I first visited LA's famous Farmer's Market on Fairfax and 3rd Street in the mid-70's and it had already been going strong for almost 40 years at that point. It remains one of our favorite places in town and although diminished in footprint from what it once was before it was tucked into a corner of The Grove, it's still a small oasis of preservation of the past amidst the ocean of physical change and transformation that defines SoCal culture.
I found this vintage book of colorful illustrations and photos in a thrift store all the way in Woodstock, N.Y. of all places. Wonder how it got there?
According to the book, the market was the brainchild of one Roger Dahljelm back in the midst of the Great Depression, who took the notion to a friend named Fred Beck, an ad man, and Beck sold the concept to Earl Gilmore who owned a big farm including the tract of land that the current market sits on. The market will be 80 years old this summer, so I guess it was a pretty solid idea after all.
David Hollander wrote a wonderful play once called The Sun Diaries about a group of regulars, free lance script readers and analysts for the studios and independent producers, who meet at the market and kibbitz and trade horror stories about their low level wanna-be creative jobs. The conceit of the play is that, as expected and desired by the system, one reader has read and covered close to a thousand screenplays without ever recommending a single one. But to his dismay, he is reading a script that he loves, knowing that his recommendation could force his boss to actually have to read the thing, and perhaps cost him his job. It was a wonderfully droll piece of humor and so familiar and true to those of us who started in the business as readers and used the farmer's market as our office!
I have some great old color photos from the book to scan and share with you next.
I found this picture of Roger Ebert standing on Dearborn Street in front of the marquee of the old Playboy Theatre. After the demise of the Playboy, the theatre was taken over and renamed the Sandburg Theatre, and then closed yet again a few years later. In May of 1979, Albert Berger and I reopened the theatre, still named the Sandburg, with a repertory policy of showing classic American films and recent foreign films.
Roger was a frequent patron of the Sandburg and a strong supporter of our programming. The Wild Bunch. Peeping Tom. Aguirre, The Wrath of God. Gun Crazy. Roger. A tub of popcorn. 35mm Technicolor prints. A lobby full of film geeks debating the auteur theory. This was the era where I spent the most time interacting with him, and how I will best remember him. Smart, funny, passionate, and crazy about movies.
Rest In Peace.
I always thought that Matt Drake's original screenplay "The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman" had one of the freshest voices I had ever read when my producing partners Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa first brought it to me.
Which is probably why it has taken six years and a series of false starts and heartbreaking stops to finally make its way to the floor. Originality is not the most precious coin in the Hollywood realm these days. It's genre-defying blend of aching love story, comedy, edgy violence and trippy surrealism in a pitch-perfect tone of black absurdism that mirrors the sensibility of its Eastern European setting had many studios and financiers flirting with the project but ulitmately shying away in this risk adverse era of more formulaic and easily pigeon-holed fare.
You can see the surprised look on Matt's face as he finds himself sitting in the breakfast room of the Bucharest Marriott with director Fredrik Bond five weeks out from shooting and putting the finishing touches on the production polish of the script.
I hadn't been back to Bucharest in almost ten years, since the completion of principal photography of "Cold Mountain", Anthony Minghella's epic Civil War story which was mostly filmed in the mountains of Transylvania.
But as that film was rural and period, Charlie is contemporary and very urban, and the Bucharest I returned to was mostly unrecognizable to me from ten years ago.
Bond is one of the top commercial directors working in the world today and he is making his feature film debut on "Charlie". His uncanny eye and good taste have found some great locations for the film that capture in architecture and landscape the incongruous juxtaposition of romantic idealism and old world cynicism at the heart of Matt's fable.
This looks like the world's tiniest bar, but these gentlemen seem to be enjoying the intimacy of the space.
Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood and Mads Mikkelson are starring the film, but they hadn't arrived yet on this cold and rather inclement day of scouting.
But things will heat up soon in every way as the circus comes to town and Fredrik Bond and Matt Drake and their whole team of artists and technicians assemble in Romania to try to capture the anarchistic spirit of Bucharest and film the necessary death that will finally let "Charlie" live!
When I came across this issue of the notorious ur-tabloid Confidential Magazine from the mid-fifties, the graphic illusion was so convincing that I had to do a double-take to recognize it for what it really was - a parody issue of the EC humor comic book "Panic".
The idea of treating comic book characters and superheroes as real, and a seamless part of our celebrity culture deserving of their own gossip rag, feels so post-modern and au currant.
