Saturday, November 26, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
What do my slip covered Folio Society edition of Treasure Island, complete with the wondrous original Andrew Wyeth illustrations, e-books, Walt Disney's original backyard railroad the Carolwood Pacific, and David Mickey's Sandlot Bar & Grill have in common?
Absolutely nothing. And everything. Sort of...
Let's talk about books first. I love books. The way they look, the way they feel and what they represent, but mostly because of what they actually are: the repository of the sum total of all human experience. There are those that make the argument that books are dead, that the internet is not only quickly becoming, but already has become the sole repository for the sum total of human knowledge and experience -- the modern day library of Alexandria or indeed that of Atlantis -- but can you touch it? Sure you can see it, interact with it, maybe even in 3D, but can you feel it? Can you smell it? Can you actually feel the author's dramatic intent? In other words a book is much more than the sum of it's raw materials parts. As you turn the pages, as the story unfolds in your hands, the author, the storyteller is actually there with you, speaking to you, telling you the story. On the internet, e-books, in other words, it unfolds before your eyes certainly, but not in your hands. No, not even with a Kindle or a Nook. Books are paper, letters in ink on pages your can touch. E-books are not books. They're digital representations of books in two dimensions. Virtual books, but certainly not virtually books.
Now, having said that, I recently downloaded Kindle for Mac and bought my first e-book. It's very very cool. And I like it fine. Really cool functions like book marking, the ability to jump instantly to anywhere in the material, etc... But it's all removed from you the human. It's there alright, all the information and words and the material, but think of it like this, do this little experiment, google "Chauvet Caves Southern France."
The cave paintings in Chauvet are the oldest known pictorial, that is to say "story," creations of humankind. Now look at those drawings on your computer screen. Neat, huh? Now, get on a plane and go to The Chauvet Caves in Southern France and stand there are stare at the real thing on the cave walls. Neat, huh? No, it's transcendent. It's astonishing. It puts you in direct communication with who you are and where you came from and even give you some sense of why.
That's what books do. That's why books exist. That's why I love books.
So the point of all that is this, story. Story matters. If there is a single word to which the sum of human existence and experience can be reduced it is "story." Story is memory. Story is imagination. Story is history. Story is the who, what, where, when, how and why of all of us.
I look at the Chauvet cave paintings and I ask myself, "Why did this person, or people, 30,000 years ago feel the need to put those pictures there? Those stories?" Know what I think? I think he/she they created it for a reason that is perhaps the single connective piece of sinew binding all of us, every human that has ever lived, lives or will live... and it is this...
... they did not want to be forgotten.
Our stories -- and every one of us has a story both unique and the same all at once -- are all we are. I do not want to be forgotten. Do you?
Yes, story matters.
So what do this have to do with Walt Disney's Carolwood Pacific backyard railroad and David Mickey's Sandlot Bar & Grill? Well, story. Disney's small scale fascination with miniature steam locomotives lead directly to a large scale kingdom. Disneyland is the single greatest piece of architecture in the history of humankind. It's form and it's function are perfectly integrated. Why? How did he do that? Story. He said a million times during the planning and building phases of the Magic Kingdom, make sure the story comes through. It was his underlying principle to the entire idea. It had never been done before, or had it? Certainly not within the context of an amusement park, but obviously in movies, in books. Yes, books. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are books architecturally. They are, like books, story made actual. Story made to exist in the dimensions beyond the spoken word.
That's what I want to do with a bar and grill. I have every meaningful prop and memorabilia from every movie I have ever directed. My little dream is to display it all within a Bar and Grill and theme the entire place loosely around baseball - more specifically The Sandlot. Maybe with batting cages out back. A monitors playing my movies. Sell t-shits, caps, books, autographed stuff... sound egomaniacal? On the contrary, there's two reasons I want to have a place of my own like this where everybody can come and enjoy.
Because it's fun.
And because I don't want to be forgotten.
Scribes in ancient Egypt knew they were as important as great men and pharaohs; their writings could triumph over death, as in this elegy from a 19th-dynasty papyrus of about 1300 B.C.:
Be a scribe! Put it in you heart,
that your name shall exist like theirs!
The roll is more excellent than the carved stela.
A man has perished: his corpse is dust,
and his people have passed from the land;
it is a book which makes him remembered
in the mouth of the speaker.
So every time I think the task is too daunting, I look at Disneyland and Walt Disney World and, realizing that "one guy" did that, just one man out of his own mind, I say to myself, "Shut up, Dave. Just shut up and tell your story."
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011
This is Jaron Paschke's new tattoo, featuring Ham "The Babe" Porter calling his shot, pointing to the centerfield fence, enveloped by a banner that reads, "Heroes get remembered, but Legends never die." Congrats Jaron, I hereby name you "The Sandlot's biggest fan of 2011."
