glimpses behind the scenes at what creates the magic we experience of film & tv- & other!

Big Picture: Directors et al.

Blast from the Past!

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.

Letter - Klingons 1973 p1

Letter - Klingons 1973 p2

 

 

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.


Skydance Productions: Co-Producing Star Trek

skydance-logo-700x300Skydance 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.

skydanceinterview

                 some Skydance projects

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.”

dana_goldberg_p_2013

Dana Goldberg CCO

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.

David Ellison founded SkydanceDavid Ellison founded Skydance

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.’

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Steve Jobs on why Pixar succeeded

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!

Zach & double Brandon

Brandon Stacy & Terminator posters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole interview with Ellison & Goldberg is interesting. You can read it here.


Lessons Learned from The Chair

The ChairThis 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.

Shane Dawson

Dawson has an over-the-top style

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 collaborates

Anna collaborates

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.

"ZacharyQuinto is a gentleman and a scholar_ He wouldn't swear in front of our little brother_ Thx for coming Zach"
“ZacharyQuinto is a gentleman and a scholar_ He wouldn’t swear in front of our little brother_ Thx for coming Zach”

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.

Corey was supportive

Corey was supportive

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.


How Comics Got Respect

Wonder Woman 1940s

Comics in my youth

comics now - Batwoman by JH Williams III, 2014

comics now – Batwoman by JH Williams III, 2014

 

How did comics get from here to there?

 

 

 

 

IDW Star Trek Ongoing #1

IDW Star Trek Ongoing #1

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!

 

watchmen-face-rorshack

Watchmen by Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins was acknowledged as literature.

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.

Bram Meehan in the flesh

Bram Meehan in the flesh

 

Bram Meehan, cartoon style, by Chris Askham

Bram Meehan, cartoon style, by Chris Askham

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.

Little Nemo, 1907

Little Nemo, 1907 by Windor McKay

 

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the 1930's

1930s:Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster create Superman

 

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.

 

 

Jack Kirby helped shape the visual language of modern comics

Jack Kirby added many heroes that became The Avengers & helped shape the visual language of modern comics

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.

 

Mad Magazine started as a satirical comic by Bill Gaines

Mad Magazine started as a satirical comic by Bill Gaines

Gaines started a trend in letting his creative team develop their own style & be credited for it

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.

 

 

 

underground comix scene, later 1960's

underground comix scene, later 1960’s

 

Censors ruled the 50’s – which of course led to an underground movement in comics as well as everything else.

 

 

Will Eisner's 1970s "comics" were considered "graphic novels"

Will Eisner’s “comics” were considered “graphic novels”-Late 1970’s

 

 

 

 

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”.

 

 

 

Maus coverMaus sampleThe 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. ”

 

 

Most comics by Image Comics are creator-owned.

Most comics by Image Comics are creator-owned. Partner studio TMP produces Spawn.

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!

Breathtaking visuals

Breathtaking visuals

My favorite comic con find has been Mouse GuardThe 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.

 

 

ReadingOrder

Reading order is important! from Drawing Words & Writing Pictures

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!

New developments give independent artists ways to create their own comics.

New developments give independent artists ways to create their own comics.

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/colorist/letterer system), and so we set out to do our own — and learn what goes into making a comic.” Their comic is Raised By Squirrels (http://www.raisedbysquirrels.com/).”

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/

 

 

 


Fascinating Behind-the-Scenes of Directing a Movie

The ChairIf you’re interested in Behind-the-Scenes movie making, tune into “The Chair” on Starz, starting Sept. 6.  Two novice directors compete with each other in creating a movie.  The directors are Shane Dawson, a prolific YouTube personality, and Anna Martemucci, writer/actress in “Breakup at a Wedding” and other vids by Periods Films.  Both were given a starting script and a budget to go forth and create.  Their process was captured – that’s what the Starz series shows – their actions and anxieties as well as the coaching they get from the more experienced producers.  Their resulting films will be judged by the audience.

Chris Moore, Shane Dawson, Anna Martemucci, Zachary Quinto

Chris Moore, Shane Dawson, Anna Martemucci, Zachary Quinto

Both had available high-class coaching.  Chris Moore (“Goodwill Hunting“, “Project Greenlight“, etc) brings his experience of a lot of hits under his belt.  In contrast, the Before The Door coaches are newer to the scene, yet have already created two Oscar nominations – “Margin Call” and “All Is Lost”!   Before The Door is the production company of  Star Trek’s Spock, Zachary Quinto, and  his business partners Neal Dodson,  Corey Moosa, and Sean Akers.  I’m as interested in their coaching as I am in the directors’ processes.

