Sunday, April 5, 2015

An Open Letter to the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development

The "Wetlands Proposal" to Jump-Start the Indigenous Film Community
And Why That Is Important

An open letter to the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development

***

It is interesting and worrisome to note submissions to the New Orleans Film Festival from New Orleans filmmakers are essentially flat over the last 5 years, with only a minor increase in this time of precipitous film production growth since the tax incentives were introduced.  Why hasn't "Hollywood South" been growing the indigenous indie scene?

It's the education gap.  NOLA doesn't have a history of filmmaking in the manner of Los Angeles or New York City, and training— both nuts-and-bolts know-how and a working knowledge of industry apparatus— in those two film meccas is largely done by mentorships and apprenticeships.  This kind of hands-on training, which combines the best aspects of on-the-job training with academic understanding, is impossible in a place where there are no elder masters of the craft to pass on the institutional knowledge.

The effect of this absence on the New Orleans independent film community is numerous and profound— filmmakers are forced to rely on often-obsolete book learning or to reinvent the wheel with each production they attempt;  local directors who attempt a feature almost always end up as "one and done" helmers, and, disillusioned, they are typically absorbed into commercials, music videos, and crew work.

The absence of craft masters also leads to a chronic inability to maintain a development ecosystem. A healthy development community requires a critical mass of above-the-line talent— screenwriters, directors, producers, and financiers— working (competing/collaborating) in the same community. Because the indigenous scene isn't growing, New Orleans has been unable to build one, and the attendant businesses (eg. literary agencies, production companies, spec market, etc) aren't created.

It is vital to the sustainability of the indigenous filmmaking community that an emphasis be put on creating this ecosystem, because a healthy and thriving independent scene provides work for the local infrastructure between big Hollywood contracts, gives local cast and crew a chance to work year-round, advance and prove their stuff, and provides the only line of economic defense in the disastrous circumstance of the tax incentive program going away.

Local independent filmmaking is like an economic wetlands, protecting the city from the hurricane of incentive repeal. The Wetlands Proposal is this:  let us, Louisiana, ask every out-of-state production that shoots here to donate one hour of one member of their above-the-line team to speak at a gathering of local filmmakers.

There were 50+ Hollywood productions here last year, which works out to one event a week, year round.  If each New Orleans film organization, arts society, and college hosted one talk per season, it would cover the bases.  The ideal format for the talk would be a case study from the speaker's history at the start, followed by a Q&A;  the talks should be open to the public.

The Wetlands Proposal asks us to understand that Hollywood South is an amazing economic opportunity but a one-of-a-kind educational one too.  Every day we have the greatest technicians and craftsmen in the industry working in our city, but because department heads and above-the-liners are shipped in from out of town, they're not passing down their knowledge.  It is a missed opportunity that can make a huge difference to the growth of our indigenous filmmaking community, which in turn creates business and keeps the infrastructure here robust and protected.

There are, of course, implementation details to be worked out.  Perhaps the City Film Office could coordinate the organizations that host the talks.  There's no way to find out how this will be received by out-of-state productions until we ask;  there is also the question of making it a condition of the tax credits.

The Wetlands Proposal has been discussed informally and has vast support and interest.  The ideas here have been refined over conversations with the leaders of NOVAC, NOFS, Timecode NOLA, Shotgun Cinema, Indywood, Zeitgeist, Patois Film Festival, Big Easy Film Festival, Cinema Reset, and several local film collectives.

Posted here for public discussion and dissemination.  
"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one…" —Pherrell

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Red Herrings

Sorry for the radio silence, I've been working on completing LAUNDRY DAY and got slackerly with my side projects. As promised, I did finally see INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, as well as several notable "Hollywood South" films like 22 JUMP STREET and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, and I can report they all contain zero New Orleans content. Moving on.

