has done Nancy Drew. All of the kids are still engaging in It Chapter 2, although not as vivid as in the first half. Unlike the TV version, the adult counterparts of the Loser’s Club don’t have iconic Seventies and Early Eighties television personas to distract from the characters at hand. Even the first victim of Pennywise in this episode, Canadian film director Xavier Dolan, is not at first recognized. The director of these It movies, Andy Muschietti, has me hopeful for how The Flash will be presented. He has a confident sense of camera placement and well motivated scene transitions between the present and the past.

Where the film falters may be in a sequence like the intercut between Beverly in a flooded washroom stall and Ben Hanscom singing into sand until she is able to reach down and somehow pull him out and the whole time we are just letting it play out with no sense of any rules in this universe as to how and why this is happening. When a superficial event is not actively motivated by Pennywise it just sits there and feels like filler, arbitrary and likely something that could end at any moment and be as reasonable as the resolution we are given. In a movie of this length (two hours and forty-nine minutes) it is odd that this makes the cut. It is just fine that like the TV adaptation this version omits the “orgy” between the kids after helping Beverly clean up blood that may or may not be there in her washroom. Having not read the book, I don’t know whether Richie participated in that considering what seems to be a new level of his character added to this iteration. The TV version had a purpose for Bill’s rickety bike “Silver” in helping revive his catatonic wife, but she is not in this movie and Silver seems to have no function other than letting Bill have a nostalgic ride by himself and giving Stephen King an amusing cameo running the hock shop that sells the bike.

The movie feels topical as the Loser’s Club taunt Pennywise and reduce his power by calling him “Just a Clown” and we are meant to think of a real world figure in a position of power who has disproportionate concern about how he is spoken of on, say, Twitter. There are what I call “movie jokes” forced in some scenes, like when Eddie who is not established as a joker has just been stabbed and as he runs off makes a quip to the assailant grown-up bully Henry Bowers about his hair-do belonging to the Eighties. This arguably goes full circle from an early quip by Xavier Dolan’s character Adrien to his bullies that, “Meg Ryan called and wants her wig back. ” Even though as a viewer that line makes no sense considering that there has never been anything especially wrong about Meg Ryan’s hair. It is about the same in Innerspace and some scenes from When Harry Met Sally. But then I am not a hair expert.

Overall the film is entertaining and has moments of depth, of a piece with the movie that preceded it. Those who have not seen the TV version might not get the use of, “Beep beep, Richie” to shut him up when he is on a roll, since neither this movie nor Chapter One establish it. I like the way the final form of Pennywise keeps his face in this version. There are enough scares and anticipation and creepiness that the movie entertains, flaws and all.

John Carpenter’s The Ward

If you want to see Amber Heard in a mental institution, this is the movie. The effective scenes of tension and command of the frame you expect from Carpenter are there and just when you think you have a complaint (hey, these other inmates are just standard issue aspects of a psyche – the quiet one, the crazy singing one, the one who seems to not belong because she is sane) there turns out to be a reason for it. There is even a shock treatment scene and a Nurse Ratched character, but it is no Cuckoo’s Nest. It shares with a few movies of its time my least favourite kind of ending, without getting into details. The journey is better than the arrival at the destination. The commentary track discusses the idea that in a Nineteen Sixties setting certain events would not have been scrutinized. We keep watching for the suspense and the jump scares. The Ward is a contained idea, with genuine scenes of jeopardy that still play almost a decade later, despite knowing the ending. Worth visiting this compromised version of the Carpenter aesthetic. It could not be done anamorphic but still feels wide and decisive. He did not compose the music this time around, but it still feels like the Carpenter stamp is there. Also worth looking at the Masters of Horror anthology episodes he directed, “Cigarette Burns” (which to me plays a lot like Flicker by Theodore Rozzak) and John Carpenter’s Pro-Life which is laced with satire and insanity.

