Michael Giacchino seems to having so much fun scoring Star Trek and other blockbusters! I love how he shares tidbits with his followers.
Did that leave a grin on your face?
Michael Giacchino seems to having so much fun scoring Star Trek and other blockbusters! I love how he shares tidbits with his followers.
Did that leave a grin on your face?
Roddenberry’s company is releasing pieces from their “vault” about early days of Star Trek. One letter shows some of the considerations in having Klingons as the heavies in the future. Good heavens! Might we have lost our Klingons???? By this time, 1973, the original series had been cancelled and was entering immortality under syndication. The animated series started in 1973.
I wonder what in the guilds meant Klingons had to be “fully humanoid”.
If you’d like to see what else these “vaults” have, check out “Roddenberry” on Facebook.
A recent article in The New Yorker, “Hollywood’s Turn Against Digital Effects”, claims Hollywood is extolling “practical effects” over CGI. “You could hear boasting about “real” sets and practical effects in the hype around nearly every one of last year’s non-Marvel blockbusters.” Fury Road led the pack with its stunts by real people swinging on real poles mounted in real cars.
There are a number of problems with CGI, aside from showing unrealistic events. The economics are deadly – the CGI company that so brilliantly created Life of Pi went bankrupt even as the movie got an Oscar. (See my article on this.) It’s hard on actors who have to react to empty blue screens as though something profound is happening.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the magic of CGI! It engages my imagination in a way that’s hard for physical effects to do, although 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) certainly managed. But the emphasis on CGI has gone overboard. I’ll be glad to see some balance.
For the New Yorker article, click here.
I was also fascinated by the history of physical vs CGI effects in a two part article about how accustomed we get to the spectacular. Check it out: CGI and the Banality of the Incredible by Bill Mesce and Ricky Frenandes.
UPDATE: A friend just posted this link which lets you swipe to see the difference between what was shot and the image with CGI – fascinating! http://brightside.me/article/17-favorite-movies-before-and-after-visual-effects-64705/
Skydance Productions is an American film and television production company based at Paramount Pictures, with whom they co-produce and co-finance films such as Star Trek into Darkness & Star Trek Beyond.
I first heard of Skydance from a blurb in Variety Magazine’s issue on notable women in the male dominated entertainment business. Dana Goldberg was mentioned as being “Chief Creative Officer”, the title of a job created especially for her. Variety said, “Paramount relies on Skydance to deliver some of it’s biggest pics”. Such as Star Trek. That got my attention. So I explored.
Skydance was founded in 2010 by David Ellison, son of the billionaire CEO of Oracle Corp. He was joined by Dana who had begun her entertainment career as an assistant at Hollywood Pictures. She then spent three years as vice president of production at Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures. From 1998 through 2010, she was a vice president and later president of production at Village Roadshow Pictures. She certainly has the experience to oversee my beloved Star Trek.
At Skydance, Ellison and Goldberg have been responsible for feature-length films including True Grit, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Terminator Genisys and Star Trek Beyond. In television, they have produced Manhattan (shot here in New Mexico!), Grace and Frankie (with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda), and the upcoming Condor (based on Three Days of the Condor). Not too shabby!
In a June 2015 interview connected with their Terminator Genisys premiere, Skydance founder David Ellison said, ” We’ve had an amazing relationship with J.J. Abrams, we’re making our 3rd and 4th movie together, and the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s franchise is something that we feel the tremendous pressure of living up to that legacy, and very much hope that the movie does that for audiences when they get to see it next year.”
As CCO, Goldberg oversees all aspects of creative development and production for film and television. While film projects and properties continue to be her primary focus, Goldberg now also works with the television department. Television, eh? One of the questions asked in the interview was if there was a future for a Star Trek TV series.
ELLISON: It’s something that we would love to be involved in. As I’m sure everybody knows, the rights situation given the CBS and Paramount divorce on the Star Trek rights is very, very complicated. The exact status of it is absolutely something being worked on. We would love to be involved, but all to be determined at this time.