I saw KING OF HERRINGS at its world premiere 18 months ago at the New Orleans Film Festival and loved it. It's a beautifully shot portrait of 4 middle-aged ne'er-do-wells as they fight, drink, boast, sabotage, and compete with each other. Eddie Jemison and Sean Richardson directed from Jemison's script and they've made a real gem of low-budget ingenuity.  It doesn't take a huge concept or vast scope to make a riveting movie, and New Orleans has a unique asset that lends itself to great indie filmmaking: extraordinary personalities. By smartly writing for and around their fellow actors (Joe Chrest, David Jensen, Wayne Pere, and John Mese; all old friends from LSU) Jemison & Richardon have made their characters the centerpiece (the central concept, even) of the film. It's an invaluable lesson that NOLA indie filmmakers should heed as they figure out how to get bang for their buck, and that's why it is an Essential NOLA Film.

KING OF HERRINGS— https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/king-of-herrings/id945930842

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Brief History of Movies Set & Shot in NOLA

GoNola.com has published Edward Branley's "NOLA History: Movies Set and Shot in New Orleans" which offers interesting tidbits on EASY RIDER, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, and THE CINCINNATI KID.

All the Grisham films mentioned in the piece will be discussed in this space soon, but next up is INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, mysteriously unavailable from Netflix for a long time but today a brand new blu-ray appeared in my mailbox. Was this the film that made Brad Pitt fall in love with New Orleans? Does it make you feel old to realize the film is nearly 25 years old? (Yes!)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Some thoughts on this blog…

Hello, Randy here.

I started this because I wanted other filmmakers to have a resource that'd let them peruse the history of NOLA-made films pre-Hollywood South, and quickly be able to identify the films with the most relevance to whatever they're working on. In other words, the resource that I wish I had!

You could say I'm watching all these films so you don't have to.

However, I never wanted to do film reviews, and I'm afraid maybe that's what this is turning into. I won my first journalism awards for film criticism, it's a form I really love, but others do it better. This blog is supposed to break down with I think certain films did right or wrong in how they used New Orleans on screen.

It's supposed to have actionable insight for filmmakers to consider regarding their own projects.

It's supposed to discuss precedents for various storytelling techniques.

It's supposed to examine how to mount a local film production that uses NOLA's energy and chaos to its advantage, instead of trying to lock it down and control it like Hollywood prefers.

I think maybe it's gotten too far away from that. Fortunately, I'm almost done with all the major features shot and/or set here. I think. I discover more all the time. Keep 'em coming!

Anyway, regarding the content of this blog, what say you? Please leave a Comment about what you liked and/or didn't about the blog so far, and what you'd like to see in terms of laying out a blueprint for independent film production using Essential NOLA Films (those lists on the right) as role models.

Thanx!
_R

PRETTY BABY is one for the creepers, uh I mean, ages

Louis Malle's PRETTY BABY (1978) is set largely in an uptown brothel around the turn of the century; Brooke Shields plays the 12-year-old lead character. If this set-up suggests troubling possibilities to you, well, you've read the film's mind, because it dives right into all of them and then some. Child prostitution, auctioning off virgins, you name it, it happens. Most shockingly, this stuff is often celebrated by the characters, as people of that world did in that time and place. The film's depiction is so deadpan that when it was released people accused it of promoting child pornography (spoiler alert: it doesn't).

The great Polly Platt wrote the script and produced it. Platt should be considered a towering figure in 70s cinema, having been a major player on dozens of timeless classics, and rarely making a misstep. However, institutionalized sexism, ahoy.

The film's New Orleans content is pretty thin in terms of geography and exteriors, seeing as how it's largely set inside. But PRETTY BABY truly nails the New Orleans personality types, especially among the women in the brothel, a colorful set of ne'er-do-wells spanning four generations. The madame in particular stands out as the apotheosis of every bar owner I've ever met in NOLA, male or female.

PRETTY BABY: excellent film, but not Essential NOLA Cinema.

NEXT: IINTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE which I've been avoiding successfully for 24 years. Sigh.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

HARD TARGET will leave you Woo-zy

Where to begin with HARD TARGET?  Storytelling is not John Woo's strong suit. This might be why he murders the screenwriter in the opening scene. Really— the writer plays the film's first victim (the audience plays the 2nd).

