The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Mark Sevi

    Mark Sevi

    Although it may seem like they just landed in L.A. with their indie film noir feature The Square, Aussie brothers Nash and Joel Edgerton are no strangers to major Hollywood productions. I had an opportunity to take part of a roundtable interview with the guys;  ironically they were seated before a panoramic view of the city, ripe for conquest!

    Director Nash is a seasoned stunt performer whose credits include The Matrix trilogy, Star Wars: Episode II and Episode III, The Thin Red Line and Superman Returns. He directed and starred in “Spider,” a dark comedy short shot on 16MM that made serious headway and garnered awards and praise during the 2007/2008 film festival circuit, and is also an award-winning music video director and experienced film editor. The Square marks his feature film directorial debut.

    Joel, the actor and screenwriter of the pair, said, “It’s sort of surreal to be directed by your brother, but I trust him and the proof is in the product.”

    Joel knows of which he speaks in regard to working with directors. He is currently filming the prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and has two films in post-production: David Michod’s Animal Kingdom and Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior. Previous acting credits include King Arthur, Kinky Boots, Smokin’ Aces and Star Wars: Episode II and Episode III, playing Owen Lars (Nash served as his stunt double and there are many asides exchanged between the two regarding Joel sipping coffee while snuggling in a blanket as his brother had glass vacuumed from his hand after performing his stunts.) The Square, in which Joel plays Billy the arsonist, was a first for him as well; he conceived the original story and drafted the screenplay.

    “There were times we would rehearse and Nash would come in with the script and, without even looking at me, just be talking to an actor, ‘Ah, don’t say that, that’s so pointless,’” Joel recalled. So how do the two work together while retaining their close relationship as brothers and buddies? “We’re really blunt with each other, almost careless sometimes. But we never bear a grudge,” Joel explained.

    Nash obviously believes in his brother’s script and The Square is a stellar example of how the film noir genre can succeed with modern audiences on a shoestring budget by keeping it real. It’s a simple and tightly constructed story of lust and betrayal involving two adulterous lovers who decide to execute a simple plan in order to obtain funds and run away together. They succeed, but with tragic results and find themselves victims of blackmail. The premise works due to believable characters and ordinary surroundings: much of the action takes place in the light of day.

    “The whole idea of basing it in reality, to me, made it, one, more relatable [to] an audience and two, by doing that made it more tense,” Nash explained. “At one time film noir [films] had elements of tension to them and intrigue and thrills--yeah, it’s thrilling, but I thought the more real it felt, it would be much more engaging [as well].”

    Joel offered his theory as to why the classic genre doesn’t play well today. “Film noir, I think, has a traditional story structure that we somehow felt went out of date. I somehow suspect that it’s because of the traditional role of the woman in the film noir. She was a femme fatale and she actually had no genuine interest in the man except...a financial gain or to dupe him into killing her husband or something. I think the successful kind of modern noirs take what was [in the] original and bring something new to it. And for [The Square’s] Carla (Claire van der Boom), while she may have been a little questionable sometimes, she actually has a genuine interest in escaping with Ray (David Roberts) rather than just, you know, hobbling him.”

    The setting for the film plays a huge part in the suspense as well; the doomed lovers live across a river from each other. Joel conceived of the setting, and Nash found the perfect location. “I was describing it to a friend and she said, ‘Had you ever been to Woronora (Australia)?’ I hadn’t, so I went there the next day and I was like, ‘I found the town; this is where we’re going to set the movie.’ The whole waterway was definitely integral to the story [since] they lived across the river from each other and…”

    Joel jumped in and finished the thought, “There was socially a kind of economic division between the two lovers and there’s really a sense that the river divides the town between the haves and the have-nots in a way, without being too overstated about it.”

    The setting also led to a sense of impending danger, Joel explained. “This undercurrent--which is [considered] truth in Queensland--this manmade canal that actually had dogs and people and all sorts of things go missing there, there’s this element of questioning crocodiles and sharks and weird things that live in there.”

    All of this leads to the fun of a satisfying thriller with the prospect of several suggested twists. Joel promises repeated viewings of The Square peels back even more layers. “I think one of the things that Nash has done with the finished film is that the answers are all there but he hasn’t spelled them out too much,” he said. “That‘s a really tricky skill.”

    With numerous solo projects in progress between the two brothers are there plans to work together again in the near future? Nash said, “I’m writing another film with Joel and I’m going to make another short which is kind of a sequel to ‘Spider.’ I thought no one ever makes sequels to shorts, so yes, I’m doing that.”

