Is Cinema dying?

cinemaSince its release 3 weeks ago, Furious 7, has been breaking one record after another at the box office, scoring the second-biggest worldwide opening of all time ($397.2 million) behind only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and recently has become the fastest to reach the $1 billion at the global box office. Since its launch in 2003, the car chase franchise, Fast and Furious, has collected over $3.5 billion in the global box office.

The phenomenal commercial success of Furious 7 has been attributed to the public’s curiosity in the recreation of its star, Paul Walker, who was killed in a car accident before completing the shoot. Of course, there are other factors, chiefly the thunderous special effects and the out-of-this-world stunts that unstoppably hammer the senses of the audience from beginning to end. Amazingly, in spite of their incredulity and absurdity, these senseless effects have become the most compelling and attractive elements in movies for today’s audience, who flock to cinemas seeking fleeting excitement rather than an engaging dramatic narrative that underpins the art of cinema. The question is: can we consider watching Furious 7, a cinematic experience?

Vision:

Cinema as an art is a specificity of vision, the vision of an artist -the director, who expresses his own thoughts, beliefs, ideas and emotions and engages with audiences’ sensibilities through the aesthetics of visual images. The director develops the screenplay, sometimes with a writer, and chooses his own cast and crew, whom he trusts in achieving his own vision, without the interference of a third party. This of course is not the way blockbusters, such as Furious 7, are made in Hollywood.

When I asked Furious 7’s director, James Wan, about the ambitions he had when he embarked on this project, he said: “The most important thing for me was satisfying the franchise’s fans and audience.” You hear these kind of statements from a baker or any other trader, whose goal is to fulfil the needs of his customers, not an artist who wishes to express himself through his art.

The truth is that the studio didn’t hire Wan to colour the film with his own vision or to reflect on his conception of the meaning of life, but because he had perfected the Hollywood formula in his horror movies, such as Insidious and The Conjuring, which yielded a very impressive box office figures. So all he needed to do was studying the previous Fast and Furious movies in order not to stray from the winning formula, because Hollywood is too wary of the inherited commercial risks of original ideas.

Wan had also to adhere to a screenplay that had been developed by studio writers, who receive their orders, not from the -mostly defunct- development department, but from the international marketing and publicity departments that care little for the artistic merit or integrity of the final product,  concentrating instead on its potential commercial profitability in the increasingly dominant international markets, such as China and Russia, whose audiences are avariciously  hungry for gratuitous violence, absurd action  and special effects.

This shift in Hollywood filmmaking philosophy prompted its critics to argue that what Hollywood has been making in the last 3 decades is not cinema, but rather commercial products called movies. These movies are not helmed by auteurs, but  made by groups of business executives, financiers, lawyers, publicists and marketers, who are ignorant in the art of cinema but excellent in the business of producing and selling commercial products, as they did with Furious 7, which, in spite of lacking vision and substance, has been a commercial miracle.

Substance:

In the early years of cinema, movies consisted of rudimentary scenes, like a train thundering forward or raging ocean waves or swarming crowds in a public gathering. But as the language of cinema evolved, filmmakers were able to tell stories by using actors, music, lighting, cuts in different size and of different angles, and editing to create a coherent narrative, driven by drama, suspense and thrill. All the new cinematic innovations were used to create complex characters who take the audience on a thrilling emotional journey as they endure challenging life experiences such as romance, war, crime…etc.

Of course, characters in movies can be fictitious, invented by the screenwriter or the director, and exist in an illusion of reality, but they are often drawn from the spectator’s reality and act like him in dealing with their challenges and solving their life problems, which makes it easier for the spectator to immerse himself into their world and empathise with them in their predicaments. These stories inflame emotions, provoke thoughts and enlighten the minds, and linger forever.

In contrast, Furious 7 lacks any meaningful substance or compelling characters to emotionally connect with. Instead one leaves the theatre exhausted and indifferent to the chaos that has been witnessed. Obviously, the goal of the film was not telling a story or exploring characters, but rather fleetingly exciting the audience with gratuitous digitally-enhanced action sequences.