Also, a quick shout out to my friend Christopher Sulzbach. Christopher, your dad was telling there are some guys at school that claim you are making up the fact that I know both you and your dad. Well, here's your proof. To the guys that were giving you grief, I mean this in the nicest possible way, "Shut. Up." :) Chris, there is a autographed poster and DVD coming your way. So there ya go.
I have a new post coming in the next few days. Subjects include: self publishing, my The Folio Society slip covered copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and my internal coming to grips with my love of books, and my new romance with Kindle for Mac.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Here's the preliminary cover art of my new book, Robert Radio Flyer, The King of Pacoima. If I can figure out how to post a pdf chapter in Blogspot I'll do so this week.
Thanks for reading and check back soon.
Here's a link to a web show mentioning a very big film I am attached to direct, Glastonbury, Isle of Light, which tells the story of Joseph of Aramithea. It's about two minutes in.
Thanks for reading and check back soon,
Monday, April 25, 2011
|About one quarter of my libraryDear Reader,|
I'm going to move soon. So I have been boxing up my library while simultaneously entering all my volumes into a couple great database programs; Delicious Library for Mac and Collectorz Library. Collectorz is a far deeper program while Delicious is easier - scan the bar code through your MacBook camera and boom. Done. This helps when you have 4,000 odd volumes. Collectorz does the same thing but you have to buy the extra barcode scanner. No thanks. The nice thing is you can enter everything into Delicious and then import it to Collectorz. Simple. Cheaper. Better.
Inevitably I re-discovered and started reading stuff I had forgot I had, like "The Leather Bound Library of The Complete Works of Ernest Hemingway." I love Easton Press books, leather bound, heavy, beautiful bindery, acid free nuke-proof paper and sometimes some really interesting forwards and introductions commissioned exclusively for the individual volumes themselves. Easton Press books are wonderful, they feel solid, they look beautiful and you can actually use them as blocks with which you can build a hurricane proof shelter in the event you need one.
So, Papa. The Old Man. The Goddamn Old Bullfighter...
|Easton Press Editions of Hemingway|
in our time: (it was originally published without capitals) is a complexly interwoven series of snapshot short stories the chapters of which (each of which is a short story in itself) are bridged with the most evocative and see-it-all by saying-next-to-nothing paragraphs you'll ever read. It includes three of my favorite short stories of all time, Indian Camp, Big Two-Hearted River: Part I, Big Two-Hearted River: Part II.
Here's the bridge paragraph from CHAPTER VII: "They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the all of the hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid. Two soldiers carried him downstairs and out into the rain. They tried to hold him against the wall but he sat down in a puddle of water. The other five stood very quietly against the wall. Finally the officer told the soldiers it was no good trying to make him stand up. When they fired the first volley he was sitting down in the water with his head on his knees."
That is writing cleanly where the density is all below the surface - a good example of what Hemingway referred to as the Iceberg Theory of writing (this from Wikipedia):
In his writing the facts float above water; the supporting structure and symbolism operate out-of-sight. Writing in "The Art of the Short Story," he explains: "A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit."
The Green Hills of Africa: Hemingway goes to Africa. On safari. With a big gun. Hemingway shoots every living thing with four legs and two horns. And likes it. Okay so that's what it is on the surface, but beneath all the Kudu tracking, Rhino shooting, Lion hunting it's really about Hemingway examining writing and his life and what it all means. The introduction in this volume is by Patrick Hemingway, one of Hemingway's sons. I did not like it. I do however very much like the forward Hemingway included:
"Unlike many novels, none of the characters or incidents in this book are imaginary. Any one not finding sufficient love interest is at liberty, while reading it, to insert whatever love interest he or she have at the time. The writer has attempted to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month's action can, if truly presented, compete with a work of imagination."
A couple of my favorite excerpts:
"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."
"Because there are too many factors. First, there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had. Then there must be discipline. The discipline of Flaubert. Then there must be the conception of what it can be and an absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking. then the writer must be intelligent and disinterested and above all he must survive. Try to get all these in one person and have him come through all the influences that press on a writer. the hardest thing, because time is so short, is for him to survive and get his work done. But I would like us to have such a writer and to read what he would write."
To Have and Have Not: All about Cuba, Key West, human trafficking, booze, revolution, murder and struggling to make ends meet. All the famous "Harry's Bars" in the world are named after Hemingway's main character Harry is this book. Some of the most crisp and clean dialogue you will ever read.
The Dangerous Summer: Hemingway goes back to Spain after many years to spend the summer traveling with two of the greatest bull fighters that ever lived. The introduction for the volume was written by James Michener, who states that Hemingway was so enraptured by returning to the subject, that he originally turned in a manuscript that was so long more than half of it was cut for the final book, which is hysterical because, get this, Michener's introduction to a book that runs 206 pages is 50 PAGES LONG! HA!