For you Chicagoans in the audience, there is even a parody strip on "Marvin" (read Marlon) Perkins, live from the "Blinkin' Park Zoo"!
I assume this was a one-off as I couldn't find any other issues of Comicfidential, but this year when Green Hornet, Thor, X-Men and Green Lantern and their ilk dominate the box office and cultural landscape, it seems like the time would be ripe to revive it.
No matter where you are in the world, every film location scout has a certain rhythm and shape and tropes familiar to anyone in the business. The beautiful island of Guadeloupe was no exception.
Here is a little photoblog of some iconic moments from our preliminary look-see for your enjoyment.
The driver is usually one of the most important local members of the team, and often the coolest dude. We were blessed with a father and son team, Max and Patrice, whom we dubbed Mad Max and Danica Patrick for their mad skills behind the wheel. You never knew which one was going to show up each day.
More often than not, when you see the most beautiful location and fall in love with it, you will be told that it has poor access, no place for a base camp, is too steep, or otherwise massively unfriendly to production.
It can be an amazing and wonderful thing when people generously open their homes and share their interior worlds and lives with you. Taking the time to hear their stories invariably enriches your own understanding of the world, and seeps into the DNA of your film project. This woman was a cook, and one of the greatest organizers to maximize the use of a small space that I have ever witnessed.
This woman had come to Guadeloupe from Algeria, and lived in an old 1930's wooden beach house that was as weathered and experienced at survival as she was; only when her daughter arrived did we discover it was also her birthday!
Snack food is an inevitable part of driving around in a car all day. There has been a movement over the years away from loading up on donuts and other junk and towards providing the team with some healthier options.
The Film Gods are always prone to laughing at our futile efforts to impose our organizational will on nature, so it is not a bad idea to light a candle and say a prayer wherever you go. As they say, the quickest way to end a drought is to take out your film camera and set up for a shot!
If you see a location you like during the day, it is usually a good idea to go back and take a look at night, too. Or if you visit a place in the winter and it has a great view, try to imagine what it will look like when you come back to shoot six months later, when it has been completely blocked by foliage, or even worse, torn down and paved over by new construction.
But the local aged Rhum Vieux was to die for!
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
Man, was this cat Ecclesiastes the head of marketing at a major studio?
From the grumpy old man file:
Remember bass player Felix Pappalardi of the rock group "Mountain"? He was one of the first sixties rockers that I remember going deaf from the ultra-high volume of their concerts.
I was reminded of Pappalardi's disability the other day when I tried to take Natalie to the movies - a showing of "Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of G'Hool" at the Pacific Theatres at the Grove.
I've felt for a number of years that the volume at which movies are projected in theatres has been slowly creeping up, but I put it down to my age and general sensitivity. But after the endless advertisements and the lights finally dimmed for the endless trailers, the decibel level from the speakers behind the screen almost knocked me out of my wheelchair, and Natalie stuck her fingers in her ears until I looked over and saw that she had broken out in tears.
I yelled for the projectionist to turn it down, but of course he or she could not hear me over the din. I finally wheeled outside to the lobby and complained, only to be told by the usher that another patron had asked to turn it up!?!
Natalie had really been looking forward to the movie but she told me that she wanted to leave and we went and got our money back.
Is there any national or local standard governing the volume at which movies can be projected? Has anyone checked the decibel level lately at their local multiplex? There must be some limit to what the normal human ear drum can tolerate. Has anyone else shared this experience?
I know I sound like a generationally-challenged curmudgeon for those of you grooving on the transformational sound design of Transformers, but I can't help feeling that the extreme volume at which movies are being projected today is also some desperate attempt to compensate for the lack of volume to their content.
If C.S. Lewis is correct, and "pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world", then in spite of all other evidence to the contrary, God is alive and well at your local multiplex these days.
I realize that some of you may have somehow gotten the false impression from my posts that it was all just fun and games over there in Malaysia - jumping off into the abyss, taking world-class painkillers, hanging out with the nurses on my ward and all - but that would be a mistake.
Before my accident we actually did some serious work there and learned a lot about the local film scene.
Ahmad Idham is one of the most prolific and successful directors of Sinema Malaysia - the contemporary Malaysian film industry.
A young man, he has already made something like twenty features as director and producer and often co-writer, which, as he explained when we visited his set in a nature preserve that housed an old-school style Malay village one evening, he films on a strict 20-day shooting schedule. Usually this means 20 straight days of filming, but once in a rare while he does allow his crew and actors an occasional day off, but only if the weather or locations demand it.
