Django Unchained

Quintessential Tarantino

Don’t ask how I got it, but I just finished reading the screenplay of Quentin Tarantino’s up coming movie “Django Unchained.” I’ve heard people almost hurt themselves trying to pronounce it, so just be aware that the “D” is silent and you’ll be fine. If you have ever day dreamed about going back in time and personally altering history you’ll completely understand where Tarantino is coming from in this story. Much along the lines of “Inglorious Bastards” he takes a dark issue from the past and writes a revenge tale where we get to enjoy watching the bad guy’s suffer humiliation and utter destruction. I’ve got to say from the start that I have mixed thoughts on Tarantino’s various projects, but in the end I do concede the fact that he has a way of writing and telling a story that I really admire. I think he probably needs therapy, but he defiantly has a talent for spinning yarns and doing it outside the proverbial box.

Tarantino-esque

Django is a story based in the Southern States during the height of slavery.  He tackles the heinous issues of the time in a way only Tarantino does… head on and as in your face as possible!  By doing so he has carte blanch to deal with the bad guys by any means his troubled mind can come up with, while we bask in the voyeuristic revenge and blood lust.  Jamie Foxx plays Django, who was separated from his wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington at a slave auction.  A bounty hunter by the name of Dr. King Schultz played by Christoph Waltz ends up purchasing Django to identify some wanted men he was searching for to collect a large bounty.  Repulsed by the idea of slavery, Dr. Schultz offers him a cut of the reward for helping in collecting the bounty and Django’s freedom.  Django shows that he has a propensity to hunt bad guys and you can guess the rest… they team up and Dr. King teaches Django the way of the force, how to use a light saber to kill slack-jawed crackers on his journey to finding and freeing his wife from the clutches of Calvin Candie played by non other than Leonardo DiCaprio… and then blow up the Death Star (I’m not kidding).  If you like Tarantino, Django Unchained is quintessential Tarantino and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The screenplay was a pretty engaging read and the images I’ve seen of it look pretty good (except for that fake official trailer on YouTube, please don’t fall for that one). If you like Tarantino’s style and story telling, you should be looking forward to this movie. As of the date of this article, principle photography isn’t finished yet but the movie is due out this December.

Written by Shane Kester

 

The Kings Speech – Directed by Tom Hooper

The King’s Speech at BFI London Film Festival 2010

Colin Firth & Helena Bonham Carter

This year at the BFI London Film Festival, one of my favorite films was The King’s Speech. It’s the story of King George VI (Colin Firth) and his reluctant rise to become the King of England after his brother King Edward the VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicates the thrown to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson . It’s a great story of an unlikely and hesitant hero who suffers with a debilitating stammer. 

Seeking the help of an unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) endeavors to help the then Prince of York with his ever increasing responsibilities of delivering live speeches over the radio. Colin Firth delivers an extremely convincing performance with stammers and pregnant pauses during his public and radio speeches that come across as genuinely painful to watch. His loving and supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) stands by his side with encouragement as the looming pressure of becoming King and the need to vocally address his people only exacerbate the stammering problem. The charming relationship of Lionel and Bertie (Lionel Longue and King George) is a fascinating development as Lionel insists upon a very familiar and equal relationship in order for his therapy to work.  

The film poignantly points out the contrast of the overwhelming difficulty for the King of England to speak and the overpowering oration skills of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. In one scene the royal family is watching a news real of Hitler giving a very impassioned and dynamic speech as only Adolf Hitler could do, and the King’s daughter asks her father what he is saying. King George enviously replies, “I don’t know, but he seems to be saying it rather well.” 

I'm sure his friend who took this picture of us was NOT his cinematographer. He would have made sure it was in focus.

Director Tom Hooper & Writer David Seidler

Director Tom Hooper was at the BFI London Film Festival to talk about the film and mentioned that King George VI was writer David Seidler’s hero and inspiration as a child because he used to listen to the King on the radio during WWII reassuring himself that if the King of England could cope with a stammer so could he. Eventually Seidler set out to write about King George VI and found that Lionel Logue’s son had his diary but would not hand it over without permission from the palace. To his delight the Queen Mother replied giving him permission but asked if he would not release anything in her life time because the memory was still so painful. David Seidler kept his word and in 2005 began writing a screen play that turned into a stage play and finally back into a screen play. This was a truly delightful film to watch, supported by a powerful cast and for many people this film will be like an enjoyable course in English History for Dummies as the history and drama of King George’s brother abdicating the thrown and Adolf Hitler threatening to plunge Europe into a Second World War unfold in a very personal story of struggle.  

 

 

I shot some really interesting footage of Director Tom Hooper talking about how the story came about.YouTube Preview Image

Director Tom Hooper also talks about working with the actors.YouTube Preview Image 

Check out the movie trailer.YouTube Preview Image 

 

The Kids Are Alright – Lisa Cholodenko

54th BFI London Film Festival

The Kids Are Alright is a film about an unconventional family situation that touches on some fairly new social issues. Julianne Moore and Annette Benning star as a lesbian couple who had two children via a sperm donor. I suppose that it would be an interesting peek into a small but growing segment of society in and of itself, but it doesn’t end there. The two teenage children played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson have become curious about their bio-dad played by Mark Ruffalo, and track him down to the surprise of their mothers. 