Michener was originally contacted in a bunker in Korea during the Korean War by a secret Life Magazine correspondent carrying a single (and only, so he represented) copy of a manuscript by Hemingway that Life intended to publish, but because of the disastrous reviews of Hemingway's previous novel, wanted some sort of praise worthy review in order to hedge their big gamble. Michener obliged. That copy of Life magazine sold 5,318,650 copies. An absolute impossibility in those days. What was the manuscript? The Old Man and The Sea. Pulitzer Prize. Nobel Prize.
After the success of all that, Life once more asked Hemingway to write them something and conceived the idea of sending him back to Spain (his favorite country) for a series of articles on bullfighting. that's where the book comes from. I liked it very much, but even although it's a bit of a "travel writing book" don't expect to find Paul Theroux in the pages anywhere - Hemingway is as much like Theroux as Theroux is like Stephen King. BTW, Theroux abhors Hemingway.
That's okay, Paul, I still love your books. ;)
The Garden of Eden
: Hemingway's examination of love, obsession, sexual loyalty or not, gender roles, and insanity. There's a very good introduction by John Updike. The book was begun in 1946 and left incomplete and published by Scribner's in 1986. From the introduction:
"It is possibly a pity that Hemingway's own inhibitions, if not those of the changing postwar times, prevented him from telling us exactly what the "devil things" are that lead David to call his wife "Devil," and poison their Eden even before Catherine decides, in her rampage of wanting, to introduce another, bisexual woman, Marita, into their honeymoon household."
Updike misses the point, either that or he's hellbent sucked in by the "Iceberg Theory" here, and doesn't realize it. The 7/8ths of the material that boils below the surface is exactly what makes the obsessive love scenes so explicitly powerful, if not downright lurid. Trust me, read it, and you'll know every single thing Catherine leads David into, not always willingly, in squirming detail without the author ever having described a single act. Masterful.
A few parting thoughts:
Hemingway on writing (purloined again from Wikipedia):
"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."
Henry Louis Gates believes Hemingway's style was fundamentally shaped "in reaction to [his] experience of world war". After World War I, he and other modernists "lost faith in the central institutions of Western civilization," by reacting against the "elaborate style" of 19th century writers; and by creating a style "in which meaning is established through dialogue, through action, and silences—a fiction in which nothing crucial—or at least very little—is stated explicitly."
|If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.|
|—Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon[162|
And my favorite thought in counterpoint to anti-Hemingway-ers (again, from Wikipedia):
Hemingway's intent was not to eliminate emotion, but to portray it more scientifically. Hemingway thought it would be easy, and pointless, to describe emotions; he sculpted collages of images in order to grasp "the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always."
Although he wandered as he wrote, starting and then continuing and completing books in three, four or five five different locations, here's a picture Hemingway's writing desk from the Key West house. One day I will steal this desk and then I'll be a real writer.
|Hemingway's writing desk|
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Sunday, April 17, 2011
|The initial illustration - A Grffin|
These illustrations represent the evolution of my new on-screen production credit animatic logo for my company DAVID EVANS PICTURES. It ends with the rough draft of the animatic with music. I'm going to change the music but would love to know what you think of the spot.
Post a comment and let me know.
My next post is going to be a comparison of Hemingway's THE GARDEN OF EDEN,
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and,
THE DANGEROUS SUMMER.
Fascinating stuff from a fascinating writer who lived a fascinating life. Check back soon.
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and,
THE DANGEROUS SUMMER.
Fascinating stuff from a fascinating writer who lived a fascinating life. Check back soon.
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Saturday, April 16, 2011
This is a mini-post. I'll have a longer more relevant post later today, but I thought I'd share this. It's worth 3 minutes of your time. Simply, I think, the best Time Lapse photography I have ever seen.
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Friday, April 15, 2011
|Crew photo The Sandlot 2|
So a dozen years after the original The Sandlot I get a call from the head of Fox Home Video. He wants to make a sequel to The Sandlot. "Let's talk" he says. So I go and see him and we talk. He's enthusiastic, loves the original (his daughters' favorite film!) and has full confidence that after all these years a Direct-To-DVD sequel will sell big because of the success of the original. Almost every single one of these Head's of Home Entertainment at the studios, no, not almost, every single one of them has the same corporate-think about this; no original material, sequels only, and only sequels to successful material in their studio library. At this juncture this benefits me, so I have absolutely no problem with it. Mainly because...
... I had tried unsuccessfully for at least ten of those twelve years to interest them (Fox) in a sequel to no avail. Yet, The Sandlot kept selling. I try again. The answer is no. The Sandlot keeps selling. And I keep on trying because I have a plan. I have, I tell them, six additional iterations of The Sandlot story; the first one having taken place in 1962, the second I intend to take place in 1972, then 1982, 1992, 2002, 2012. Each story to take place on the same Sandlot a decade apart, with a new group of kids each time.
Make sense? I think it did.
