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.
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
On 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).
The Creative Side of Filmmaking: Building a Lasting Career
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.