Q & A    Archive
Page 111

Name: Richard
E-mail: filmfan_1@hotmail.com

Josh,

I am currently a struggling screenwriter and lover of all things cinema. I frequently surf around on the net finding worthwhile sites on all things film. I stumbled across your site and was fascinated, but not in the sense that you might think.

I mean this in all respect, and don't want you to think that this is a "hate" e-mail, but I found your views on all things film interesting in the same way that a train wreck is interesting.

If it's popular or successful, you hate it. If it's independent but has received recognition, you hate it. You seem to REALLY dislike Spielberg, Tarantino, Scorsese, etc. I read through some your reviews and couldn't believe my eyes.

Sure Saving Private Ryan is a flawed film, but to call it "shit"? Come on. I've seen the films that are among your favorites and, believe you me, there are some that are much worse than ANY of Spielberg's films.

Don't get me wrong, I think you are a talented guy with a good hold on the industry. But I can't help but marvel at how angry you seem.

The thought kept running through my mind of what you must have possibly thought of your own buddy Sam's SPIDER-MAN.

Considering the views of the other films you've reviewed, you must have hated it. Did you tell him that?

I've been a huge Bruce Campbell fan for as long as I can remember, and I wonder, are his opinions as harsh as yours? What does HE think of Spielberg?

Because I doubt you, or he, would turn him down if he came calling on one of your projects.

No disrespect intended.

Richard

Dear Richard:

But why would Spielberg ever come to me when I have a review of one of his films that calls it shit? Are you insinuating that I'm hypocrite? Based on what? Or do you just believe that deep down everyone's a hypocrite? And what film or films on my fav list are "much worse than ANY of Spielberg's films"? Back up your statements. Meanwhile, I'm a big fan of Scorsese's work up through 1990, it's just everything he's done since then I don't like. And you're right, I REALLY dislike Tarantino's films. I try to avoid dissing my friend's films, but honestly, no, I didn't like "Spider-Man." But Sam could care less what I think, he made the fourth largest-grossing film of all-time, he doesn't need my approval. And yes, as a film fan I am very angry, I'm glad you picked that up.

Josh

Name: Steve Aman
E-mail: badasswriter@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

Your article "Religion is Evil" was perfect. It is nice to see other people enlightened enough to see past the bullshit everyone else takes for fact. Everyone thinks I am a extremist for hating religion like I do. Now I know I am not the only one who thinks it drains the mechanism of unique thought.
Anyway, well done. You need any help in your quest to rid that trash from the planet, just count me in.

Dear Steve:

I was with you all up to the last sentence. I'm on no quest to rid the world of religious people, they have just as much right to be here as anyone else. But I'm certainly allowed to disagree as strongly as I know how. Anyone that thinks they need to rid this planet of anyone else is just being foolish.

Josh

Name: Diana Hawkes
E-mail: again!

Dear Josh:

I'm cracking up here, and just had to write in again real quick and relay this to you.

The Xena fans are abuzz because there's some word now that some cut footage will actually be added as a bonus on the Season 3 DVD's (which you can confirm probably- is all edited material saved by the studio? It's not ever tossed, is it?) so I was reading an old interview with Rob Field, editor.
And he mentions a little story about you!

http://www.xenaweb2k.com/mags/oxm11/oxm11-fields.php

quote:
"Asked whether he has any amusing anecdotes about behind-the-scenes life on Xena, Field does recall one rather strange incident. "Years ago I worked on A Fistful of Dinars, which was directed by Josh Becker. At one point during the director's cut, Josh turned to me and said, `You cut my pan out... why did you cut my pan out?' What had happened was, there is a scene where Xena and Petracles are trying to get to the ambrosia cave before Thersites does. The two of them come through this beaded curtain and stop. The camera then pans across this large room ending on a door that Thersites comes through holding Gabrielle at knifepoint.

"In the interest of time and pacing, I edited out the pan so that we cut from Xena and Petracles coming through the curtain directly to Thersites and Gaby coming in the door. When I explained my reasoning to Mr. Becker, he looked at me and said, `You just don't like good cinema, do you?' I have never stopped laughing about that one, and Rick Jacobson loves to tease me about it, even today whenever I do something he disagrees with- he asks me that infamous question!"

LMAO! See how memorable you are to people? hee...

Dear Diana:

Rob Field had a sign on his wall that said, "Yes, I did look at all the takes, and yes, I did use the best one," which always made me laugh because there are many times where you think to yourself, "That just can't be the best take, I have to have gotten a better one," then you convince yourself of it, then you make the editor show you all the takes, and by gum, it's always the best take they've used. Rob also had a comic on his wall of a guy sitting at film rewinds, muttering, "I hate this job, I hate this film, I hate the director, the pay sucks . . ." and the caption was "The Negative Cutter."

Josh

Name: Jean
E-mail:

Hi Josh,

It's been a long time since I sent you an email. But I just haven't had anything to say about movies lately.bummer. Anyway, I watched a very interesting documentary last night and I was wondering if you have seen it. It's called "Stevie" and it came out last year. I found it to be pretty compelling even though it was a bit dull in some spots. You should check it out.

I hope all is well with you and I hope that you will be making a new super cool film soon!

Happy holidays,
Jean

Dear Jean:

I just saw "Stevie" about three weeks ago and it was an active topic here. You just missed it. Yes, it's very good, I liked it a lot. Particularly the way the documentary form sucked in the filmmaker and sort of indicted him. Go back and check out the earlier posts.

Josh

Name: Scott
E-mail: sspnyc66@mac.com

Josh,

Funny thing about "Witness" is that I was like you, I so desperately looking forward to it and you are the only other person I know besides myself that thought the end was terrible.

I loved that film up until the chase as well.

I agree that Peter Weir was pounded down by Holloywood as director, but I still think he is a decent one.

Scott

Dear Scott:

Yes, he is a good director, and I'd prefer not to diss him. But he's not a terrific writer, nor does he seem to be able to develop a real good script with someone else writing it. Still, he's better than most filmmakers working.

Josh

Name: Alice Schultz
E-mail: alice.schultz@sympatico.ca

Hi Josh,

Any of the following that you haven't already seen and just disliked (they aren't on your Favourites list) are well worth a try --

Miller's Crossing
The Big Kahuna
Local Hero

Another that really blew me away for a reason something like Laurie described (namely, I kind of "got it" about a world that wasn't my own) was Basquiat.

Lastly my most recent personal landmark -- Time Out.

See ya,

Alice

Dear Alice:

I haven't seen "Time Out," but it sounds good. I'll see if Netflix has it. I haven't seen "The Big Kahuna," either. I despise "Miller's Crossing," which I found to be dreadfully dull, and Gabriel Byrne is a severely dull leading man. But the script is just awful. I just watched "Local Hero" again, and it's a charming little film, although I wish all that crap with Burt Lancaster and his analyst were just cut out and thrown away.

Josh

Name: Saul Trabal
E-mail: ghost_kingdom@yahoo.com

Heya Josh,

In case I don't get a chance to say this-Merry Christmas. I hope you have a good holiday. Hope you don't have the flu; I'm currently wrestling with it, and it's making my brain more of a slurpee than it already is.

Anyway, here's a couple of questions:

1)What annoys you the most about film schools? What are some of the things you strongly feel should be taught that aren't taught?

2)Any word from your agent about your book?

3)Were you able to order Harlan Ellison's Edgeworks? I'd sure love to read your POV on SPIDER KISS.

Again, Happy Holidays.

Saul

Dear Saul:

I'm also wrestling with the flu, which is a drag. I hope we both get over it soon. I went to two film schools, Columbia College and Sherwood Oaks Experimental College, and didn't really learn a thing about filmmaking from either one. I'm sure UCLA or USC or NYU are better schools, but as a friend of mine once said, "You can teach the technical aspects of filmmaking to monkeys, it's all what you do with it." Young filmmakers seem to think that filmmaking is when you run around with a camera filming things. Most of good filmmaking occurs in your head. Coming up with many, many stories, then rejecting all but the very best of them. Then working and honing your story until it's a polished diamond, then writing the script, and rewriting, and rewriting, until it too shines like gold. The coming up with visual plan for shooting it, not just hand-holding every shot and seeing if you can figure out how to put it together in the editing room. Good filmmakers know where all of their cuts are in advance. Anyway, no word on my book. That agent is worthless, as most are. And I haven't ordered Edgeworks as yet, but I'll get to it. You made "Spider's Kiss" sound great.

Josh

Name: Diana Hawkes
E-mail: upon request

Hi ya Josh,

A ruling was determined granting copyright to that guy we mentioned to you that was sueing Joe LoDuca.
Article at this link:

http://www.filmmusicmag.com/article_101.shtml

I have a hard time swallowing that Joe stole credit and circumvented royalties to this guy. I mean, say it ain't so, Joe!
Your comments?
I know you've mentioned that it's par for the course to be sued when you get to a certain echelon in the Bizz.... but your opinion on this case specifically?

By the way, I'm pulling especially for that Sci-Fi channel project for you- there's alot of nonsense on there (like Bruce's "Terminal Invasion"...sorry Bruce!) but your story ought to be truly entertaining.
I'll keep my fingers and toes crossed!
{If I don't write in again- Happy Holidays and good wishes for a new year to you and your kittens.}

Dear Diana:

Take my word for it, it's all bullshit. Joe is one of the nicest, most honorable, and most talented people I've ever met. He doesn't need to steal from anyone, nor would he. Happy holidays to you, too, and all of yourn.