So I bring this up to the Execs. The "Film" Execs. The answer is no. Want to know why? I was told, "Baseball movies don't play outside of the United States." Now, that may or may not be true. But the point is, what sort of answer is that? It's no answer. It's a "Keep my job by saying no" statement. But that sort of thinking is a subject for another column.
Anyway, so I have this meeting with Fox's Head of Home Video and it goes well. He says, at the end of the meeting, "Okay, Dave, go write it."
So I say, "Okay. No worries, just promise me one very important thing."
And he responds, "Sure. What?"
I say, "Don't send me to British Columbia. Don't send me to Canada to make this picture."
And I ask this because I had already shot three Direct-To-DVD films in Vancouver, BC, Canada all because of the exchange rate and tax incentives, $1.87 to $1.00 at the time. Do the math. At that point you couldn't really argue with that financial thinking.
And he laughs and says, "Of course not! My God, how could I send you to BC, Canada, to make a sequel to a picture that in the original was supposed to have taken place in The San Fernando Valley, California in 1962?!"
And I am mightily relieved. One, because I won't have to go to BC to shoot the film, and two, because, apparently, this exec is different than the rest, and "gets it."
But there's a hiccup. The studio wants me to write and direct the picture myself. They don't wish to employ the original co-writer (he hadn't gone on to write anything in the intervening years). They leave it to me to make that phone call. Ugh. It was awful.
The original contract was by this time expired and even though I had no legal (or as far as I was concerned moral) obligation to pay him anything, I did. Half the writing fee. For doing nothing. Why? Because that amount was far less than what it would've potentially cost to defend (and certainly win) a nuisance suit.
So, the script comes out great. I am very happy with it. And furthermore with having had to write both to budget (3.2 million - 1/3 the original budget of the original The Sandlot - it's direct-to-dvd, that's the game) and location (the San Fernando Valley as I have been promised by the Exec) I feel like since I designed the story and the production around those parameters, I can make a picture that if not meets the production level of the original, at least will be something that fulfills and perhaps exceeds expectations for a DVD sequel.
I submit the script. A few days later I get the call. Everyone loves it. Terrific, right? Yes it was. Here's a clip:
Then I get this phone call, "So, Dave, when can you leave for BC?"
Of course I knew this was gonna happen. And all the added problems of shooting a particularly American story in BC come crashing in, none the least of which is something that I just know that no one at Fox has thought about. Because of budgetary constraints I know what's coming next, and that is that they're going to tell me I have to cast most of the kids (there are nine of them in the story) out of BC. And Canadian kids don't sound anything like American kids. Specifically American kids in The San Fernando Valley, CA in 1972.
That's okay, that's why God created ADR, right? Maybe, but with the post-production budget and schedule I've been given there won't be much ADR time, and certainly no money to hire SAG kids in Los Angeles to re-voice entire characters in the movie later.
What to do?
So, I get up there, we cast the picture and I'm relatively satisfied with the group of kids I assemble.
Things go fairly well production design-wise, prop-wise, etc...
And then day one. I block the scene. My DP lights it. I say to the AD, "Bring in the talent." The kids arrive, three American kids and six Canadian kids. "Action," I say. And they act out the scene. And this is what I hear (I can't recall precisely, but it was something like this):
"Okay, come on, let's get oo-t of here."
Oo-t. Not "out." As in aboo-t, rather than "about."
In that little word literally resides the conceit of the entire film. If an audience anywhere goes to see this movie (or buys and takes it home), hears my voice (the narrator of the original) narrating this sequel, and then hears a bunch of kids running around inside this film speaking "Canadian" it's over. They'll shut the television off or leave the theater because they'll know instantly the picture was shot in Canada because everybody in the world knows the only people in the world that pronounce "out" as "oo-t" are Canadians.
What to do?
I call all the kids over, Americans and Canadians. I tell the American kids to look at the Canadian kids and say, "Out." They do. Then I ask the Canadian kids to repeat what they've heard. They all respond, "Oo-t." Ugh.
I line up the Canadian kids and try it one-on-one, "Repeat after me, out."
No, say it like I say it, "Out.
I suddenly consider a career in a different field. Any field. Animal husbandry maybe.
"No, guys, ya gotta say it like an American. Otherwise everyone will see the wizard behind the curtain." They have no idea what that means.
"Okay, say, out."
Argh!!! What to do. Time is wasting. The hours child actors are allowed to work before the camera is severely restricted. Labor laws and all that. I'm already falling behind on the first day, not a good sign, and I'm running the risk of having nine young actors turn into pumpkins before I get the whole days' scheduled page count filmed. And then, inspiration! Thank you, Lord.
"Alright, all of you guys come over here." They do. "Everyone hold your noses."
"Don't ask questions, just hold your noses." They all do. "Pinch them shut good." They all do. Now, everyone, all at the same time say, out."
It comes out nasally, right from Southern California circa 1972: "Owwwwt!"