    Nash was reluctant to provide further details on the pending project, however, “It’s still taking shape. I kind of know where the film is but I’m not really ready to [say much more]. It’s a mix of genres. It’s different from The Square. I can’t help myself if I base all my films in that kind of reality in some way, but it will be bigger than The Square is, I think.”

    Will Joel be in it? Nash laughed, “Yeah, if he plays his cards right.”

    Joel doesn’t seem too worried about securing a role. “I’m getting really good at auditions,” he replied.

    It took eighty-one years and three previous nominations (Pop Quiz! When, what and who? No fair Googling!) but the Old Boy’s School better know as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences finally had to break protocol and award the first ever Best Director Oscar to Kathryn Bigelow. This victory was especially sweet because not only did Bigelow absolutely deserve it, she also spared us another cornball acceptance speech from her ex James Cameron. Thank you, Lord, one more chest-beating-Navi-lingo performance from that man and there would have been some blue hued 3-D barfing taking place in my living room!
    Bigelow had me hooked with her directorial debut in 1987. “Near Dark” is a hip film nour-ish vampire flick and while the ending doesn’t quite work, but her mastery of baiting an audience’s breath does; suspense is her friend and they have lunch often. “The Hurt Locker” works on so many levels, but her amazing sense of never letting the viewer off the hook because something could literally explode at any moment is relentless. Bigelow doesn’t take it easy on anyone, specifically characters portrayed by better known actors. She put a new perspective of how war affects the warriors and it was not feminine, feminist or pretty in the least. She delivered an honest human experience. 
    So the Academy really didn’t have a choice, the ball was in Bigelow’s court, she put out exactly what they love to love and she looked hot doing it, too. But that didn’t mean the Old Boys didn’t have to come across a little condescending…why did Barbra Streisand have to present the award? Not only was it a dead give away, but if you look up, “respected film director” in the dictionary you won’t see her snooze anywhere on the page. And why, oh why, OH WHY did the orchestra play the god-awful anthem “I Am Woman” as Bigelow made her way to accept her award? It’s surprising that she didn’t also get a pat on the ass for being such a good girl as she exited the stage. The entire presentation seemed geared to minimize the exceptional work of a talented director who has paid her dues. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, but a lot less cheesy goo would have been appreciated, at least from this particular cranky chick’s perspective.
    Okay, ready for the pop quiz answers? The four women nominated for Best Director:
    1976: Lina Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” (the award went to John G. Avidlsen for “Rocky”)
    1993: Jane Champion for “The Piano” (the award went to Steven Spielberg for “Shindler’s List”)
    2003: Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” (the award went to Peter Jackson, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”)
    The encouraging message from this list of women nominees is that they all deserved to make the short list and their achievement was appropriately recognized. Those Old Boys aren’t going to give out their precious awards just because we’re cute (unless you’re Sandra Bullock) and if you want to play, you better be on top of the game. We’re up to the challenge, so watch out boys! 