GOLDBERG: You’re preaching to the converted. We would love it, both as fans and as people who would want to be involved in the making of them. We would love it. Everything you just said is right. It goes with what we were talking about before with television is you can just take more time to tell very specific stories and it would be fantastic. It’s not something we control, sadly.
Phooey. Doesn’t sound like it will happen soon.
UPDATE!!! 11/2/2015 Maybe Paramount & CBS did get it together! CBS announced a new Star Trek series on their premium channel. See more here.
So what is Skydance Productions – really? How did David Ellison, a man of substantial connections and wealth, come to create the company. He talked about how Steve Jobs was a mentor.
ELLISON: I had the incredible luxury that Steve happens to my dad’s best friend, so he was like an uncle growing up. …He was a very, very close friend and truly the Thomas Edison of his time, and I was fortunate enough in building this company to be able to talk to him about it throughout the entirety of it. And a story I’ll never forget, because in irony it was actually the day they were launching the second iPhone, we were getting close to closing our deal at Paramount with Skydance, and I told Steve I wanted to talk to him about it. He said ‘why don’t you get on a plane and fly out here tomorrow?’ And I said ‘you’re launching the iPhone tomorrow.’ He was like ‘I don’t care. Get up here.’ I sat down and pitched him the entire company, the way we had been pitching everybody else on our fundraising tour, and Steve looked at me in the way that only Steve Jobs can and he goes ‘this isn’t gonna work.’ [Laughs] And I was like ‘alright, why?’ And he said ‘you know the answer, you’re just not thinking about it.’ And I didn’t, I was kind of floored at the moment in time, and he was like ‘look, why does Pixar work?’ He said ‘the biggest mistake everybody makes about Pixar is that they think we were successful because we created 3-D animation, and nothing could be further from the truth. We simply went back to a world where we found out how to make movies better than anybody else.’
And he talked a lot about how free agency was created because the golden age of Hollywood was when the studios had a very firm handle on the talent, but because they did not treat them appropriately, didn’t compensate them appropriately, that created the free agency, and we live in the world we exist in now. Steve adjusted that by actually making the talent his partners, and by treating everybody well both creatively and economically, and really changing the model. …he talked about the brain trust, really going to that idea where we had a core group of both executives and filmmakers that we could work with over and over and over again, because any one person can make a bad movie. Some of the greatest filmmakers of all time have made bad films, but when you get a group of people together, five really talented people will usually not miss. It doesn’t mean that on their own that would necessarily go differently, but that was really the model.
From that moment on, we went back and restructured the company and changed it, and re-pitched it to him, and he said ‘that’s gonna work better.’ I was very fortunate and truly blessed to have him as a friend and as a mentor and to be able to work with Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross and Don Granger who are these incredibly talented producers and storytellers at our company and to be able to work with filmmakers like J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird and Chris McQuarrie and Alan Taylor and writers like Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, our company is what it is because of the incredible people that we get to work with.
Sorry, they didn’t spill any details about Star Trek Beyond. There is an interesting link with Terminator Genisys. It features Brandon Stacy, who worked on the first two rebooted Star Trek films as stand-in and photo double for Spock actor Zachary Quinto. Yum!
The whole interview with Ellison & Goldberg is interesting. You can read it here.
This time last year (2014) I was riveted to “The Chair” on Starz – a semi-reality, semi-competition in which 2 very different first time directors were given similar budgets and a script and access to mentors. My interest was piqued since one of the mentors was Zachary Quinto, the new Spock and a superb actor. You can see my initial article about it here.
The effects of The Chair are still rippling out. Recently creators Chris Moore and Josh Shader talked about mistakes typical with first time film makers, drawing from their experience with The Chair and other projects. I have some observations of my own.
Each director had their strengths, which also turned out to be their weaknesses.
Shane Dawson is a YouTube star, with 10 millions subscribers, mostly teens who adore him and his vomit-gag style of humor. He is self-made and self directed. He cast himself as star and directed every aspect. The flip side is that he got very defensive about criticism. Initially he wanted to break into a wider audience, but he ended up with a longer version of a Shane Dawson vid.
