Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Horror Stories

There was a panel called 'Directing the Dead 2' today, at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW). It included Scott Weinberg, James Wan, Simon Rumley, Ben Wheatley, Jason Eisener, Nicolas Goldbart. And one woman, Emily Hagins. And WHAT a woman she is. Emily Hagins is 18 and has made three features. My Sucky Teen Romance is premiering today at SXSW ('today' around the world goes on rather a long time, as you know).

Anyway, I was up early, and fell across a live twitter feed from Scott Macaulay, @FilmmakerMag. And laughed, several times. I loved it that Scott's few tweets managed immediately to capture/attract so many of the different points of view about a complex issue. What a great way to start the day, some light relief from the real-life horror stories of Japan. (I can't get this image out of my head, dream about it. Long to help. Hope that over time there will be plenty of opportunities to do so.)

Japanese tsunami March 2011 (from Stuff)

I edited Scott's first few tweets a little, when I was about to re-tweet them, but then became caught up in the conversation.

@FilmmakerMag Scott Macaulay
Weinberg asks why there aren't more women horror directors? Lots of female horror fans. #sxsw 'Directing the Dead 2'

Eisener: "Don't know why -- I had babysitters growing up who could tell me scary stories better than any of my current friends." #sxsw 'Directing the Dead 2'

Rumley: "Well, forget horror, why aren't there more women directors?" #sxsw 'Directing the Dead 2'

@AyeQue .A.W. Quinn
@FilmmakerMag damn good question

Female audience member says women separate themselves through women's film festivals-everyone should be in one big pot. #sxsw 'Directing the Dead 2'

Wheatley: "Technology has freed up stuff -- there is no barrier to anyone making a film. So why isn't there equal amounts m/f directors?"

Wheatley says the biggest thing he had to get over at start of career was mental barrier that he needed "permission" to make a film.

Wheatley: "Is there cultural hardwiring that makes women think they can't give themselves permission to make a film?"
@mariannapalka Marianna Palka
@FilmmakerMag There must be. I didn't feel that way but the numbers speak for themselves. Let's all be audacious, male or female.

Nicolas Goldbart: "In Argentina, women are not fond of the genre. Lots of female directors, but not more women making genre films."

@ellenmaguirenyc Ellen Maguire
@FilmmakerMag Oh, come on. Did anyone laugh out loud at the idea that women filmmakers are holding themselves back?

James Wan: Says in his L.A. horror clique there lots of female directors, women who want to be producers. Sees more women coming out for horror.

Xavier Gens, dir of "The Divide," says he is seeing the same thing in France. He shouts out Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Gaspar Noe's partner.

@ellenmaguirenyc I'm just the messenger, but no one laughed. Although one female audience member said "women were more cerebral" for horror.

ellenmaguirenyc Ellen Maguire
@FilmmakerMag Lucile Hadzihalilovic ("Innocence") told me once that as a relatively new director she was, at times, uncomfortable.... ½

@FilmmakerMag (con't) confronting conflict. (And yes, I know you're the messenger, not the opinionator; thanks for the live tweets.)


Eisener: Not a fan of current remake trend. Why don't producers remake old films with good ideas but bad execution?

Hagins says bad remakes at least direct young viewers to the good originals

Eisener: there are groundbreaking horror films now, but not from studios. Good horror has to risk alienating audience. Studios can't do.

Wheatley: Current "rehabilitation of the creature" trend is interesting. True Blood, Twilight -- monster as hero.

Wheatley: "I think that's wrong. They should all be fucking killed!"

Wan: If studios aren't making quality films we want to see, that's good -- inspires indie filmmakers to make what they want to see. #sxsw

Wan: Back in the day, the best horror films were all studio films. #sxsw

Weinberg: Have people watch 10 remakes and then the 10 originals. If they prefer remakes, they are not writers. #sxsw

Hagins: As someone who has had to sell her possessions to make movies, has problem with big-budget remakes. #sxsw

Audience member says producers asked him about his horror movie, "Where are the tits?" Wheatley: "Where were the tits?" #sxsw

Rumley: Finding a good producer is key. Few people can raise money and be creatively good too. Most on this panel have done it ourselves.

