What is the worst they can say?……NO!

Initially it was very difficult to find a person to interview. Although the red tape was expected, I had no idea how hard it truly is to break down the barriers that are built up around the big names of the industry. They are virtually impossible to reach unless you already have connections. Still, it was a great learning experience of the reality of the business, and if you don’t know anybody how persistent you need to be to get “in” and get to know people.
It was getting down to crunch time with a little more than a week left and I still had nobody to interview. But luckily we attended the Writer’s Guild panel discussion where Linda Wallem, one of the co-writers and occasional director’s of Nurse Jackie, was speaking. After hearing her speak I was absolutely inspired, she was very fun-loving and funny in her interview, but it was her confidence and conviction that really impressed me. I then decided that she was the person I wanted to interview.
After her panel discussion, I followed her out of the room with the intension of asking her if I could interview her, but I ended up following her into the bathroom. I found myself waiting in line for the bathroom (that I did not need to use) a few people behind her, but I was way too nervous to speak with her there. Especially because no one was speaking and everyone was just awkwardly staring at her and her partner as we waited in line. I was about to chicken out and leave, but then I remember what Dee baker had said about asking for what you want, and that the worst they could say was “NO”. Which at that point, in front of all those people in that extremely awkward setting seemed pretty awful. So I waited until we were all out of the bathroom. Whilst waiting there I rehearsed over and over again in my head what I would ask her, but when I came out of the bathroom she was talking with a group of women and again I found myself waiting there awkwardly just staring at her. When she finally looked at me, she gave me this look of “poor girl are you lost?” and when I opened my mouth, instead of what I had perfectly rehearsed, an avalanche of nerves and some version of “ I’m a student from Colorado studying women directors…and I need an interview with a woman director… could I interview you?!…”came out. I closed my mouth completely mortified by the nonsense that had just rushed out of my mouth, and just stared at her. But luckily she was very gracious answered me with, “ Of course! I would love to”. She then took my notebook and wrote down her name and number and told me that if she didn’t answer right away to please keep trying because she had several kids and was always running around.
So in the end Dee Baker’s advice turned out to be extremely useful, and ultimately helped me land what ended up being a great interview with Linda Wallem. It felt a lot more like I was having a conversation with a mentor than an interview. She was very kind and gracious and along with her answers gave me a lot of advice. What resonated the most with me was sincerity in her final words of advice “ be decent to everybody you meet”. And that in it self made me have hope in Hollywood, because inspiring people like Linda Wallem are what keep the world of the “industry” going round.

The Aftermath

 

As I sit here in the class Film and Psychoanalysis my mind wanders to the days we spent in Hollywood. Its one thing to sit in class and talk about Jaws, Memento, Secret Window, and Children of Men (all of which are films we have been watching in class), but its a complete different conversation when your in the very town that creates a platform for these movies.

Few people will ever experience what we did in Hollywood. Rather than simply talking about movies we had the opportunity to “live the movies”. I mean this in the sense that for three and a half weeks we were immersed in a world diluted with the culture of film and television.  Many of us came of came to Hollywood with a pretty decent knowledge of various films and television shows, yet we were unacquainted with the environment in which they were produced. Since our arrival and departure we have experienced opportunities that educated us more than any class has, or will.

Douglas Trumbull on Cinema Future

The guy who made the visual effects for 2001:A Space Odyssey  and Blade Runner talks about large format presentation, 3D, fps and his vision of the future of cinema in this Ain’t it Cool interview.

Seemed interesting considering the context of a lot of what we’ve seen over the block, especially the theater visits and the 2001 screening.  Worth taking a look at.

Roles, On and Off Screen

Many of our posts here have touched on the theme of fakeness, and assuredly, the utter non-reality of all that our media serves us hit hard a few times while we were in Hollywood. It hit like the discovery of a big freaky secret–which it is, one that goes deeper than our resting minds would readily like to admit. It’s not just the obvious artificiality: yes, the sets are constructed and the lines are written, the footsteps you hear are idealized and Sacha Baron Cohen didn’t actually deliver that line so impeccably. And the butter on your delicious theater popcorn? Fake, folks. But it’s not just the flavoring. Hollywood conjured up the idea of popcorn and now the happy masses ingest it mindlessly, then demand more.

