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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Argo was a great film. Ben Affleck and team have come a long way since I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her On A Meat Hook, and Now I Have A Three-Picture Deal With Disney (1993).
As a filmmaker, it is always a joy to see one who has gone before as they develop their skill and move forward. Argo makes a skilful step in the director’s career.
But best picture?

There is no doubt that the film holds appeal for those who were alive to see the real event. The story is told straight and simple. There’s nothing overtly wrong with the storytelling. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d heard the story before.
It’s because I had. Chances are you have too.
A team in a hostile situation, an out of the box rescue effort, a bit of “you have to trust me if you want to live,” some spunk and perseverance and they’re rescued.
Yep, Apollo 13.
Except Apollo 13 did it first.

Of course this is no attempt to diminish the success of Argo, but to question the validity of the Oscars.

Should an undisclosed group (that is not blocked from receiving any benefits, pay-offs, “sweet-under-the-table-deals”) really command such sway over the financial success of a film?
And not just the financial success, but the perceived critical acclaim.
Did you grow up on the classic films of the past? It’s probably because they were cutting edge, honoured for their work in pioneering the art and science of motion picture.
Pioneering, innovation.

What did Argo pioneer? What did it push the envelop in? It’s a correct piece of cinematic work. Correct is for film school. Best is for those who take cinema to the next level.

As always, in the US, the keys to justice are in the hands of the consumer. You’re the most influential film critic. You decide what survives and what dies.

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A few days ago I reread the subtitle of this blog.

“A filmmaker on the other side of the world,” I thought, who’s that? Oh right!

The whole point of the “unfolding story” was to maintain the episodic events of the development of a filmmaker who intentionally took a position in a far away place (though Australians assure me it’s not so far from them) in order to become better at the visual art of storytelling.

There should be a very quiet alarm sounding in the back of your mind, that is your bullshitmeter, it’s a very key piece of equipment, keep it close and properly maintained, it could save your life.

In truth I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even realize I was going to the LITERAL othersideoftheworld until I was on the plane, most likely over Fiji. There was this massive bump of turbulence that suddenly reminded me of the last time I had flown over the Pacific on my way back from Australia where I had studied for four months.

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Australia (when someone draws a map of Earth on a napkin, this is the piece of real estate that is most often missing, though if they’re drawing a globe on a napkin they’re probably involved in some sort of international espionage and they don’t have time for trivialities). So then it hit me, as the water molecules that had been swimming in the plastic cup in my hand competed in a race to my shorts. They won, all of them.

For a split second I wondered if I could persuade the captain to turn around, really quick. But then I remembered that documentary about how pilots don’t get paid very much and I figured I would just let them drive.

So. The story.

There may be some of you in this [small] blaudience who know a few details of the film I’ve been working on. Maybe you cringe as much as I do when you hear the words “yeah, so this film I’ve been working on.”

For some reason I can’t stop the words from coming out of my mouth in that exact order. I might as well say, “yeah so while I was sitting on my couch for 4,032 hours straight, I tried to make this pile of bottle caps into a scale model of the Eiffel Tower, with my mind. Dude, I like, have no idea why, but it didn’t work.”

More or less, that is the feeling of accomplishment that washes over me when I think of the work/pay-off ratio of this current project.

But, as we all know, artists can be unfairly critical of their own work. Van Gogh certainly comes to mind.

In truth, I’ve learned a heaping ton about filmmaking in the past year. The opportunity has been to develop, or pursue, a story based on the experience of study abroad students. While the film’s original idea centered on a collection of stories of Australians living “with global significance in a manner of local relevance,” there were drafts that looked oddly like Rob Bell’s Nooma videos, and at one point Darth Vader was considered for a cameo (he backed out after some development meetings with Mickey Mouse).

If there is one piece of wisdom I gleaned from my cinematic education at APU, it was certainly that “the finished movie is only one of the products created from a film.” This has been true of this experience (mainly because there is no finished movie yet). After trying again and again to put the same pieces together in different ways, I have come to understand that telling a story is somewhat like eating an ice cream cone: it’s messy but at some point you have to commit.

The good news is, the time crunch is on, and I’ve committed. Ready for distribution by June.

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As my remaining time in Australia grows less and less, I’ve had a renewed fervor to experience more of its diverse beauty.

North of Sydney on the Central Coast, straddling Port Stephens, sits a small Australian town called Newcastle. On a map one could almost be confused into thinking that it’s a semi-large city, this is a misconception. It’s tiny.

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2.5 hours by train brings you to Newcastle’s “CBD” and a few minutes walk from there takes you to the water’s edge where you’ll find a ferry. Across the river you come to a small beachside village, Stockton, NSW. Not much happening, keep walking.

You walk 1.2 kilometers until you reach a trail that leads to a beach. Walk along the tufts of grass at the top of the beach so you get better traction and you don’t sink in the sand. Keep walking.

In the distance you will see more sand, keep walking.