Josh

Name: laurie
E-mail: laurie@sobac.com

Dear Josh:

Mel Gibson wasn't a star when Peter Weir cast him in "Gallipoli" (he was in fact only the second banana). The next film he did for Weir was the first real indication that he might become a star, but he sure wasn't a star going into "The Year Of Living Dangerously". Speaking of which, that is certainly a movie laden with incredible motivation and characterization, granted some of it rather twisted (not the least of which was Linda Hunt's well deserved oscar winning performance).

If I'm not mistaken, "Witness" was Harrison Ford's 1st time out getting acceptance in a serious starring role. (Personally, I thought he was very very good in "Heroes", but he was a second banana, and mostly it didn't do very well at the box office so almost nobody but me saw it theatrically.) If I'm not mistaken, up until Witness, he was pretty much Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Certainly, the phenomenal success of these two roles was more than enough to ensure that Mr. Ford would never miss a meal, but seriously bad career moves like "Hanover Street" and "Force 10 from Navarone" were definite impediments to his being taken seriously as an actor before Peter Weir cast him in Witness.

In fact, from the example of these two superstars, it could easily be argued that Weir's direction was contributory to the success of both. Kind of like Lean contributed to the careers of actors like Peter O'Toole, Anthony Quinn, Omar Shariff and even Sir Alec Guiness.

One of the things that impressed me about both "The Year of Living Dangerously" and "Witness" is that they very authentically transport you (well, me anyway) into a different world. "Mosquito Coast" was a very good, very dark film indeed, an excellent adaptation of Paul Theroux's book (another French writer-- kind of like Pierre Boulle of Bridge On The River Kwai). Great characterization fairly drips from "Mosquito Coast". Of course it isn't nice sane normal characterization, we're definitely talking a wee bit twisted here. In fact, Harrison Ford's performance was good enough to be compared, in my mind at least, with Andy Griffith's incredible performance in "A Face In The Crowd." Both performances gave the actors a chance to step out of their usual "nice guy" stage persona and actually become a reprehensible and truly frightening character. Something that I find interesting is that neither actor ever attempted such a nasty characterization again.

As I said, I haven't seen "Master and Commander", but I did see The Truman Show, and it certainly wasn't a winner. I might even call it "uninvolving"; the characters were clearly sacrificed to the "clever" idea. But "Gallipoli", "Dangerously" and "Mosquito Coast" are right up there. I know that "Mosquito Coast was a major box office bomb in the US, but Weir's frighteningly successful casting of Harrison Ford against type in combination with the anti-American aspects of the film were the cause of that. Up until that point, at least, there was certainly no hint of Weir's seduction by Hollywood. (Okay, I admit that I hated Picnic At Hanging Rock... to quote you "distant, hollow, and uninvolving".)

But then, everybody has a bad day now and again. I've loved Sir Alec, (in everything from "The Man In The White Suit" to "Great Expectations") but if you've ever seen him in "A Majority of One" you'll know that even he had his bad days.

I think that David Lean (another "foreign director") is one of the greatest film directors who ever lived, but characterization and motivation in Dr. Zhivago, for example, are rather superficial at best. Not the case for most of his other fims I've seen. I fell in love with "Lawrence of Arabia" on a small black & white portable tv when I was in high school. Talk about characterization. And "Bridge on the River Kwai" was one of the first unhappy ending movies my son was allowed to see. (But no, I still won't let him see "Old Yeller".)

Anyway, Josh, I just think you ought to give Peter Weir's film's another look. You might be surprised.

---laurie

Dear Laurie:

You're obviously bright, well-spoken, and you know your movies. You are a welcome visitor here at the Movie Geek Salon. I'll bet I've seen "Gallipoli" at least four times, "The Year of Living Dangerously" at least five times, and "Witness" at least three times. He's definitely one of the best filmmakers working, and has been for quite a while. I don't think anybody has made a movie as good as "Gallipoli" in about ten years. But even still, I don't think it's a great film. Part of the problem is Maurice Jarre's trendy synth score, which seemed dated and inappropriate when the film came out in 1981. But ultimately, it's just not a great script. It's a pretty good script, very functional, and actually has some irony, which I treasure, but it's not terrific screenwriting, and certainly not to the level of Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman's script for "Kwai," where nearly every line is quotable. If I think of "Gallipoli," I see the very ending, which was a great ending, but I really have to try hard to bring anything else back, and I've seen the film four or five times. "Year" is another perfect example: it's an interesting setting at an crucial time period, Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver are both attractive, Linda Hunt is terrific, but on story level it's just a bit muddled and completely loses my interst at a few points, like the very long shadow puppet show. I was also tortured by Gibson's name in it, Guy Hamilton, who is a living British director who directed several of the early James Bond films, like "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever," "Live and Let Die," as well as that great career move for Harrison Ford, "Force 10 From Navarone." Anyway, Mel Gibson keeps saying, "This is Guy Hamilton reporting," and it drove me nuts. And while I'm at it, "Witness" was a movie I was perfectly prepared to love, and I was with it for most of the film, but the last ten or fifteen minute chase and shoot-out is so wearisome and so cliched I really lost all interest. So there.

Josh

Name: Blake Eckard
E-mail:

Josh,

I've been in contact with all the reps I listed except John Sloss. He's just too big of a name, I guess. I can supply you with contact info on the others should you request it, but probably shouldn't post it for all to see.

I personally found Lynda Hansen (Sure Fire, Trembling Before God) to be very honest and supportive of ultra-low-budget filmmakers. Trusted her and am still in contact regarding Sasquatch.

Harris Tulchin (To Sleep With Anger) I had less success with, and he expected a lot of money.

Concultant Bob Hawk (Clerks, Eye of God) left me a message then never returned another call. He's pretty busy, I suppose. Produces films in addittion to finding them reps and fesivals.

Steve Beer is another PR. Was in contact briefly with one of his assistants. Think I still have the email.

Jeff Dowd is the big one with a very long, successful track record (The Black Stallion, Blood Simple, Desperately Seeking Susan, Eight Days A Week.)

If any of these people would like "Hammer," it'd be a step in the right direction for possible distribution (or at least some decent exhibition.)

Blake

Dear Blake:

Please write to me at josh@beckerfilms.com and send me your email address, okay?

Josh

Name: Michael Lantis
E-mail: mlantis@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

Whom can one turn to if they have a scriptin hopes of creating a monster. If a rookie attempting to get in the industry were to forward a script to a potential sponsor or general contractor then what steps legally should I take to protect myself? (what type of lawyer, copyright, etc.)
I have a script near completion. It is a remake of a cult classic sci-fi from the early 70's.
Would you care to hear my details in 5 minutes or less?
My name is Michael Lantis of Jackson. (517-740-6993)

Thanks for any of your valuable time if possible.

Dear Michael:

You again. You definitely need to copyright the script, and that's done at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It costs $30, and you can get the form and instructions at www.loc.gov. Otherwise, let's face it, you're just hoping that anyone will pay enough attention to even want to steal it. I've got twenty of my scripts posted on this website, they've been up for years, and no one is stealing them. Stop being paranoid.

Josh

Name: Michael Patrick Lantis
E-mail: mlantis@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

I appreciate the fact that you are stating up front that you will not read my script. Thanks for being available to field e-mail in the general direction.

1. Is there any entity or persons who would read my script? (Sam,Tom Sullivan, Ted, etc.)
2. If I do find any proof reading directors, should I take any legal steps previous to forwarding my documents.
*****It is a remake of an early 70's cult classic***** *****Reading this script is comparable to playing the lotto but with better odds***
***I am from Jackson, MI***517-740-6993*** THANKS!!

Dear Michael:

I really hate remakes, and do you even have the rights to do a remake? Without the rights you're really wasting everybody's time, including your own. What you really need to do is to get an agent. Amittedly, agents are the worst scumbags on the planet, but that's how it goes. Actors really don't want to read scripts unless there's an offer attached to it, which means it's financed. If it is financed, and there is an offer accompanying it, then the agent has to show it to the actor, at least theoretically. Good luck.

Josh

Name: laurie
E-mail: laurie@sobac.com

Dear Josh:

What a great site you have there. I haven't seen nearly as many of the movies I've wanted to in the past 11 years of motherhood, but one that really disappointed me was "In The Bedroom" which had an ad campaign that looked interesting without giving really saying anything. Unfortunately it wasn't and didn't, as your review said.

But the overwhelming impression I seem to get from your site is that virtually all the good movies are from the old days. I don't believe that is true. I haven't yet seen "Master and Commander", and it probably will have all the flaws you list, but overall I believe that Peter Weir as a filmmaker has proved to be every bit as brilliant as Bridge on the River Kwai's David Lean. "Gallipoli", "The Year of Living Dangerously" and especially "The Mosquito Coast" are some of the best movies ever made. "The Piano" is another extremely good modern film. Oh yes, and let's not forget the brilliant "Chicken Run".

Short stories or novella's do tend to make better feature films than novels, because, as you point out, it can require a good bit of rethinking to translate a novel's ideas or characters into a good movie, and that isn't often done.