Undeniably, cinema creates fake realities, but each reality should be based on some logical rules in order to be accepted by the spectator, and that’s what is frustratingly missing in Furious 7, which features stunts, created by computers, that defy all the rules of logic and physics, stretching the limits of plausibility beyond human acceptability, such as the head-on crash of two speeding cars, rendering them into a twisted wreckage, yet the drivers emerge unscathed and ready for a fight, or the car that tumbles from a precipice of a cliff down a steep valley, disintegrating into metal pieces yet its flesh-made passengers leap out of it in perfect physical condition as if they had just come out of a make-up session. It seems that the filmmakers were so tempted by the infinite possibilities of effects that computers can provide that they lost interest in the logic and credibility.

I am not against the fantastic, but they have to reflect the film’s reality and conform to the laws that underpin it. For instance, it’s not unreasonable to see the application of laser swords in Star Wars battles, because their use is congruent with the space reality that the director created. But the characters of Furious 7 are earthlings made of flesh and blood, not of unbreakable metal, hence it becomes harder to empathise with them when you strip them of their humanity. Therefore, instead of embarking on an emotional journey with the film’s characters, the spectator’s mind is overwhelmed by the racing cars that survive all calamities and sometime fly in the air, without even having wings.

Evidently, the purpose of these effects is not serving the film’s narrative or deepening its characters, but numbing the spectator with inane entertainment, and that was what Vin Diesel, the star and producer of the film, confirmed to me. “Our goal in this film is to innovate the newest and most complex special effects in order to please our fans.”

The Form:

As mentioned earlier, the director utilises a variety of visual tools, such as the size and angle of the shot, editing and music score, to create and enhance the drama in his movie. Sometimes, he extends the shot to give the characters time to reflect or do a seemingly mundane but revealing action in his own environment, giving the spectator the chance to connect and empathise with him. For instance, the long shot in Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” in which the commander inspects his soldiers in their trenches on the front, introduces the commander to the audience through his reactions and the environment that he had to deal with. On the other hand, We can’t connect with the commander in Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” when he arrives to inspect the Japanese bombardment damage because the director cuts too fast for the sake of the fleeting sensationalism, which has become the norm in the current Hollywood movies.

Furious 7 abandons the principles of visual drama and relies on the constant movement at a breathless pace,  igniting temporary sensation rather than emotions and engagement, leaving the audience with vague memory of having been briefly excited rather than the enduring contentment of scenes playing again and again in one’s head.

Hollywood:

Hollywood stands accused, by its critics, of sacrificing the art of cinema for commercial profits, deculturation of movies and the casting away of all manner of dramatic cunning laboriously built up over decades. This is not surprising, because Hollywood is not run by filmmakers but by business people, who answer to their investors in Wall Street. “My job is to keep my company profitable and ensure that my employees provide food to their families. I am a businessman, not an artist,” a studio boss tells me. His statement makes a lot of sense. Then is it right to blame Hollywood for the degradation of cinema?

Hollywood executives’ answer has invariably been: “We just fulfill the public need. As long as there is demand for our movies, we will continue to make them.” Granted, but some charge Hollywood with conditioning the young generation to find the absence of emotions pleasurable by constantly hammering their sensory systems with special effects. But one must not forget the impact of the technology and the internet that has given rise to a new generation that wants everything instantaneously without waiting. This generation demands constant excitement and is easily bored by reflection and contemplation. Will they ever develop a taste for narrative, for character, for suspense, for acting, for irony for wit, for drama? Isn’t it possible that they will be so hooked on sensation that anything without extreme actions and fantasy will just seem lifeless and dead to them?

So it seems that humanity, in its entirety, is regressing and becoming possessed by the machines that provides our needs with astonishing efficiency and speed, whether it’s supplying information via internet searches or producing sensational special effects in Hollywood movies.

Solution:

“If you want substance storytelling then go TV,” a studio executive tells me. Indeed, with their movies failing to compete with Hollywood blockbusters in cinema theatres, many of the great directors and screenwriters have moved to working on TV shows, where they find a creative environment, free of the constraints of Hollywood’s filmmaking. So will TV replace cinema for visual storytelling, and will the cinema theatres transform into special effects venues?