It truly makes for an eclectic mix of characters, personalities and problems. At the BFI Film Festival I attended an event with director Lisa Cholodenko where she talked about this story and it’s 5 year evolution that mirrored in some ways her own life. She and her partner also had a child, therefore putting the script on the back burner for some time. Lisa preferred that she and her writing partner Stuart Blumberg work on the script in the same room together for better collaboration rather than using email or video conferencing which also set back the script since both lived on opposite coasts. Julianne Moore and Annette BeningFinally a small budget of $4,000,000 was allocated and the time was right with Julianne Moore and Annette Benning’s schedule, so they quickly prepared a shooting schedule within a thirty day window. Director Lisa Cholodenko said that as shooting schedule plan sunk in she pulled her car over and called one of the producers in a bit of a break down complaining that it was going to be too difficult to shoot in such a short period of time. To which he simply said, you better figure out a way, do you know how many people out there would kill for the opportunity to have $4,000,000 to make a film?

The story was well written and the film technically well executed but was certainly not a cookie cutter Hollywood production. Her aim was to make the film feel like a realistic slice of life as possible, down to Julianne Moore not wearing make up and it does come across with that very natural feel even thought the story is a concentration of events.

If the “lesbian couple with teenage kids finding their sperm donor bio-dad” drama doesn’t seem like your cup of tea you may want to pass on this movie. But if the “lesbian couple with teenage kids finding their sperm donor bio-dad” drama does sound good to you, you should find it an enjoyable film. The writing is only outdone by the five actors that bring it to life and deliver funny as well as heart felt performances throughout.

by Shane Kester

PHOTO CREDIT: Shane Kester
PHOTO CREDIT: Suzanne Tenner
YouTube Preview Image

Film School or Not to Film School?

I run into people that say they would love to work in film.  Young people ask me advice about film school.  My first question for people that would like to work in film is “what would you like to do?”  Most of them respond with, “I don’t know.”  That’s OK in the beginning.  Most people are star struck and want to be involved in some way or another and the reason I ask is that the advice is very different from someone wanting to work in computer graphic special effects and someone that wants to be a director.  When I went to film school most of my cohorts wanted to be directors so we had a different path from those that wanted to be screen writers, cinematographers or producers.

I never met anyone in film school that wanted to be a caterer.  I never met anyone at film school that wanted to be a dolly grip, a gaffer or a set builder.  Those guys don’t really need what film school has to offer although you would get exposure doing those things working as crewmen on class mates projects.  So there are tons of jobs in the film industry that you wouldn’t need to go to film school for. 

That brings us to the question of film schools.  To film school or not to film school?  I’ve heard people on both sides of the fence debate this question but my answer is, “it depends.”  It’s hard for me to recommend to anyone to not get a university degree and if you know you want to work in film it only seems logical to get your degree in film.  But there are plenty of people that skip right to working in film so again, it depends on what you want. 

I’ve never seen want ads asking for inexperienced directors fresh out of film school, but I often see ads looking for a sound recorder with his own equipment.  If you want to be a director should you go to film school?  It depends on a lot of factors.  There are lots of directors that didn’t go to film school, they just learned it on their own.  I never really held my degree from film school in very high regard and would often joke about it… until I worked on a significant project with a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced people who had not gone to film school.  After that frustrating experience, I never minimized my film school education again. 

The biggest woe coming out of film schools today though, in my humble opinion is the lack of business savvy.  I always tell people going to film school that if someone graduates from art school, they can take $100 and buy a canvas and some paints and produce their art.  A musician can set up a nice digital home studio for $10,000 and make their music.  But a director coming out of film school needs $1,000,000 to produce a decent first feature film.  I think anyone can figure out how to get a $100 and most people could figure out how to get $10,000 but how many film school graduates can figure out how to raise a million bucks?  Who in their right mind would trust you with that much money?  Can you deliver?  Can you squeeze that paltry $1,000,000 and make your film look like it’s got a real budget? It’s a process that builds and builds over time.

We have to go back to what do you want to do and how hard are you willing to work to get it?  Most people see the glitz and glamour of the film industry but do not realize the passion and blood that go into most of these jobs.  Most actors starve, most film producers make fairly dismal wages and most film crews work their tails off and try to line up their next job before the current project ends so they can keep working through out the year.  If you like security and 9 to 5 work days – run the other direction.  

 

Written by Shane Kester

 

 

Working in the Film Industry

Want to Work in the Film Industry?

Alexa Vega as Kat in "Broken Hill"

As people tell me they want to work in film I always wonder about their particular work ethic.  For most people in the film industry it is a labor of love, they have a burning passion to do it and work very hard at building their various careers.  I always tell people that want to be actors to go be an extra in 4 or 5 movies to see if they can really do the work.  It’s fun to see yourself in a couple of 3 second shots but was it worth the three 12 hour days?  I’ve seen people just walk off a set after only one day because they can’t stand the tedium that is part of film making.  There are 10,000 things that have to be ready before the director yells action and it can take a long time to get them ready.  Most people aren’t cut out for the hard work on the set making movies.  There are thousands of jobs in the “film industry” though and maybe the jobs on the fringes are better suited for some (more on those jobs later).