It was done in the first Harry Potter film (in Canada "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone"). It was tight, true to the book, and very well done, making an excellent movie. Yet even though the second Harry Potter film probably cost as much money, and was just as true to the book, it just laid there dead on the screen. My theory is that the director was just going through the motions, irked at being committed to a "kid's movie", overlooked at the Oscars and everywhere else except the box office. (I have high hopes for the 3rd film, as the new director did an amazing job with "A Little Princess", so will be just as good with rendering my favourite of the Potter books into a film.)

The other major adapation success story of the time is undoubtedly The Lord Of The Rings, which have impressed me with Mr. Jackson's skill. Even granting that a huge proportion of Tolkien's books were "filler" (poetry and tangents having very little to do with the advancing the plot and developing the characters) they were still pretty massive. And the films did in fact emerge long... certainly longer than your suggested optimum movie length. (I am unsure why they aren't running with intermissions theatrically; probably pure greed as the length limits the amount of screenings theatres can cram into a day). However, I think that these films are an incredible achievement, not to mention very good films.

I tend to think that for the entire history of the cinema, it has generally been in spite of the powers that be that good films have come into being. There are fewer films being made now, but that doesn't mean that they are all bad. As long as there are movies, good ones will sneak through. There's my five cents worth.

---laurie

Dear laurie:

Yeah, well, that and another dollar fifty will buy you a cup of coffee. Peter Weir cannot be mentioned in the same breath as David Lean. All of the films that you mentioned are kind of interesting, and well-crafted, but ultimately none of them are nearly great. There is something distant, hollow, and uninvolving about all of his films, including the very best of them. That's because Peter Weir's scripts are always too thin on characterization and motivation, and he always works with movie stars, like Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, and Russell Crowe, none of whom will ever hold a candle to a great actor like Alec Guinness. Which isn't to say that Peter Weir isn't one of the best filmmakers presently working, but I heartily contend that he's never made anything great, and the last two, "The Truman Show" and "Master and Commander" aren't even very good. He's one more foreign director, like many before him -- from Ingmar Bergman to Sergio Leone to Paul Verhoven to Bruce Beresford to Lee Tamahori -- who should never have left their homelands. Hollywood and the big, big money eats their souls.

Josh

Name: Kaya
E-mail: kaylar029@sympatico.ca

Josh --

You said previously that Rob and Sam have no interest in making low budget films. I thought that was what the Senator International films were all about. When the deal was announced they said they were going back to their roots of making low budget horror films. The budgets for those movies supposed to be in the 15-20 million $ range. Now I'm confused about what's considered low budget since I just heard that Buffy has been cast in The Grudge. I had assumed that you would get to direct one of those films. Have all the directors already been chosen? Hope things go well with your new projects.


Kaya

Dear Kaya:

They haven't asked me to direct anything, nor will they I don't think. They're not working with any of the Herc or Xena directors, as far as I know. But then, none of us would make a good part of a package. And yes, you heard right, these Senator films are $18-20 million, which I certainly don't consider low-budget by any means. The film I'm putting together now will be about $250,000, and that's legitimately low-budget. But anything over $5 or 10 million just isn't low-budget. $20 million is a lot of money. More than some small country's GNP.

Josh

Name: Darryl Mesaros
E-mail: simonferrer@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

The recent news of Saddam Hussein's capture [big news in Baghdad; there was dancing in the street and celebratory gunfire all over the city last night and tonight] got me to thinking. His life, especially the way he came into U.S. custody, is an example of the sort of real life irony that would be difficult to create fictionally. Think on it: here was a man who rose from nothing, a mean existence in a Tikrit mud hut, to wield absolute power and terror over an entire nation for nearly three decades, to rape the wealth of a people and build glorious palaces and monuments to his own power, and he was captured a vagabond, ragged and hiding underneath a Tikrit mud hut very much like the one he grew up in, only a stone's throw from one of the most lavish of the palaces he built. In the right hands, it would make an incredible screenplay. Just the irony of Saddam coming full circle would make it interesting. What do you think?

Darryl

Dear Darryl:

Good to hear from you, and excellent work capturing Saddam. Sadly, I think Saddam Hussein's story is so standard and so often-told -- the rise to power, becoming drunk with power, the abuse of power, the fall from power -- you'd have to really look into Hussein's mind and understand his specific motivations (and insanity) to make it interesting, in my opinion. Whether it's Adolf Hitler, Tony Montana, or Macbeth, this is certainly one of the very old chestnuts of a story, so it's all how it's written.

Get your butt home ASAP, we miss you.

Josh

Name: John Hunt
E-mail: Chowkidar@aol.com

Josh,

I think you're dead-on about scientists. Whether it be the paranormal, cryto-zoology or UFO's there is no group who would rather find evidence for such things than the scientific community. When such evidence is found it's the scientists who lead the drive for understanding. Several "mythical" creatures have been found; the Sea Serpent (the oarfish), the Krakken (the giant squid). Terrestrial animals are less common but I do consider the case of Raja Gaj, member an atavistic elephant population in Nepal bearing great resmblance to the extinct Stegadont. Science was told of a fantastic creature and found the truth about it. In each of these cases the evidence is there to be verified by anyone with the desire to do so.

Best of luck on the projects you mention. Your built-in audience may be small but I'm willing to guess it will prove hardy.

John

Dear John:

I don't mean to be cryptic about these deals, I'm just superstitious after all these years since 99% of the deals that have started to come together for me in one way or another finally just dropped dead. Quite frankly, though, this is just standard for most filmmakers. Anyway, regarding the supernatural and paranormal, when someone can prove it, I'll believe it.

Josh

Name: Blake Eckard
E-mail:

Josh,

Just out of curiosity, have you contacted any producer reps in regard to "If I Had A Hammer?"

How about John Sloss, Lynda Hansen or Harris Tulchin? They are active PR's with exceptional track records.

Another person worth contacting could be Bob Hawk, the consultant famous for discovering "Clerks," and "The Brothers McMullen," (Sp?)

Just a thought. Any postable news on a future feature yet?

Have a good one.

Blake

Dear Blake:

I tried dealing with Sloss, but got nowhere. I haven't heard of the others, do you know any of them? I hate going in cold anywhere. Meanwhile, I have a few things cooking, another low-budget indie feature, and a TV movie, but if I start discussing the details I'll just jinx them. Anyway, I'm just about finished pounding out the story for the indie feature, and if my partners on the deal approve of the story (one of whom is Bruce), I'll start writing the script. And contracts are going back and forth on the TV movie. That's what I'm doing.

Josh

Name: Ben
E-mail: wakko@icon-stl.net

Josh,

I think you're right. Most people don't give any thought to religion. Most people are the same religion their parents were and they stay that religion all their life. I can accept that you don't belong to a particular religion and still be very spiritual. Which leads me to a question which I know was somehow related when I thought of it, but its relationship is somehow lost to me now: Do you believe in ghosts? What are your thoughts on ghosts?

Dear Ben:

You need to read a few issues of The Skeptical Inquirer, a publication staffed by top-end scientists and physicists (while they were alive both Isaac Asimov and physics Nobel Prize-winner, Richard Feynman, were both on the editorial staff), all of whom, I think, would love to find the slightest shred of scientific proof of anything paranormal -- ghosts, aliens, telekenisis, etc. -- and have never yet been able to. When they accept the paranormal or supernatural, I will, too.

Josh

Name: kevin
E-mail:

Dear Josh:

i have been thinking about getting a 16mm camera off from ebay

what type of cameras do you think are the best and easy to use

how much would you spend on a 16mm camera

where do you get 16mm film devolped

how would i edit film together, without using computer softwear

thanks alot

Dear Kevin:

You might want to read a book on the subject. I paid $1,000 for a 16mm Bolex, with five lenses, including a big zoom lens. The Bolex is an MOS camera (meaning no sound), and you wind it up like a clock. You can get a cheaper version of this same camera with the Bell & Howell Filmo, which is a nice camera, and I saw one of those for sale recently for $350, with three lenses. Meanwhile, you get 16mm film processed a film lab. I don't know where you live, but here in Detroit the only lab left is Film Craft. There are, however, quite a few labs in LA that process 16mm, like Foto-Kem or Crest. Once your negative is processed, you can either have it printed to 16mm workprint, in which case you'd have to cut it with a splicer and tape using a viewer and rewinds. But you can also have the film transferred to video tape, then feed it into a hard-drive and cut it digitally, if you have access to a digital editing system.

Josh

Name: Ben
E-mail: dabrowskigroup@yahoo.com

Josh,

I would agree with you that 99% of people follow their parent's religion. Myself, I'm a Catholic because my parents first taught me to be a Catholic. But there have been many times since I've flown the coop that I've questioned and investigated the Catholic faith on my own. So for me, the fact that I'm Catholic is because my parents are. But the reason I'm trying to be the best Catholic I can is because I had the opportunity to fall from it and see where it took me--I've thought deeply about society and religion, and about changing times, and I did make a choice to continue practicing Catholicism.

Of course, most of that is moot since most parents were Jewish and Catholic and Muslim and whatever, and today most kids growing up eventually choose to not practice any religion. So of the few people today who do practice it, most follow in their parents footsteps.

So is it bad for a Catholic to raise his kids Catholic? Or any other religion? If a person believes that their child's soul profits from something, be it religion or region or anything else, shouldn't they raise the child in that environment?