The Third Black Christmas (2019)

This movie succeeds in doing something it absolutely had not intended: It shows the concept of patriarchy as paranoid and silly. The intention may have been fourth-wave feminism, but the result is to illustrate a fear and in doing so expose its irrational panic. While it is a five million dollar budgeted Blumhouse film and it made Eighteen million worldwide and is therefore profitable, the imdb rating and scores on rottentomatoes for both critics and audiences tell a darker story than the one on screen. The movie had a reputation of being the “woke” version of Black Christmas, reflecting the sensibilities of the safe space generation. This remarkably turned off both audiences and critics.

In fairness, the movie is well executed. There is nothing wrong with the way director Sophia Takal places the frame. Then image quality is solid and the performances feel natural. As is often the case with movies going wrong today, it is the controlling ideas that sink it. The commentary track mentions “the cause” the movie is fighting for, and also references Scooby Doo as a tone they wanted to avoid, but they might as well have leaned into it. The professor (Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride) has the word “swine” on the chalkboard behind him as he shoots down the attitudes of a student by quoting Dr. Camille Paglia. Paglia represents the other kid of feminism besides Gloria Steinem’s brand, but it is placed here as if it is the code of the enemy. I agree with Paglia more often than not, so it is a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Might something be wrong with this professor and will he curse those meddling kids?

One of the male friends the internet would call a “soy boy” questions their outrage and their decision to provoke the bullies with an anti-rape song, he is shouted down until he has to say, “not all guys are misogynist” or something to that affect and his girlfriend shows him the door. The scene is devoid of any self-awareness. The movie spends time talking up a petition to get the professor fired and another push to get something other than straight white male authors on the curriculum. The audience is likely to say if you don’t like the reading list, go to another school. One element the Bob Clark original from 1974 and the 2006 remake had going for them was Andrea Martin appearing in both. I wonder what she might have brought to this otherwise often unintentionally funny variation.

Ultimately, the original written ending for this version was re-written during the shoot and the story behind the masked, hooded figure was changed. What they ended up with expects us to believe a premise like the black sleep of Kali in Temple of Doom where in this case a black goo smeared on a participant can turn that person into an unthinking maniac who nonetheless has a confidence and competence firing arrows. So in that way the young men are absolved of their actions by a cluttered and reactionary ideology of the writers.

When the quazi-heroine makes a gesture to dispatch the baddie and says a line that was censored in the final cut for PG-13 consideration, “Suck my cl**!” Cary Elwes should have replied, “As you wish.”

Generations and Rick Moranis

The name of SCTV (Second City Television) alumnus Rick Moranis has appeared in the news lately, initially because he is due to reprise his role of Wayne Selinski from Honey I Shrunk the Kids and then got roped into a cell phone ad as his real return to the screen, and more recently he was recorded on security camera getting assaulted by a random passer-by. Any one of those could stir up concern. He is presently doing okay after the last mentioned ordeal. Some younger people on social media (in theory) might not know him or connect the name to images they take for granted.

When I moved permanently to Toronto in 1997, that was the same year Moranis did a video sequel to the “Honey, I” movies. That was officially his last big job. He did a few appearances relating to Bob and Doug McKenzie’s 24 Anniversary and Brother Bear in which a pair of moose are modeled after Bob and Doug. He did a voice for Dark Helmet from Spaceballs for The Goldbergs, but he has mostly focused on music and his personal life. It might have been nice if they got him to appear in Jason Reitman’s course correction film Ghostbusters: Afterlife which is due in March of 2021, but it seems like he passed on that.

Here are some glimpses of Rick Moranis in his initial run of fame which made him a beloved comic actor.

Anyway, those are samples to jump start people into looking up his work. He had cameos like the grave digger in L.A. Story and he did an entertaining movie with Steve Martin called “My Blue Heaven” about the witness protection program, reportedly a semi sequel to Goodfellas, directed by Norah Ephron who was the partner of the casino and Goodfellas co-author Nicholas Pileggi. But at least Moarnis has emerged into pop culture again and hopefully there will be more to come that interests him.