Wan: "To a large degree, you can control the business yourself. Oren Peli proved you can make a movie on your own." #sxsw

Rumley: If producers don't get your vision, just do it yourselves. #sxsw

Wan: Says he shot one scene from SAW to use as calling card. Off strength of that short, that made them read script. Producers came to us.

Wheatley: First film, 'Down Terrance," spent six thousand pounds and shot it in 8 days. #sxsw And on that note, the panel is over.

@FilmmakerMag didn't report any comment from Emily Hagins about the 'gender issue'. But she's on to it. This is what she says in a great interview on Fatally Yoursby Sarah Jahier:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Media Convergence, MOFILM & Strategies

Development: Viv (Madeline McNamara) & Greta (Pinky Agnew) outside the New World supermarket in Chaffers Street Wellington

In the world of media convergence, collaboration with brands has become more important than ever to filmmakers. However, even though women account for 85% of all consumer purchases in the United States, and probably elsewhere, individual women storytellers whose work is about women and for women audiences rarely benefit from partnerships with brands. Illeana Douglas' relationship with Ikea in her Easy to Assemble web series is an exception.

Development-the-movie has benefited significantly from relationships with various community and commercial entities (see Development Project FAQ tab above) and I’d welcome more partnerships, so I’m very interested in branded entertainment. Because of this interest, I had this little Twitter exchange with MOFILM, an organisation which offers competitions and mobile distribution to budding filmmakers around the globe. As I understand it, MOFILM started out in association with Sundance, and now has links with brands like Chevrolet, who want ‘quality creative content for their ads’, and with the filmmaker organisation Shooting People. Our conversation went like this:
devt (me)
Congratulations Rebecca Clayden, a winner in latest @MOFILMugc comp: http://tinyurl.com/45fqdyo. But why are there 8 men & just 1 woman?

@devt we'd love more female winners, we need more females to enter first

@MOFILMugc Aha. I wondered abt that. Have been rec. this wherever few women enter: http://tinyurl.com/4jlomdy. How can you attract us?

@devt Will give it a read, perhaps we need to get closer to some Women in Film associations - any recommendations?

@MOFILMugc Sure have! But longer than 140 chars. Shall I write you a blog post on Wellywood Woman in the next few days?
So here’s the post. It’s taken longer than a few days, because we had the Christchurch earthquake. Like most New Zealanders I have beloved friends and family in Christchurch. So my head and heart have been absorbed. They still are, but an offer is an offer. And I was touched by MOFILM’s positive response, thought of it when I read a tweet from New Zealand Top Model’s Colin Mathura-Jeffree (@NZTopModelColin), who has been a champion tweeter throughout the aftermath of the earthquake. The tweet read:
Dont let someone wander off without checking on them. It can be so humiliating being an outsider. Takes 2 secs- "hi, hungry?’ #eqnz
MOFILM took those two seconds to respond to this outsider, and I salute them. The evidence from round the world shows that women storytellers are usually outsiders in the film industry. People and organisations with resources are often happy to ignore us, but not this time.

My Wedding and Other Secrets

I love Roseanne Liang’s award-winning documentary Banana in a Nutshell and her short film Take 3, (which won awards at the Berlin and Valladolid film festivals). They're sharp and funny. And they inspired some great responses from Tze Ming Mok in her Yellow Peril blog, and in Lumiere; like Banana in a Nutshell, these responses appealed to my autoethnographic side, and made me think.

So I’m thrilled that Roseanne’s first feature will be released in New Zealand on 17 March. It’s a rom-com called My Wedding and Other Secrets and it’s based on true events – the events that were documented in Banana in a Nutshell. It stars Michelle Ang, Matt Whelan, Cheng Pei Pei and Kenneth Tsang.