For the rest of the shoot, you could see them walking around between takes, pinching their noses and saying, "Owwt. Owwt. Owwt." They were all great kids and wanted very much to get it all just right.
And for the record, The Sandlot 2 became the most successful Direct-To-DVD Family of all time.
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Monday, April 11, 2011
So I'm standing on the infield of Kernel Stadium in Cedar Rapids Iowa in 2006, on location for my film THE FINAL SEASON. It has been brutal for the preceding two days; I was originally allocated 7 days in the original schedule to shoot a re-creation of the famous 1991 Iowa State High School Baseball Championship. The entire game mind you -- all 9 innings. I have the whole thing storyboarded (by my friend Ken Mitchroney), planned and ready to go, and at the last minute I'm cut down to three days. Budget issues to blame. I have literally hundreds of pre-planned camera set-ups (angles) to execute and there's no way I'll ever have time to get them all. I'm worrying. Hard. No, not worrying, just becoming more and more disappointed.
I have a chat with my DP Dan Stoloff, and we decide with an extra camera (bringing the total to four) and operator we might get 70% of them and with that material I might be able to edit together a semblance of what I originally had in mind. A solution, but disappointing.
So we get the camera and the operator, and we start. Right there, the first day, I rearrange all the elements in order to block shoot every particular section of the stadium in which there is scripted material. In other words assemble all the elements for all the material taking place in the stands, set up all four camera, and as they run, direct all the material in the script that happens there in the last 10 pages of the script, all at once, continuously, with the script pages in hand, directing through the stadiums PA system with a wireless mike, skipping over the interstitial material until I have it all. Then we breakdown the set-ups and move to the next section, the dugout. And so on.
It works well, notwithstanding that my actors are a little bewildered about "how" they are and "where" they are in the story. But there's no other way, there's no time.
Day one we finish with everything covered.
Day two we rack over 100 setups.
Then, on day three, my kids arrive to visit, including my then 8-year old daughter. On that day, through local radio stations and a grassroots sort of effort, the producers manage to get 1,200 or so extras to fill the stands. Mind you, there's 5,000 seats in the stadium, and 1,200 barely make a background at all, but at least I know I'll later be able to "CG tile" them into all the seats they don't physically occupy to make it look like the stadium is full (which it was in 1991) for the Championship game.
So, I let my daughter sit in my directing chair and she's very happy about that. And I can tell she's a little overwhelmed by all the production circus, and I can see that she keeps watching me interfacing with cast, crew, producers etc. spinning plates and going 10 directions at once. And I start to feel like she's a little bit in awe of her daddy because up till then I honestly don't think she had any idea what I do for a living. I mean she knows I'm a director and that I make movies, but exactly what that is I realize she hadn't any idea.
Day three goes right down to the wire, right down to the last second before there's simply not enough light to shoot anymore daytime footage and we get it all. I mean everything, every panel of every storyboard (except for one) and me, my DP, my AD and the producers are very happy. And all the people in the stands that were my free extras give us a standing ovation. Very very nice.
So I'm packing up my stuff, put my backpack on my shoulder, and say to my daughter, "You ready to go, sweetart? (not a typo, that's what I call her, my sweetart). And she says, "Yes." So I turn toward the stands to leave the field through the dugout tunnel and this is what I see:
About 1,000 of the extras, all lined up very quietly starting at the bottom of the stairs and stretching up into the loge level, down the hall and out into the parking lot. Waiting. For me. The other 200 or so were lined up on an adjacent set of stairs waiting for a particular actor for an autograph. He wasn't very happy about this. As I approach the line of people, I can see that most of them are holding The Sandlot DVD. My daughter has no idea that these people are waiting for me, and when I get close and the first DVD is put into my hand to sign, it suddenly occurs to her what's going on.
The actor signed a few autographs and left.
I stayed for over two hours and signed every autograph I was asked to, because it turns out that when the producer's advertised on the local radio the made it a point to say, "The director of The Sandlot..." and all these people were there to help with the true story about a home town team, AND shake my hand and tell me how much The Sandlot had meant to them. I choked up a couple of times. It was wonderful.
So, all this time, my daughter is standing there with me, helping me, handing me things and finally I sign the last autograph and shake the last hand and now it's dark and the stadium lights are on and it's pretty empty. We start walking away, my daughter and me, side by side toward the parking lot and she's very quiet. So I ask, "What's the matter sweetart?"
And she answers in a small voice, "Daddy, are you famous?"
And I say, "Well, just a little bit. Not too much."
And then, in a big voice she says, "WELL, THANKS FOR TELLING ME!"
We finished the rest of the walk to my truck holding hands and all my disappointment went away.
Here's the trailer:
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Sunday, April 10, 2011
|The original large format Hasselblad photograph of the Sandlot kids|
I just love this photo. I'll be posting a new column later today, but I ran across this while sifting through hundreds and hundreds of photos I am scanning to be used as images in my book, "Robert Radio Flyer, the King of Pacoima," and I had to share it with you.