In Praise of the Eighties

As interesting as it is to read Peter Buskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, it gets one core point very wrong. It presents the common argument that the late sixties and early Seventies were a golden era of authentic director driven auteur movies with grit and balls which ended because Jaws and Star Wars replaced with calculated catharsis and caused Hollywood to suddenly start wanting to make money. And this led to the Eighties playing it safe with formulaic movies in a decade serious cinephiles consider a low point in the art form. Instead of a thumbs down, I give that theory a sturdy middle finger.

Universal was firing Steven Spielberg virtually every day during the over-long making of Jaws, and he suffered a nervous breakdown on the plane ride home after the main Martha’s Vinyard shoot concluded. (Or just after setting up the final shot of the shark explosion which he left someone else to supervise so he could make a clean getaway from the overworked crew.) Twentieth Century Fox refused to extend the shooting of Star Wars by even a couple of weeks, so George Lucas had to delegate a few more units to get pick-up shots needed, and returned from England with chest pains and a trip to the hospital. The finished movie could only be booked into 39 venues for its May 25, 1977 debut, some of which had to be coerced illegally by Fox to accept Star Wars or they could not have The Other Side of Midnight. People don’t often realize when they have a good thing.

The Auteur Theory promoted by the likes of Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, as well as Francois Truffaut – especially in his famous interviews with master self-promoter Alfred Hitchcock – was good for directors and helped movie critics oversimplify the discussion of cinema. To this day, a Generation X (successful or still aspiring) filmmaker would have benefited from this culture and this idea because it made us want to direct movies. Frank Capra wrote (with some collaboration) an autobiography called The Name Above the Title. Peter Bogdanovich eventually wrote a book called Who the Devil Made It.

Great movies like Apocalypse Now or less celebrated films like Heaven’s Gate had an air of director-gone-made, whether or not that was fair. A Coppola or Altman or Cimino had more rope to hang themselves. A movie that cost more than planned or that went over schedule was considered self-indulgent. And if the pace of the finished picture was not brisk, that made it all seem too self-serious. This was truly the natural and inevitable end of elevating the director and praising a vision as automatic art worthy of high risk. People who exclusively watched recent American movies, and nothing from before his or her own birth year, and had no interest in reading subtitles might look at the Nineteen Eighties as a safe, programmed time for cinema. But it was not.

The craft of cinema, and the direction of the audience, became refined. The narratives had less meandering. Home video in the form of Betamax and VHS or example brought out studio archives of older films for the young audience to catch up on. The theatrical releases are too much to list, so the years are summed up with only a sampling of titles.

1980 brought The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Altman’s ramshackle but somehow oddly charming Popeye, The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, Caddyshack, Used Cars by Robert Zemeckis, Nine to Five, Stir Crazy, The Fog, My Bodyguard, Fame, Flash Gordon and for the serious there was Kashemusha, Lion of the Desert, The Big Red One, The Elephant Man, Ordinary People, and Coal Miner’s Daughter.

1981 hit us with Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior, Das Boot, Superman II, On Golden Pond, Stripes, Arthur, An American Werewolf in London, For Your Eyes Only, Time Bandits, Body Heat by Lawrence Kasdan, The Four Seasons by Alan Alda, The Evil Dead, Reds, Thief, Quest for Fire, My Dinner with Andre, Escape from New York, Scanners, Heavy Metal, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I, Porky’s, Clash of the Titals, Ragtime, Taps, Gallipoli, and Chariots of Fire which won the Best Picture Oscar.

1982 gave us too many choices, including Sophie’s Choice itself. Arguably My Favorite Year. E.T., Blade Runner, Gandhi, First Blood, The Thing, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Pink Floyd The Wall, Tootsie, The Verdict, Young Doctors In Love, Poltergeist, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Conan The Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, Victor Victoria, Night Shift, Diner, Missing, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Grey Fox, The World According to Garp, Annie, Tron, 48 Hours, Rocky III, Creepshow, The Year of Living Dangerously, and Bad Boys (the one with Sean Penn).