Anna Martemucci describes herself as a New York style indie. She is schooled in screenwriting and has done a number of shorts and a feature film with her husband Victor, brother-in-law Phil, and friends. She’s more collaborative and more comfortable getting feedback, but the flip side is that she depends a lot on Victor and Phil. People associated with her movie said it felt like there were 2 or 3 people directing, not one.
I assumed from the beginning that Shane would “win” in spite of assurances that popularity wasn’t the only criteria. And he did. That he could deliver an audience of 10 million was probably a big factor in Starz signing on. Anna had personal connections – she and Victor are long time best friends of producer Zachary Quinto. In the film making world I hear that personal connections count but, as this “competition” showed, they don’t trump the dollar power of a big following. One surprise was that Anna didn’t realize this and is still feeling she was set up, a pity since it gave her an experience and exposure as a director she otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.
I was as interested in the mentoring aspect as I was in the differences in the directors. Shane’s initial mentor was Zachary Quinto, a total mismatch. Shane’s vocabulary is mostly expletives, whereas Zach, in public at least, is very conservative. At a presentation with him in Salt Lake, he wouldn’t even share his favorite cuss word because “there are young people in the room“. Zach’s attempts to get Shane to make a more sophisticated approach fell with a thud. Oil and water. Also Zach wasn’t physically present much since he was shooting Agent 47 in Berlin during The Chair.
To the rescue came Zach’s business partner, Corey Moosa. Corey’s style was to support Shane’s vision, rather than trying to improve it. He even lent his cute backside to a mooning scene. So Shane was more open to listening to Corey. Throughout, Corey was superb at gentle guidance. Some interesting lessons were here for those who hope to influence others.
UPDATE 11/2/2015: A new Star Trek TV series will start Jan 2017 on CBS All Access. Is it Gummelt’s? No idea! For more see here.
Oh wow! I may hold my breath or at least cross fingers and toes, hoping for this one.
“According to Trekkie Michael Gummelt, he has officially been asked to come in and formally pitch a new TV series based on his own fan-creation Star Trek: Uncharted:
“I can now officially announce that I do, indeed, have an invitation to come pitch Star Trek Uncharted at Paramount this summer! As far as I know, this is the first time a fan (not an established industry insider) has been invited to pitch a Star Trek TV series. This is, obviously, extremely exciting and I’m doing my best to get support for it from industry professionals. One of my concept cast members has read the script and expressed interest in supporting it, which is fantastic!”
For more on this, go here: http://www.latino-review.com/news/star-trek-returning-to-tv-possibly-on-the-pitch-of-a-trekkie
Or go directly here for a taste of the concept: http://www.startrekuncharted.com/
I love Kickstarter projects! They’ve been a way that folks like me can participate in creating the magic – and here’s one I can’t pass up!
For the Love of Spock – a documentary film! By son Adam Nimoy. With Zachary Quinto narrating!
I’m on board – how about you? Spread the word on twitter with the hashtag #SpockDoc.
How did comics get from here to there?
Sure, I read comics as a kid. And while munching pizza in college. A few since. The ones based on the new Star Trek movies got me re-dedicated. I could get my Star Trek “fix” between movies, especially my Spock fix. Minor characters in the Star Trek 2009 movie, “Cupcake” and Keenser, had their own issues, giving them more depth. That was cool. But even more cool was that the next movie had “easter eggs” from stories in the comics!! The screen writers and comic writers apparently talked to each other. Maybe not just Star Trek folks – these days a whole lot of the movies and tv shows are based on comics, way beyond Superman and Batman. What’s that all about?
I asked Bram Meehan, a graphic designer, comic author and aficionado who teaches classes on the visual language of comics. Bram laughed, “The producers and writers themselves grew up on comics. Loving comics. Now they’ve gotten into the positions that they can get funding for what they love.” Aha. That might also explain why everybody and his brother signs up for even small parts in movies like the Avengers. Granted, it’s a job. But they seem to be having so much fun!
