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City of Ghosts: Movie Review

The documentary City of Ghosts begins at a black-tie gala in New York City.  A group of Syrian men mingle with donors and have their pictures taken.  “Maybe a little smile?” a photographer asks.  But they are thinking about the struggles of their home city, where there is little smile about.  They are part of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a group of citizen-journalists who have documented the human-rights abuses of ISIS in the city of Raqqa, Syria.

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There is Nothing Not to “Love” About Lana Del Rey’s New Single

Not often do fans of the infamously melancholy Lana Del Rey get to hear a song that is genuinely happy. Yet this is precisely the kind of song that the singer’s new single “Love” is. For the girl known for penning songs like “Sad Girl” and “Pretty When You Cry”, “Love” couldn’t be more pleasantly opposite.

Del Rey, who released the song as a lead single for her upcoming album Lust for Life, has made a notable departure from her typically depressive, sultry style to create something blissful: an unadulterated love song. “Love,” a tribute to young romance, speaks straight from the mouth of enamored youth itself, as the chorus goes: “You get ready, you get all dressed up / to go nowhere in particular/ Back to work or the coffee shop / Doesn’t matter because it’s enough to be young and in love.”

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Hollywood’s REAL Trigger Warning Problem

Trigger warning: There are actual triggers and warnings ahead.  Please proceed with extreme caution.

Driving around any major boulevard, ride any busy subway, walk through any mall and you will notice them.  Movie posters, billboards, bus and train decals promoting the latest Hollywood action movie.  Photographic collages filled up with recognizable beautiful celebrities in sharp outfits and perfect poses.  Here are some popular examples.  And pay attention, there will be a quiz afterwards.  See ya on the other side.

So other than the fact that it’s sad how boring most movie posters have become over the years (the motif of the early Bond films is a lost art form) what is the one thing all these film poster have in common?

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Donuts and Bizarrely Unintentional Pop Art

DVHwoodImageIt is 8:20 am, with a pile of messy hair on top of my head I lurch to the most glorious of all square electrical devices, the refrigerator. With just a brief look inside, it becomes quite clear that a half bottle of sriracha and a bag of carrots will not be sufficient for the breakfast of a champion. Donning on my usual Tupac t-shirt, I head outside to the streets. Since I live in LA, you must immediately be thinking “And now she gets into her car and drives to…” but you are missing one, fairly crucial, point—I live on Hollywood Blvd, essentially the Times Square of Los Angeles. It may very well be the only place in LA where it is more efficient to walk than drive. As I step out onto the pavement a car door slams to my left with Darth Vader exiting a Toyota Corolla.

“Good Morning” he says, breathing loudly, as he sweeps past me.

“Good Morning, how are you doing today?” I reply.

“Just heading to work, pretty good thanks.” He answers, already large steps ahead of me.

My sunglasses fall to the bridge of my nose as I duck out of the camera eye line taking a photo of a wax Marilyn Monroe (she is everything here-by the way). I zig zag through the crowd to the Dolby Theatre and down the piano staircase that always sounds out of tune. I finally step inside the corner market and grab my miscellaneous array of items including the Queen Mother of all victuals–the old-fashioned donut–and exit. It is a well-known fact that the minute-to-minute movements on Hollywood blvd are more complex and intricate than those of a Rube Goldberg contraption that routinely does the unexpected. So, I am not surprised when I am suddenly faced with a wall of Ohio state fans arguing with a large group of Halo Space Fighters. Normally, I could have slipped in through the piano staircase again but 15 toddlers and Shrek are having story time so you could very well say I’m in quicksand—the more I try to move the more stuck I become. So I do something that those of us in Generation Y have only done maybe once or twice, I stand still. And I look around. And I shut up.

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DEADLINE EXTENDED – 2015 Liberty Lab for Film

May 15 is here and if you thought you missed out on applying for 2015’s Liberty Lab for Film, then good news… you’ve got seven more days to get your act (or three acts) together and apply for a $10,000 grant, a Hollywood insider to mentor you and 100 days to make your film.

