**UPDATE: This article was originally published on October 15, 2017 before being moved to this current site.**
I promised myself daily updates on this thing, but the whole experience took me over. Honestly, the time I could've used to write was spent in a quasi-permanent state of reflection. I mentioned in one of the previous articles that I was tackling several things at once. I also underestimated the experience at TIFF, and the city of Toronto. First…
The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the biggest in the world, and it showed me nothing to the contrary. People blanketed King Street, which housed the Filmmaker's Lounge and also TIFF headquarters. The day I picked up my festival pass, I looked through the program of all the speakers and screenings available. I was recommended to plan ahead, and I did…sort of. But the internet is a cooky place, and there are endless stories about the great things/bad things about TIFF. You have to wait seven hours to get a ticket. They overbook their screenings. Nothing is done right. They're fart nuggets.
For me, all of the volunteers at TIFF were outstanding, considering the amount of people they were assisting on an hourly basis. They always answered my questions, repeatedly pointed me in the right direction, and forgave excessive naivety I displayed throughout. I had no problem getting tickets, and some of them were rather in demand.
I was a small fish in a deep ocean.
So much information, so many people with delicious stories of failure and success, and a library of films that could wrap around the globe several times over. I met too many people to count, and many of them had 20 - 30 years in the industry. A humbling experience.
The discussions were insightful and the screenings were pretty crazy. Having conversations with individuals in a theater from opposite sides of the planet…always fun. I will say this. Brie Larson's upcoming directorial debut "Unicorn Store" is exceptional. So is Brie Larson. It was also pretty neat to catch "Brawl in Cell Block 99", which comes from the Dallas-based production house Cinestate. Good movie, and good vibes. Vince Vaughn kicking ass is nothing short of pure adrenaline exploding from the screen. Each day began at around 7:30 and ended around 2 - 2:30 in the morning. There were no shortages of discussions. Thankfully, I brought a journal along. I'll be going through that for a good long while before I remember everything. Weeks later, I'm still recuperating. It's a great feeling. My phone kept acting up, so pictures were limited. I managed to grab this one, looking far more awake than I actually am.
Right now I'm living in Texas during one of the weirdest periods in our modern socio-political history. There's extremist opinions on both side of the fence, and there's a mist of unending global armageddon. It's been claustrophobic and I have fallen into the cloud of"being used to it".
Five minutes in Toronto brought me to Jesus.
In the airport, I stood next to a family from Mogadishu, and my cab driver was from Punjab, India. Walking around the neighborhood of my Airbnb, I noticed trash cans everywhere. Upon closer inspection, the trash cans were also recycling bins. Consequently, there was very little trash on the ground. People kept to themselves, but if I took a gander and said 'hi' to a stranger, they would always smile and reciprocate. The city has a million more people than Dallas and over 300 languages, and yet there was very little conflict. I even heard cars honking less. Believe me, it wasn't due to a lack of traffic.
There was a shortage of homeless folks, apparently because they are housed and fed by the government. I spoke with an elementary school teacher, who went into considerable detail about the education system up there. Suffice to say, you have to work your ass off to be a teacher in Canada. You need to know French, you need college, you need post-graduate work. On top of that, it's crazy competitive. The teacher explained that his job wasn't easy, but in the same breath spoke about his weekly massage (courtesy of his benefits package).
He's a teacher, getting a massage through work. I can think of a few of my teacher-friends who could use one of those.
On the third day, I shared an Uber driven by a Pakistani with two Vietnamese folks riding along. I asked how the driver's day was going, and he sighed heavily. "Man, the last client was in bad shape." I asked how, and he explained the individual was coming down from a serious drug-infused mind bender. I asked where he took the customer, and he replied without thinking. "Oh, I dropped them off at the Wellness Center." Rehab, essentially. He continued, "The Wellness Center pays for the ride within a certain distance. I mean, you wouldn't expect someone in that state to be able to pay."
I mean, obviously. Right?
The weather was unexpectedly warm for that time of the year, a moderate 75 degrees (F) during the day and mid-50s at night.
Most of my evenings in Toronto were spent on this shoreline, looking out at Lake Ontario. I must've stared at the water for over two hours most days.
All this rambling could be summarized in one short sentence. Toronto was awesome.