    I believe that as writers we have on thing above all to honor and learn to trust: our own voice. This is what sets us apart from the animals and the twenty million gazillion other writers out there…our individuality, beliefs and personal freak shows/secret closets sets us apart as unique and wonderful (and freaky). There’s an audience out there for all of us, somewhere.
    “Why so philosophical, Deb?” you may be asking. Well, it’s a new year, the dead of winter and the pool’s not heated so what else do I have to do? Also, I have had a series of epiphanies lately that have really given me an education and confidence as a writer, which I would like to share with the dear OSCWA site members and random lurkers, if I may.
    One of my fantasy jobs is to become a snarky movie reviewer (BTW, “snarky; snark; to snark” is a British term for snide and cranky). I found that many of the professional critics I currently appreciate fall into that category. Kyle Smith with the NY Post is my homeboy; when he wrote that the primary suspense of “Made of Honor” was if the stars would finally make it the alter before he burnt down the theater, I knew I found the inspiration for my true calling: Queen of Snark. Just let me have a go at Diablo Cody or anything involved with the Twilight ilk and I’m happy as a pig wallowing in mud. I posted film reviews for OSCWA and had a grand time flying my snarky flag. And then, I had an opportunity to review films, DVDs and conduct celebrity interviews for a new online magazine. Woo hoo, more people to expose to my snarky genius, right? I was given very few guidelines outside of word count and caution against revealing plot twists or spoilers, but one rule in particular challenged me to no end: avoid the use of the word “I”.
    Wanna-be Snarky reviewer says “Wha?” “I” can’t say what “I” want? Are these people anarchists for something to forbid me from spewing my personal opinion, amusing antidotes and random thoughts? Did they intentionally want me to be mundane and squash my creative voice? How can “I” express myself if “I” can’t put it in first person? How will “I” flex my funny bone?
    Guess what, I think I overcame the challenge and became as newly reborn as a Phoenix rising from the snarky ashes. I learned that I didn’t have to lower myself to snide insults, thinly veiled cruelty and inane ramblings to make a review or interview insightful, interesting, humorous and ultimately helpful to those who read it. Another interesting revelation: that’s what movie reviews are ultimately supposed to do, not provide a channel for me to diss the existence of Diablo Cody! (I mean, why the hell does that bit…oops, old habits!)
    So it takes a lot longer to write for me these days (a 750 to 1000 word review can take up to three hours to complete and edit, this doesn’t include viewing the film!) and it can be quite excruciating, but I’m grateful I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I experienced personal growth and a sense of improvement. I am daily discovering my true voice as a writer. And in the end, I did not sacrifice any of my humor, which I feel is my ultimate strength as a writer. Growing up is fun-damental!
    My resolution for 2010 is this: write with intelligence, irrelevance and wit. Toss in some brevity. With a dollop of snarky, because, you know, if the shoe still fits and all. And maybe one day I will trust myself to use the “I” word again!
    (PS: Hey, kids, just for fun, why not play a drinking game and take a swig every time you’ve read any deviation of the word “Snark” from the preceding post? Just don’t drive afterwards, okay? Safe and Sane in 2010!)
    I had the opportunity to interview screenwriter and first time director Josh Goldin (Out on a Limb, Darkman, and Night at the Museum) early this month during a press junket at the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood for his new film Wonderful World which stars his buddy Matthew Broderick. Here’s an important tip for any independent film makers out there looking for financing: befriend an 80’s pop culture icon who’s become a well-rounded and well-respected actor and performer and then write an intriguing, challenging and completely opposite lead character role for him/her. Financing is a snap! Lesson for us all there! 
    I got to interview Matthew Broderick as well, but I have to admit I was really looking forward to talking with Josh. I saw a screening of Wonderful World a few weeks prior and quite liked it. It’s dark bittersweet comedy about a misanthropic failed children’s singer (Broderick)who is divorced, a terrible weekend father, hates his job as a proof reader and spends a lot of time smoking dope and playing chess with his Senegalese roommate (Michael Kenneth Williams from “The Wire”.) He rails against “The Man” and ironically The Man (Phillip Baker Hall) actually confronts him from time to time when he’s stoned. Oh, listen to this, my old college buddy and fellow theater major comrade Paul T. Taylor plays Doug, the dickhead who lives next door and has Broderick’s car towed away just as he’s trying to get Williams to the hospital after suffering a diabetic shock. (Hey, why didn’t he just call 911? Shut up and watch the movie, Deb.) This chain of events pulls Broderick’s character deeper down his spiral of despair and disgust with the world. 
    It’s a compelling script and I was drawn to Josh’s technique of using his characters to present various themes in the script. “That’s how movies work. Maybe that’s how life works. Most of the characters have only a tenuous connection to society. They have fringe jobs or have married into security. They are people who, as the Navajo put it, will pass through life like fish passing through water, leaving no trace.”
    Josh admits he was his own research for Broderick’s character and pulled from his past life experiences, producing some intriguing characters and plot devices. “I’m a method writer,” Josh joked, but this is a great example of how the old adage of writing what you know really works. Whimsical touches such as flying fish, a dance scene that seemed to be inspired from All That Jazz (in a good way) and “The Man” guarantee that this film will stick with you for awhile. The cast kicks ass. I also appreciated that Josh did not resort to an archetypical happy ending for the main character. I mentioned this to him and he said, “I think it’s stronger for him [Broderick’s character] to make a change based on loss rather than make a change based on being rewarded.” 
    Wonderful World debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and at the time did not have a distributor. Magnolia Productions picked it up soon after and took a different approach for marketing: the movie was available on Video on Demand about three weeks prior to the theatrical release. Josh says that Magnolia has been wonderful to work with and that the marketing strategy has been very successful. Wonderful World is doing well on VOD, getting exposure in areas where the limited release film will not be available. Also, not a bad ploy to support a small budget film during the recession.
    Josh’s first break story sounds very simplistic: He graduated from Columbia College, earning a B.A. in English Literature and went on to earn an M.F.A. at Columbia Film School. He and brother Daniel wrote their first screenplay, Welcome to Buzzsaw, came to Hollywood and talked to anyone they could find who knew an agent and sold the script. After a few years, the script was produced under the title Out on a Limb. He met Matthew on the set, and both gentlemen allude to the fact that it was a godawful experience but being the gentlemen they are will say no more on the matter. They have maintained their friendship for twenty years, which says a lot about both of them. They are happy to have had an opportunity to work together and respect each other as colleagues and friends.
    Self-depreciating and witty, Josh is also generally low key about most of his achievements. How did he get in with Sam Raimi to work on Darkman? Oh, he and Dan were in a trailer next to Raimi, who needed someone to do a re-write. So they did it for him. Sam is a cool guy. Could happen to any of us, right? And what compels a screenwriter to take the leap into directing? “I think any writer/director, even the most auteur, if they were asked about the most important part of making a movie, they would all say writing, I’m just sure of it.”
    “I wanted to direct before I wanted to write. I’m in love with filmmaking and telling stories through film,” Josh explained. “Screenwriting is one part of it. I always wanted to make films and I always thought of screenwriting as just one part of the process and directing is just one part of the process.” Did he also want to ensure he maintained control over a project as personal to him as Wonderful World?   Josh insisted he’s not a control freak, but, “I’ve also been in Hollywood long enough to know that when you give your movie to someone else to make, it’s not just giving your movie to someone else to make, it’s giving your movie to someone else to rewrite and then make. Whatever resemblance then to your project is just going to be painful.”
    Josh’s master plan is to continue directing his own scripts, “I want to do movies that I’ve written. I see directing someone else’s script as only partly mine, if that, just adding some interpretation. The reason for doing anything creative is to express yourself and to me, it’s not exciting.” Also, the independent route to film making suits him just fine. “I’m for wrestling the control away from the executives and corporate decisions because I think there’s just a formulaic quality that movies have gone into …I won’t name any names, but you look at the poster and you know the whole movie. “ 
    He has begun work on his next project, Look at Me, a dysfunctional love story between a young comic who hasn’t made it yet and a waitress. Another character based loosely on himself? “It’s funny because the character in Look at Me and the character in Wonderful World could not be more different. But I do think that they are sort of aspects of my personality. I do have a personality that at times will just go to the joke and this guy is an extreme part of that. I do think I take little parts of me and I just sort of magnify them…turn them into a pathology.”
    Josh is satisfied with the final results of Wonderful World, “It did what I like to see in movies, which it created a world that you feel like you’re in that’s different and separate from the usual one.”
    (By the way, my friend Paul T. Taylor is not really a dickhead; he just played one in the movies.)