You can read more about the program here or below on the next page.  But perhaps you are more easily persuaded by the visual and would like to watch a short reel showing off last year’s lab participants.

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Short Film – Jujitsu-ing Reality

If you’ve ever succumbed to the pressures of writer’s block or other type of artistic stagnation, give over 16 minutes of your day to watch this award winning short about a screenwriter with ALS.  In Jujitsu-ing Reality, writer Scott Lew’s words come alive on screen by some notable Hollywood actors in his film Sexy Evil Genius,  of which scenes from the film are highlighted throughout.  We witness the lengths he, his family and assistants go to, to fulfill his creative desires.  Not only does the film display the remarkable perseverance of the individual human spirit, it compliments the advancements of technology, medicine and attitudes towards the invalid.

Climbing the Hollywood Hill

To anyone who has ever dreamt of being “someone,” it can be almost unanimously agreed upon that Hollywood is the place to be. Of course, “someone” is mostly arbitrary and subject to one’s own opinion of the term.  It’s mind-boggling to think of the way we are trained from such an early age to believe in the falsehoods of fame and fortune, and, even moreso, that we could be the exception to the rule.  At the ripe young age of 8 (roughly the age when I personally realized my love for the film world), who could know any better?

So as we go through puberty, and grow into young adults, we start to take this love for entertainment to be something much more valuable than just a “love for entertainment.” We want it to be our lives. We want it to be the focus of our careers. We gradually aspire to become the next individual voice of our own generation because what “I” have is unique.  No one else has ever had the ideas “I” have.  “I” am going to make it.

unnamedThen college happens (if such the route is chosen) and we start seeking internships. We strive for Hollywood because that’s where it all happens.  The fact that we don’t actually realize what Hollywood is at this point is moot. We just want to be there.  We want to get our hands dirty and start building that resume. So we dabble for a summer or a semester in the illusion that is the glamorous Hollywood life. It’s our first time experiencing “the real world,” even though we have no idea what it’s really like when we’re still under the academia’s protection.  We return home, telling our friends that we had the time of our lives (because at the wise, intuitive age of 21, we probably did) and that we can’t wait to graduate and go back.

Then we come back.  The struggle becomes oh so real.  This is where the reality of the “real world” sets in. Now, some may call me jaded, but I personally believe that it’s necessary to have at least a small chip on your shoulder.  Especially in this business, you have to be just jaded enough to not be naïve enough to not be jaded.  In laymen’s terms, you can’t be oblivious to the point of selling out.  As we try to carve a path for ourselves and begin to pursue what we’ve always believed was our dream, we start to realize the painful truth of that saying that’s always felt so cliché; “Good things come to those who wait.” Key word: Wait.  Waiting…and waiting…and more waiting.

One of my personal favorite lines about the business, which can apply to any young adult pursuing their dream career; “The key to success is failure and persistence.”  There is something terrifying, yet reassuring about this.  It implies that we must fail (terrifying), yet if we’re failing, we are, in a strange way, succeeding (reassuring).  Because if we are failing, at the very least, it means we are putting ourselves out there. We’re exposing ourselves to the possibilities of success rather than being too afraid to pursue it all together. I believe that the bottom line is to pick a goal and stick to it. Work the system.  You will undoubtedly face some of (if not THE) most challenging situations of your life on this journey, but why not look at those situations as a way to grow, rather than a road bump that we can’t get over?  Shifting gears back into positivity, if we push through the most difficult times and continue to pursue that dream that was so realistic to us at the ages of 8 and 21, what could possibly stop us? We are the next generation. YOU are a part of that generation.  Someone has to be next in line, why not you?

 

Staying Out Instead of Breaking In

 

It’s not a secret. Everybody wants to break into Hollywood. Your retired uncle on your mom’s side took an acting class at a community college. Your father-in-law got a GoPro for Christmas and thinks he’s the next Spielberg. Hell, even your sixteen-year old dogwalker has a spec screenplay that’s “kind of a romantic sci-fi comedy scavenger hunt written for Ryan Gosling as the lead.”