Several months ago, Kevin and I dropped by one of our favorite food places in Dallas, a nice little place called Kozy Kitchen. Fresh ingredients, friendly service, and a low-key atmosphere. Over the years, we've developed a solid friendship with the folks working there. The many nights we worked on Videotape and lost track of time…those guys came through. When we walked in one afternoon for a to-go order, they introduced us to another individual in the film industry. Fast-forward and we were offered the opportunity to submit a script their way. It's our first offer since Videotape's completion, and I was anxious to get something in their hands. Among other projects we've worked on, this individual wanted something we didn't have: horror/action/thriller.
Enchiladas everyone wants these days.
I needed to do research. So research, I did. I revisited and studied several horror films, including "Rosemary's Baby", "Night of the Living Dead", "Split", "Vampyr", "M", "Psycho", and "The Witch". Starting the idea was not easy. I tried, tried, and tried again. Is one direction better than another? Should I take a risk here or play it safe? Will producers want this? It's part of the process. I'm an artist. I've made peace with it.
I suppose I've just been stubborn the last several years. I've focused more on what other people want. I suppose the experimental delivery of my first feature put me in that slump. Toronto - and the people I spoke with - allowed me to embrace the more selfish side. One individual told me at the conference, "Every idea is a cliche. Every idea has been attempted. I guarantee you, no one would approach a cliche the exact way you would. So embrace that. Make a damn good cliche that's your own. It's always refreshing to look at the same thing from a different part of the room."
Is there a happy ending? No ending at all. Just more beginnings. I took an idea I'd been working with for several months and pushed forward. The result: a film treatment with the first several scenes attached. Less than a day later, the producer asked for a full script. I've got a month to get that done. In this business, you never know. Nothing may come of it. But in my experience, if you try something and you put yourself fully in it, a door is always unlocked. Which brings us to…
THE SECRET PROJECT
There have been numerous examples in the history of re-editing movies. It seems like there's a fan re-edit of "Star Wars" every year or so. There there is Steven Soderbergh's fascinating re-edit of "Heaven's Gate". After viewing Soderbergh's re-edit of both Heaven's Gate and 2001: A Space Odyssey, I felt it was something I should try. My first attempt was 1963's "Cleopatra" with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowell, and many others.
The film insists on paying special attention to costume and set design. Don't get me wrong. All of that is stunning.
When I was fourteen years old, I volunteered at a local playhouse for kids and teenagers. I worked behind the scenes, learning how to use lights, raise curtains and set design. On our first day, our teacher spoke of "Titanic", which had swept the Oscars and blew away box office expectations earlier that year. Everyone was still talking about it. So was he. He asked us, "Did you notice how amazing the special effects were? And of course, the set design. He practically built the Titanic from scratch." We all nodded. He paused. "Did you guys notice just how cornball the script is?" We chuckled, but he did not. He was dead serious. "This is the biggest lesson you need to learn. If someone only talks about the work we've done, we have failed. We are supposed to compliment the story, not mask it. People will grow bored of our work if that's all they notice." Several years later, my father and I sipped on his home-brewed coffee when he said, "Just remember, it all begins with the story. Everything else is a distraction. Sometimes necessary. Other times not at all."
After several months of re-editing certain scenes, I kept feeling unsatisfied. So much dialogue, so many long takes. Perhaps I was too ambitious and too removed from that period in cinema to do what I wanted to do. Eventually, I gave up. I've promised myself to return to it at some point, but it won't be anytime soon.
I looked at other potential candidates. Finally I came across a movie that felt like the right candidate. Beautiful cinematography, immersive characters, and an interesting story arc. It also belongs to a franchise I love. There is another component to the project I did not see coming, which should provide an even more engaging experience. I've made significant headway with this experiment. Consequently, I've been re-reading old editing manuals. Walter Murch's "In the Blink of an Eye" has been essential.
I did half the editing on "Videotape" and the whole process took me over in the best way possible. Unfortunately, due to the experimental nature of the project, I didn't have an optimal atmosphere for editing. We did very few multiple takes, and many shots were only captured from one angle. The conventional approach to editing had to be severely modified. With this project, I'm finally working with more traditional set-ups, and it's allowing me to further hone the skills of editing. Nice change of pace.
With everything else going on, it's hard finding the time to work on this sucker. But hey, that's what late nights are for. There have been many of them.