Thanks.

Ben

Dear Ben:

I'm not a parent so I have no advice on the topic. I have no idea how you raise kids. It's enough of a responsibility for me to keep my cats fed.

Josh

Name: Kerry Grant
E-mail: k_grant69@hotmail.com

Hi Josh,
I'm a fan of your work. I've seen your films "Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except" and "Running Time", and I love both films. I would love to see "Hammer"...but I can't get my hands on a credit card. Is there any way I could order the dvd by mail-order? I would sent payment in money order, NOT a cheque; and if it's a problem I would be happy to sent some extra money to assuage any inconvenience. How about it?
I think your website is great. Keep up the fine work.
Best,
Kerry Grant

Dear Kerry:

We're really not set up for taking checks anymore. Sorry, it's only credit cards. Get with the program, this is the modern world.

Josh

Name: Scott
E-mail: sspnyc66@mac.com

Josh,

With regards to your comments on "Stevie", I agree with what you said about Steve James and his involvement., however, I also felt that it was difficult for him to make these decisions.

Some of the reviews I read about the film criticized him for just exploiting "Stevie", and I did not agree with that so much. To some extent your statement is more in the right direction.

Since Steve James was making decisions as any caring human being would do and the fact that he was aware that he was filming all of this unfolding, you could see how difficult it was for him to make those decisions.

I think that even though he abandoned "Stevie", he really had a great deal of guilt as any of us would who had been in that situation., and he originally just anted to document his meeting with "Stevie" again to see how he was doing. Real life drama followed.

I read a good interview with Steve James and he came close to not releasing the film, but I think it was the right decision whether it was going to help "Stevie" or not.

The film made me think a lot the night I saw it too and regardless of whether the film was exploiting Stevie or not, I felt it was a good Documentary.

Scott

Dear Scott:

I totally agree, Steve James is having great difficulty proceeding with what he's doing, but he's still doing it, and that makes for a good film. I remember liking "Hoop Dreams," too, I just can't remember it.

Josh

Name: Scott
E-mail: sspnyc66@mac.com

Josh,

I was hoping that you would have been able to catch "Stevie" When it came to cable. I saw it here in NYC at the theatre. I thought the film was well done and it was all too real. Very sad.

Scott

Dear Scott:

But beyond it's sadness, it's a terrific documentary because the filmmaker, Steve James, allowed himself to be drawn into this situation, on camera, and be indicted as part of the problem, when he is clearly a bright, caring human being, and so is his wife. But had he not entirely abandoned Stevie after being his "Big brother" when he was a kid, maybe everything in Stevie's life wouldn't have gone wrong for him thereafter. And each time James says, "I'm here for you, Stevie," I couldn't help but think, yeah, until you're done shooting, then adios again. And it's also sort of implicit that this film probably won't help Stevie, or anyone else, for that matter, besides Steve James. Like any good movie should do, fiction or documentary, it's made me think about it since I've seen it.

Josh

Name: Ben
E-mail: dabrowskigroup@yahoo.com

Dear Josh,

Just to elaborate on a recent post on good bad guys and bad good guys, Mad Magazine did a funny cartoon about that. They outlined scenarios where the good guy says, "You ugly, smelly freak, you'll never get away with this." They point out the hero's insults and pessimism. Then the bad guy says, "Since you're the mighty Whoeverman, I'm sure you'll be able to get out of this pool of electric eels," and then they point out the villains courtesy and flattery. Very cute segment.

About religion, you say that believers are lazy and don't want to come up with their own philosophies in life. But the way I see it, agnostics and religion-haters don't either. When we look deep, science doesn't answer numerous questions and mysteries, and those who don't have some type of religion come up with no theories of their own. Maybe they're the lazy ones. At least the people who adhere to a religion have at least took the time to ponder the mysteries, investigated religions, and converted to whichever religion answers most of their questions satisfactorily. Sure, they may not be satisfactory in your eyes, but people don't seek answers for you--they seek them for themselves.

What do you think of that?

Ben

Dear Ben:

I think it's nonsense. Your statement, "At least the people who adhere to a religion have at least took the time to ponder the mysteries, investigated religions, and converted to whichever religion answers most of their questions satisfactorily," is completely silly. Without overestimating, I'd say 99.9% of all religious people are the same religion as their parents. Since religion is handed to you at your birth, it's not something you have to choose, think about, or even consider. The second you begin to question this handy, all-encompassing answer to all of life's mysteries is when you start to see the vastness of the universe. Religion is a cage for those who are too frightened to be free. In the documentary "Stevie," which is about poor white people in southern Indiana, living in trailers wedged among rusted-out cars up on blocks, with all the child abuse, prison, and general stupidity, when you see them in church singing, it's the only time during their entire week when they're not fucking up or doing something evil or stupid. And it struck me very hard -- religion is for the stupid. It's a pre-fabricated philosophy you don't have to work for.

Josh

Name: Cynthia E. Jones
E-mail: cynthiaejones@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

Eh? Digitally retouching eyes to be blue? Whatever happened to contact lenses? Jesus.

And, yes, you should see "Bad Santa." I saw it on Sunday and laughed my ass off. It's completely offensive, every other word is the F-word, and it's hilarious. I half expected people to walk out of the theater, but no one did!

In fact, I rented "Louie Bluie," Terry Zwigoff's first film, last night, so that I can say I've seen all of his movies now. It was good -- the kind of documentary that's just following the subject around and seeing him and his friends hang out, play music and so on, instead of having "experts" in a room saying, "Yes, he was a great blues musician," etc. etc. Good stuff...I's say he's got a pretty good track record so far.

--Cindy

Dear Cindy:

I've only heard good things about it and I'm very glad for John. But these last few films I saw really killed my incentive to go back to the theater. I just saw a very good documentary on DVD from 2003 called "Stevie," directed by Steve James, who made "Hoop Dreams." He was a big brother to a slightly disturbed kid twenty years ago and looks the kid up and sees what he's doing, which he finds out is about as big a disaster of a life as you could have, in and out of prison a dozen times, and now as the film begins, he has a conviction of child molestation pending. It's pretty grueling, very real stuff.

Josh

Name: Jim
E-mail: JEaganfilm@aol.com

Josh,

Just thought you'd be amused to know that Mel Gibson, who is in post-production on The Passion, is currently working on changing Jim Caviezel's blue to brown using the latest in computer graphics technology. It used to be that you had to actually cast the right actor for the role, now you just change the actor in post. BTW, I also saw Master and Commander a couple weeks ago and was disappointed. I've liked some of Peter Weir's films and I generally enjoy Russell Crowe but what a waste. If it had just been a big action movie I would have enjoyed it more, but nothing worked. The action was monotonous and the drama meant nothing to me. I felt like they were trying to make two movies, one with Crowe's character and another with the doctor. Plus, the kids seemed totally out of place to me and I just hate it when they put kids in adult movies. It feels like such a limp attempt at working my emotions. I also saw Bad Santa, which I thought was pretty fucking funny. It was poorly shot and was basically one long joke, but I guess I'd call it a guilty pleasure. If you're ever feeling cynical I'd recommend it :)

Jim

Dear Jim:

I really should see "Bad Santa" since it was produced by John Cameron, one of our old time Detroit buddies, who worked on all the super-8 films, and was my 1st AD on "Lunatics." John has been Joel and Ethan Coen's line producer for the past ten years and he finally got his own film.

Regarding M&C, I rather liked the kids being aboard since that was really a part of the British Navy back then -- you joined when you were twelve. Although I haven't read the Patrick O'Brian books, I get a sense that his basic point was to show what being on a British Naval ship in the 1800s was like, and kids were a part of it. As the NY Times review pointed out, the one aspect of the books they skipped, of course, was all the pederasty. But none of that is the movie's problem, as far as I'm concerned. It's really just a very poor adaptation from book to film. The story needed to be re-thought and re-conceived as a motion picture, and it just wasn't. This modern impatience that action films need to begin with a battle is gigantic mistake. Until you've set these characters up and gotten me to care a little, a battle means nothing, it's just a lot of noise and cutting for no purpose. The story of that film is about the battles between the two ships, and everything that's not about that, like the doctor wanting to study the animals of the Galapagos Islands, is a waste of time. If you've got 20 books within which to weave your story, that's one thing; if you've got one feature film, that's a completely different issue. Russell Crowe and Peter Weir were both saying that the film is a "$150 million art movie," which only proves they had their heads up their asses from the outset. The reality is that they made a lame, poorly-written, ill-conceived $150 million action film, with crappy action scenes and loaded with filler. It's one more modern testament to weak, shitty writing.