1983 was crazy with Return of the Jedi, Scarface, A Christmas Story, The Right Stuff, Trading Places, national Lampoon’s Vacation, Terms of Endearment, The Outsiders and Rumblefish from Coppola, Wargames, The Meaning of Life, Never Cry Wolf, The Big Chill, Videodrome, Silkwood, Christine, Zelig, Strange Brew, two Bond movies Octopussy, Never Say Never Again, Sudden Impact, Tender Mercies, Flashdance, Lone Wolf McQuade, Brainstorm, Educating Rita, Cujo and The Hunger.

1984 offered 1984, Amadeus, Once Upon a Time in America, Paris, Texas, This is Spinal Tap, The Killing Fields, Blood Simple, Repo Man, Streets of Fire, Sixteen Candles, The Natural, Top Secret, Gremlins, Dreamscape, The Last Starfighter, Places in the Heart, Romancing the Stone, Starman, 2010, Splash, Purple Rain, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Footloose, Dune, Revenge of the Nerds, Red Dawn, Johnny Dangerously and a host of brand names that are still generating content: Ghostbusters, The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Karate Kid, Police Academy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Beverly Hills Cop, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, The Neverending Story indeed.

1985 introduced Back to the Future, Witness, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Goonies, Explorers, Brazil by Terry Gilliam, Ran by Kurasawa, The Color Purple by Spielberg. Silverado, Clue, After Hours, Mishima, Fright Night, Silver Bullet, Legend, Fletch, A Room with a View, Commando, Cocoon, Pale Rider, Day of the Dead, To Live and Die in L.A., Better off Dead, Re-Animator, Death of a Salesman, Weird Science, Real Genius, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

1986 ground out Stand By Me, Platoon, Aliens, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Blue Velvet, The Fly, Labyrinth, Star trek IV The Voyage Home, The Mission, The Name of the Rose, Highlander, Big Trouble in Little China, Hannah and Her Sisters, Top Gun, Manhunter, An American Tail, Back to School, Pretty In Pink, Short Circuit, Crossroads, Three Amigos, Crocodile Dundee, Howard the Duck, Armed and Dangerous, Lucas, Gung Ho, The Hitcher, Down By Law, Hoosiers, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, At Close Range, The Decline of the American Empire, Hearbreak Ridge, Eight Million Ways to Die, A Better Tomorrow, The Color of Money, 52 Pick-Up, About Last Night, Sid and Nancy, Ruthless People, Children of a Lesser God, The Clan of the Cave Bear, Night Mother, Little Shop of Horrors, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Legal Eagles, Iron Eagle, and Nothing in Common.

1987 saw these flicks: Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Full Metal Jacket, The Untouchables, The Princess Bride, Robocop, Empire of the Sun, Good Morning, Vietnam, Lethal Weapon, Wall Street, Predator, Babette’s Feast, The Last Emperor, The Lost Boys, Wings of Desire, Evil Dead II, Moonstruck, Withnail and I, Spaceballs, Dirty dancing, Angel Heart, Raw, Some Kind of Wonderful, Cry Freedom, Hellraiser, Fatal Attraction, Adventures on Babysitting, La Bamba, No Way Out, Roxanne, Barfly, InnerSpace, Hope and Glory, The Living Daylights, and Overboard.