    How to Improve Inglourious Basterds

    Warning: This isn’t a review, it’s an opinion piece on how better writing would have improved this movies. That means I’ll be revealing key plot points and even the ending. If you don’t want to know these things, don’t read this.

    I have the same reaction to every film by Quentin Tarantino. If this were his first film, I’d think that, though the film is flawed, he’s a filmmaker with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’ll ever reach that potential and will continue to make spotty films, some of which will make a lot of money.

    Ironically, his first film, Reservoir Dogs, may be his most accomplished because it’s his least flawed. But after so many of his films, I’m weary and resentful of just how much he lifts from other films. And enough of this homage bullshit—he steals way too much for that excuse to hold. The fact that he admits that he’s remaking the Italian film,

    The Inglourious Bastards, doesn’t excuse the excessive stealing from other films. That’s one of the reasons his admirers are usually in their twenties; they haven’t seen enough movies to recognize the thefts, so it looks clever and original to them.

      Yet, there are wonderful scenes, too. The long scene in the tavern with SS officer Hellstrom is suspenseful and entertaining. So is the opening scene with the French dairy farmer. Those scenes are brave because he lets the suspense build without impatiently rushing into action. And I admire his courage in abandoning historical accuracy to such an extent. In every film he’s made, there has been something so original and entertaining that I keep coming back for more. So, I hope he continues to be successful and make more movies. Maybe he will fool me and eventually make a fully realized film. He certainly has the potential.


    What Needs Fixing:

    1. Not enough action.
    Yeah, there’s scalping and head bashing, but this story makes a promise that these guys are really good at what they do and we never see them do anything clever. Basically, they’re brutes. I’m okay with that if we see them do a variety of brutish things. Jews killing Nazis is the hook—so let’s have more fun with the concept. And the mass slaying of Nazis in the movie theater doesn’t really satisfy enough to count because it’s most a faceless mob.

    2. Unnecessary scenes.
    There are a few scenes that aren’t needed. For example, the scene with the wounded German actress, Bridget von Hammersmark. Brad Pitt sticks his finger in the bullet hole in her leg in order to get her to give him information. Two problems: (1) the information she gives is information that the audience already has, so it’s not interesting to us; (2) we’ve seen the finger-in-the-bullet-hole scenes often before. So, since we already have the info and we’ve seen this method of torture before, no need for the scene.