What I mean is, it’s not just the lines delivered by the actors which are fake, it’s the actors themselves, or at least what we expect them to be. The roles we see played over and over in film–the sensitive and strong yet reserved hero, the sexy and witty yet vulnerable heroin, the goofy best friend, the rotten punk teenager, the sketchy balding goateed man, the comedic ethnic sidekick (holla Taj!)–become more than roles on screen to those of us who are raised by them. The pictures (moving ones!) of humanity painted and reinforced by our media become some of our most influential impressions of what a person is, and how a person interacts with the world depending on his or her appearance, gender, race, class, sexuality, and perceived intelligence. Hollywood has been creating these roles for decades, and for decades we have sought to embody them as a culture, consciously or not.

This is not to accuse all of these roles of being “wrong” or evil. They are relative to a given time and outlook, they are incomplete, yes, but a complete understanding of a person is rarely if ever achieved and can’t easily be expected from a film or a television show. (Exceptionally great films, they come damn close.) What’s important is that we recognize the Hollywood-drafted blueprints behind every role we see played out onscreen and that we hold our media, hold Hollywood, to a higher standard which doesn’t permit them to fall back on the same, simple, exhausted stereotypes. We are of course the ones for whom these realms of fakeness exist, we are the supposed reality-dwellers who seek an escape into entertainment, into the screen. So it’s still our job to figure for ourselves what is real, what a person is (regardless of sex, race appearance…), not to let Hollywood shoot our impressions for us.

Certainly there are countless such intentional, “reality”-based minds in Hollywood producing insightful, authentic views of humanity. These minds may well number in the majority of people who work in Hollywood (and based on the alums in the business who we met, I think they do), but I don’t think they operate a majority of the power. Where the money and the power and the control lies is elusive and reeks of greedy and naturally entitled old white men. Though the heartland of America may not realize it yet, I don’t think the public is hungry for their traditional simplistic and shallow roles anymore.

What are we hungry for? Renewed art, inspiration and insight onscreen? An authentic reflection of a life which we know to be true? More sex and violence? Whatever it is, we the public have to demand it–and we the future writers, producers, directors and editors in the biz have to create it.

‘sall Fake

“So, do you get it now?  It’s all fake.” -Clay Haskell

We’ve learned a lot of things out here.  My last blog post was about how everything in Hollywood is about selling and buying.  On this tangent what you’re selling (as well as what your buying) is fakeness – the most real fakeness in the world: millions of dollars worth of fake.  Whose to say it’s a bad thing?

The other day we visited the 20th Century Fox lot.  We walked down a street that was actually a set modeled to look like New York City.  In fact, the street plays a number of cities on TV shows that we all still watch today like How I Met Your Mother and Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  We walked through a door on this street and were shocked when we realized there was nothing on the other side.  On the backside of these convincing city walls was nothing but scaffolding and unpainted wood.

We were also on another set for a new show called Baby Daddy with Taj Mowry.  Tim Marx showed us around the set and while it was really cool and fun, it only confirmed the fakeness of Hollywood.  These sets were perfectly constructed to look like they were all being inhabited by actual people, yet none of them had fourth walls!  There were also abnormally good looking people walking all around the set – extras.  The extras filled up a bar scene, that would, if it were a regular bar, certainly be a Guinness World Record holder for most beautiful bar.  Perhaps the most metaphorical part of the day was when they switched from filming all the night scenes to all of the day scenes.  All of a sudden a giant, overwhelmingly bright light was turned on and it genuinely looked like it was the middle of the day inside the set, as rain was pounding down outside of the sound stage.

On our final day we all had to present our final projects, there was everything from script writing to sword fighting, many of which helped demonstrate the artificiality of the industry. In Frenchy’s final project he completely took out the sound for a trailer of Ice Age 4 and made his own sound design.  He used things around the apartment like plastic bags and the bath tub to make the sounds of a squirrel running around and swimming.  Zach’s presentation also demonstrated some of the fake quality in movies.  Not only did he point out that many movies use a completely irrelevant sword and sword fighting style, but also that the swords they use in movies are very fake and light weight.  Its all fake, but that’s why we love it, right?  We loved to be fooled by movie magic.

Blissful Ignorance

The mind is a powerful thing, so why is it that it can be so influenced and dominated by an industry that is fake? Don’t get me wrong I love Hollywood and the movie industry, but it’s easy to love something when you only see the “good” side of it. Which is what our consumer driven society always sees, the finished product that is perfectly constructed and packaged.