His work is exclusively horror genre films, often ghost stories steeped in local legend, myth and cultural traditions. His cast consists of young people in their 20's - the most popular boy and girl star in Malaysia today were filming the night we were there - but as Idham explains, the life expectancy for a star's career in cinema is quite short there, typically ten years more or less, and after thirty they have moved on to different careers as the audience has moved on to newer fresher faces.
Having myself worked on Hollywood films of full crew and huge scale and much lower budget independent films, I was still surprised and impressed by the economy with which Idham manages to organize his productions - even Roger Corman would be envious of this guy!
With a crew of not more than 12 - 15 people who are all hired on a daily basis depending on the needs of the scenes to be shot that day, he shoots two or three takes at most of each camera set-up and often gets the work done in an 8 hour shooting day. But this was not a Dogma-style production made only with available light and a hand-held camera - there was a crane and dolly track and light stands and hair and make-up on set - it was just a very small crew doing multiple jobs who had worked together for a long time and operated with maximum efficiency to get a full-length 35mm film in the can for pennies.
Ahmad confessed to us one particular quirk of the Malaysian industry - the actors there get paid by the number of scenes they are in, not on a flat rate or a daily or weekly fee based on the number of days they work.
As a consequence, savvy producers and screenwriters have developed a habit of writing long "omnibus" scenes in which different characters and story lines are all developed and advanced at once. Must make for an interesting read - a feature script with like 15 or 20 scenes in the whole movie. The director and script supervisor and editor all have to keep a keen eye on the coverage so these "all-in-one" scenes can later be repurposed and resequenced for the montage.
I haven't seen any of these films yet, but I am curious to see if one would notice this unusual technique.
And I admire the scrappy spirit of an independent producer who has found an audience and carved out a sustainable niche within the economic scale of his local industry.
(The drawing is my poorly sketched copy of the dvd cover of one of Ahmad's horror flicks - the old shrunken head in a glass jar!)
This weekend was the Producer's Guild of America's annual "Produced by" conference held on the lot at 20th Century Fox.I was part of a panel that was discussing foreign co-productions, moderated by William Stuart, co-chair of the PGA International Committee, and including Ed Guiney from Element Pictures in Ireland, Judy Cairo producer of "Crazy Heart", Hal Sadoff an agent who specializes in financing at ICM, and Karen Robson, a lawyer at Pryor, Cashman with a lot of experience in this area.
The site was Scoring Stage 1 and it was a full house - although on the dais we could barely see the audience from the stage with the full-on high-beam lighting shining on us.
With the dearth of capital everywhere to finance independent films, combined with the busted model of the U.S. theatrical marketplace for anything but multi-thousand screen wide-release pictures, there is a lot of interest in learning about how to put films together with international partners and access the global network of government financial support for local film production that follows a complex web of various co-production treaties and the qualification requirements of individual countries.
But as Sadoff pointed out, even with so-called "soft-money" the name of the game today is to find private equity, as very few independent movies will get made without it in the hard-pressed sales marketplace today.
There was about a six year period in my life where I felt like I was working outside of the United States almost eighty percent of the time, on movies shot in England, Italy, Australia, Vietnam, Romania, China, Germany and elsewhere.
While other panelists were more qualified to talk intimately about the finances, I tried to share some of my experience working with multinational crews in foreign locations to talk about some of the subtler aspects that come to play for a creative producer dealing with issues of language, accent, cultural differences and misunderstandings, co-producing partners, censorship, and local crew and casting.
Any destination should be looked at in regards to locations, infrastructure, ethnicity of your extras for crowd scenes, shooting cost, available subsidies, safety, access, required permits, currency exchange rates, import/export limitations, and myriad other factors that will impact your project.
One thing I've found constant is the requirement to keep an open mind. Feature films are works of fiction, and in any fiction we use LIES to get at the deeper or artistic truth. Many great films were made continents away from where their stories were actually set, with filmmakers constructing and controlling the world within the frame that the viewer sees.
In the globalized world of cinema, a lot of old boundaries are falling, and the country of origin of many films gets harder and harder to discern. The world of international co-production, like all filmmaking, is full of surprise and challenges.
The most important thing is to do your homework and make sure that your "Roman Holiday" doesn't turn into "Midnight Express"!