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Saturday, April 9, 2011
|The producer's version|
This post has to do with voice, tone and dramatic intent. Specifically how those things get absorbed into the fabric of a film, and, when those things are summarily removed, or even worse "adjusted" even in the smallest of ways, voice, tone and dramatic intent in a film (the "what I meant when I made it" part) get lost at best, and altered to the point of being unrecognizable at worst.
Consider the two posters for a film I made in Iowa in 2009, SMITTY. The original script was written by someone else, it was a god awful mess. I rewrote it, made it sing and made it my own. I intended a classic boy-and-his-dog type story centered around an unruly 13 year-old city-boy with no father sent to live with his old school grandfather on a farm in Iowa for the summer -- there to get his ducks arranged and his attitude adjusted. And even under the profoundly difficult production constraints (SAG MLB budget, 11 days total pre-production, 18 days production, 15 locations, nights and splits, animals, child actors and the daily pumpkin factor) I was relatively satisfied that I achieved what I set out to make.
Even before the shoot, in fact during the writing of the script, I had in mind the exact image in the poster - above left. An elegant, minimalist, clean picture of a boy and his dog looking out across a field considering whatever it is they're considering. Life probably. A crossroads certainly. The point being that the image is evocative, it says something. And more importantly it asks something and it draws a relationship. The boy and his dog. Together looking toward the far horizon, the boy with a simple pair of work gloves in his back pocket, meaning whatever the road ahead contains, whatever life he encounters is going to require hard work. But that's okay, I think the image seems to convey, because I have my best friend, my dog, with me, and he'll always be there to help me through. Once we were on location, my girlfriend (stills photographer Stacey McGillis) set it up and executed it beautifully.
This is what the film is about. What the story has to say, in fact it's vocalized by the character of the grandfather when, in answer to the kid whining about doing chores, he says, "School of life, Ben, and class is in session." Hence the tag line I put in my suggested poster, "The School of Life is in Session."
Make sense? I think it does. Here's the trailer:
Now lets consider the other poster. I like the font in which the title SMITTY is written. But what does this poster tell you? Here's what it tells me: this movie is about a very sad dog (his face is down and lying between his paws - that's what dogs do when they're sad), he's thinking (I'm guessing here) because there's a cartoon bubble over his head which is filled with a cluttered collage of images. Small images. So what does this mean? I have no idea. It could be a couple of things, but the closet I can come is that since we're presumably supposed to be "seeing' inside the dogs head, and there's a bunch of people in the collage, certainly they're attempting to anthropomorphize the dog and one would suspect that this movie is going to have a talking dog in it. Make sense? It does to me when I look at this poster.
And the tag line, "Growing up, everyone needs a friendly paw." If this is supposed to be a play on the saying "Growing up everyone needs a helping hand," it fails miserably. And it reinforces what I guess they're trying to say, and that is that this is a movie about this dog. But the movie is not about the dog. It is not Benji. Benji (all of the Benji movies) were about the dog. Shiloh is a closer match for what we're talking about here, and that poster featured the dog and the title, granted, but it didn't try to sell the movie as something it wasn't. Smitty is a movie about a boy and his dog. And about the boy learning important life lessons. Do you find even the remotest hint of that in this poster? I don't. And we know what that means... right off the bat they're lying to the audience.
And, the most egregious thing about the poster (besides that it reeks of amateur-hour photoshopping) is that the dog is nameless through 99 percent of the movie, he's simply referred to derogatorily by the kid as "Dog." Smitty is a nickname for an older friend of the grandfather's whom the kid works for during his summer in Iowa. This character dies, teaching the kid the life lesson of loss and grief and moving on. He eventually names the dog Smitty in memory of the friend he's lost. Not that that is something necessary to get across in a movie poster, but that sort of dramtic intent is nowhere to be found in the poster. This poster says that this is a family friendly goofy doggy movie (with a dog whose personality comes closer to A. A. Milne's depressed Eyeore than Schulz's happy Snoopy) with a sneaky little hint that the doggy will talk. Or at least "think-talk" like the animals in Disney's "Incredible Journey."
Look, I want you to go and see the movie. I think you'll like it, and I know your kids will. It has something good to say, and still-in-all, it's perhaps 70% of what I intended, just don't let the poster they're using put you off or lead you to expect something that the film is not. The 30% I disavow is mainly the relentless softening of the kid's personality in the editorial process. There was a whole lot of that "filmmaking by committee" stuff going on, which is always married to the specious logic of political correctness (if the kid's line-read is too harsh -- when delivering a harsh piece of dialogue -- it might offend someone. I swear to God) -- and if you're wondering how that can be done, I give you three letters: A.D.R. But then again, I don't have the difficult task of selling the film. Although, I certainly wish I did.