Hot off HARD BOILED, one of the best action films ever, Woo came to Hollywood eager to blow minds. To say he out-Wooed himself in HT is an understatement. When a guy's foot goes through a rotting floor board, it takes Woo 9 cuts (I counted) to show this fraction-of-a-second-long event. 3 of those cuts are in slo-mo, of course. Most of the movie is shot and cut this way. It's exhausting as fuck.

The good news is that HT is hilarious (often unintentionally) and watchable (despite itself) and more than qualifies for inclusion as Essential NOLA Cinema.  The opening set piece that introduces JCVD takes place in Cafe Brazil; in fact, it's the same cafe set that was used in FLAKES, making me wonder when Ude actually bought the place (both films were shot pre-Katrina although FLAKES was released after).  Look for the amazing wide-angle shot of JCVD's mullet with the Apple Barrel's now-covered-by-Dat-Dog mural dwarfing him.

As if that wasn't enough early-90's Frenchmen St, there is an insane (as in completely incoherent) shoot-out that takes place down the block at the corner of Decatur.  It features guys with Uzis on motorcycles, Arnold Vosloo from THE MUMMY wielding a shotgun, and enough machine gun fire to destroy the living shit out of Mona's and Vaso.

There is also some business dealing with the city's homeless population and police department that is actually handled intelligently and with respect. One must assume the 2nd Unit did all that, because 75% of the movie is hyper-spastic adolescent action cut with a disorienting slo-mo/fast-mo rhythm that obliterates all temporal and spatial continuity.

Then, just when you think it can't get any crazier, the film jumps to the bayou, and this happens—


Wilford Fucking Brimley as "Uncle Duvet" (technically Douvee but c'mon we're not stupid) goes John-Rambo-in-FIRST-BLOOD on an army of baddies using only an old shotgun, dynamite, and the power of his mustache. (We Hate Movies did a riotous segment on this)

The finale happens in Blain Kern's Mardi Gras World warehouse on the West Bank, and if anyone's made a John Woo parody sequence, I doubt it can be any funnier than this, the real thing. One of Woo's goddamn doves actually fights on JCVD's side; we know they're buddies because earlier in the film it provided him with a helpful clue. I'm not making any of that up.

NEXT: Louis Malle's PRETTY BABY (1978), by request.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Paul Stekler's History of NOLA Documentaries

Documentarian Paul Stekler has published a pretty comprehensive history of documentary filmmaking in New Orleans. He was part of the NOVAC-generation of transplants ('71 onward) and recently returned to make GETTING BACK TO ABNORMAL (2011).

The only omission in the article I'm aware of is Rick Delaup's awesome RUTHIE THE DUCK GIRL (1998) which was edited by the ubiquitous Tim Watson (mentioned throughout Stekler's article). RUTHIE is my favorite documentary about New Orleans precisely for the reason Stekler touches on in his introduction:

"New Orleans is no stranger to being depicted on film. Images of Mardi Gras, jazz musicians, and parades are familiar to most Americans." [emphasis mine]

He's right, and that's actually a huge problem for the city. The clich├ęs he lists are tired, threadbare, inexcusably hokey, and extremely narrow. It would be like if every film in St. Louis is set on the Gateway Arch, or every film in South Dakota set on Mount Rushmore. Fighting against the tradition of depicting New Orleans as a stereotype is why I make movies here and why I started this blog.

"From Panic in the Streets to the Mardi Gras acid-trip scene in Easy Rider to Cat People, Down by Law, and David Simon’s HBO series 'Treme,' New Orleans frequently appears on screen."

I also disagree with this. It's a very minor point, but his examples belie his assertion. The films he lists are separated by over a decade each, except for CP and DBL which are both '80s. A comprehensive timeline of NOLA cinema (ie. stories set here) would show that even with extremely generous criteria that includes little-seen independent films, until 2007 only one film was made every ~3-4 years here.

I promise to attempt to create that comprehensive timeline in a future post.

I love Stekler's photo in front of Schiro's.  I eat there all the time and set several scenes from my upcoming film LAUNDRY DAY in it. It appears to have only changed for the better in the last 30 years.

NEXT: 1993's HARD TARGET. It'll make you Woo-zy.