    3. Actress shoots soldier.
    Why does Bridget von Hammersmark shoot the likable German soldier who just became a father? There’s no good plot reason; there are many ways they might have incapacitated him. So the reason might be to make the German actress more villainess in order for us to not care much when evil Col. Hans Landa chokes her to death. But why? We already don’t care that much about her, and the fact that Brad Pitt is willing to torture her for info makes us care even less about her.

    4. Everyone’s suicidal.
    Why are all the protagonists so anxious to commit suicide? The challenge for a writer of having a handful of dedicated characters fighting against overwhelming odds is to see how the characters will create a clever plan to accomplish their goal and still have the chance to escape (if for no other reason than to kill more enemies again). The fact that the Basterds can only come up with blowing themselves up shows a lack of creativity in the writing. Same goes for Shosanna and Marcel. They don’t even try to create a plan that would allow them to escape, though they could easily accomplish their goal with a crude timer. It’s difficult to believe that her character, who was so aggressive in escaping when her family was slaughtered, would now commit suicide. Again, this is just lazy writing, contrived to create melodrama, but it’s neither believable nor satisfying.

    5. Shootout in projection room.
     Really? Zoller and Shosanna kill each other? Yes, there’s the usual predictable irony of having all this drama take place while the movie is running (done many times before). That one of therm might kill the other is perfectly acceptable and would have cranked up the suspense a notch. But having them shoot each other is, again, lazy melodrama that achieves no emotional impact.

    6. Is the villain gay?
    We never see Col. Landa having sex with men, but two things imply it: (1) How distraught he is when Brad Pitt shoots his driver/companion. Landa has not shown any honest emotional attachment to anyone throughout the movie, yet he’s nearly hysterical at the death of his driver. We know it’s not because he fears for his own life, because he doesn’t respond with fear, only anger and grief. (2) His sudden attack on Bridget von Hammersmark, in which he straddles her in mock sexuality while choking her to death indicates a deep hatred for women. This is the most passion he’s shown throughout the film. We know he doesn’t hate her because she’s a traitor, since he’s about to turn traitor himself. And if he needed her dead to further his own plot, he could have done so more dispassionately. Which raises the question: why make him gay? Is that supposed to be a villainous trait, even worse than slaughtering innocent people?

    7. Goofy Hitler.
    Hitler is portrayed as some sort of nutty parody better suited for a Monty Python spoof. By characterizing him this way, the stakes are lowered and so is the suspense. His death would have been more satisfying if he were a more believable character (like Col. Landa).

    8. Carving Swastikas.
    At the end, we’re supposed to get some sort of satisfaction when Brad Pitt carves the swastika in Landa’s forehead. That’s just the kind of redneck pettiness that passes for clever here. Landa’s made a generous financial deal with the U.S. that will make him wealthy enough to afford the best plastic surgeons. The audience knows that. We want something much more ingenious than this equivalent of toilet-papering the principal’s yard. We want something visceral—and permanent.

    Summary: Some brilliant scenes. But whenever cleverness is required, the script takes the easy way out and opts for predictable and unsatisfying melodrama.

    Finally got around to seeing District 9, which is way cool, don’t let Mark Sevi tell you it isn’t, and although I didn’t sit through all the credits I’m fairly sure there was a disclaimer stating no prawns were harmed during filming. But that’s not why I called…

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE trailers, good ones make you forget that the movie you just paid for and busted your ass to get to the theater at a reasonable time hasn’t even started yet…and the stuff before D9 kicked major tushie! OMG, are they are making better trailers (i.e. not giving away the entire plot in three minutes...”in a world where seafood’s not for dinner any more”) or is it that and the latest Nancy Meyers doesn’t quite work for the D9 demographics and I was spared that ilk?

    Shutter Island with Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese, looks pretty good although I have no clue what it’s about…there’s an insane asylum, some crazy lady escaped and hides a note: Where is inmate #67?
    “YA THINK?” (The last line is what I would have said if I had been in the trailer)  
    So then there’s an island and I don’t know why he’s even there, but Leo looks like he’s dancing with a ghost or going crazy or into insane ghost dancing and he’s really getting confused and freaking out. I’m going see it just to find out what the heck is up. And what does the title even mean? The trailer doesn’t tell you squat. LOVE IT!