Josh

Name: Richard Farrell
E-mail: rj.farrell@insightbb.com

Dear Josh:

Do you consider Buddhism a religion? If so, it seems to negate most of your points (which are well taken). If not, (hey, it's a philosophy, they got no GOD) then your clear but Buddhist tenents can be a help in this world.....compassion, helping others, a willingness to change one's beliefs if science/observation proves some of what they believe to be wrong. Of course women don't do so well in their organization but that may take another millenium or two to fix ;-)

Dear Richard:

Buddhism is certainly considered one of the world's major religions, or belief systems, if you will. Hinduism has the same issues -- is it a relgion or a philosophy? It makes no never mind to me what you call these things. I take a pinch of this and a pinch of that, a couple of eyes of newt and a sprig of wolfsbane, and that's how I've come to my philosophy, dear Yorick. Were I forced to join a group, it would probably be the Buddhists. I think they have to most logical, complete view of how life is to be lived, but I don't buy any of their afterlife concepts, nor anyone else's, for that matter. No human being knows what occurs after death -- not priests, rabbis, ministers, mullahs, rinpoches, yogis, Boo-boos, or anyone else. As Bill Maher said, I'm supposed to listen to some guy speak definitively about something he absolutely doesn't know, and I'm supposed to believe him because he has a pointy hat? Or wears silly robes? Come on, grow up. Religion, if you'll excuse me, is really for stupid people who haven't got the mental ability (meaning guts) to deal with the mysteries of life.

Josh

Name: Mike
E-mail: dreamick@rice.edu

Dear Josh:

Hi.

I just saw your very nice website and thought I would mention a book that might be of interest to you :

"Life or Movie: Which comes first" (Rozwarski, 2002).

Mike.

Dear Mike:

Why would it be of interest to me? What's it about?

Josh

Name: Aaron
E-mail: agraham83@hotmail.com

Hey Josh,

Just thought I'd follow up my Jim Thompson question with the ending of "The Getaway" novel (which Tarantino ripped off shamelessly for "From Dusk Til Dawn").
The ending basically has Doc and his wife trying to get down to Mexico where a man named El Rey has a criminal sanctuary lying in a small coastal group of mountains... but El Rey's kingdom is no safe haven. There's is nothing but the best to be had and it all is expensive. When your money runs out so does your luck you are taken to a little village to starve to death. It is a place of cross and double cross as people try to make their money stretch further. It's a waking nightmare for Doc and Carol...

This ending wasn't used for the silly Alec Baldwin remake either.

Anyway, have a great day !

Dear Aaron:

Given that, I think the ending they used on the film is better, more appropriate, and much more surprising. I mean, the film is called "The Getaway," after all, and I just love that they steal the money and get away with it. When they buy Slim Picken's' beat up old truck for $50,000, he walks back to the border and they drive off into Mexico, it's a brilliant ending for a movie. And one of the points I keep making, like in regard to "Master and Commander," is when you make a movie you don't have to stick to the book; the real job is to make it into a fulfilling movie, and a movie is a different thing than a book.

Josh

Name: Ben
E-mail: wakko@icon-stl.net

Josh, on the subject of characters, I've noticed a trend in a lot of mainstream movies to make the villains irredeemable. Take for instance the villain in Moulin Rouge. They had to make him a misogynistic a**hole with no sympathetic qualities. I will admit though, that I think the actor playing him did a terrific job, as I found myself more interested in him than in any of the other characters. That's why I think it's so tragic that Baz Lurhman obviously didn't spend any time developing the villain. Obviously Mr. Lurhman thought his time would be better spent figuring out a way to shoot the movie making sure that no one take lasted more than ten seconds. Occasionally attempts are made to develop the villain. However, (And here I am thinking specifically of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) most of these attempts are sloppy, and seem to have been thrown in at the last second. You can't have the villain be a jerk for the whole movie and then throw in a minute-long scene near the end of Act II where the villain reveals that the reason he's such a jerk is because his wife and child(ren) were killed several years before and expect the audience to buy it. It will cause people like me to think that in all likelyhood the guy was a jerk when he had a wife and kids, too, and now he's just using their deaths as an excuse to be a jerk. Although, heroes in movies are no better. Honestly, a lot of times I find myself thinking that hero would make a much better villain. Take the movie Snake-Eyes: I don't remember much about the movie, but I seem to remember that Nicholas Cage's character was cheating on his wife, using every drug he could get his hands on, and overall was an unlikeable jerk. And he's the hero. Meanwhile, Gary Sinise's character was a clean, smart, likeable family man. And he's the villain. That's just working from memory, and it's been several years since I've seen the movie, and likely many of my facts are wrong. I do remember clearly, however, that Nicholas Cage was a jerk, and he was the hero, and Gary Sinise was a nice guy, and he was the villain. I guess basically what I'm trying to say is that I wish filmmakers would give us something to sympathize with with the villains and that they wouldn't make loathsome characters the heroes. What do you think?

Dear Ben:

You need to see better movies, these are all useless examples. But take a good movie like "The Bridge on the River Kwai," and it's brilliant because the good guy isn't all that good and the bad isn't all that bad, because nobody in life is just black or just white, we're all shades of gray. And people frequently do good things for bad reasons, or bad things for good reasons. That's irony, and it's one of the higher things to strive for in storytelling.

Josh

Name: Aaron
E-mail: agraham83@hotmail.com

Hey Josh, hope you're doing well.

I just finished re-reading "The Killer Inside Me" by Jim Thompson and was curious as to your opinion of the book (if you have read it) or your opinion to any of Thompson's books.
Personally, I think his prose has influenced every "gritty" crime film to come out in the past 30 years.
Movie-wise his stuff has never been adapted correctly. I find "The Grifters" a bore, and "After Dark, My Sweet" is a complete misfire, because of its star, the always monotonous Jason Patric. Although Peckinpah's "The Getaway" is great right up until the end, where it undermines the entire book by cutting out the novel's ending!

Dear Aaron:

I read part of it, but didn't finish it. I enjoyed his gritty prose, but it didn't move me. As you said, most of the movies that have come from his books haven't been very good, although I do like Peckinpah's "The Getaway." I don't know how the book ended, but I love the ending of the movie (screenplay by Walter Hill, BTW).

Josh

Name: Cynthia E. Jones
E-mail: cynthiaejones@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

How's it going? I just watched "A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies" (off of Netflix) and I was wondering if you'd seen it. It's not a comprehensive overview of American cinema, but rather, a selection of his favorite old movies. It discusses the studio system, has interviews with Fritz Lang, John Ford (really quiet, that one), Billy Wilder, and the like. It reminded me of you--Marty seems to have the same taste in films as you do. I've already rented "The Bad and the Beautiful" and have a huge list of films I need to see now, most of which are already on your "favorites" list. It's like a mini film class with Mr. Scorsese! While I haven't been into his more recent films, I do have to admit that he is one of the biggest movie geeks around, and I love that about him.

It would be neat if you did something like this--a comprehensive list of the dozens or hundreds of films that have influenced and inspired you over the years, along with the reasons why you love them so much, and the significance they held at the time. Sure, the British Film Institute probably wouldn't sponsor it, but I'd watch!

Have a good Monday. For some reason, it's impossible for me to wake up today...

--Cindy

Dear Cindy:

Maryin Scorsese is an old-time movie geek just like me. I watched part of the show, but I got it, and I've seen all the movies he's referring to. The show is really for those who haven't seen all of the classic films. And I really do love "The Bad and the Beautiful." Absolutely terrific b&w photography by the great Robert Surtees (who won the Oscar that year), and a wonderfully well-written, tight script by Charles Schnee (also an Oscar-winner). Perhaps someday I'll make the list you suggested, but not now. Drink more coffee.

Josh

Name: Calvin Gray
E-mail:

Oh Josh,

You ask of Jason Patric? Why, have you not seen his much hyped "comeback" vehicle, Narc? It was a little pseudo-independent film (how I refer to any no-budget flick with actors of at least B-level celebrity) from late last year, starring Patric and Ray Liotta. The whole thing was really bucking for comparisons to The French Connection, and the actors and filmmakers constantly referred back to that masterpiece in interviews and DVD featurettes as a way of validating the flick as a "retro-gritty-cop-movie."

I never saw you comment on this movie in any reviews or in this Q&A page, so I suppose you haven't seen it; either that, or it left absolutely no impression upon you. I've made it a personal standard to refrain from bombarding you with pleas of "see this movie, and confirm my opinion that it's good/shitty!" But I suppose this is the kind of movie that you should see and dissect for us all.

My own feeling was that the movie had the potential for a strong story, yet it just didn't deliver. And it all goes back to an ass-backwards writer/director. As you've been preaching lately, the dynamics of the story arc were all out of whack, just leading us from one pointless moment to another. The visual direction, with all it's jerkyness and pandering for edgy "realism," just left me tired and disoriented.

But my biggest complaint is the sound design. I know it sounds shallow, but it really just angered the hell out of me throughout the flick. I don't know what the hell they intended to show this movie on, because I can't think of any theater auditorium or home entertainment set-up that could handle the audio mess. Let me give you a typical scenario: Main Character-Guy talks to Police Chief-Guy about case in very hushed, sullen voice; I turn up the volume to understand what the deuce they're saying. Suddenly, we flashback to the murder of the Dead Guy they're investigating with eardrum-shattering gunshots; I can't turn down the volume fast enough. Apparantly the director felt that progressing through the story with some intelligible dialogue isn't as important as ingraining the sound of brass-knuckle punches into your skull. And this goes on for a 100 minute running time.

I hate to force (what I feel to be) a crap movie on you. But since it seems that so many look here for an education in seeing through cinematic bullshit, it might do some good for you to see it and give us your thoughts. Or maybe I'm just an ass, and you'll find it more entertaining than I did. Who knows?

