Indie Corner

INDIE CORNER SPRING 2010: “GET IT JUST RIGHT!”

By • Mar 14th, 2010 •

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“If you don’t get it right, what’s the point?” might be words of wisdom, but these words are now a banshee cry amongst Hollywood executives. Those words are a famous (or infamous) quote from director Michael Cimino, who helmed of the most notorious financial flop in film history – HEAVEN’S GATE. Just one week after winning an Oscar for directing THE DEER HUNTER, Cimino began production of his pet project, an epic western that he described as “America’s Great Expectations”. Shortly after production began, Cimino’s film cost triple it’s budget. He wanted every shot just right, even if it meant scrapping endless footage by re-shooting scenes of a western town set, with street curbs on his set moved apart six feet for re-takes. He also spent $ 4 million to take his cast and crew to London to lens a scene he thought up at the very last second. The resulting film may be “just right” in Mike Cimino’s eyes, but this estimated $ 100 million exercise in “perfection” grossed only $ 1.3 million on it’s initial release.

This is the Press Material we got for WALLANDER starring Kenneth Branagh.   What if the film critic is diabetic?

Now the word “perfectionist” chills Hollywood execs, and it sadly become a word many indie film-makers embrace. The makers of THE SECOND BEST SCIENCE FICTION MOVIE EVER MADE knew this. Directed by Long Islander David Epstein, the prologue to his film, involving eight people abducted by aliens and gaining celebrity status on a distant island, then returning to earth is wisely conveyed in narration and inter-titles. I bet Epstein wish he could have conveyed this with stunning AVATAR-like visuals. But then, his film with a copyright date of 2009 would be finished somewhere around 2023! However, this modestly and economically shot film moves along nicely, with well written, amusing dialog like “I’m not going to suck their brains out, I just want to ask them a favor…” Where you really need to be a perfectionist while working on a small budget indie is in the casting of EVERYBODY. Bit players that come in with one or two lines of dialog lose some of Epstein’s fun dialog on some weak performances.

Ramin Bahrami, director of CHOP SHOP (a striking 2007 indie drama set in the Mean Streets of Queens, New York), told me, “You get one bad performance, even if it is a couple of lines of dialog, it ruins your movie for the next twenty minutes.” I was able to view Jospeh De Leo’s debut feature film, PROS AND CONS and it is available on line through his web site: DeLeoProductions.com. PROS AND CONS follows, Tom, a man falls in love with a woman who turns out to be a hooker.- her pimp steps in causing problems. DeLeo gets fine believable performances, and obviously knowing he is working with a budget, kept the film technically simple. Very little got in the way of DeLeo’s story, which reminded me this is what a good director does- keeps the viewer watching the story, no looking at camera angles, lighting, editing, etc. etc. I reviewed DeLeo’s first film, the macarbe and enticing FISH AND CHICKS and I look forward to his next film.

Getting back to my rant about perfectionists, I worked on a film that I will let remain nameless. The director of the film had me edit a well-shot sequence where a debuting stand up comic plays to an unsmiling audience. During the frist editng session, the director and I cut together a scene that I felt got the point across quickly, and with no dialog. The director wanted it recut, and recut, and recut. Then he was comparing his scene to scenes edited by certain master directors he loved. Even after optical effects such as dissolves and what not were set in place, back we go, recutting. I did get paid for my efforts but every editing session started with “I thought endlessly about the comedy club sequence last night, and I want to make some intellectual changes.” I still have an aversion to stand up comics.

Edward Burns, the indie film director who became a Hollywood A-lister once said at a speaking engagement “Don’t worry about the dolly shot being 100% smooth, or the lighting to be just right and perfect. Just tell a good story.”

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