 

The madness of The Dictator of Wadiya

Since his emergence on Channel 4 in 2000, Sacha Baron Cohen has entertained and shocked theThe dictator world with his unpredictable antics, as he impersonated three distinct personalities: youth show host and wannabe rapper ?Ali G;? sexist, racist and homophobic Kazakhstan TV personality ?Borat;? and flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion reporter ?Bruno.? His creations shared a similar modus operandi of cornering unsuspecting interview subjects and pushing boundaries of their psychological comfort.

Now too famous to delude the public with his reality-show ambushes, he is assuming the fictional character of Admiral General Aladeen, the despotic tyrant of a fictional aastern African nation of Wadiya, in his new movie The Dictator.

In The Dictator, Aladeen, who is loosely based on the late Libyan dictator Gaddafi,  comes to New York to address the United Nations, but he gets betrayed by his uncle, Tamir (Ben Kingsley) and eventually winds up working in an organic health-food store and falling for a left-wing lesbian (Anna Faris).

Invariably, the British satirist?s embodiment of his characters continues off-screen, unflinchingly maintaining their boorish and politically incorrect points of view on talk shows, press conferences and awards shows. But with no man on the street to fool, this time he turns the promotion of The Dictator into a performance art.

He comes to meet the world?s media at New York?s Waldorf-Astoria hotel fully in character, dressed in a uniform of extravagant gold epaulettes and numerous battle ribbons and wearing a lush beard and sunglasses. Hired supporters and opponents demonstrates outside the hotel. His supporters shouted ?Give persecution a chance!? while his opponents cursed him.

Even the press room has been transformed to fit the occasion, posters of Aladeen and the colourful flags of Wadeiya covered the walls and a rug adorned with the shapes of people having sex in various positions laid on the floor. And before he enters the room, he demands that we rise to show respect for his leadership.

Flanked by scantly clad in khaki and submachine gun-equipped ?virgins, whose virginity is checked every night by the head of his penis,? Aladeen ambles into the room smiling imperiously, before he brandishes a golden pistol in the air and shouts ?Death to the West, Death to America!?

Taking the stage, he insists on being addressed Supreme Leader. ?You don?t ask any difficult questions, you write good reviews, your families will be safe,? he warns in a crude middle-eastern accent.

Soon the interview spins off into absurdity as he throws jibes at world leaders and their countries, applauding Germany for being the home of the great dictators and pillorying its leader, Angela Merkel, for its ?disgusting? look. ?Maybe Merkel should save up and have a sex change and become a woman,? he laughs.

The Australian Prime Minister doesn?t fare any better in his eyes. ?She makes Angela Merkel look like Heidi Klum,? he laughs.

He also claims that 30,000 Filipinos live in Wadiya. ?They come, they look after the children, clean the shit. I love them; they are natural slaves.?

He also make another preposterous claim about building pipeline from Hungary to Wadiya so all the prostitutes can come in easier. ?Who should I negotiate with? Do you know a Hungarian pimp?? he asks.

In the movie, Aladeen proudly shows walls plastered by thousands of nude photos of himself and his sexual conquests: many of them are celebrities such as Megan Fox, whom we witness having sex with him. ?She became pregnant a few months ago and she is blaming it on me, but it?s impossible. This would be the world?s first ever anal conception,? he laughs.

Other than indulging himself in carnal pleasures, Aladeen says that he is also a big fan of Wadiyan movies, particularly the ones he stars in, such as The Girl of the Aladeen Tattoo, The Beheading of Private Ryan, You?ve Got Mail Bomb, and a film inspired by Dominic Strauss Khan, Planet of The Rapes.

?I love American movies too,? he stresses. ?I love science-fiction particularly Schindler?s List. I love it. It?s so fantastical, me and my friend Ahmadinajad saw it and laughed and then drank champagne at the end.?