- C. Giddy

Dear Calvin:

I'll check it out on cable. Jason Patric is such a roaming hole in the screen it would difficult for me to like anything he's in. Meanwhile, there seems to be something of a trend of having all the actors in a film whisper, as though that's more realistic or something. It drives me nuts, and you spend the whole movie asking your friend, "What did they say?" Renee Zellweger is a perpetual whisperer, not to mention a face-contortionist, and she drives me crazy. She whsipered all the way through her interview on "Inside the Actor's Studio" and I really wanted to go smack that idiotic look off her face and say, "Speak up." She also said something like, "I ask the director thousands and thousands of questions," and I thought, "Okay, never work with her."

As for character arcs, and characterization in general, you'd think all of the instructions on how to do this were written in Aramaic and we'd lost the Rosetta Stone or something. I mean, shit, this stuff isn't nuclear physics, for goodness sake. Ron Howard seems like a reasonably intelligent man, and sets up a shot pretty well, but hasn't got clue one about how to set up a character arc. Cate Blanchett in "The Missing" starts off as a down-beat miserable bitch, and stays that way the whole film. Tommy Lee Jones begins as a pleasant, reasonably friendly, ersatz Indian, and that's what he is the whole film. The story is really screenwriting at it's simplest -- her dad left when she was little to join the Indians and she's been resentful her whole life. He returns to make up, but she won't have it. Blanchett's daughter is kidnapped by evil Indians, and who's help should she now need to get her daughter back? Obviously, her wannabe-Indian father. The moment she asks for his help, and he readily agrees, all of her bitching about what a bad father he was becomes offensive. Is he doing you a favor or not? Then shut the fuck up. The only character that they attempt to give a character arc to is the kidnapped daughter, and they fail utterly because she's not the character to do it with. We get one scene of her being a little snotball that hates being on the farm and wants to live in the city. By the end she's just happy to be home. Well, of course, who wouldn't be happy to get away from evil killer renegade Indians? The daughter is a minor character, she doesn't need to go through an arc, we just need to care about her a little so that once she's kidnapped it matters, but no one on that team understood this. To me it's all very pathetic.

Josh

Name: Saul Trabal
E-mail: ghost_kingdom@yahoo.com

Josh writes,

"I could faintly hear a piccolo playing the National Anthem, so I saluted. It's like any time Eddie Albert would talk about farming in "Green Acres," a piccolo would begin to play that everyone could hear but him. Anyway, you son of a bitch, you just caused me to go through every Harlan Ellison book I have -- which is fifteen books, I just counted, including the big, fat Essential Ellison, and Edgeworks, Vol.1, but no Edgeworks, Vol. 2, nor do I have "Spider's Kiss" in any other collection, so now I must go get it. You certainly do make it sound good, but quite a few other pieces by Mr. Ellison have hit me that same way. I first read "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" in junior high school in the lunch room and it seriously frightened me. I remember looking around at all the other complacent kids eating and laughing and I thought, "Don't you see how utterly horrible it could all be?" Let's face it, really good writing can truly be sublime. Art is our only clear route to the sublime, whether it's music or film or painting or poetry or sand sculpture or whatever. We humans like lining things up in a pleasing order."

LOL-glad I got you to dig around for it. And yes, get it! It is THAT damn good. It's a brilliant, brutal, unforgiving story. When you read it, let me know what you think. Oh-and I'm sorry-it's SPIDER KISS.

Go here to learn more:


http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1565049616/002-3870119-3525645?v=glance

A reviewer here writes:

"The Edgeworks are designed as the projected 20-volume definitive version of this controversial author's collected works. Harlan Ellison is the most honored fantasist of the 20th century, and many of the books in the long-awaited series have been out of print for decades. Each volume also contains new introductions, and often the original work itself has been revised or expanded by the author. Edgeworks 2 includes an early (1961) novel Spider Kiss, originally titled Rockabilly. It was one of the very first--and still remains one of the best--dissections of the wildly destructive rock & roll lifestyle. Stalking the Nightmare is a 1982 collection of assorted short stories and essays, which also boasts an insightful foreword by Ellison admirer Stephen King. Sampling any part of Edgeworks 2 will give readers a taste of this great writer's talent. --Stanley Wiater "

Have you ever got to hear Harlan speak? I have. A few years ago, he was at ICON in Stony Brook, New York (Long Island). Harlan is a force of nature. He is scathingly brilliant, brutal, outspoken, and in your face. During his talk, I remember him talking about what a horrid place Hollywood was. He mentioned having sent some of his best students there, and that they couldn't deal with Hollywood's insanity. I remember well what he said about the STARLOST TV show. And I swear-when I read *your* rants, it sounds like a direct echo of *his* rants.

Frightening proof that Hollywierd hasn't changed in almost 3 decades-and most likely never will.

Saul

Dear Saul:

Hollywood has gotten worse in the past three decades because the multi-national conglomerates took over. I always appreciated Harlan Ellison's difficulty in Hollywood. The guy's a great a writer, his stuff is visual and frightening and perfect for movies, but he simply won't kiss ass or take shit from anyone, so he could never really get ahead. Which only proves that talent is entirely secondary to ass-kissing out there. Quite frankly, if you're an ass-kisser it's probably not possible to a creative artist too.

Josh

Name: August
E-mail: joxerfan@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

Did I see that you spoke at a Michigan State screenwriting class recently? You've done that before, right? How did that come about? And what sort of things do you talk about? Is it variations on your structure and screenplay essays, or something else entirely? If the latter, any chance you might post some of the material here? Or maybe do a new essay about your experiences talking to college film students, good and bad? (Wondering if anyone else tried to convince you that Jason Patric was the next Brando..... )

Regards,

August

Dear August:

Ah, Jason Patric, whatever happened to him? Yes, I did speak at a screenwriting class at MSU, taught by Bill Vincent, Sam Raimi's former film teacher. Bill and I have both been Fake Shemps in quite a few of Sam's films (but not recently, though, Sam doesn't seem to ask me anymore). Anyhow, it was very informal, and I just ranted on and on. There was one kid, Morgan, who would have been me 25 years ago, that asked almost every question, challenged me on all of my opinions, and was basically a bit too geeked up for his own good. He was one of the ones who recently told me that they were too busy to write. I said, "The don't, who needs you." As Andre Gide said, "If a young writer can find a reason not to write, they should certainly take it."

Josh

Name: Saul Trabal
E-mail: ghost_kingdom@yahoo.com

Heya Josh,

I agree with everything you've said about character development, and I want to add in a few things.

Firstly, there is a story that EVERYONE who visits this board MUST read. It's a novella by Harlan Ellison called SPIDER'S KISS. You'll find it in his book, EDGEWORKS, Volume 2. This is a story that should be required reading in schools. It illustrates perfectly what Josh is talking about, in terms of character development. If you folks don't read this story, you're missing out on an ABSOLUTE gem. It is so brilliantly crafted that I wanted to destroy everything I had ever written when I read it. I realized what a shit-stain writer I was. The characters in this story are so-well rounded to me that I could see them as plain as day. And the biggest shame is that this incredible piece of work will never be made into a film.

Also, I agree with Josh on the bullshit attitude of "I can't find the time to write." In my opinion, it isn't about quantity. It's about QUALITY. I'm going through a very difficult personal period, and yet I'm making the effort to write. Sure-it's not easy, but what in life is? You find whatever little free time you can and write SOMETHING. A steady drip is better than nothing at all. I'd rather have a few well-written stories out there than a bunch of crappy stories.

The worst thing for an artist is to be satisfied with his or her own work. The moment that happens, it's over. Hang it up. I am NEVER, EVER satisfied with what I write, and I hope I never am.

The other thing is to keep pushing the envelope as far as you can, in terms of telling stories and developing characters. Challenge yourself. Don't take the easy way out, because it will show in your work. Writing SHOULD be a challenge-and the satisfaction is that much greater when you've tackled a difficult project. Look at good and bad stories. Go out there and make an effort. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. If you don't make mistakes, you won't learn.

To quote a line from Rush bassist, Geddy Lee:

"You have to be willing to fail in public if you really want to achieve any kind of growth as an artist."

For me, challenging myself is the route to satisfaction. You don't learn from doing things the easy way.

Dear Saul:

I could faintly hear a piccolo playing the National Anthem, so I saluted. It's like any time Eddie Albert would talk about farming in "Green Acres," a piccolo would begin to play that everyone could hear but him. Anyway, you son of a bitch, you just caused me to go through every Harlan Ellison book I have -- which is fifteen books, I just counted, including the big, fat Essential Ellison, and Edgeworks, Vol.1, but no Edgeworks, Vol. 2, nor do I have "Spider's Kiss" in any other collection, so now I must go get it. You certainly do make it sound good, but quite a few other pieces by Mr. Ellison have hit me that same way. I first read "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" in junior high school in the lunch room and it seriously frightened me. I remember looking around at all the other complacent kids eating and laughing and I thought, "Don't you see how utterly horrible it could all be?" Let's face it, really good writing can truly be sublime. Art is our only clear route to the sublime, whether it's music or film or painting or poetry or sand sculpture or whatever. We humans like lining things up in a pleasing order.