    Oh, going further into the two degrees of Leonardo DiCaprio, King of the World James Cameron’s Surrogate intrigues me ever so slightly. I just realized last week that the people in the billboards are missing actual body parts, whoa, creepy. At first, second and third glance I thought maybe Bruce Willis was promoting a new fragrance line for men and women. Seriously, I really did think that. According to the trailer, you can have a robot android surrogate live your life and do the stuff you can’t, shouldn’t or don’t actually feel like doing and see it all through their eyes…except, one day, surrogates are murder victims…Bruce is involved he’s always getting in some kind of hot water…then people or I guess Surrogates just fall down square in the middle of the street, which is a cool scene. And it’s based on a graphic novel, so it’s gotta be kinda good, right? Remember Watchmen? Oh, wait…

    Not a huge Bruce fan, or James Cameron after T2, but if it’s either this or New Moon and I have to watch a movie or die, guess where I’ll be?

    Speaking of the which, let me say if you have a vampire script right now you better fish or cut bait, because we’re fixing to have a blood bath in the theater! Cirque du Freak: The Vampire Assistant looks like absolute campy fun and very different and I think John C Reilly is the only actor left in town who hasn’t actually played a vamp. But his co-star Willem Dafoe has definitely portrayed one of the coolest, creepiest movies vamps ever…I’m totally seeing it, even if Rotten Tomatoes rates it at negative 10.  

    Oh, and Zombieland has Woody Harrelson and ZOMBIES! I’m so freakin’ excited and was screaming “YES!” and am so seeing that!  

    Hey, by the way, who can tell me who to sleep with to get Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in a theater near me?

    Two more, Law Abiding Citizen looks like an excellent tense thriller and has a total Charles Bronson revenge vigilante deal happening with maybe a supernatural spin, and I think it will be way better than that Taken movie with Liam Nielson where his daughter got kidnapped in Paris…movie heros don’t like it one little bit when you mess with their little girls…hey, Gerard Butler kinda looks like Liam. What the??? Jamie Foxx is in it too, just thought I’d mention it because I took the time to look up who else starred. You are welcome.

    And lastly saw the trailer for Avatar and I don’t know what is and I don’t care to find out. Animated blue people running around, I wasn’t actually paying attention…if it’s between this and New Moon and I’ll die if I don’t see a movie, it’s been nice knowing y’all.  

    Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Thrillers and Horror…c’mon, jump on in, the water is fine! And let me know how that whole Avatar thing works out!


     I’ve seen this headline before: Death of the Story - true? Hyperbole? How about a bit of both.

     There’s no doubt it’s harder to sell a script these days that doesn’t smell like a video game. I’ve heard this recently characterized as your scrpt needs to be “loud” to cut through the noise of all the content hitting audiences. It’s truly a video game world when it comes to recent high-performing movies: “Transformers 1 and 2,”G.I. Joe,” and “District 9" with stories that make about as much sense as any video game or comic book; visually stunning with a dumb-story factor of about 9.5 out of 10.

     But I’m not here to bury Caesar rather to praise him - sorta.

     This industry has always reflected our cultural slants. And hasn’t there always been nonsensical stories around? What about the 80's with all those silly coming-of-age movies? Or the recent past with every television show in history getting the “re-envisioning” treatment? Does anyone think that the 1994's “Forrest Gump” actually made sense? Gump, story-wise, was a pastiche of video clips that grossed $677meg not counting sales and rentals. Silly films have been and will always be around.

     So it’s probably not any worse than it has been, content-wise. What I think is different is that there just isn’t an audience for movies in theaters anymore who want to drive, pay $12.00 for a ticket, $20.00 for snacks, watch a bunch of ads and then another bunch of trailers of movies they won’t see, and finally get to a feature that they can watch at least as effectively at home on their $3k livingroom theater system. Not really an earthshaking observation but more true now than ever.

     That lack of motivated movie goers who would watch the films that are not adrenalin-packed, special effects-laden, testosterone romps is dwindling fast and their demographic isn’t being reflected monetarily anymore in the box office numbers. But guess which film grossed only 80 million in domestic box office (90 million foreign) and had the number one sales and rental figures recently? Nicholas Cage’s “Knowing.” Fairly standard thriller with a linear storyline. Lousy box office, amazing rental and sales figures. People (the older demographic) just don’t need to watch those kinds of films at any theater these days - home works for them. But the story...alive and well.

     Plus, look at television - in case no one noticed, there’s some damned good drama on the tube. “Weeds,” “Rescue Me,” “The Shield,” “House M.D.,” “Heroes” - that’s some freakishly-good, compelling tales being told in a fairly standard way.