But what is chiefly troubling his mind these days is the recent demise of many of his fellow dictators, who have inspired and comforted him. ?The great Saddam and my good friend Gaddafi,? he laments. ? And of course Cheney and Kim Jung. He did so much to spread compassion, wisdom and Herpes throughout the world.?

Like other dictators, he believes that he is loved by his people. ?The best thing about being a dictator is that you are loved by all the people but it is sadly becoming more difficult to be a dictator now. In the good old days, you just had to murder your father but now you have to do sneaky things to get power like rigging elections and imprisoning most of your citizens.?

?Now they are victimising dictators like we are so bad. I mean, take Assad, for example, he does a tiny bit of genocide and suddenly everybody is up in arms.?

But he finds consolation in the United Nations? reluctance to pass a resolution against the Syrian dictator. ?United Nations has been the best supporter of dictators,? he exclaims. ?It takes a lot of balls to do that and let my good friend Assad carry on his great work. I really appreciate that.?

And he dismisses the Arab Spring as a passing fad, like the Atkins Diet or human rights. ?The Arab Spring will never come to Wadiya because I have removed spring from the calendar, so I am not worried about that but I do miss my good friends.?

Then he offers  ?a simple solution? to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ?Destroy Israel!?

Having been born in an Orthodox Jewish family and to an Israeli mother and having spent time in Israel deepening his Jewish roots, Baron Cohen?s characters, including Aladeen, often speak Hebrew when they express themselves in their foreign languages, which seems incongruant with Aladeen?s anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements.

?Why do you speak Hebrew, Supreme Leader?? I asked.

Obviously, the entire interview is tightly scripted and evident from his reaction he is not prepared for this question. He pauses momentarily and then cries loudly:

?How dare you? Who are you? And where are you from??
?I am Wadiyan from Wadiya,? I replied.

?You are a Jew!? lifting his pistol and pointing it at my nether region. ?Drop them!?

He motions to one of his stiff virgins, who edges over and stands by me, utterly confounded, as I grab her 

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shoulder and begin unbuckling my trousers. Surprised by my action, Aladeen, his gun still levelled at my crotch, strides towards me as he waves his virgin away and peers inside my underwear.

?He?s got such a big hummus,? he cries as he lifts his head and addresses the amused crowd.

?It?s like looking in my mirror,? he adds.

Retaking the stage, he denounces me as a Mossad agent. ?I look on Wikipedia and see that Israel is still in the present tense. It makes me very upset,? he laughs.

Before Aladeen departs, he does to me what he does to dissidents in his country: executing me. Luckily, his golden pistol is as fake as his beard, so I survived.

Adamant to remain in character, Baron Cohen evades questions about himself or his craft, saying about himself ?I don?t watch any of these Zionist comedians.?

Luckily, Sir Ben Kingsley, who plays Aladeen?s uncle in the movie, is more than willing to help in decoding the enigmatic performer and shed light on his working methods.

Surprisingly, Baron Cohen is not as stringent about remaining in character on set as he does off-set. ?He did go into character but for a very limited amount of time before the scene,? Sir Ben says.

Although Baron Cohen didn?t direct, he was able to articulate certain alternatives to shoot, hence he had to get out of character and assume the write-producer role.

The Oscar-winning actor is awed by Baron Cohen?s ability to shut himself off and inhabit the hideous character of Aladeen. ?Sacha?s playing a man who cares nothing for his country, nothing for his people, has not a clue of the real world outside the walls of his palace, and riddled with prejudices and fears and phobias. Sacha?s the opposite. He?s a complete man of the world. You ask him any question about any historical event happening right now, he will have an articulate answer or response.?

During the shoot, Baron Cohen would be working with the writers and the director, refining scenes and honing dialogue. And when the rest of the cast leaves for the day, he would continue to work with the writers or with the makeup artist, trying different beards or wigs.


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?Some nights he must have slept 2, 3, 4 hours. His energy was always extraordinary the following day and it?s a non-neurotic energy which makes it very good to be around,? Sir Ben marvels.

Even before meeting Baron Cohen on the set of Hugo, in which both starred, Sir Ben was a huge fan of his work. ?I loved Ali G on TV. The courage, the bravery, the sharp edged satire of his wit and so connected to the real world.?