Poking around Big Adventure Comics, my local comic store, showed me that the genre has changed. When I admitted my ignorance of the visual and story changes, they kindly took me in hand and directed me to Alan Moore’s Watchmen. OMG! I see why they now call them “graphic novels”. Complex plots and brilliantly complex art! A lot more blood, yes. Also symbols like that little smiley face that clued linkages. Shifting points of view. Multiple subplots & time settings intermingled, but I could follow because each had their own graphic style. Graphics in the comics of my youth pretty much showed people doing static stuff while saying words. Here the graphics carried the story even more than the words. Some such as Moore’s Promethea illustrated sophisticated metaphysical concepts. Plus there are now “trades”, collections of related issues in a single volume – a real book, ideal for people like me who get impatient at the cliffhanger serialization of individual issues.
I asked Bram: How did all this happen? The sophistication, and also the proliferation of comic inspired movies & shows. Bram answered that not only have comic lovers moved into positions of influence but also the technology became available to realize their visions. As I mentioned, Bram teaches the visual language of comics. He got me looking at how comics have developed over the years.
Those in my long ago youth were not very different from the first full page comic in the early 1900’s.
I read Donald Duck, but it was Superman and Batman who had my heart. The superheroes I grew up with developed from Superman’s first appearance in the 1930’s and became their own genre. Even these days, many people associate comics with superheroes.
I had crushes on The Challengers of the Unknown. Bram pointed out that while the Challengers were a team of four, there were none of the interpersonal dynamics that came later with teams like The Fantastic Four.
The hunger for superheroes comics prompted Jack Kirby, co-creator of my beloved Challengers, to create more heroes, from Captain America (1940s) to all the guys and gals we now see as The Avengers, appearing on your movie and TV screens! In his early years, Kirby also developed romance comics, which in the 1950’s seriously warped most of my dating life. Kirby and Stan Lee co-created many of the Marvel comics, each bringing their own skills. Stan Lee boosted sales by giving superheroes issues and challenges. Aha! That must have been when I switched my affections to Spiderman and Daredevil! Kirby’s visual motifs influenced young artists to produce to the Marvel style and more efficiently meet the horrendous deadlines. Writers and artists had to produce 22 pages every month/per issues, some working on multiple issues. Any conventions that helped them be more efficient were readily adopted! Bram pointed out that Kirby moved comics to more abstract visuals, where “the nature of the art reflected the excitement of the story”. That set the bar for the whole superhero genre.
The 50’s, when I was cuddling up to superheroes, also saw the birth of Mad, which later became a guilty pleasure for many of my college mates. Gaines started a trend in letting his creative team develop their own styles. And he credited them for it.
Creative rights are still a big issue for comic creators.
Censors ruled the 50’s – which of course led to an underground movement in comics as well as everything else.
Comics had other subjects as well. Will Eisner’s Joe Dope was used as a training tool in the military. Eisner wrote training comics into the 70’s and also expanded to short story cycles about Jewish characters in a tenement in New York City, stories about their struggles and disillusionment. The comics with these self-contained stories started being known as “graphic novels”.
The 1980’s were a hotbed of innovation for comics. Maus won Art Speigelman a Pulitizer Prize. It was political commentary based on his father’s experience as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. People were depicted as animals. (Hmm, remember Orwell’s Animal Farm?)
Bram said Speigelman “.. raised the profile of comics with a book that really rattled the public perception of what comics are. ”
Bram continued, “The comics creators that eventually formed Image Comics in the ’90s, despite their business problems, started the rise of the value of the creator (in their case, generally the artist) in the mainstream. Fans formed around the characters, but now also around the people that made them.” I’m not familiar with Image Comics, so I went to Wikipedia:
” In the early 1990s, several freelance illustrators doing popular work for Marvel Comics grew frustrated …that the artwork and new characters they created were being merchandised heavily, with the artists receiving only standard page rates for their work and modest royalties on sales of the comics... In December 1991, a group of these illustrators approached Marvel president Terry Stewart and demanded that the company give them ownership and creative control over their work. … Marvel did not meet their demands.