I realize of course that my suggested poster certainly isn't perfect (for starters it's just a mock-up, the other version is the final version of theirs), but it does the two things a movie poster is supposed to do, it makes you want to look at it, and it evokes interest for the story. In other words, in this case, it makes you ask yourself, "I wonder what they're looking at?" But when I presented this to the producers, this, I swear, is what they said, "No, you can't have a poster that shows someone's back." Oh, really?
And my personal favorite comparison:
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Thursday, April 7, 2011
I've also added some material in the DME SPEAKING tab on the menu bar. Check it out and tell your friends. In fact feel free to send a link to my Blog to everyone human being you know.
I'll have a new post up later this evening.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I have been asked a million times, "What happened to Bobby at the end of RADIO FLYER?"
A few years ago my friend, Stephen Greenfield interviewed me for an article and my answer to this question is as good a one as I think I have ever given. If after reading the Q&A you're still questioning the ending, sit-tight until I have my Blog figured out you'll be able to get a copy of the original screenplay and the original novella.
Here ya go:
"What's the Message?" Article by Stephen Greenfield Many years ago, friends warned me about seeing Radio Flyer. This 1992 film was the result of a very hot script auction (reputed to be $1 million). The production was the subject of additional controversy when the 27 year-old writer, David Mickey Evans, having negotiated a pay-and-play contract to direct the picture, was deliberately slowed down and caused to go over schedule, so that he could be thrown off the project after two weeks and replaced by Richard Donner. Donner is the esteemed director of the original Superman movie, the Lethal Weapon series, Conspiracy Theory, and more. That move escalated the budget of the small, deeply personal story from $18 million to $30 million.
Mixing warm, reminiscent fantasy with frighteningly real drama, Radio Flyer is about a young boy (Bobby), who endures the secret abuse of a sadistic stepfather (The King), and Bobby’s distressed older brother (Mike) who desperately tries to end that abuse. The concerned brother is inhibited from telling anyone, especially the mother, because knowledge of the abuse would destroy her happy relationship with the stepfather. So the kids can’t tell anyone: not the mother, not the concerned policeman who sees that something’s going on, not anyone. Nor do they attempt to run away to escape the abuse.
What these kids do, in fact, is build a pretend airplane out of a Radio Flyer wagon, and in the end, the seriously abused brother flies off into the night sky.
When I saw this, I thought, these kids seemed so concerned about mom’s feelings, don’t they think she’s going to be SHATTERED when she finds out her son has flown off, never to return?
To me, and to many other critics of the movie, the message seemed to be that although child abuse is a real problem, there is no solution short of suicide. Exactly what did the filmmakers think a child seeing this movie was going to think? That they, too, could build an impossible device and fly it away to solve their problems? I have kids, and I’m certain this wouldn’t be a message for any child I cared about.
But there are many stages between the idea and intent that forms in the writer’s mind, and what gets filmed, edited and ultimately interpreted by the audience. Over the intervening years, I had become acquainted with the writer, David Mickey Evans. Before revisiting my reaction 18 years ago to “Radio Flyer”, I realized I had a unique opportunity to go right to the source! David answered my questions with some very candid replies:
Stephen Greenfield: How did the story change from what you ultimately sold? Were there changes the studio compelled you to make, that you perhaps only did because you (at that time) didn't want to rock the boat directorially?
David Mickey Evans: It was softened, which I never liked, and in comparison to a recent film like "Precious," seems to have vindicated my point of view. Things that bothered me about the changes were that they kept coming from places that I didn't think had the right to make and/or suggest them. For example, the V.O. over the scene when The King comes back to the house after having been arrested, was written by the editor, Stuart Baird. Donner liked it. I did not. It was never a matter of me not wanting to rock the boat, it was simply that ALL decisions began and ended with Mr. Donner. The most glaring change was the end of the film, the original script ended with a reunion of sorts between Mike and Bobby, grown up, in the Smithsonian National Aerospace Museum where the Radio Flyer is on display next the The Wright Flyer -- with the exception that is has no visable means of support (no wires, nothing... just hovering in mid air proudly). I wrote it because I intended it to mean that the Radio Flyer had actually worked -- whatever the machinations of how Bobby survived notwithstanding. Mr. Donner's opinion was that the ending should be a "Rorschach Test" for the audience. I believe that is entirely wrong. Having said that, he was very kind to me, and included me at every stage of production and post-production.
SG: What changes were made to the story without your participation?
DME: The only thing I can recall as having been "sprung" upon me was the rewritten V.O. over the scene I mentioned above.
SG: Were aspects of abuse in the story either toned down or amped up after you were "replaced" as director?
DME: Yes. Toned down. I had in mind something more like "The 400 Blows." Mr. Donner had in mind, I think, something more like, "My Life As A Dog."
SG: Mike and Bobby never tell mom about The King's abuse, presumably because doing so would ruin her relationship with him. They also don't tell anyone, including the police. Is this for the same reason? And was this a key requirement of the plot for the ending to work?