Josh

Name: Scott
E-mail: MacLeodUSMC@aol.com

Josh,

Your screenplay Devil Dogs caught my eye. I browsed through it briefly and see you set as your main character, Dan Daly. Impressive. Has there been any bites on this, and if so is there a target date for production? Thanks

Dear Scott:

No, I haven't got the financing. I can't even get anyone in Hollywood to read it. But since you're obviously a Marine, and you already know who Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly was, I'd be interested in knowing what you think of the script. I don't think that anyone has made a war film like this in many years -- where the battle being fought actually matters. My script is neither anti-war nor pro-war, it's simply saying that this battle occurred, it was crucial to the events of WWI, and the men that fought there did something that ultimately mattered.

Josh

Name: Darin
E-mail: none

Hey Josh, in a lot of your reviews you talk about how the characters are poorly developed. I know what that implies, that you the viewer end up not caring about anyone in the movie. I think a lot of people (filmmakers and audiences) just end up giving the main character the benefit of the doubt. If they aren't the "villan," then they're the one you care about. This doesn't necessarily work on me, I look at a film like Casablanca where I honestly care about Rick and what happens to him. In new movies I don't really care what happens to anybody.
How do you go about consciously writing good characters?

Darin

Dear Darin:

Excellent question This is the question that every writer, director, and producer ought to be thinking about endlessly. First of all, why is the character doing what they're doing? What is their motivation? An interesting character needs something, or wants something desperately. A character we respect actually stands for something. Over the course of the story the character must change, go through a dramatic arc, learn something. In the very first Hercules TV movie, "Amazon Women," Hercules starts of thinking that women are second-class citizens, as undoubtedly any man would at that time. He expects his mother to wash his feet when he enters the house, then run and fetch him food, and he never even considers saying thank you. After being captured by the Amazon women, seeing a society where women are in charge, then falling for their leader, a liberated women whom he cannot treat like a second-class citizen, he learns that women are the equals of men. When he returns home and his mother goes to wash his feet, he stops her. He's learned a lesson. This is a simpleminded version of the dramatic arc, but it functioned quite well (a five-year series came out of it). I can't tell you how antagonistic all of the producers and execs were about having Hercules depicted as a male chauvinist even though he ultimately learns his lesson. Everyone in Hollywood wants all of their lead characters to be "likable" all the time, which leaves no room for drama or a character arc. Likable doesn't mean shit; motivated means everything.

What many people don't get is that the character can begin being motivated in the wrong direction. Rick Blaine in "Casablanca" is motivated right from the beginning to not care about anyone or anything else but himself. He "sticks his neck out for nobody." He's absolutely sincere in his apathy. Why? Because, we find out, his heart was broken. The character arc is getting Rick to care again, which means reparing his broken heart. And even though he doesn't get the woman at the end, he's done the right thing for her, and her husband, and the cause, his heart's no longer broken, and he can now return to the fight. Rick desperately needed his broken heart fixed, even if he didn't know it. When that need has been fulfilled, the drama has been fulfilled. If the drama of the story is truly coming out of the lead character, then the character will be motivated and compelling. The key is: the lead character is the story, which emanates out of them. The plot is a secondary issue -- it's important, and you do need a plot, but it's not the main issue. If you've only got your lead character reacting to events going on around them, they're a bore. I hope others have questions about this topic because I think it's the most crucial aspect of filmmaking that has been almost entirely lost in the past 25 years. This is what makes modern movies inferior to older movies.

Josh

Name: Kim
E-mail: mrsdagle@yahoo.com

Dear Josh,

I think your complaints about the current trend in film "critique" are interesting. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his recently translated memoirs, Living To Tell the Tale, describes how he helped to bring "American style" film reviews to Colombia in the 1950's. Apparently, negative criticism was unheard of and when implemented, greatly protested. The film critic was basically a thinly veiled hawker for the theatres. Garcia Marquez (and
colleagues) finally ushered in the "honest" review and eventually others followed suit. Ironic, when these days our "esteemed" film critics have reverted back to their hawker tactics.
Speaking of Garcia Marquez, he has an interesting opinion on adapting screenplays from prose. He says that you can't (successfully) adapt a whole novel into a movie, that it will always be much worse. He thinks you should only adapt short stories because a movie has the potential to elaborate on them. As a rule, would you agree with this? I have personal exceptions to this, though I agree that most movies based on novels are indeed worse.
Kim

Dear Kim:

I see what he's saying, and I do think that many short stories were wonderfully suited to become movies. Also, that novels are much harder to adapt to screenplay, but many more movies have been based on novels than short stories, and quite a few are very good. But the screenwriters really need to rethink the material, because what works in a novel frequently has nothing to do with movies. As an example, I have no doubt that these "Master and Commander" books are fascinating, but Peter Weir and his collaborator did not rethink the material for a movie. They failed to add a dramatic structure to the series of events that occurred in these books. On the other hand, Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman who wrote the script for "The Bridge on the River Kwai," based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, took what was good from the book, then added a whole new dramatic structure, and several new characters (William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and the entire commando mission), expanded the theme out to the new characters, and gave it a terrific ending, none of which are in the book. But many of the greatest movies have been based on novels: "Gone With the Wind," "From Here to Eternity," "The Maltese Falcon," "Tom Jones," "Midnight Cowboy," "Mutiny on the Bounty," "How Green Was My Valley," "The Grapes of Wrath," "Of Mice and Men," "The Last Picture Show," etc., etc., etc.

Josh

Name: Theresa Ma
E-mail: kueltitto@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

I'm writing a paper for school and I need to know what skills might be helpful to become a director? What benefits do you have after becoming a director? Is it hard to find a job? And once your shooting, what are the typical hours?

Dear Theresa:

The typical shooting hours are 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, although generally the director must prepare for the next day's shooting in the evening. It's tremendously difficult to find a job, and probably 99% of the people that set out to be directors fail and never receive a paying job. The skills that are helpful are: a deep understanding of story and character motivation, patience, empathy with actors, a thorough knowledge of camera placement, camera movement, the uses of all the various lenses, a strong belief in yourself and your own abilities.

Josh

Name: alice schultz
E-mail: alice.schultz@sympatico.ca

Hi Josh,

Your review of "In the Bedroom" was hilarious. I'd defend the film to this extent -- the point of the film is supposed to be, you know, irony. By the end of the film, the victims of the original crime -- ordinary good people -- have themselves become the criminal. In fact, they've become worse than the criminal, because his crime really may have been manslaughter just like the Defense says, but theirs is fully premeditated.

It only works if you really believe that two ordinary middle-class types really would start at that particular beginning and, under the slow (!) pressure of grief and desperation and moral outrage, wind up at this particular finale. (In which case you make the connection with the grief and desperation and moral outrage that drove the first killer, and there's your mirror image, exploding your usual assumptions about good and bad and so on.) As you say, you never do believe the development. So -- no pass. But I thought it was a sincere effort at a serious idea.

Alice

Dear Alice:

I see what you're saying, and conceptually it's not a bad idea, but it's set up entirely wrong. First of all, the mother and father need to be the lead characters so that they could be set up during Act I so that there is a hint of a chance they might do what occurs in Act III. Making the kid the lead character, then killing him is a big structural mistake. And since there is no set-up at all that the father might become a killer, why would I believe it? And all that fading out during Act II was grueling. The real irony is that it begins as a personal drama, then develops into the most standard story of all time, the revenge plot. And since it does culminate as a revenge plot, then it can easily be judged on that level. Since the father was a doctor, there are logical ways for him to take revenge, but the writers never considered it (I recommend seeing "King's Row"). But "In the Bedroom," just like every other contemporary film I've seen, is severely unmemorable, has no resonance, and really doesn't have a good scene or a good line to hold onto.

Josh

Name: John Hunt
E-mail: Chowkidar@aol.com

Josh,

Hey, I think it's great that Jack wrote in. Maybe we can look forward to a contribution from Sirhan Sirhan (the assasin so nice they named him twice).

Someone asked you about movie critics, a group you roundly and rightly condemn. I consider the parallel case of books where endorsements are separate from critical reviews and are generally obtained from authors of a similar vein. Literary criticism remains, I believe, a reputable field. Were there ever real movie critics? Has it always been bad and is now simply worse? It seems to me that there have been, but names escape me.

I also wondered about your thoughts on another subject and that is the role of censorship in the creative process. It has occured to me that the Golden Age of film ended at about the same time that the censorship boards lost their powers. In literature it has long been thought that censorship forces writers to express themselves more creatively and with greater subtlety. The great example is, of course, Tsarist Russia, particularly in the nineteenth century, which heavily censored its literature and yet produced some of the greatest works ever.

Obviously, I'm not calling for a return of censorship, which would never happen anyway, but I'm wondering what you thought of its past effects.

John

Dear John:

Although I'm completely against censorship, I do think it helped creativity. If you can't just show something, then you have to use your imagination and insinuate it. Ernest Lubitsch, for instance, was terrific at insinuating sex since he couldn't show it, and that was far more interesting, and sexy, than seeing the perfunctory sex scene we always get now, with all of these flesh on flesh close-ups so that I'm always asking myself, "Is that his arm and her leg? What am I looking at?"