?The extraordinary thing is that even whilst filming Hugo, which was about a year before we filmed the Dictator, long before the Arab Spring, he was creating this character and this story about two years before even the first rumbling in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya,? he adds.

Only when the relationship between the two solidified did Baron Cohen ask Sir Ben to play his uncle Tamir in the film. ?It?s very thrilling for me and he?s a great guy to work with so no worries, no doubts, just very good time.?

?He is urgently needed by our society,? the veteran actor says. ?He?s very humane and caring and that?s why he is so funny because his comedy is rooted in things that he cares about rather than things that he thinks are funny so it?s not just a series of gags in a vaccum. He is our Charlie Chaplin and we should treasure him and be grateful for him.?

Sir Ben also describes his Cambridge-educated peer as a wonderful dad and a great husband, having met his wife, actress Isla Fisher, and his two daughters.

Toront -3: Colin Firth, Javier Bardem…

9 am: An interview with Andrew Garfield
Andrew has recently starred in the British film, Never Let Me Go, alongside Carry Mulligan and Kira Knightly. This young, solemn and articulate actor rose from relative obscurity to the Hollywood forefront after he was picked up to play Peter Parker in Spider-Man. He humbly attributed his success to mere luck, for he believes that his colleagues, who are still struggling to break in the industry, are better actors than he is.

10 am: An interview with James Franco
James Franco (Spider-Man, Milk) is the star of Danny Boyle?s ?127 hours,? in which he played real life character, Aron Ralston. Somehow he was struggling in expressing himself and articulating his thoughts, a problem that many American actors suffer from. Anyway, He said that he and Boyle?s took a creative liberty to color Aron?s character with their own experiences in making the movie.

11 am: An interview with Colin Firth
Colin is an eloquent and a profoundly intelligent actor. It was a delight meeting with and listening to him. Unlike many of his peers, his interests transcend the characters he portrays, partly thanks to the rich life he leads. I was surprised to hear that the man, whose roles have defined the classic Englishman, felt rootless, instead of being just an Englishman. The 50-year-old actor said that he enjoyed his older age because it had enabled him to play characters with a past and hence more depth, rather than characters battling with the anxiety of young age. His new film, The King?s Speech, is making headlines in this year’s festival, prompting some to describe it as the new Slumdog Millionaire.

12 am: An Interview with Geoffrey Rush
This sixty-year-old, Austrian actor talks with vigour and excitement about his role as the Australian speech therapist in ?The King?s Speech.” He also offered some insight into his his acting career and his relationship with other Australian actors, notably Mel Gibson.

After Lunch

1 pm: An interview with Javier Bardem
This Spanish Oscar-winner is endowed with the voice and the look that justify his status as the hottest actor in the Spanish-speaking world. He was reticent about his private life and eschewed any questions about his newly-wedded wife, Penelope Cruz. But he talked at length about his new movie, Biutiful, and the way it has changed his life.

2 pm: An interview with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
This Mexican director, who brought us thrillers such as ?Amores Perros? and ?Babel?, is back with ?Biutiful,? a film about the hardship of immigration in Spain. He revealed that the ideas of his movies were sparked by his own life experiences. Shockingly, in spite of living of the US for 9 years, he still goes to Tijuana every 6 month in order to renew his US Visa. Furthermore, he is subjected to hours of interrogation by the US immigration every time he re enters the US.

Toronto -2 Ben Affleck, Ed Norton and 127 hours

8 am. Following a breakfast at Four Seasons hotel, the stars of the new Ben Affleck’s film “The Town,” marched one by one to talk about it. There was Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner Rebecca Hall, Blake lively and finally Ben Affleck himself.

All the actors talked about their characters in the film, acting career and their passion for acting, except Ben Affleck, who seems to be completely absorbed by his role as a director. Acting didn’t feature in his interview, instead he concentrated on his passion for directing and his dreams to direct more visually interesting films.