     So, story is not dead. People still really like stories. But stories that 15-yr-olds like, the kind that make big box office splashes these days because kids go to see movies 2-3 times, are video-game based and the story is secondary to the visual experience - just like the video games that drive their world. Smart money knows that and they try hard to provide that eye candy to a still-hungry post-pubescent theater audience. The mega-plex in a shopping environment is a place where teenies can go and have some freedom and space while being entertained. Adults don’t hunger for that same sense of independence so going to the movies with friends isn’t quite as important to them - if it ever was.

     If story was dead, then films like “Sideways,” “Juno,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Slumdog Millionaire” wouldn’t do well. But they did. And will continue to do so. If it’s good, people will get out of their homes and it will do great box office. What about the “Bourne” franchise? Well over a billion dollars for the three movies and about as traditional an action paradigm as you can get.

     People will never tire of story because it is the rhythm of our lives. We are born and raised with it - we actually cannot live without it. Yes, there is a slightly new paradigm in the non-linear, barely-logical video game movie but it isn’t killing the story - it’s just changing it for the current demographic. And that demographic will eventually tire of it and grow out of it just like people tired and grew away from 80's coming of age films (now that’s sorta funny when you think of it - they came of age, movie-wise.)

     I think story is still very, very strong. It lives in many forms, including music, ads, blogs, You Tube, television, books and just about any form that needs to make a point though artistic expression. We just need to allow that this new story paradigm - the one currently driving the box office - doesn’t always have to make total sense, or a follow a linear pattern to move or entertain the demographic that is buying that product (and has always bought that product.) Once embraced (and inevitably overdone,) this paradigm too will take its place among the silly, the profane, the funny, the dramatic and all other forms of story-telling currently used.

     Tell your stories. They still have the power to move the world. 

    Welcome to the inside of the iTV Fest for those of you who were not able to attend in person or via live stream from July 31-August 6 at Laemmle’s Sunset 5.

    You might be saying … iTV Fest? What is an iTV Fest? And the “i” that must stand for Internet, right? Wrong! Or, you might be saying, “Wow! This sounds very cutting edge, like very futuristic TV.” Yes. No. Yes.

    The “i” in iTV stands for “independent” not Internet. You know, quirky, original and edgy content – like independent films but mostly for TV. And believe me, most of the people who submitted for the festival hope their projects will end up on HBO, NBC … etc.

    ITV fest has all of the things that other festivals have i.e. panels, screenings, coffee talks, food donated by Trader Joe’s (not always), ending night galas and festivities but then something new and different. Mobi fest day featured special screenings fit for your mobile device (i.e. cell phone) and a multi platform panel. Web TV day featured digital agents (talent agents in the Digital World) and the screenings of webisodes including the beloved OZ Girl (a country girl moves to the big city to live with her bitchy cousin) where the creator and actors flew in all the way from Australia and did a Q & A. 

    But here’s where the festival is different, and very cutting edge. Two of the days are devoted to new media. There was web TV day and mobi fest day within the actual festival which explores and defines where content is heading. Where is TV heading? Well, most of the panelists say that no one really knows, it’s up-in-the –air and changing everyday -- so “you” be the pioneer of where content is heading, with 20th Century Fox and most other major studios developing a web arm.  

    Some of the standard format, episodic submissions from producers, writers and directors that I had the opportunity to see were “Dog” which features a filthy-mouthed trash talking Howard Stern wanna be with brain cancer who thinks he may be falling in love with a lesbian. “Red State Blues” about a semi hypocritical leftwing pundit who’s searching for romance in the Mid-west. “Living in Captivity“ is a “Scrubs-style” workplace comedy that takes place in the NY City Zoo. Lastly, “Blog of a Pool Boy” where a horny employed pool boy tries to help out his unemployed Ivy League cousin.

    Visit for more information.




    bojack horsemanThere's a certain kind of humor that's hard to define—not quite an anti-humor, but more of a post-humor—where comedy is extracted from what happens after the punchline.

    A good example would be a New Yorker article from last year, "Guy Walks Into a Bar." It retells the bar joke about a hard-of-hearing genie who grants a bartender a 12-inch pianist, but continues past the punchline into a kind of absurd Tennessee Williams play. An excerpt:

    And the bartender’s, like, “No kidding. You think I wished for a twelve-inch pianist?”

    So the guy processes this. And he’s, like, “Does that mean you wished for a twelve-inch penis?”

    And the bartender’s, like, “Yeah. Why, what did you wish for?”

    And the guy’s, like, “World peace.”

    So the bartender is understandably ashamed.

    And the guy orders a beer, like everything is normal, but it’s obvious that something has changed between him and the bartender.

    It goes on.

    BoJack Horsemancan best be explained as applying this post-humor treatment to the increasingly Dadaist world of adult-cartoon comedy. Over the course of its first season, the series mutes from a derivative high-concept sitcom full of sound bites and cutaway gags into a creative character-driven comedic drama, and eventually into a diligent attempt to subvert viewer expectations of characters and plot resolutions.

