Indie Corner


By • May 6th, 2010 •

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I feel AVATAR, one of the biggest studio films to date, and the most financially successful film in history, belongs in my indie film column. I recently attended a round-table discussion with AVATAR’s co-producer Jon Landau, where Blue Vodka Martinis were served to salute the blue folk in his epic. At the discussion, held at Motion Picture Enterprises’ Penthouse overlooking Manhattan, Landau focused on the artistic and commercial aspects of big budget 3-D Film-making. Of course, more Hollywood blockbusters like CLASH OF THE TITANS and ALICE IN WONDERLAND are embracing 3-D. Audiences are demanding that big vision on the screen becomes more and more expensive. What does this do to the indie film-maker who is lucky to scrape together 1 million to shoot and market their modest film? What about the filmmaker doing a $ 20,000 feature? I know some of us low- budget film-makers might invest in software that can pull off better visual effects. But these effects are never going to measure up to what’s found in AVATAR. To top it off, today’s more demanding and critical audiences won’t let indies forget it.

How are Indie film-makers going to try to rival AVATAR’s imagery? A street vendor selling dollar kabobs is going to succeed by being unique, different, not by trying to mimic that five star restaurant around the corner. Indie film-makers should be thinking the same way as the kabob guy after they see AVATAR or whatever big expensive Hollywood film comes out.

A big film that Hollywood just put out is the subversively hysterical KICK-ASS!. We know the plot – a superhero-worshipping teen, armed only with his home-made costume and lack of law enforcement skill, picks fights with real criminals. He usually winds up severely beaten. A similar indie film – HERO TOMORROW – created a hit when it made the rounds at this year’s Comic-Con. Released by Swinging Cane Productions, and directed by Ted Sikora, HERO TOMORROW is KiCK ASS! and not KICK ASS! Its hero, David, is an aging dreadlock-sporting hipster who dresses up as a superhero and tries to make way for justice. Sikora wisely lets his film become more surreal with dream sequences, hallucinations, and more, to let David’s warped world seep happily into our bloodstream. I wish he would have shied away from some Hollywood styled clich├ęs – as usual, comic book fans are depicted here as obsessive, and comic book store employees give the word “anal” a whole new meaning! Dreadlock-wearing David has a costume that looks like a dead rooster glued atop a paper bag and dirty pajamas. He’s given the superhero the weird name of “Apama”. My favorite scene is where the now homeless David/Apama has to take over a restaurant’s restroom in order to dry his wet Apama outfit, to the bewilderment of confused diners. HERO TOMOROW, with a cynical, unique spin, is that welcome cinematic kabob stand poised outside Mr. Cameron’s movie equivalent of The Four Seasons Restaurant.

I pointed out to Mr. Landau that 3-D movies generally use the gimmick of having somebody throw something (like a chair, in a fight scene) right at the camera, causing the audience to duck, and that AVATAR avoided this gimmick, allowing 3-D to work on the audience on a subliminal level. Landau agreed and stated “When you use that gimmick, for a minute you are taking the audience out of the story and reminding them they are in a theatre watching a projected image.” Another writer in the circle tried to sneakily needle Landau by asking him if he paid too much attention to the visual effects and not enough to his actors. Landau stated that if the acting failed, the story would drag and the effects would be useless. It is obvious to Mr. Landau that story is more important to a film than all the visual glitz. (I for one, feel Landau’s and director James Cameron’s TITANIC and AVATAR work very well in repeated viewings, even on a small screen.)

Landau ended the forum with a story about AVATAR’s pre-production stage “Jim (Cameron) wanted to rehearse his actors, Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, in Hawaii, because it’s terrain is similar to AVATAR’s settings. So, there’s Jim, with a small video camera, a Handycam, rehearsing Sam and Zoe by a waterfall. Some tourists wander by and chat with Jim’s assistants, one of whom points and says “You see that man with the little mini camera? He directed TITANIC.” The Tourist looks at him and says “Wow, he certainly went downhill!”

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