12 am. Lunch was served across the road at the Hayat Hotel, where we also had the pleasure to talk to the stunning Milla Jovovich and the enigmatic Edward Norton about their new film “Stone.”

I was surprised by the depth of Milla’s personality, though she admitted that she was affected by her role in the film, which has ignited deep thoughts in her mind about herself and the world around her. She also revealed some fascinating details about working with Robert Deniro and the role of sexual seduction in the film business.

Edward Norton looks and sounds like the characters he plays: enigmatic, thoughtful, calm and even spiritual. Oddly, he doesn’t see himself that way and claims that he is an empty guy, though he was flattered by the suggestion. I was truly impressed by his modesty.

Watch out for the interviews soon!

5 pm: I watched Danny’s Boyle’s new movie “127 hours”. It’s the real story of a climber who had to chop off his own arm after it was trapped between the canyon’s wall and a rock that fell on top of him as he descended the canyon. Boyle did a brilliant job capturing the desperation of the climber and made us viscerally sense his pain. It’s not for the faint hearted though. Some audience had the leave the theatre in order to eschew seeing some of the bloody scenes.

8 pm: I attended a dinner at The Windsor Arms Hotel, hosted by Harvey Weinstein, celebrating “The King’s Speech.” The director, the producers and the stars, including Colin Firth and Geaffrey Rush were in attendance, busily promoting the film.

Toronto 1 –

I rushed to Marriott Yorkville hotel, where I checked in and dropped my packages. In my room, I found a gift bag from Warners, welcoming me in Toronto. It was nice, but I didn’t’t have time to open it, for I had a screening to catch.

I arrived at the screening 30 minutes late, nonetheless, I managed to get a taste of the film. It’s an intense psychological thriller about a correctional officer (Robert Deniro) seduced by the wife (Milla Jovavovich) of a convicted arsonist (Edward Norton) who is up for parole.

It’s a dark film, packed with violence, sex and troubled souls. The performances were impressive, so I was looking forward to discussing it with Edward Norton and Milla Jovavovich tomorrow.

After the screening, I headed back to Marriott, where I was warmly welcomed by my fellow HFPA members, whom I haven’t seen for three months.

At 7 pm, we were loaded into a bus and driven to the watch “Let me in,” a remake of a vampire Swedish film. I am not a big fan of Vampire movies, and this film hasn’t changed that.

“Let me in,” is supposedly a love story between a 10-year-old, lonely boy with a 12-year-old vampire girl. Unfortunately, they’re so much gratuitous blood and gore in the film that it looses any heart-warming romance. Nonetheless, the kids’ performances, the photography and direction are quite impressive.

Thereafter, we were bussed to a glitzy restaurant, where we had a delicious 4-course dinner.

PI 2009 ends with a blast in a glitzy party courtesy of Vanity Fair

Project Involve fellows, glamorously dressed, arrived in their unglamorous cars to the Vanity Fair party in Western Hotel, Beverly Hills, where our short films would be screened, and then the winning teams would be announced.

We were met by an army of ushers, who lead us towards the pool deck, where we were dazed with flashing stills cameras, and then each had to stand in front of a video camera and introduce themselves. In my way up there, two lovely young models, standing behind a stall covered with perfume boxes, sprayed something on my forehead. It smelled good!

Finally, I reached the pool deck, where many of my fellows had taken positions. They were sipping colourful drinks and chattering away. It was good to catch up with everyone, for I was away in London for the last three months, and this was my first encounter with them since I came back.

The party was also attended by Hollywood executives and celebs, among them Don Cheadle and Cuba Gooding Junior.

Thirty minutes later, we were called to the stage to introduce ourselves one more time to the crowd and to the flashing cameras.

And finally, the time had come to screen the movies. Unfortunately, the screening didn’t last long…a Technical glitch and the picture vanished. The technicians raced to fix it, but it took too long, so while that was going on, Cuba Gooding Jr. was called to announce the Audience award.

“Market Place” won the audience award: $2500 worth of gift cards from Banana Republic.

Then Don Cheadle leapt to the stage and announced the Jury’s award. The winning team was “For the last sixth’s time”. The winners received $2500 cash price from Vanity Fair.

