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Saturday
Mar052011

Using Story in the film business (my review of Tell To Win)

I've been a fan of Peter Guber before I knew who he was. Guber has produced many of my favorite films including: Rain Man, Taxi Driver, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Midnight Express, Batman, and The Color Purple.
Sunday Morning Shootout (his AMC television show) sparked my interest in the business side of film. He coaxed his guests to tell stories that gave me a better perspective of the motion picture industry.
Story's uses in the creative side of film are well known. It also has uses in the business side of film, a topic which I've written about on this site. Story has many business applications. I'll list a few of them here.
  • Story pitches must be well crafted and emotionally engaging (like the screenplays they represent)
  • Personal stories are useful for team building (I've successfully used this approach in management classes)
  • Transmedia storytelling can immerse audience members in the world of the story during a pre-release campaign (Lance Weiler's Pandemic 1.0 is a perfect example)
  • Successful leaders analyze their personal backstories to identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Visioning is a type of storytelling that CEOs use to unite their organizations behind a common message
  • Anecdotes can get you into a job interview (or audition). They can also give you jobs (I've done this).
Many of Peter's anecdotes involve celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Gene Simmons. Tell to Win is a star studded book that gives practical advice (a rare combination). 
The insights in Tell to Win have a value that is far greater than the cover price. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the entertainment business or the art of leadership.
I received no pay or incentive to write this review.
Wednesday
Feb092011

Mini-Review: Sonic Outlaws

Sonic Outlaws is a unique documentary that details the controversy surrounding electronic sampling through interviews with Negativland and other independent bands. Director Craig Baldwin takes a lighthearted approach to his subject matter, which is rare in mainstream documentaries (at least the ones I've seen).

Fortunately for the jaded viewer, this documentary is anything but mainstream. It's patchwork visual style uses 16mm, pixelvision, and stock footage to match the tone of each band’s music. Baldwin's subjects speak about the emergence of an "electronic folk culture" and joke about the hypocrisy of mainstream media. Sonic Outlaws is a lighthearted look at a controversial subject and is accessible to the average viewer. Short films by other media “collage artists” appear after the credits.

Baldwin runs an independent distribution label called "Other Cinema". Sonic Outlaws and his other films can be purchased on the Other Cinema website.

Disclosure: I attended one of Baldwin's "found movie" workshops in 2008

Sunday
Feb062011

Duck You Sucker

I had vague recollections of the American edit of this film and I decided to re-watch it. The full edit does have pacing problems, but Coburn and Steiger's performances were powerful enough to keep me watching.

The first half hour almost seems like a prequel to the rest of the film. It has a small scale and a comedic sensibility that is barely present during the rest of the movie.

The real movie begins when Juan and his family arrive in Mesa Verde. The full scale of the Mexican Revolution begins to affect him the moment he steps out of the train. Like many revolutionaries, he is given a role that he doesn't feel he deserves. John, a veteran of the Irish Revolution, knows better.

The epic nature of the revolution portrayed in "Duck You Sucker", is often large enough to dwarf the story of friendship that serves as the film's common thread.

It is often said that good art should make the viewer uncomfortable. This was especially true during sequences where civilians were herded against walls or into trenches and murdered by firing squads. Without these scenes, the dramatic performances would appear overblown.

"Duck You Sucker" was Leone's last and most ambitious Western. It contains enough material for two movies, but every scene is necessary to tell the story.

Monday
Jan102011

Timestalkers

Timestalkers begins with a contradiction: an eccentric history professor finds a 100 year old photograph of a man who is holding a .357 magnum.

 

I was expecting a cheesy, 80's science fiction film. I'm happy to have to been proven wrong. Very wrong.

 

The screenplay was well written and the acting was believable. Timestalker's cast of seasoned actors (Devane, Hutton, and Kinski) makes it a rarity among television films, which are usually unwatchable.

 

This movie doesn't have great special effects because it was made for television in the mid-1980's. The effects it does have are adequate.

 

Timestalkers does have a good three act story, decent dialogue, and three very interesting main characters.

 

After watching the film, I decided to do some research. The film was only released on VHS and is currently available through Netflix Instant View (where I watched it). When I looked up the director, my jaw hit the floor.

 

Timestalkers was directed by Michael Schultz (Cooley High, Car Wash, Which Way Is Up?, The Last Dragon).

 

Schultz moved to Hollywood in the early 1970s after watching "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song". He directed television episodes before directing his first feature, "Cooley High", in 1974. In recognition of his status as a trailblazer, Schultz was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1991.
His recent television work has included episodes of Chuck, Brothers and Sisters, and Eli Stone.
Friday
Dec172010

Tron: Legacy

I rarely watch mainstream movies during their theatrical runs. This year I only ventured out of the art house theaters for Inception and Tron: Legacy.

This 3D movie, much like Avatar, was dominated by bright lights and pretty colors. It could have been an excellent movie if the plot had received as much attention as the special effects.

Movies like Tron: Legacy often leave me wondering about what could have been. Upon returning home, I decided to write about the themes that the movie attempted to use.

What follows are my ruminations on Tron: Legacy, written around 3am on December 17th.

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What kind of world would Steve Jobs make if he could transport himself into a computer? 

I suspect that Job's computer world would be a sanitized version of our world, the perfect merger of form and function. Living in his world would be like living in an Apple store.

Flynn was the Steve Jobs of his particular world, only with bigger toys. He played God until he realized that there were consequences. By that time, it was too late.

Maniacs in pursuit of perfection have done horrible things. So have those attempting to play God. The flawed digital world of Tron: Legacy is no different.

The pursuit of absolute perfection only ends in madness. Inherently flawed beings cannot create perfect systems or programs. Their flaws will always be built into their creations.

On the other side of the coin, human beings are capable of creating beautiful things. That beauty often arises from the chaos embedded within us.

Van Gogh's Starry Night

Tron: Legacy's story contains elements of Greek tragedy. The cast of characters includes a good son, a bad son, a flawed father, and a naive orphan.

Secondary characters include an untrustworthy jester and spandex clad sirens.

We know these characters because their archetypes have been used in storytelling for centuries, though without the spandex. The actors in Tron Legacy do a terrific job of breathing humanity into characters that are walking pieces of software.

Elements of Gnosticism also appear in this story. A good deity and an evil deity battle for control of a world that has fallen into disrepair and violence. Programs in this computer world do scream in agony and can become disfigured.

In Gnosticism, the good deity is unable to communicate with his creations while the bad deity controls their everyday lives. Every once in while the good deity slips a message though to its creations.

The original Tron was a commentary on the centralized server approach to computing that was prevalent in the early 1980's. This Tron is a commentary on open source software vs. walled gardens.

Should we spend our digital lives in walled gardens, insulated from imperfections?

Or should we spend our digital lives in open spaces where imperfection is allowed?

The digitization of our world is happening rapidly. Yesterday's science fiction has become today's reality. The online world is beginning to drive the offline world in unpredictable ways.

To put in another way, the digital toothpaste is out of the tube and it's impossible to put back in.

As we embrace these new changes, we shouldn't forget who we are. The moment we do, the consequences will be disastrous.

End of line.