“In response, eight creators announced the founding of Image Comics….This development was nicknamed the “X-odus”, because several of the creators involved …were famous for their work on the X-Men franchise. Marvel’s stock fell $3.25/share when the news became public.” According to Image Comics, “The majority of the comics and graphic novels published by Image are creator-owned.”
Marvel and DC still dominate monthly comics, but Bram points out that “.. a revolution in the printing and production technologies … led to more powerful tools being put in the hands of more content creators, with more cost-effective ways of distribution to smaller audiences, both print and digital.” Going to some Comic Cons and walking down crowded aisles in the comics section certainly showed me the truth of that!
My favorite comic con find has been Mouse Guard. The glorious images grabbed me as I wandered past. No surprise that it won an Eisner Award! Creator David Petersen was sitting there with a stack of books, under the banner for Archaia Entertainment. Archaia started as a small independent publisher which has since merged with another publisher. I’ve since found that it’s published several graphic novels I follow: Lucid and Mr. Murder is Dead.
Drawing Words & Writing
Some of the comics I saw puzzled me. I couldn’t read them! Words & images swirled all over the page in a baffling manner. Heavens, am I that out of sync? Bram grinned. Apparently I’m not alone. The proliferation of independent producers means that some don’t know what’s needed to guide the reader through the story. There are rules. Not all comic creators know them. Bram sent me to an article by Eddie Campbell in The Comics Journal: http://www.tcj.com/campbells-rules-of-comprehension/. Campbell’s rules address context, completeness, sequence and timing. Ahhh, the comics that baffled me violated those rules!
Bram recommends that those interested in creating a comic dive in. That’s what he and his wife Monica did. When they started, they realized that they may not have specific training in making comics, but knew how to complete a visual project. “With the changes in technology and our training in it, it wasn’t necessary to follow the traditional method of making comics (the writer/penciler/inker/
Whew! This is a whole complex area of art! If you want to know more, take one of Bram’s classes: http://www.brammeehan.com/
When I took a voice class last summer, I found that one of my classmates was a trekkie – a dedicated trekkie, with a huge collection of trekkie memorabilia! As we chatted I found that Joe has been an extra on a lot of movies & TV shows – and was a double for Bryan Cranston, the star of the acclaimed “Breaking Bad”. Wow! I know folks who dream of getting on a set in any capacity! How’d he get there? So I asked him.
When the original Star Trek aired, young Joseph Griffenberg stayed up late to watch. He’d stage Star Trek scenes using a local cemetery as exotic set locations, with him playing Capt. Kirk (of course). He’d use lines he remembered from the series, already showing a love for acting.
After a tour in the Navy, he returned to his family in Las Vegas, New Mexico. American Playhouse’s “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” was shooting nearby and Joe got work as an extra. That led to work on the original Red Dawn, with then unknowns Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen. Meanwhile Joe had gotten a camera and went around filming everything – even a praying mantis eating its mate! Yuck! He found he wanted more control of a film than he’d have as an actor. Actors play out the role of the writer/director’s story. Joe wanted to be telling his own stories, so he enrolled in the University of New Mexico, focusing his Fine Arts degree on television production.
Joe was still a trekkie, starting in the ’80’s a notable collection of action figures and Star Trek ornaments. Star Trek Next Generation came along. Like me, Joe resisted but got hooked. He’s also followed each of the Trek shows since – Deep Space 9, Voyager, Enterprise. And included them in his collection, filling a whole room! Thankfully, his wife colludes in this “hobby”.
I asked Joe what advice he’d give to someone who wants to get picked as an extra.
“Persistence! I put in a picture for every call.” Joe said he follows social media, joining facebook groups that pass the word about calls coming up. He reminded me that in New Mexico the film industry has a website where casting calls are posted: http://www.nmfilm.com/Casting_Calls.aspx. Joe points out that extras don’t need any special qualifications. The casting director is simply looking for “a look”. When Joe hears of a production coming up, he finds who the casting director is and checks out their website. Most will say what look they need.