I remember when I found out that Santa Clause was not real, I was seven and I noticed that the handwriting and color of ink was the same on the gifts from Santa as it was on the gifts from my parents. I remember being extremely mad not because a big fat jolly man in a red suit did not exist, and it had been my parents all along who had been giving me presents, but because I felt cheated. I had that exact same sentiment when I came to L.A. and realized that this glamorous industry that we are sold on everyday is a sham. I knew to some extent that it was not real but I had no idea how fabricated everything really is. The magical forests that we see in Harry Potter do not exist outside of a studio warehouse, and the beautiful women we are told to look like don’t even look like that themselves, they are photo shopped and air brushed to “perfection”.

In the end though it seems sensible that society chooses to buy into this industry. I see it as somewhat of a survival instinct, people want what is best for them, so it makes sense that some want to live in blissful ignorance rather than miserable reality.

Piecing Together the Puzzle

After leaving Los Angeles on Thursday, I wanted to let the experience sink in before I blogged about it.  As I boarded the plane, I wasn’t sure what to think.  I wasn’t particularly excited to go back to school.  The experience had seemed so fast.  It seemed like only a week before the class had gathered in the North Clubhouse of the Oakwood Apartments.  Classmate Ben Grund would frequently say how awesome whatever event, speaker, or guest alumni was and that it would be hard to top.  But the next day almost always was something just as cool, if not cooler, than what we had done.  Instead of just mentioning highlights, I will try to explain the relevancy to this class, myself, and film.

Everybody loves an entertaining movie.  Now let’s think of this movie as a puzzle.  It’s the completed puzzle when we see it in theaters or on DVD.  There are many steps to completing the puzzle.  First you have to put the outer edge together to give yourself a guide.  This is what pre-production entails.  The filming schedule is laid out, the budget is approximated, and the story is made, remade, and finalized; all a piece by piece process.  Than you begin to make large groupings of pieces or add pieces to the outer edge.  The big groupings are the actually filming process.  They take so many shots of each scene multiple times.  They’re the bulk, the bulk of the puzzle and the bulk of the movie.  The adding to the outer edge shows that the pre-production process is always changing, adapting, and always involved.  When all of the pieces finally start to come together and form the full puzzle, so does the movie.  The final pieces fill in the blanks of the puzzle; editing, sound, and any other post-production.  This class showed us what each of the pieces did and how they worked.

But not only showing us the pieces, Colorado College and the class connected the current students with countless alumni.  The alumni we met with were uniquely interested in our lives because of the bond of the alma mater.  Between talk of old buildings, reunions, and professors; the Alumni all still really care and are genuinely interested in Colorado College and it’s students.  Alumni really wanted to know who we were and what we were interested in.  If they can lend a hand now or in the future, they will.  To have the opportunity to meet, ask questions, and have a conversation with people that care about our school, are interested in the students, and involved in the industry is a rare and beneficial experience each and every time.  I’m glad there is a class at school that tries to maintain these relationships year after year.

It was interesting to see the change in each one of us as the month progressed.  Some of us had become “Hollywood”.  What I mean by this is a kind of desensitization of the film and television industry.  The first week we visited the old Pickford-Fairbanks lot.  Two silent movie stars had bought the lot in Hollywood’s earliest days.  Now it is an independently owned lot that rents it’s sound stages out to television programs, feature films, and musicians for music videos.  Being the first week, the whole class was in shock and awe at seeing a piece of the movie making process.  We saw many pieces that day including some sound (a working ADR studio and a  working Foley stage),  a set stage, and some bungalows were actors, producers, and other people involved have their offices.  It was like going to a carnival for someone that likes film.  Fast forward past celebrity sitings, more sound stages with sets, more sound and editing studios, and from seeing most facets of the film industry at work to the third week.  On our final Thursday of class, we had a tour of the Fox Lot.  Although not as massive as some of the other lots (Warner Brothers and Paramount), the Fox Lot is massive.  The tour led us through the Bones set and the New York street set that has housed many filming crews.  As I was talking with another classmate during the tour, I had a thought.  The thought of “just another set”, when looking back, seems crazy.  I love movies and television and it only took three weeks for the novelty and the over-the-top image displayed by the film industry to wear off.  Instead of seeing the completed puzzle for something extravagant and unreachable, we had been giving the ability through class to understand how the puzzle was to be completed.