Fame, fortune, following your passion, feeding your ego… There are plenty of motivators, but have you really sat down and thought about why exactly you want to be a part of Hollywood? Maybe the answer isn’t quite clear. Maybe it’s a gut feeling that you have but can’t explain.

With filmmaking technology becoming exponentially better and cheaper, screenwriting contests and fellowships becoming more prevalent, and social media turning nobodys into kind-of-somebodys, aspiring filmmakers are constantly being told that there are more ways to break in than ever. But, is “breaking in” even worth it? If filmmakers have everything they need to create content (especially content in which they have creative control over), then what exactly do they need Hollywood for?

 

png_base64b0a2c8f2e1ca9194Mitch Hurwitz created arguably the greatest sitcom of all time, Arrested Development. As such, many wannabe sitcom writers envy this comedic genius and would no doubt love to be him in certain capacities. However, as he explained at the Banff World Media Festival last week (and could be ascertained from previous interviews) it wasn’t all fun and games creating/running a show for Fox. And “running” was a loose term, since they tried so very hard to handicap him.

 

This isn’t significantly new information, nor is Mitch’s case all that unique. Some show runners have even been fired from the very show that they created (ahem…Dan Harmon…ahem). The difficulties aren’t specific to high-level show creators either, as the path to get there is rarely easy. There are tons of screenwriting horror stories which relate breaking in to having gone through war. Actors and actresses don’t have it any easier, as many are reduced to reality show roles to pay the bills until they land that Oscar-worthy part in a Martin Scorsese feature.

And once you’ve “broken in” it’s not like you automatically get a Bentley, estate in Beverly Hills, and a loyal-customer punch card for the best attorney in LA. You have to stay in. Professional screenwriters, John August and Craig Mazin, have talked frequently on their Scriptnotes podcast about how “staying in” is sometimes harder than breaking in.

So, you struggle to get in and once you’re in, you struggle to stay in. Sure, you might be rich, but money doesn’t buy happiness, especially not if you’re constantly stressed out about getting kicked out of Hollywood and losing everything.

Consider, instead of breaking in, using the available tools to create the content you want and staying out of Hollywood. The scope may be on a much smaller scale, but you’re level of happiness may actually be improved due to a lower level of stress and higher level of control over your content.

 

png_base645aab9a5e12d6edccThis independent attitude isn’t new, but with so many more young filmmakers entering the industry, I feel like there’s more promotion of the gold rush mentality, rather than the idea that you can carve out your own small segment of the industry and happily operate without constantly trying to get noticed by Hollywood.

 

Yes, I realize that the lack of monetary rewards probably impede the desires of many filmmakers to stay outside of the Hollywood bubble. But if more and more filmmakers actively stay out of Hollywood, eventually someone’s going to figure out how to make a decent living from it.

Instead of constantly trying to break in, maybe the new goal should be to stay out, stand out, and and enjoy the view of Hollywood from the outside. Of course all that goes out the window if you’re offered a check for $1 million. You’ve got bills, so cash the check. Seriously, renting a Bentley for an hour is so much more fun than struggling from the outside…

Free Workshop and Internships for Liberty-Loving Creatives

Want to score a free weekend in L.A., learning the craft of storytelling from Hollywood veterans?  Or how about a three-month paid internship at a leading production company?

Taliesin Nexus is pleased to announce that applications are now open for two of their premier training programs.

The Filmmakers Workshop is TN’s flagship, this year’s being the fifth in a row.  A three-day weekend conference in August, it’s the perfect way to sample what TN has to offer, with minimal commitment.  Best of all, it’s absolutely free.  And TN even helps cover travel expenses and provides free room and board.

Who can apply?  TN is looking for liberty-loving filmmakers, video-makers or screenwriters who have some background in media or have written at least one script or made at least one short film or video.

About two dozen applicants will be selected to come to L.A. on August 15-17, 2014, where the workshop will take place on the campus of UCLA.  The faculty is comprised of seasoned Hollywood professionals who will share tips on craft and career advice.  The focus is on developing powerful stories, which is the root of any great movie or TV show.