1988 Die hard, Beetlejuice, Misissippi Burning, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Willow, The Land Before Time, Big, The Thin Blue Line, Running On Empty, Dangerous Liaisons, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The last Temptation of Christ, The Naked Gun, Midnight Run, Heathers, Beaches, Coming To America, Child’s Play, Dead Ringers, Stand and Deliver, Oliver and Company, Scrooged, The Accused, Bull Durham, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Colors, Frantic, Working Girl, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Torch Song Trilogy, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space

1989 presented Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, When Harry Met Sally, Christmas Vacation, Do the Right Thing, The Little Mermaid, Dead Poets Society, Batman, Field of Dreams, Glory, My Left Foot, Back to the Future Part II, Steele Magnolias, Lean on Me, Major League, Say Anything, Uncle Buck, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Born on the Fourth of July, Shirley Valentine, Parenthood, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Lethal Weapon II, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Road House, Roadkill, Always, Roger and Me, Henry V, Hear No Evil, See No Evil, License to Kill, Pet Semetary, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and Ghostbusters II.

How often would the average person, even an avid movie fan, want to go to the cinema in a given year? If every week, maybe each year does not add up to 52 movies as listed here but this only scratches the surface. We were still beginning to have other options, besides Cable TV and home video rentals.

If someone in 2020 is Thirty Years Old, that sampling of titles might not be part of their viewing experience, and a few of them are prerequisites for later titles. The dialogue might be part of the vernacular even today. They may seem quaint without feeling inferior. Today people throw around the word “problematic.” The World According to Garp, one of my favourite films, has John Lithgow playing Roberta Muldoon, a trans person, Short Circuit has a white actor playing a scientist from India. Both Octopussy and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom have a strange meal being served in India as discomfort humor. Either you can reconcile yourself to a movie not being all things to each person, or you can whip out a word ending with ist or phobe and further reduce their gravity. Were there too many inventors, too many Rube Goldberg devices? Too many sequels? Well there is nothing inherently wrong with building on a premise. Even The Gods Must Be Crazy got a sequel, despite having the unusual story of an African Bushman trying to find the purpose of a pop bottle that has landed near him as if dropped from Heaven.

The Death of a Thousand Paper Cuts

One thing likely to go wrong making movie is that it can turn into a money pit. The other danger is that it can be for the writer-director especially a death of a thousand cuts, if a collaborator is not in sync or there is a dispute over the tone and content of a screenplay.

Personally, although I understand this and how common the principle can be, and that I have dodged a few bullets by avoiding or cancelling a project when it was clear that something was afoot, I have spun my wheels for three years imagining what kind of pep talk or statement could have been made earlier on to eliminate even the idea of a power struggle or the project being co-opted by someone else.

The mantra must be “we want the same result or we don’t.” To begin with the end in mind means to see the finished movie in your mind’s eye, even if the idea of a vision sounds pretentious. It is either worth the journey or it isn’t. Your work will be vindicated or it can’t because it is no longer your work. I know that I have no interest in recording improvisations as a replacement for the writing I have tweaked and fine tuned over a long stretch. To open the floodgates on that would be a problem. To allow someone who left the project over a problematic joke to sneak back in under someone else’s say-so and instead have that line or idea cut from the script would be a grating trade-off.

Those who may have an advantage are people who just have outlines and place-holder dialogue they expect to be “improved” by a cast. Such a project would be about building a community and offering a forum for actors to do what they want and to be a leader by association. That is potentially the successful route, and I have seen it happen. Actually knowing how you want your movie to go and fine-tuning your dialogue might set you up for a longer road and more obstacles. The more specific your goal and the more objectives within it, the harder it is to achieve. If your goal is just to have your credit on something, regardless of how much of it came from you, doors open more easily.

Getting people to watch a finished movie, let alone pay to see it, is almost as hard as getting them to read a script. From this point forward I may even complicate it further by novelizing any script I do, or at least making a prose short story that can be absorbed as its own thing and that can be a more digestible introduction to a concept or plot or characters than the simple screenplay which just seems to be asking for financing. But in the end, you don’t want bigger personalities to get into a pissing contest and have more A-type personalities and Beta you to death as each line or scene or shot becomes a hill to die on. Better to say up front that it is okay if someone doesn’t want to do the project and the priority is that they trust the material and yourself otherwise it will be months or years of psychological abuse and only the superficial appearance of accomplishment and a monument to your own lack of influence or debate skill.