Now just because we understand the puzzle doesn’t mean that we all can be great filmmakers.  The class just provided us with the skills to understand the process.  Our areas of interest helped look more into a specific interest and hopefully shed some light or improve our skills in those areas.  But what this class really did was give us the skills to, in a few years, start to put together our own, original puzzles.  In the near future, maybe you’ll see these puzzles at a theater near you.

Popcorn

I LOVE POPCORN, and I can proudly say that I have eaten more popcorn in the last month than I ever have in my life.  Every time we went to a film screening as a class (which was often) a select group of us, including myself, would slowly gravitate towards Dylan, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and ask for money to buy the snack of all movie snacks: popcorn.  Somehow, the money that was set aside for class meals also included popcorn at these screenings, so we took full advantage.  No matter how long the line was at the concession stand, we would tough it out just to plunge our fingers into the buttery depths of that wonderfully enormous bag of popped corn.

Once seated, it was every man for himself as our fists tussled for a precious handful.  I noticed that everyone had their own style of eating popcorn.  There is the Ben Birtch technique of grabbing the biggest handful imaginable and squeezing it all into your mouth at once, with the crumbs falling into your beard only to be discovered and eaten later.  There is the Aaron Patterson technique of selecting only a few kernels at a time, which is less messy (making no sense because Aaron likes to drench his popcorn in butter.  Its gross), but significantly increases your hand time in the bag.  Or you could use my technique of grabbing a large handful with one hand, and then transferring a smaller amount of kernels into your other hand before consuming.  Which ever way you swing, what matters most is that it is in your mouth.

I have a popcorn problem.  I cannot stop eating popcorn until it is gone.  ALL gone.  As Ceci and Will experienced, I am not afraid to ask to eat your popcorn once I have finished all of mine.  I just don’t understand how someone can eat a handful or two of popcorn and then place it under their seat only snack on later.  I am absolutely flabbergasted when I see a half eaten bag of popcorn that has been abandoned after a movie.  When I have a bag of popcorn, I eat it all as fast as I can.  For this reason I tend to patronize movie theaters that offer the “free refill on large popcorns” deal.  But why is popcorn so irresistible at the  movies?

This is my theory.  People go to the movies to immerse themselves in a world that they cannot experience elsewhere and to entertain their senses.  But watching a movie in theaters only stimulates two of the five senses: the eyes and the ears.  That is where popcorn comes in, tackling the other three: smell, touch, and taste.  There is nothing better than walking into a movie theater, already excited to see a new flick, when that smell of freshly popped popcorn hits you like a wave, forcing you to dig into your pockets and make excuses for your craving.  There is nothing like dipping your hand into the warm, salty, and in Aaron’s case, butter drenched popcorn, emerging with the perfect handful.  And nothing tops the moment when you tilt your head back, cramming an unreasonably large handful into every corner of your mouth, and lean forward to see that green preview screen glowing in front of you.  You are in for a treat.

 

2012: A Hollywood Odyssey

As I’m writing, I am still undergoing the “come down” of something that felt like (what I imagine would be) some sort of acid trip. We just came back from the Hollywood Pacific theatre, aka the best movie theater on Earth, where we watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1969). I had already seen it, but I didn’t remember much: I was nine years old the first and only time I saw Kubrick’s master piece – it was in… 2001. My father had insisted for years: we would watch this movie all together (him, my mother, my sister and I) as soon as possible during this year. It sounded like he wanted to tribute something, something sacred for him. Did I understand how right he was to act as he did? Not fully at this time, for sure, even if I remember – in a steamy, cloudy part of my memory – having experienced a certain fascination. Trying to remember how I was feeling, after the movie ended, eleven years ago, is like remembering the feeling one gets, I assume, after a little hypnosis session.
Now I completely understand, and a few hours after the given screening, my mind is still empty from having been so full – too full – for more than two hours outer space. A few hours after the given screening, my body still feels like it is floating, maybe from staying completely immobile for more than two hours in a chair, his best friend being so far away it was unable to order it any movement. The intensity of the journey makes the movie deserve its title. A Space Odyssey.
It was actually interesting to see it sort of at the end of this trip, because the only word that comes to my mind to describe the latter is… “odyssey”. Taking this class was thinking about the future, permanently; about who we are, what we want, about human nature, Life, who the others are. The list of intense topics that were discussed while all together or within ourselves could be way longer. This block was a terrifying but revealing odyssey. Just as Kubrick’s.