Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Watching (Old) Films Learning New Stuff

December 17, 2008

I am sitting in freezing weather today. I think the high is supposed to be 22 degrees. It is sunny and clear and the hill in front of my place is like a giant slip and slide. (It is snowing now and another storm is on its way in.) It is fun to watch, but only because I had the foresight to park my car in the flatlands a couple days ago so I can get out of I need to. But I don’t need to at this point.

The good part about the bad weather is that I have been able to watch a couple of DVD’s that have been sitting here for awhile.

I wholeheartedly recommend Riding Giants, the Stacey Peralta documentary on surfing. The visuals are amazing and I have to say I am a sucker for the archival footage. Even though I grew up in Oregon I always wanted to be a surfer. The whole life style looked so cool! That’s probably why I was so in to skate boarding in my youth, the closest I was ever going to get to surfing. As he did in Dogtown and Z-Boys, Stacey makes great use of not just archival footage, but also in the way he stages interviews. His films always have terrific photos and his treatment of them is always interesting. If you haven’t seen Riding Giants, check it out.

I also watched Fearless Freaks, the movie about The Flaming Lips. Another fascinating film. I am not a big fan of the Lips, but I think I need to go back and listen to their music again. I have a new found respect for what they are doing. It’s a good movie to watch if you get the chance.

I also watched Cat Ballou (1965) with Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, and Dwayne Hickman. I loved that movie as a kid and I have to say it still cracked me up. You know how sometimes when you watch a film that you loved as a kid it doesn’t hold up? Well I am happy to say this one does. Lee Marvin is absolutely hilarious! And any movie with Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole providing musical interludes has got to be cool! Check out the interview with the Director Elliot Silverstein. When he talks about the struggles of using Nat King Cole in the movie and the attitudes of the times it’s pretty amazing.

I remember seeing Stranger Than Paradise when it came out and being surprised at how minimal it seemed. No editing, all scenes in a single wide shot. Stark black & white footage. I have to say that I think I liked it a lot more this time than when I originally saw it. The acting is so good and so low key. I had also forgotten about the ending which was a wonderful surprise.

The great thing about watching these films is that it allows me to study how other directors are doing things. You think a film like Cat Ballou was such a piece of fluff, although it was nominated for 5 Oscars (Lee Marvin was the only winner and it was his only Oscar win) but look at the way they wove in Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole. How did that look in the script? It you were to explain what you wanted to do with them people would have looked at you like you were nuts! But it works.

I learn new stuff every time I watch a Stacey Peralta film. I love what he does with graphics. It makes me see that stills can be used in a very creative way, unlike say the way that Ken Burns uses them. (I am not a fan of Ken Burns, the man made Jazz seem boring…). I always take things from Stacey’s work that I think can help mine.

The Flaming Lips movies was so casual, it was like hanging out with friends. You get a good feel about these guys from the film and it makes sense that it was made by a good friend of theirs. He captured good stuff because of his intimate knowledge of the band and the people behind it.

And with Stranger Than Paradise what can I say? Talk about a minimal story and minimal everything and yet it is an interesting and entertaining film. I think it’s a great film to watch to see what you can do with very little money. I watched Border Radio a few weeks back and wasn’t impressed. I know they had no money but it was really hard for me to develop any interest in those characters. Since I am a huge fan of the punk scene I should have enjoyed it much more than Stranger Than Paradise, I just couldn’t get in to it. But I learned things from that film as well.

And when I say I take things from these movies I don’t mean I steal things or rip off techniques, I mean that I look at how they did things and it makes me think of how I do similar things and maybe how I can make my own work better. It makes me think more creatively and not get complacent.

Anyway, I should probably get back to work on my own stuff.

Other stuff…

My work books now exist as PDFs and will be posted on my site soon for a mere $10 per book. The weather and illness have pushed the work on the site back a bit. I’ll let you know when everything is finally ready.

Since we are getting close to the holidays I am going to be putting different specials up each week so check out my internet specials and hopefully you’ll find something you like. (, as if you didn’t know)

Don’t forget to check out my tour sponsors, Film Baby (, Pollard Design (, Zoom Studio (, The Indy Film Co-op ( and Cheezy Flicks ( All great people, all great companies.

If you haven’t checked out their site and their services, you better.

The first two Workshop DVDs are selling well. You can find them at,, and at Film Baby.

And just a reminder, I am available to consult on your films.

What do you get out of the deal? You get the best value and advice in making your film. No matter what stage you’re in. I’ve been in the business for 25 years, working on everything from animation to live action, Independent features, Real Independent features, Hollywood studio stuff, and documentaries. If you check out my bio and filmography ( you’ll see I’ve worked on award winning films, and films that never got distribution.

I will look at your work honestly and objectively. If there are problems, I’ll point them out, in a constructive way. No one wants to hear, “This sucks!” My goal is to guide you through the process, so that you can see what the problems are, and we’ll come up with ways to fix them. Check out (

As always, feel free to link to my site and you can subscribe to my blog. So what are you waiting for?

Talk later.



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