DME: No, it wasn't specifically so that Mom's relationship with The King not be ruined, it was because, "Mom's happy now." There's a big difference there. Yes, they do not tell the police for the same reason. Yes, the ending, as I wrote it, but was not included in the film, had to have this element to make it work. Keep in mind the time the story is set in -- the early 70's, and there wasn't the sort've help and support for domestic abuse issues as there is today.
SG: Why is it Mike and Bobby can't run away? That's usually the first thing that kids think of. Was the reason for not being able to run away ever addressed in the script?
DME: Sure it was addressed, and that small piece of explanatory dialogue was edited out. Sure they could've both run away, but Mike wasn't getting abused, Bobby was, and the logic the kids use is that "someone has to stay home and take care of mom." Simple. Honest.
SG: The kids seem so concerned about Mom's feelings — but don't they think she is going to be SHATTERED when she finds out her son has flown off, never to return?
DME: That's hardly something that would've occurred to them in their state of fear. Their thought process goes like this, "Bobby's getting hurt. Can't tell Mom because she's happy now. Gotta get Bobby away and safe. I, Mike, will stay and take care of her. That's a good plan." Anything after that is asking too much of the 10 and 8 year-old minds to consider. There's also a metaphorical sense in which it is meant, and that is simply, "the radio flyer having worked" = "that Mike and Bobby finally got help" however that may have actually happened. I did not intend it that way, but I acknowledge it's potential.
SG: In the beautifully set up montage, "seven things all kids under 12 believe" (one of my favorite bits of writing!) you set up that “monsters exist”, “animals can talk” and most importantly, “kids can fly”. But at virtually every point in this film, where the kids have an opportunity to come face to face with the seven things, they ultimately see the truth: monsters don’t exist, animals can’t talk, and a favorite blanket can’t protect you like a force field from the neighborhood bully. So why do these kids have any faith that the Radio Flyer can deliver?
DME: Really good question! Because in the original script, they're real: monster do exist, animals do talk (in fact all the material with Mike and Shane [the dog] communicating was removed), a blanket is an impenetrable force field; e.g. (in the original script) when Bobby hops off the roof with the umbrella, he floats gently to the ground. That was the point of the entire section, to depict that within their world, all that stuff is vitally real, actual, it "is"... it's their reality, childhood magic to be sure, but real.
SG: Does the ending of the film essentially amount to suicide for Bobby? Is the message of the ending, and thus the film, that even though child abuse is a very real problem (and portrayed as such), there is no real world solution short of suicide? Because the argument that a kid can build an impossible but magical device to whisk himself away from abuse seems contradicted by the setup of the "seven things". And you make a compelling case for why these characters cannot tell anyone else.
DME: No f***ing way! I've been asked that a thousand times. I understand how an audience could come away with that impression considering the way the story was altered, but I NEVER intended that. Ever. The argument I was making was entirely the opposite, in effect, "Never give up no matter what!" And really, i was blurring the metaphorical line as it were in the original script, the Radio Flyer is a metaphor, it worked in the vastness of childhood imagination, and because of the 100% belief the kids had in it, it worked in reality-reality as well. If that seems contradictory, read the paragraph again, and remember, that the original ending of the film is not in the film -- Mike and Bobby as adults, Bobby in an Air Force Officer's uniform, in the Smithsonian Aerospace museum (the hallowed hall of the preeminent artifacts of flight) reconnecting after a long absence in front of the Wright Flyer and the Radio Flyer both on display beside one another. There was also V.O. there that tied the entire story up on a cathartic and understandable bow.
SG: And ultimately, how do you frame the message you were trying to send? Was it aimed at a purely adult audience? Was it a mistake for the film to be marketed as a PG-rated "family" movie?
DME: I never aim any story at any audience when I write it. The story was the story. Who was "The 400 Blows" aimed at? Who, for that matter, really, was "Precious" (to use a much more recent example) aimed at? I really couldn't care less. And was it a mistake to market it as a PG-rated family film? Of course it was. Look at the disaster it was at the box office. I'm proud of the story, the script, but handling what should've been an intimate, tense, dramatic, lower budget sort've story in a HUGE holly-woody way (budget, marketing etc...) was clearly a mistake.
So there you have it.
Personally, I believe the project was intended as an exploration of a real issue, with the cinematic and entertaining device of a kid flying off in a impossibly non-aerodynamic contraption.
David told me that the head of Columbia really identified with the story, quoting “Hey, kid, you wrote my life…” David’s desire to blend the serious aspects of abuse in the framework of entertainment was probably the key decision that launched “Radio Flyer”.
Unfortunately, the film’s intent was mangled in the delivery. The result was a movie with a confused and disturbing message, targeted at parents and kids.
For a more detailed historical article on the genesis of “Radio Flyer”, see Entertainment Weekly article: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,309669,00.html.