Best to keep your team small and focused rather than be drawn and quartered by opposing goals pulling you and the project in every direction. In the past I have let things go from specific to general and the overall impact has been weak. Better to keep the tension in the cut and fuss over the little things that add up. And serve fair notice at the start that this is the way it has to go. Just recording something is not enough.

Look at These Damn Shorts !

Every now and then I like to sweep out the attic and cough up old dust bunnies of shorts from over ten years ago. Some people are wise enough to bury their old work. I have to remind myself to get back onto the horse and make more fresh content. Also, to overcome a sense of demoralization. Sometimes you need a kick in the back of the pants.
The original short from 2007 generated for Daryl Gold’s Hard Liquor and Porn Comedy Festival was originally uploaded on my personal youtube account which has mostly home movies. It has over sixty thousand views. It would be great to import those views into this upload, were it possible. But frankly I look at many of these hastily made shorts and see only the flaws. Even though I have observed the laughs coming across.
In 2008 we cobbled together a simple false documentary in the style of Zeitgeist, called Shitegeist, using simple narration and slightly doctored stock images to create the mythology of Porno the Clown. Much of it was too lo-res. It was taken down at one point because it must have ruffled someone’s feathers. In hindsight, more shorts should have been made right away. Most of the videos were done in 2009. The stile of this 2008 experiment might have led to regular update videos using audio and a simple file graphic of Porno the Clown as if he is a foreign corespondant so that timely videos could easily be done. But this was resisted by Jay Ould who played Porno the Clown. It would have kept the charactrer active. Also, initially Jay had mentioned a potential investor in a series of shorts so I had generated a number of outlines. About half of those actually got shot. The investor did not pan out, but I still wrote out full scripts for most of them and we shot what we could for fun. But Shitegeist was an interesting minimalist experiment.
My intention had been to do a seasonal short for each holiday. We did get one done for Father’s Day, in which Jay’s own son Cai plays someone claiming to be the offspring of Porno the Clown. It ends with a kind of PSA that Jay was skeptical about but he had to admit once it was executed it worked out. Unfortunately a number of other holiday videos did not come to fruition.
This is an example of one of the monologues I wrote for Porno the Clown. Production wise, very simple. It may not be satisfying for Jay. But for the writer it is fun. I had pitched a one man show for Jay to do at the Fringe Festival but he was not interested. I think the idea of memorizing a high volume of my writing is a pain in the butt. There may yet be a Porno the Clown play, or more likely the play and eventual feature (already written and refined) may become a varient that salvages much of what I wrote and keeps PTC off screen. That is a back up plan if Jay doesn’t want to do something as written. A 2017 tentative approach to a feature was cancelled by me after it turned out that much of the support was for an improvisation cluster f**k version that I had no interest in. I’d want to shoot only my script with every problematic joke intact.
There were a few segments generated for an interview skit I wrote which might be the best attempt at a Porno the Clown short, in terms of getting through jokes. I recall having cue cards. When the exterior sidewalk shots were being done, an allusion to the strut of Saturday Night Fever, a little girl approached Jay who was in full PTC costume and she asked his name. He came up with, “Uh, Joe-Joe the Clown.”
This video is kind of a curiousity. I wrote a short called Orgy Etiquette as part of the collection for PTC based on a couple of other stabs I had taken at the concept, a monologue and some other iteration. I remmeber being at a party and mentioning it to the late Tony Rosato of SCTV who said it was a great premise. Eventually the written versions had quite a few guidelines listed for getting through an orgy, pulled out of thin air because I would never have the slightest idea of that world. Like any Porno the Clown thing I had written it was the abomination of speculation coming from a repressed Catholic. Then I believe Jay had a meeting with Dave McKay and they adapted those writings into a two-hander live audience participation skit that I recorded with a camcorder at the Comedy Bar. This might be the one grey area or room for confusion about my feature where someone might get the idea that I was open to that being improvised. Nope. But this short piece is fun and most likely the other full versions of the premise might not have been done.
There is a short that might be buried somewhere in the hard-to-access Facebook videos of my private account, Porno the Clown meets Bad Babysitter. That one was based on an idea from Jay. It somewhat follows the format of other scenes and has an okay structure but was thrown together under time pressure. It is not on this channel because months after shooting it the actress stated she wanted to go out for modeling or other parts and was concerned that her name turned up in searche engines for this short and she needed to shake it. Unfortunately she was not straight with us and initially claimed her release form was not valid because she was under age. I initially was filled with dread, until I fact checked it and discovered she had lied and was actually not under age at all. Still, I deleted whatever I could and removed tags with her name and so on. The short played at a Salon Du Refuses off shoot of Daryl Gold’s Hard Liquor and Porn Comedy Festival. I recall the actress was an outstanding illustrator. I wish her well. This link likely won’t work unless you are logged into Facebook.
Those are just a few of the Porno the Clown videos that had been generated, basically highlights. I’d like to see them get a new life and some attention. The feature that is built around him will in one form or another be brought to life, even if I have to resort to substituting a new character so the name Porno the Clown doesn’t spook too many people. It is an uphill battle for an idea that I had thought was just crass enough to be commercial. Also, much depends on whether I can cast people who get on with learning dialogue or whether there is push back from people who insist on improvisation. I have no love of Theater Sports as they call it and keeping myself off balance with an influx of chaos. I mean, I’d rather not even call it a comedy if it comes to that. Too many experts on comedy. I wouldn’t want performances that seem like they are aware it is comedy. I guess we’ll see.