Later, I met the producers, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, who had produced among other things “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Cold Mountain” and “Little Children”. Apparently, Ron is a judge in the Academy Nicholl Fellowship, where my script is competing. Therefore, he was not allowed to discuss or even hear the title of my script, so I had to pitch it to Albert, while Ron pretended he was not listening! It worked. Albert asked for a copy of the script, but he didn’t have a business card, so Ron fished out his business card and handed it to me. “Don’t email it directly to me,” he warned. “You must indicate that it’s for Albert.”

I also met the Palestinian film director, who had recently made the multi-award winning film “Amreeka.” I haven’t seen the film, but after meeting her, I am determined to go and see it.

Project Involve (LA): An Evening with Editor Jon Poll

Jon has been in the Hollywood system, since 1982. After graduating from the USC film school, he wanted to direct, but for financial and practical reasons he ended up Editing, and he never regretted it. Among the movies that he edited are the massive hits: Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and the Austin Powers series. He also produced some of the movies that he edited. And in 2007, he directed his first feature, Charlie Bartlett, and currently is working on his next one.

“Editing is the closest craft to directing after writing. If you can write, then do it, but if you can’t then Editing is your best bet,” he said.

Jon talked about his approach to editing. “Editing decisions are based on performances,” he stressed. He usually watches all the rushes, looking for good performances. He jettisons the takes with bad performance and works with the rest. As he edits, he constantly shifts back and forth between the available takes and his cut in order to ascertain that he used the best take.

Jon is known for his strong sense of comedy. “Editing comedy is the hardest, then drama. The easiest to edit is action pictures,” Jon said. In Editing comedy, and Drama, Jon searches for human moments or looks that tell the joke better than a line. Those moments humanise the characters and invoke in the audience the same feelings they are experiencing.

“Reactions and juxtaposition are the most important elements in Editing,” Jon kept re iterating. He always seeks reaction shots and tries to cut dialogue whenever he could. Because a character’s reaction that juxtaposes to an action frame, has far more dramatic impact and brings us closer to the character than a line.

When we asked Jon, how do you go about choosing an Editor to work with? “Find someone that you can withstand spending 12 hours a day with every day in one room,” he replied.

Project Involve: A screening, lunch and meetings at Fox studios

We were invited by Fox studios, in West LA, to attend a screening of a Fox film, “La Misma Luna”, and a lunch with the writer/producer Ligiah Villalobos and Fox’s Programming Vice president, Gabriel Marano. The event was organised by Fox Diversity.

Usually, when I get invited to Fox studios as an MPAA member for preview screenings, I get to park inside Fox’s lot. This time, coming as a fimmaker, I was redirected to the visitors’ parking outside the lot!

We assembled in a conference room, where we watched “La Misma Luna”, a film about a 9-years-old Mexican kid, who crosses the border into the US looking for his mother. After lunch, we were joined by the writer/Producer, Ligiah Villalobos, who talked about the process of making this film.

Ligiah wrote the script back in 2001 and left it on the shelve until 2006, when somebody expressed interest in it. She met the director, Patricia, after seeing her thesis short film at a film festival. What attracted her to Patricia’s film was not the photography or the sound design, which lacked the slickness you find in high- budget movies, but the effective story telling.

In spite of her backer’s reluctance to hire a first-time director, Ligiah insisted on having Patricia as the director. It paid off. Patricia’s Agent’s father, a billionaire who was looking to get into the film business, provided half the budget. The rest of the money came from Mexico.

The film was made for less than $2 million, sold in 2007 Sundance Film Festival for $5 Million and grossed so far over $23 million worldwide.

After an hour chat with Ligiah, Gabriel Marano showed up, wielding a script in his hand. “I’ve got so many scripts to read, that I seize every opportunity to read them. I read this one as I walked here,” he remarked. He pointed out later that he reads only scripts that are submitted by agents.