And yes, there were good film critics once upon a time. My favorite by a mile was Pauline Kael, and I just couldn't wait for her reviews each month. We didn't always agree by any means, but I always appreciated her great insight into what she had seen. There was also Penelope Gilliat, Stanley Kaufman, Andrew Sarris, Richard Corliss, and before that James Agee and Graham Greene. But the big problem isn't with the critics, it's with the movies. There was an article in The New Yorker a while ago about how the NY press screenings are now like a work detail at a gulag -- these critics all know that whatever film they're seeing now will be horrible, awful bullshit, but if that's what they always say they'll lose their jobs. And let's face it, being a film critic is kind of a cake job. So, the industry has forced everyone of these critics into being a complete hypocrite, and now they all use a curved grading scale, which I will never do. I will never say that something "Mystic River" is a good film because it's better than the other terrible, miserable films released in 2003. To me that's a totally crappy, useless criteria.

Josh

Name: Blake Eckard
E-mail:

Josh,

Perhaps this is a bit on the lame brain side, but have you ever given any thought to an attempt to open up some kind of production company for low budget features? I myself always day dream of such a possible thing, should I ever get into the position. What I'm remembering is BBS which produced "Five Easy Pieces," and "The Last Picture Show," among others. With folk like Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell seems something could possibly go. And by the way, does Rennissance (sp?) still exist? Seems with "Darkman," and "Lunatics," they had an opportunity to do something along the above stated lines in the early 90's.

As a side note, I recently saw "Mystic River," and really hated it. Did you mention it a while back? I keep thinking of the late great John Cassavettes and how his pictures were all about horribly upsetting things like alcoholism, adultery, insanity, and death. Yet at the end of nearly all of his films is a true sense of hope. Currently, so-called serious and mature films like "American Beauty," "Fight Club," or "American Psycho," seem to exist for the sole purpose to depress and antagonize. "Mystic River," I felt, dropped into this same category.

Have a good one.

Blake

Dear Blake:

That's a dream of mine, too, running my own low-budget studio. But I have enough difficulty at this point putting together the funds for one cheap film, let alone several of them. But Sam and Rob have no interest in producing low-budget films. Bruce and I would happily do it, but no one wants to finance us.

I, too, hated "Mystic River," which, like every other movies these days, I felt was very poorly written. A perfect example of bad writing is when they finally reveal the killer, it's a character you don't know. And it's been so ham-handedly pointing the finger at Tim Robbins from the very first second that obviously it's not him. It reminds me of Clint's earlier film, "Tight Rope," where a killer with yellow tennis shoes and ski mask keeps killing all these people. Finally, Clint fights with the guy and pulls off his ski mask revealing . . . it's a character we've never met. My friend blurted out in the theater, "Not him!" Also in MR I became very weary of Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne as the cops driving up to a location, getting out, going inside, talking to someone, leaving, getting in their car, and driving away -- again, and again, and again. And what was with that assinine scene at the very end when Laura Linney tells Penn he's a king? After proving he's just a royal fuck-up. Also, I think Sean Penn is an over-acter of the old school, like Paul Muni. And since Clint only shoots one or two takes and doesn't give direction, like say, "Bring it down," it's severely over-the-top. And it's photographically ugly, too.

I just saw "The Missing" and it was so derivative and uninspired I found it to be just miserable.

Josh

Name: Patrick
E-mail: paddyg44@boltblue.com

Dear Josh:

I'm a great fan of the Evil dead series and am writing my final paper for University on the Evil Dead.
My girlfriend is currently studying to be a Tech effects artist, so I know the strains of being a guinea pig and make up effects going wrong!
Anyway, I was wondering if you'd be able to tell me why The Evil Dead grew to such Cult status, especially at Cannes? Do you think the name change helped in its success?
Any thoughts or theories on the films prolific success would be greatly appreciated
Many Thanks,
Patrick Gallagher

Dear Patrick:

I think it's entirely based on Sam's direction, which is somewhat audacious for such a low-budget movie. His sense of camera movement is pretty impressive. Also, the film has a lot more coverage (meaning individual shots) than many higher budget movies. As for the Cannes screening, well, Renaissance Pictures had the same sales agent as Stephen King at the time, named Irvin Shapiro, who asked King to see the film and give them a quote for the poster, which he did, and that's what started it all off.

Josh

Name: Fish Nugget King
E-mail:

Hey Josh:

How many films do you think a person should reasonably be able to make in a lifetime? I agree with you that it is important to see as many movies and be as well-read as possible, but while doing that and spending the necessary amount of time to write a good script it seems like one would rarely get around to actually completing a film (even more so if you still have a day job). This happens to me with my short dv movies, I go so long between them that even though I tried hard on the writing I still look back and feel like I should have done more with my time. I don't want to work at Kubrick's pace unless I'm that good, and sadly I'm not.

Pass my congrats on to BC for "Bubba Ho-Tep." I loved it, except for the mummy's death as you pointed out, which made no sense. I thought he was going to destroy the coffin or something.

Thanks.

Dear Fish Nugget King:

John Ford made over 150 films, Hitchcock made 57, I've made 4, so far. What's reasonable? However many you can get made. Even if you're not the writer, like my fav, William Wyler, if you're a good director you still need to work with the writers and develop the script into its proper form so it represents you as a filmmaker, and that takes time. Writing a good script absolutely takes time, and, as a note, a first-draft is NEVER worth shooting. But there's this attitude now which I've encountered on this website, as well as at a screenwriting class at MSU at which I just spoke, of "I haven't got time to write a script properly." Then sell shoes, work at McDonald's, but don't go into writing or filmmaking. If you feel you haven't got the time to do a job well, then don't do it. It's absolutely not important to just get films made, it is important to try to make the very best films you can possibly make. The same goes for everything else in life, too.

Josh

Name: Bird Jenkins
E-mail: bird@jjandbird.com

Howdy, Josh.

Bird again with another question for you. I've really come to appreciate your pull-no-punches style, and I've noticed that very few modern movies have escaped the old Becker tongue lashing. One filmmaker who I have yet to read any of your opinions on is Wes Anderson. What gives? Do you like him? Hate him? I think his first two films, BOTTLE ROCKET and especially RUSHMORE were fantastic, but I was disappointed in ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

Also, what are your thoughts on his writing partner Owen Wilson? Do you figure Wilson's a real contributor, or an Affleck/Damon type of "screenwriter" who takes the credit but has little to do with the creative process?

It seems to me that these guys are actors with little interest in writing. I know that if I was in their positions, I'd be dusting off plenty of old scripts to see them made. But no. They seem content to just act in whatever high profile film they can land, regardless of quality. What do you think?


Your friend,
Bird

Dear Bird:

I can't stand Wes Anderson, I think he encompasses everything wrong with contemporary motion pictures. His stories are severely dull, completely pointless, meandering, go nowhere, and I don't believe a single solitary nano-second of any of his films. He also presently wins the "director with the least musical ability to score his films." Anderson must believe that the way you score a film is you blindly reach into your record collection, choose your favorite twenty songs, then line them up end to end and run them across the entire film. He has songs ending and a new one beginning in the middle of scenes, because the choice of music COMPLETELY DOESN'T MATTER. Considering the scripts for those three films are utter crap, I don't think he or Owen Wilson are putting in any work, and those are probably already scripts they dug out of their bottom drawers that they both received a D on in screenwriting class. There, did I pull any punches?

Josh

Name: ruby
E-mail:

Dear Josh:

This site is too long and boring!

Dear Ruby:

You think I'm going to listen to some dumb asshole who shot Lee Harvey Oswald? Get lost.

Josh

Name: Ben
E-mail: wakko@icon-stl.net

Josh, you know what I love? The little blurbs of reviews they have in print ads for movies, or on the DVD case. I've noticed that a lot of times, the quotes that are used aren't necessarily complimentary to the movie itself. They often use quotes like "Jack Nicholson is hilarious." or "The special effects are fantastic." I also love when they use quotes that compair the movie to one or more other movies. "It's a Jaws for the new millenium" or "It's Terms of Endearment meets Star Wars." How do we know the critic who wrote the quote doesn't hate the movies he's comparing? I don't even think you can trust a seemingly straigtforward quote like "...The best movie I've seen this year." The "..." is the major tipoff there. Whenever they use the "..." in a blurb, I always want to see the rest of the quote. Like, "...The best movie I've seen this year." might have been, in the review, something like this "Considering that I've seen a lot of crap this year, I can honestly say that this movie is the best movie I've seen this year." or "If I forget that every film I've seen this year is better than this one, then I would say that this is the best movie I've seen this year." I personally think that instead of quotes, they should just use things like "Four stars" or "Two thumbs up". What do you think?

Dear Ben:

I don't care what critics say, they're nearly all full of shit. The blurb that most amused me recently was I saw the poster for Scott Spiegel's film "From Dusk Till Dawn 2" (on the wall of a rib joint here in Detroit), and the quote was ". . . A lot of action . . ." Now, what do you suppose that entire sentence was?

Josh

Name: John Rambo
E-mail: thisisjohnrambo@yahoo.com

Dear Josh,

How's it going? It's good to stop by again. I was curious about your opinion of the movie Kill Bill. Personally I thought that the stunt work and martial arts were great, but that it was too violent.

Thanks,

John

Dear John:

I wouldn't see "Kill Bill" if they were giving away money at the theater. From all appreances it looks like the worst movie ever made, but I could be overestimating it. I'm sure it's minimally just plain old miserable. It also looks like screenwriting of the very lowest order. I also have no doubt it shouldn't be two full-length films. It doesn't sound like he's got enough story for one film. After having staged and shot about fifty martial arts fights on Herc and Xena, I truly don't care about them in the slightest anymore.

Josh


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