Martemucci & Dawson

The competing directors

I attended a panel for “The Chair” at the San Diego Comic Con 2014, where we compared how the directors addressed the same scene.  Zachary Quinto and an actress read the scene as originally written by Dan Schoffer. Then Chris Moore showed Dawson’s  and Martemucci’s versions of the same scene. I was amazed at how different they were!  For example, Dawson’s focused more on him – he played the character and most of the camera was on him. Martemucci’s focused more on the story, on getting across the situation and relationships. My guess is that Dawson will only be able to “do his own thing”, which is probably just fine to his many followers. Martemucci is my bet for a more versatile future as a director. She appears to have the discipline to be able to give form to someone else’s idea. We’ll see, eh?

You can see the entire SDCC panel here.  There’s an interesting review of the series here.

Tune in – and let me know your impressions!


On Filmmaking by Filmmakers

Listening to filmmakers talking about their work gives fascinating insider tidbits. Here are two such talks.

The Business of Filmmaking: Navigating Today’s Entertainment Industry

copa_makingthechair_685On Feb 3 2014, Chris Moore (“Good Will Hunting,” “American Pie” series and “Adjustment Bureau”)  and Corey Moosa (“All is Lost,” “Breakup at a Wedding”,“Margin Call” and “The Banshee Chapter”) discussed the very practical side of making films.

Chris Moore is well established with a number of successes under his belt. In contrast Corey’s company, Before the Door, is a relative “new kid on the block” – and as such can relate to the issues in getting started.

Corey is one of the founders of Before The Door with Zachary Quinto (the young Spock) and Neal Dodson. He heads up their graphic novel side – Lucid and Mr. Murder is Dead so far, both of which got accolades. Corey also was the onsite producer for the horror movie “The Banshee Chapter”. Before the Door has been listed as one of Hollywood’s “new mavericks”, picking projects that push the boundaries of the art in some way. They also choose to work with new directors – such as JC Chandor who got an Oscar nod for his first effort, the brilliant “Margin Call”. Before the Door also likes working with their Carnegie-Mellon classmates and fellow Pittsburgh folk, so their collaboration with Park Point University on “The Chair” is a natural!  For this talk Corey filled in for Zachary Quinto who was scheduled to talk but couldn’t be there (this time! – see below).

For Park Point’s article on the talk – as well as a link to the talk itself, click here.  For just the talk itself, click here .

The Creative Side of Filmmaking: Building a Lasting Career

Corey, Zachary & Neal at the Indie Spirit Awards 2012

Corey, Zachary & Neal at the Indie Spirit Awards 2012

The talk on Feb 17, 2014 was the second part of the series.  Zachary Quinto showed up unexpectedly with another Before The Door founder, Neal Dodson.  Neal is producer for “All is Lost“,  an amazing movie with only Robert Redford – and no dialogue! – and “A Most Violent Year“, both written and directed by JC Chandor. While this talk is titled “Creative Side”, I found they had quite a few business tips as well. Zachary is delightfully articulate about his art and viewpoint. I enjoy hearing him talk from his right-brain & collaborative view about aspects I know from a more left-brain, task view.

For Park Point University’s article on the talk, click here.  For just the talk, click here.


David Livingston, Star Trek Director

StarTrek.com has posted some fascinating interviews.  One I particularly enjoyed is a two part interview with Director David Livingston who has worked about 20 years on various Star Trek productions.  He started as the production manager on STNG’s “Encounter at FarPoint”, a grueling job.  I love his comment about when he was offeredSTNG fish the chance to become a director. ” I actually went into therapy to try and deal with my fears and anxieties about doing it. I took classes through the Director’s Guild. I did scene study and talked to the (TNG) editors and other directors. I went to the set to see what other people were doing and sat in with the editors. I went to our DIT school and finally Rick gave me an opportunity to direct.”  Ah yes, fears and anxieties about dreams coming true! And the willingness to do the step-by-step footwork to prepare.
Part 1
Part 2