Making Movies is Hard Work

Not too long ago I worked the theatrical test release of the independent film “Broken Hill” that we tested on 33 screens in five different States staring Alexa Vega (Spy Kids 1,2 & 3, Ruby & the Rockits) and Timothy Hutton (Leverage).  The film was also competing in a film festival in an adjoining State and Alexa Vega was at the festival promoting the film.  We found out that she had one free day off between two days of promoting the film at the festival, so we asked her if we could fly her over and do a promotion spree all day and get her back to the festival for the next morning’s promotions.  She agreed and we got to work setting things up.

Shane Kester & Alexa Vega

She arrived with her make up artist early in the morning and put on make up in the back of the van we had rented to haul everyone around in.  As make up was being applied from the air port to the local television studio she gave several radio interviews over the phone (one in Spanish).  When we arrived at the television studio she rushed on and gave such a splendid interview that she was invited to continue on the morning show into the cooking segment, which she did.  We rushed out of the studio to another radio station for an in studio radio interview and then drove to another city while eating lunch in the van.  And somewhere in all that she also gave a face to face interview to a newspaper reporter.  We then arrived at a school that held a special assembly for her where she promoted the movie, talked about what it took to work in film and answered questions from the awe struck students.  We then rushed her to a local mall where she signed autographs outside the theater and went on a shopping spree with a young lady who had won the privilege of having Alexa Vega as shopping buddy.  Then in the evening she went from theater to theater signing posters and giving interviews via telephone all the way back to the air port.  She even found time to accept a call from my son who told her that he was her biggest fan and answered his 8 year old questions about making the Spy Kids movies with engaged sincerity.

She started her day at about 3:30 a.m. and ended it at about 2:00 a.m. the next day only to get up with only a few hours sleep to start promoting the film at the festival.  We worked her to the last second and I must say, she was as pleasant and lovely at the end as she was at the beginning and her personality was as consistently charming in private as it was in public.

It’s important to realize that most people are not willing to do one tenth the amount of work it takes to make it in the film industry.  Do you have a work ethic to make it in show business?

Written by Shane Kester

Which Independent Film Festival

Which Film Festival?

Berlinale Film Festival – East Berlin

This is an important question to the independent film maker.  You can’t possibly submit your film to all the festivals out there.  Some festivals will be more productive for you to attend than others.  If this is your first short film and it’s production value suffers from your non-existent budget and your best friends aren’t the best actors in the world and your story line could use some doctoring and your cinematographer (probably you) could have framed the shots with a little more expertise, you may not want to add your project to the avalanche of DVD submissions at Telluride or Sundance.  You might want to consider your local film festivals, some niche festivals or new festivals that are growing in popularity and garner some experience and recognition at the lower echelons of the festival circuit.  At the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year I listened to a panel of experienced directors, producers and film festival participants explain that if you’ve got something worth competing in the festival circuit, there are some great festivals out there that are not the major big dogs but that in some cases get your film more extensive exposure.  Some of these smaller yet experienced festivals still have a very personal touch and you can (respectfully) contact the people behind the scenes to make yourself known to them and find out what it is they are looking for that year.

Genre Film Festivals

There are some festivals that are solely dedicated to short films, some festivals are dedicated to a specific genre, some festivals have a specific mission or objective.  It wouldn’t sense at all to submit your horror story about a psychopathic cross-dressing serial killer who targets his list of ex-gay lovers in a campaign of lust, greed and revenge, to the Heart of Gold film festival in Australia which “screens short films that are entertaining, funny, thought-provoking, uplifting and present a positive view of the world and humanity.”

Film Festivals and Withoutabox

One of the best resources for the independent film maker to find out about film festivals throughout the world is Withoutabox.com.  Withoutabox is an online resource of a vast number of film festivals their submission deadlines and objectives.  You can set up a “watch list” and receive reminder emails that a certain film festival is approaching.  You can also set Withoutabox up with a festival search criteria that fits your desired festival such as Outside the USA, Start-up Festivals, Established Festivals, Deadlines, Call For Scripts etc.  Withoutabox will have a list of categories of competition and information about the festival.  Most importantly it will have the MISSION & OBJECTIVE section that will tell you what the festival is looking for in their competition.

Why Festivals?

So why go through all this expense and headache of getting your film to a festival?  Why for glory, honor and riches of course.  You spend all this time preparing, shooting, editing, eating, drinking and sleeping your film and now it’s time to show it to more than your friends and family, as well as hear what people really think about it.  The festival can help you accomplish your goal as an independent film maker and move you up the ranks to where it is you want to be.  So where do you want to be.  I as so many young people that say they want to go to film school or get in to film, what do you want to do?  And they don’t have a clue.  There are thousands of jobs you could do from accounting and law, to catering and clean up to acting and producing.  We will talk about some goals of going to “film school” or “getting into film” might be in later blogs.

Written by Shane Kester