Mission Statement

Welcome to the production. Feel free to fearlessly ask “stupid” questions. It is better to admit not knowing or understanding something than to pretend and cause a miscommunication or lavish time on a dead end chore. To save time, however, please be advised that the director has made hundreds of shorts and has absorbed years of behind the scenes information, from film school to compulsive study of DVD commentary tracks and issues of American Cinematographer for pleasure and has been at it since 1984. There may be many ways a director might approach a shoot and only one way that is chosen as most appropriate.

Please read the screenplay. If your job is visual, please also look at relevant storyboards and maps or floor plans that have been generated. There are so many moving parts on a movie that in a war against Murphy’s Law it makes sense to have a fixed point of reference. Do not expect any drastic change from the screenplay or the story-boarded shooting plan. You can look at it as an experiment in how close the finished movie can be to the vision. We can expect cast and crew to grow bored with repetition of the material and for any variation to seem refreshing for that group, but the audience will only likely hear these things once and so the inside joke of a crew reaction should not be treated as “best idea wins.” Best to press onward and make sure the original written or planned version still gets done.

If you have expectations about the production, please disclose these. Most will be benign. Maybe experience, or hoping someone you know can be on screen, or being able to show an item you have created. But also keep in mind that screen time is carefully measured and a specific talent will have to be considered for its place. If an actor has experience improvising but no knack for learning written dialogue, that person should not have a speaking part. The goal is not to erode the scripted lines with improvised substitutes.

Physical safety must be the first concern, and safety will overrule any direction. Meanwhile, this movie will not be what colleges often call an intellectual “safe space” in terms of ideas and opinions. If someone finds the screenplay or a scene or line in it problematic, that is because the writer’s most satisfying content is designed to provoke. It will not be replaced or mutated into a woke alternative. If the process of learning lines, rehearsal, and getting the pacing right cramps the style of anyone they might want to consider opting out of the project as early as possible. We don’t want people to feel horrible about the movie they are in, and more importantly the integrity of the writer or director’s vision will be preferred over whims and sensitivities or peccadilloes that would undermine the objectives and subversive intentions of the movie. There will be something to offend everybody. The priority is for people to make an informed choice about being involved with the movie.