There will be small hills of sand, these aren’t the dunes yet, keep walking.

You might get attacked by a swarm of mosquitos, or see what looks like a strange fenced-in compound of questionable function. Certainly keep walking.

Finally you reach the crest of a hill of sand, you peer over the edge and…

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I went to high school in the early 2000s (though I guess people in a hundred years will look back on now as “the early 2000s”), so when I watch films like Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Breakfast Club I can’t really pretend to be nostalgic. But there is something about cinema that earnestly attempts to bring forth some truth about high school that grabs me.

I suppose you feel that you’ve maybe had not-the-greatest high school experience if stories like those make you wish you could do it all over again.

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In a hypothetical world, I would go back and do it again, mainly because it’s a hypothetical world, so I wouldn’t have to deal with tedious homework, the smell of the cafeteria, and the general sense that I’ve been incarcerated. I think there’s something about that whole mess that brings to the surface people’s tactics of dealing with adversity.

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     short hair

Mine was to assemble the strangest collection of experiences in order to have very little in common with my classmates. That’s a bit harsh, maybe it wasn’t my intent, but the outcome was the same.

I traveled to a few different countries, and lots of states, joined a bagpipe band, participated in live theatre, made stop action movies for hours and hours and hours and hours. And all the while, I didn’t really do the experience of high school with people.

I made it through the meat grinder without

     getting arrested for doing drugs

     never got anyone pregnant, I didn’t even try

     didn’t break any federal laws, or state laws

     wasn’t hated enough to get beat up but I also wasn’t the center of attention

     And in the end I got good enough grades to go to a college and pursue the dream

     Success right?

Right. So why is there a tiny fissure of discontent when I look back on high school? Or is that just the predestined seat of those memories for everyone? Are there always those stories you wish you could retell; this time not caring so much about keeping your own status intact, or remaining unscathed from the fray?

And how in the world

do you live from now on

if you plan on getting the most

of the time you have left?

I’ll say it, I’m not ashamed: I love sci fi movies, especially the “Alien Invasion” sub-genre. Your brain is subconsciously telling you to disregard any of the following information because you’ve always associated sci fi with high-waisted jeans, white tennis shoes and an inability to effectively communicate with one’s fellow humans.  Suspend judgement for a moment longer:

The extra-terrestrial invasion film centers on the same basic ideas each time: aliens are coming to destroy a densely populated area…New York, LA, Tokyo (with the exception of some fantastic spins on the genre like District 9 – 2009 and Attack the Block – 2011). Oftentimes the goal is to reduce a large, beautiful, highly sought-after metropolis to rubble and send it’s pampered inhabitants into chaos, leveling the scores of the “haves” and the “have nots” (I think if the Old Testament prophets were alive today they would be sci fi film makers). The trend seems to indicate that aliens have a knack for attacking nice places to live.

Based on Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey as well as the UN’s Development Program we can identify possible danger zones for foreign invasion by looking at the most desirable places to live in the world. With the US ranking 18th, their likelihood of alien invasion has drastically gone down (a real positive movement in a safe, low profile direction). The UK also has found itself out of the intergalactic hot seat by nodding off to 20th place. Countries such as China, Venezuela, Peru and France made the largest strides towards absolute destruction by moving up by 3 or more place rankings. Iceland, home to one of the most unique and fragile ecosystems on the planet have irresponsibly moved to 3rd place (possibly making an attempt to unseat their Northern Germanic rivals from across the Norwegian Sea who now sit in 1st place) dangerously jeopardizing the rare Euphrasia calida, a native herbaceous flowering plant only found in Iceland. However, possibly the most surprising death-wish is that of Australia. With a seeming comfort for national obscurity, the 2nd place ranking seems to come out of nowhere. 20 years ago belligerent other-worldly species would never have noticed the dusty patch of earth sitting just above the south pole, but now the nations affluent cities and large, target-red ground make it tantalizing prey for the most hostile of alien hordes.

The ranking comes from a compilation of data ranging from per-capita-GDP to education and life expectancy. I trust Australian military officials are trying their best to secure the nation’s safety against foreign invaders, but the sun-soaked beaches, friendly people, surprising life-expectancy and high interest rate savings accounts present real obstacles.

Despite the heightened danger the Australia Studies Centre will continue to operate with every intention of guaranteeing a safe and successful global study experience. And luckily, there’s a large chance alien craft will land in the vast reaches of arid land that separate sparsely populated communities. They will most likely burn to a crisp before anyone even knows they’re there.

Sources:

http://www.armageddononline.org/alieninvasion.php

http://www.mercer.com/articles/quality-of-living-survey-report-2011

http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/australia-second-best-place-to-live-un/story-e6frfku0-1225782973127

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1218276/Norway-crowned-best-place-world-live–UK-trails-21st-place.html

http://business.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/oct/05/slide-show-1-quality-of-life-india-a-poor-134th-in-the-world.htm#3