Joe also recommends building your own network of contacts and your own experience by volunteering to work with school groups and with small indie efforts. “You meet more people that way – and they remember you.” Joe says that half the things he’s done have been through word of mouth.
Joe also maintains a page on IMDb, a site where people in the movie and tv business post their resumes and contact information. Joe includes on his page pictures showing that he can adapt to several different looks. With all his experience and training, Joe’s page is very impressive! http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2445713/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 “I’ve been on set 50 times. Every time I learn something new.” For example, he watches the actors and how they adapt to different directors. “Some directors let actors do what they want, allow them to improvise. Others control everything, like Alfred Hitchcock did. Like James Cameron does.” Joe also continues to take classes, on the different aspects of film making. “Even if you know you want to direct, it will help you to know how to act.”
Do you need to have professional headshots? No! Joe points out that local film oriented organizations usually have a yearly general casting call. Also there will be open casting calls for each show or film, advertised on the local news or local film website. At a casting call, you stand in line, an hour or more. When you get to the front, they have you fill in a card with your name, contact number, type of vehicle (if you’re willing to have it used), your sizes. They’ll take a picture that will go into a file. They keep it forever! When a shoot comes up that needs extras, the casting director will scan the file for people who match the need. Aha! I did this once – and got called a couple of years later! Unfortunately at a time when I couldn’t go.
During our chat, Joe has mentioned several terms: background, stand-ins, doubles. I ask him what each means.
“Background is another word for extras. They are part of the background of shots – people walking by on the street, people in shops or restaurants, the crowd. They don’t speak and don’t need any qualifications other than fitting in with the scene. Let’s say you’re shooting a scene set in Manhattan. You need people who have the typical clean-cut look to be in the background, just as there are always people around on the street there. If you’re shooting a scene set in Eqypt, your background people need the darker skin tone you’d see there. If the people have particular clothing, casting will look for extras who can fit the costumes they have.”
So what is a “stand-in“? “A stand-in substitutes for a leading actor for setting up lights and camera angles. A stand-in doesn’t have to look like the actor, but needs to have the same height and build. The director or actor may first demonstrate the action needed – ‘walk from there to here”. Then the stand-in mimics that action over and over while the crew arranges the lights and angles.”
“A double has to look like the actor – same height, weight, hair style, general face type. A double is used in place of the actor for distance shots for shots from behind.” Joe ran in a Walter White look-alike contest Bryan Cranston held in Albuquerque, adapting his appearance even to shaving his head. He looked enough like Cranston’s Walter White that he was hired as his photo double. Having a double is a great relief to an actor since a 20 second scene may take 4 hours to shoot! Makeup and costume tried their effects on Joe first to get them finalized before replicating them on Cranston. So Joe got to hang out with Cranston a lot more than an extra or stand-in would.
Can you be an extra and still hold down a regular job? How much notice do you get? “The amount of notice depends on the situation. One casting agent called me for the next day. I couldn’t work it out that quickly with my day job. For ‘Night Shift’ I got several days notice. When they contact you, they’ll tell you when to be there and how many days they’ll need you. Maybe if you turn them down a few times, they’ll stop calling – I just make sure to send in my picture again.”
Let’s say someone has done what you suggested and has gotten a call to be an extra on a picture. What’s it like on location? Joe laughed, “It’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’. You might arrive at 5am and sit for 13 hours without ever being called. At least you still get paid. Bring a book and your cell phone – just don’t take them on the set!” The tone of the location varies. Joe’s experience was that on Night Shift they were pleasant, knew his name. Others may treat extras like cattle. I ask about makeup. Joe says that usually background people need to come “hair and make-up ready” – looking acceptably generic. If it’s a western, someone from make-up may make you look dirtier.
Joe emphasizes that observing good location etiquette is key to getting more work. “How well you get along is more important that how good an actor you are. Make sure never to burn your bridges.” The rules of set etiquette include:
So are you ready to go out and fulfill your dream of being an extra, just as Joe did? If you are, let me know how it goes – and where to look for a glimpse of you in the background! And if you hear of any Star Trek shoots in New Mexico, let Joseph Griffenberg know. He’s ready!