The script can help determine who is the right fit for it.

Leverage and Support

“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” – quote attributed to various people

If someone is offering only the unacceptable, compromised, neutered version of what you plan, they aren’t offering anything.

A person can turn over what was said and left unsaid in a meeting or other interaction for years until they break the code and find out the truth under all of the imagined negotiation and clarity and timing they could have summoned to keep imagined support for a project.

One collaborator might have a pattern you choose to ignore. That might be giving out a different message than your own so there is built in disaster down the line. It might be as simple as your own stated plan being specific and his or hers being more general. Your associate’s goal might be, “Let’s make a movie for me to star in.” Your goal as a writer-director might be, “Let’s make a movie that follows my script and my directorial designs.”

An investor or actor may give an ultimatum like, “I can only be involved in this if you cut this line or joke or image I find problematic.” Or, “I will only be involved if you let the actors ad lib and don’t insist they learn dialogue or rehearse.” Or, “I will only be involved if you hire a cinematographer and let that person call your shots.” In each of those cases, compliance will only result in a compromised version of your film. It might even open the door to a clusterf**k and a cacophony of nonsense that has to be reigned in and that replaces what you had intended. If your most satisfying writing is problematic, and you are going to be responsible as a writer director for the finished product anyway, it may as well be your own instincts and whimsy that is judged and not something imposed on you.

The potential collaborator negotiating or offering or imposing something is not offering to help realize your vision, the version of the project that is worth whatever time you have spend developing and refining it and whatever work remains to actually shoot it. They are offering to control your work.

The expected response to such a statement is that it is naive or amateurish to worry about such things. But especially in a politically charged climate, it would be easy for someone to wind up credited for something that no longer represents his or her judgement or taste or point of view on the world while at the same time not even catering to any mainstream sensibility. Remember the moment in Ed Wood where he claims, “Everybody likes” his script or project and his girlfriend tells him he has surrounded himself with freaks.

If someone offers to be a producer and that person has not read the script, that’s a red flag. If they are offering to talk to some unnamed “whale” about financing, their heart might be in the right place but it is best to make sure the project is not misrepresented and have the conflict right there. Your only control or leverage is that the other person doesn’t really have leverage.

If you get them acting in your movie or bringing some support but only on condition that the movie is diluted, even the smallest disagreement or compromise might be like one small hole in the bottom of a boat; instead of rowing and making progress you will then be spending time bailing water just as an improvisation based cast might use up precious time on a location trying to fix something that is not broken – the script. If you can’t use story-boarded shots motivated by the dynamics and psychology of each beat in a scene because the dialogue is in flux, then you are forced to cross-shoot basic close-ups of the whole thing in the kind of coverage anyone could do and there is no directorial stamp. So as credited writer-director you will be generating “pictures of people talking” instead of your carefully considered use of the frame and the words being spoken will not be your own so both writing and directing have been subverted by the imposition of compromise.

The vision of the finished movie – imperfect though it may be – that comes from following your latest draft of the script and your story-boarded shot plan is in your mind’s eye at the end of the tunnel and worth the journey and sleepless nights to come. You can honestly take responsibility for it. But being thrown off balance or demoralized by a perspective that is not compatible makes that vision dissolve into a jumble. Some will argue that as long as you are getting paid you may as well play along and be professional, but in micro-budget movies and your first features it is worth being mindful that even in a small pond there could be leeches. Your project might look like a forum for an art form someone else values over cinema, and you may only need performers who have utility and skill to breathe life into the dialogue you have already prepared. You don’t want to pass the buck and blame anyone if a movie turns out mediocre. Better to dig your heels in early on and drill down into any point of disagreement. Let everyone make informed choices. They might not all want to read 100 pages just to say no. But it is better to make no movie at all than to make the wrong movie that will stand as a mockery of what was intended. Make your own mistakes and not someone else’s.