Gabriel talked about Fox’s new philosophy that was brought in by their new president, Amiliano Calemzuk, an Argentine who looked beyond the US and began internationalising Fox’s productions. Since he took over, they produced several projects in collaboration with international entities, like “Mental”, which was co produced with Fox Columbia, “Persons Unknown”, which was produced with Mexico’s Televisia,. They also have 10-12 projects in developments with companies from around the world.

He also said that they always on the look out for new talent. They usually find them on the web. If they like somebody’s work on the web and see that it attracted big audience and good feedback, then they will contact him, offer him money to go and make something else. If they like what they see, they will consider it for TV development. In other words, the web is becoming the incubator for new talent and new TV programs.

They also seek talent in Film festivals, but they won’t accept scripts from other than talent agents. So if you have an idea, then shoot it, put it on the web, attract attention and then contact FOX.

Project Involve (LA): An evening with Line Producer Chris Stinson

Since we are now ready to embark on making our shorts, Line Producer, Chris Stinson, came to advice us on producing them.

Chris talked about breaking down the budget, obtaining permits for locations, buying insurance, dealing with the Unions, working with minors, product placements and keeping the crew happy.

Chris rightly presumed that we won’t have above-the-line expenses, namely we are not going to pay cast and crew. Thus he concentrated on down-The-line expenses, which includes Camera, lighting, set dressing, transportation, locations, production and post production sound, production and post production film labs, insurance, permits, unions, catering and taxes.

He also stressed on obtaining permits when shooting on Location in LA, for otherwise we could risk being stopped by the Police. That also goes for insurance, which is not only a necessity but an imperative, for unions and vendors require it. He suggested avoiding Unions (SAG, DGA, WGS, IATSE) if we can, for they can be costly, but sometime you can’t avoid them.

He also recommended exploring production placement, by which we could get a lot of free perks from companies who are eager to get their products on the screen. Some of those companies send food, some send costumes, and some send completely irrelevant items. On one feature, he received so much product placement, he couldn’t literally fit it in the office.

Chris’s talk made me wonder, if he does all this work, what is left for the producer to do? “Sit back and have a drink,” he quipped. Once a line producer is hired, he takes over the running of the production until it wraps, after which a postproduction supervisor takes over. The producer’s job is to deal with the investors and keep the money flowing.

Project Involve (LA): An Evening with Casting Directors and Actors

This evening, Director Rodrigo Garcia (Nine lives, Sopranos), Actress Michelle Forbes (Kalifornia, Swimming with Sharks), Actor David Norona (Six feet under), and Casting directors Libby Goldstein and Junie Lowry Johnson came to talk to us about casting actors.

Rodrigo told us that he auditioned thousands of actors for his latest TV series, In Treatment, until he found two Actresses who looked completely different but both were good to play the wife’s character. He recalled the two actresses in order to read with the lead male, David. “The moment Michelle walked into the room, I instantly knew that she is his wife,” he enthused.

Rodrigo, in contrast to many directors, loves actors, particularly good ones, who always bring something new to the role and surprise him. “They mesmerise me when they do that,” he said. He rather casting talented actors and give them as little direction as possible during the shoot. “The key to great performances is casting the best actors around,” he stressed.

Rodrigo also likes actors who come to the audition prepared. He takes them more seriously and usually gives them another chance to read. Libby and Junie disagreed. As casting directors, who auditioned thousands of actors, are not impressed by actors who memorise their lines. They rather see them reading from paper.

Libby and Junie find their actors from watching a lot of TV. If they like someone, they call them for an audition. If they find a good actor, who doesn’t fit for the role, they keep her in mind for the next project. They even audition actors from across the world over the internet. They recently have cast an Austrian actress, who they auditioned over the internet.

The actors, David and Michelle, spoke about their experience working with directors. They said that actors, like children, like to be attended to. They want directors to pay attention to their hard work and give them feedback. Apparently, they rarely get that. Many directors don’t communicate with or even watch them performing, “The director was on his Blackberry when I was delivering my line,” Michelle exclaimed.

Rodrigo’s final advice to actors: casting is like dating, if you don’t get the part then stop dwelling on it and move on. It doesn’t mean that you’re no good; it’s just that you don’t fit for this particular role.