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If you prefer a longer sojourn in L.A., apply for the Hollywood Internship Program.  This program is more selective than the workshop, as it only accepts about three each year.  Each will work for a leading production company as an intern for about three months.  One or two will work in the summer, and the other(s) in the fall, gaining valuable experience and connections.

The early-bird application deadline is May 1st, so apply soon.  See the “How to Apply” page for more information.

And don’t forget about TN’s new program for more advanced filmmakers, the Liberty Lab for Film.

It’s a Smash Cut Culture

Do we need a new blog on culture?  Well, did we need a new pope?  I think both questions answer themselves.

Webster’s defines “smash cut” as… well, Webster’s doesn’t have “smash cut” in it.  The first suggestion it lists in lieu of “smash cut” is “Siamese cat,” but that’s just silly.

Naturally, Google has a definition:  “A smash cut is a technique in film and other moving visual media where one scene abruptly cuts to another without transition, usually meant to startle the audience.”

Which isn’t so silly.  Because Hollywood is going through an abrupt change that, rather than startling the audience, seems to be scaring the bejebus out of the movie studios and TV networks.

This probably isn’t news to you, but digital technology, which now runs the gamut from production to distribution, has revolutionized the film and TV industry (just as it upended the music business earlier).

Used to be that you needed a battery of refrigerator-sized movie cameras, miles of celluloid film, hanger-sized sound stages, and battalions of crew members to shoot a movie, along with editing suites with bulky equipment that would literally cut and splice together reels of film.

And then, you needed to make thousands of physical copies of these big reels of film and ship them all over the country simultaneously for opening weekend.  And you had to spend tens of millions in TV advertising to get the word out and butts in the seats.

Now?  You can shoot an entire movie with a handheld HD videocamera and a few hard drives that could all fit inside one suitcase.  You can edit the whole thing with nothing but a laptop.  You can distribute your finished product to hundreds of millions of potential customers with literally the touch of a trackpad button and a WiFi connection.  And you can market the whole thing for free with a Twitter account and Facebook page.

Of course, there’s no guarantee you will have the same level of viewership or gross income that the studio movie will garner.  But the playing field is more level than it has ever been before.

Of all of these changes — the lowering of barriers on production, post-production, marketing, and distribution — the most radical is distribution.  The studios were the ultimate gatekeepers on what movies were shown in theaters and sold in video-stores (remember those?), what songs played on the radio, what shows got on TV.  But while they continued to zealously patrol those gates, the walls around those gates have been crumbling.

Gil Scot-Heron was right, in a way — the (digital) revolution will not be televised.  Rather, it will be blogged, podcasted, YouTubed, Tweeted, Vimeo’ed, Pandora’ed, Amazon Primed, and Netflix streamed.  Studios can only stand by (like record-company executives before them) as their business models go the way of the dinosaur.

While the studio system certainly had its advantages and its triumphs, both artistic and financial, it was often hostile to those who didn’t share their paternalistic, coastal-elite point of view.  Having connections –familial, political, or school ties — were crucial to breaking in.  This fostered a group-think mentality, while those with other perspectives were largely locked out.

As Hollywood’s monopoly on the means of distribution fades, other points of view will break through as people outside the system begin to create.

Smash Cut is a group blog that seeks to liberate our culture from Hollywood’s stale, hidebound world view, encouraging more diverse voices and views.

But likely more often than not, we will simply write silly posts and capsule movie reviews, pointing you to the things we like (or warning you off things that we don’t like).  We want to hear from you, so we welcome comments.

We want this to be a conversation.  We will often disagree with each other — which is good, because as I said, we want to see/hear a diversity of ideas and views.  You will not find a lot of groupthink here.  In fact, we are all in firm agreement to avoid groupthink.

Like a Paranormal Activity movie, change is scary but simultaneously thrilling.  The changes underway in the Hollywood system provide tremendous opportunity to those who felt cut out of the old-boys-network because they weren’t willing to surrender their independence of thought.

Fresh new voices are emerging, and there’s no rule that says they must parrot the same tired Hollywood point of view.  We for one can’t wait to hear what they have to say.  And this blog gives us a chance to throw in our own two bitcoins from time to time.