    The high-concept pitch, as laid out in the show's theme song, is thus: "Back in the ‘90s / I was in a very famous TV show / I'm BoJack the horse.” The pilot is so heavy on cut-away gags, parodies of lame ‘90s sitcoms, and rapid-fire jokes about BoJack as an abusive degenerate that it seems cobbled together from a discarded Seth MacFarlane notebook. It seems intent to bank as many disconnected sucker-punch laughs as possible and then cut to black before viewers can even process what’s happened. I hated it.

    I only continued to the next episode because of a strong word-of-mouth consensus, and because Netflix’s format meant it was just a click away. If I had to wait a week before giving the show a second chance, I probably wouldn't bother.

    I’m glad I did, because the show quickly proves the Family Guy shtick is just one patch of inspiration in a quilt made of bits and pieces of much better shows. To namecheck just two, BoJack’s petty celebrity squabbles in a world of humanoid animals plays out like Curb Your Enthusiasmmeets Ugly Americans.

    There's a great moment in episode 2 that kicks off when BoJack gets into an argument over the last pack of cupcakes in a store, and he spitefully buys them over the protests of a seal who, unbeknownst to him, is a literal Navy SEAL. The seal takes the story to the gossip-hungry media, and we’re treated to an MSNBSea news anchor—a whale voiced by a dead-serious Keith Olbermann—angrily blustering over the depravity of "stealing a meal from Neil McBeal the Navy Seal!" before reflexively spewing water from his blowhole.

    BoJack’s selfish impulses coming back to bite him in the ass turns out to be the series’ theme, which reminded me more than a little of Eastbound & Down. It hits that Kenny Powers balance: let BoJack run wild to get laughs, then reveal his unfulfilled desire for respect on his own terms to remind us that he’s still (sort of) human.

    As the series follows BoJack and ghost-writer Diane working on a “warts and all” memoir, we see the uncomfortable position it puts him in. He has a deeper desire to create something honest and bojack charactersimportant, which only a person of integrity like Diane can pull out of him. All the while, he struggles to see people as anything but puppets made to bring him satisfaction, and hates himself for it.

    The memoir and its creation work as a mirror of the show, with BoJack and Diane arguing about whether the brutal honesty of BoJack’s pathetic existence will endear him to audiences. It’s a clever wink at the viewer, who at that point in the show should be seriously wondering how they feel about their comedic lead mixing his mental struggles in with his binge-drinking jokes.

    This reaches a head when BoJack pointedly asks Diane to tell him, in spite of everything she’s seen, that he’s a good person deep down. It’s a question that may be on writers’ and viewers’ minds in television’s age of anti-heroes, as we evaluate who we root for, who we laugh with, and who is even worth our time to watch. We want BoJack to be terrible because he’s funnier that way. But we want him to be a good person so that we can approvingly share in his eventual success. BoJack presents a real viewer moral quandary, because his only redeeming trait is his desire to be worthy of the success he desires, and his acknowledgement that he isn’t.

    By juggling heavy questions and light gags, BoJack Horseman highlights why few series make such an attempt. It can make for a very uneven experience, especially during binges of multiple episodes at a time. By forcing us to take our main characters’ existential crisis seriously, the wackier jokes fall flat as the season moves on.

    On the other side of the coin, by indulging in bizarre gags (a Red Sox family grinds up their deceased father so his pulpy remains can be dumped on Derek Jeter) it doesn’t quite have the capital to dwell on morality issues that that dominate the second half of the season. There are a few tone-deaf moments where the writers linger too long, and too on-the-nose, with BoJack and Diane’s big dramatic questions that felt like an overestimation of how long BoJack could maintain interest as a sincere, nearly well-adjusted straight man.

    In all, BoJack Horseman does its best when it laughs with us at BoJack’s warts-and-all existence, and then lingers just long enough to make us worry how he got those warts.

    sold out

    Our Apologies. The Jule Selbo Event is Sold Out.


    Jule Selbo!  A Reel Pro by MANY Definitions of The Word!

    jule selbo

    She has been "Touched by An Angel" and "Undressed."  Intimately involved with "Young Indiana Jones," "Models," and "Hercules and the Amazon Women." Told "Tales From the Darkside" at "Melrose Place." And made "Cinderella's" dreams come true with a sweet, lonely "Hunchback of Notre Dame.

    Jule Selbo, Ph.D. has written and/or produced over 40 movies, television, novels, and theater projects! IMDB Credits

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