Roseanne Liang at work

Roseanne is a New Zealand Chinese writer and director, in her early thirties. She has a Masters in Creative and Performing Arts from the University of Auckland, has won the SPADA New Filmmaker of the Year and WIFTNZ Woman to Watch awards, and is a Script to Screen Board member. She wrote My Wedding and Other Secrets with Angeline Loo, a classmate at Auckland.

I interviewed Roseanne and Angeline by email.

Q: Roseanne, what were the main differences between making a documentary or short film and a feature?

To me, documentary is about sorting through all the complexity of life and finding one or two threads to weave a story. Life is about lots of different things at once, but to make a documentary work, you need to focus things down a little.

The best short films are conceptual at heart. They take a unified theme or idea and tell it well. Of course there is story too, but a mistake I used to make with short film was trying to squash too much into too little time. Short film isn't 'mini-feature' - it's a form unto itself.

Feature film I'm still trying to get my head around. On the one hand it feels like there isn't enough time to say everything you want to say in 100 minutes or less. You need a tight economy of script and you can't waste a word. On the other hand, you need to build an awful lot into your story - an A story, a B story, turning points, phrases - to keep it interesting. Audiences are very sophisticated these days!

Q: What film writers and directors have influenced you, and how?

Gosh I find these kinds of questions really hard to answer! It's almost like asking someone what their favourite film is, or their desert island discs... it's just too hard to decide. If I narrow it down to romantic comedy, the whole weight of the genre has probably influenced me, good and bad films alike. When Harry Met Sally is a classic that I still enjoy - so I guess you could say Nora Ephron, though I haven't loved her scripts of late. I like a nice weird 'redemption through love' movie, like Punch Drunk Love, or Buffalo '66. The first half of Truly Madly Deeply is terribly romantic for me, and never fails to start a good cry. I'm not entirely sure how these films have influenced me specifically, but they stick in my mind and stand many many rewatchings. Figuring out exactly why has been really useful. Similarly, films I don't like have influenced me too. I've mentioned often (maybe too often) how much I don't like Love Actually. The glib, fantastical kind of love that can be solved with grand gestures - learning the drums in 2 weeks, hand-written placards, somehow gathering the foreign villagers to watch you declare your feelings - that is not the kind of love I'm interested in. Don't get me wrong - I like a happy ending, but love is more humble, complicated, messy than that. Love often doesn't have goodies and baddies. That's the kind of love I like.

Q: Who are your role models and why (need not be in film industry)?

Another tough question! OK, to be political, I respect all the women who have managed to excel with their filmmaking craft and still keep the balance of family and life, like Niki Caro and Jane Campion. I'm a fan of Tina Fey, for obvious reasons. Non-women-wise, at the moment I'm digging the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Jason Reitman. I was reading Aaron Sorkin's script for The Social Network the other day and I felt a little giddy at the fluidity and craft of it - it connected with me even though it was a bravura kind of script. I have been in love with radio series This American Life for a few years now, and subsequently have a 'dream dinner party' sort of crush on Ira Glass and all the producers on the show.

Q: I understand that John Barnett, from South Pacific Pictures, saw Banana in a Nutshell and asked you if you’d like to make it into a feature. What happened next? How did you become involved, Angeline? And what’s your background as a filmmaker?

Yes, John came to one of the first screenings of the documentary at the Auckland International Film Festival, and at the end of the Q&A, he strode up, shook my hand and said “Do you want to make this into a feature film?” I tried to remain nonchalant and said “YES! I mean… sure.” South Pacific Pictures has made a number of successful films so from there the script development process was very clear-cut. I knew that I needed someone to help me get perspective on turning the true story into a compelling story fit for a feature film, and the obvious choice was Angeline. We were good friends, I knew we could work together well, and she had all the knowledge of the cultural background of the story. The small things, the details, like – Chinese families keep slippers for guests by the door, or, Chinese always have a whole steamed fish on special occasions. These are things you could research for years, but still not really know through and through.