Thursday, December 16, 2010

DIY Distribution


Industry Focus: Irish Distribution... Doing it Alone

The struggles of the independent filmmaker are endless and varied. The discipline required to write a script; the patience required to pull together a cast and crew; the earnestness required to raise funding and see a film through all the way to post-production ensures that making a film is guaranteed months or years of stress and challenges. But now that the masterpiece is complete, what next? In many ways the battle is just beginning. The quality of work is of little consequence if nobody watches it.

Catching the eye of professional distribution companies can be difficult and first-time filmmakers are often wary of being caught up in bad deals which will prevent them from ever making money from their film. With internet technology providing so many new, free platforms for films, self-distribution is becoming an increasingly popular option for filmmakers.

But how good a deal is self-distribution? It might be a more inviting option but without the resources available to professional distribution companies, can it be more of a curse than a gift?

Patrick O’Neill of the Irish Film Board has been observing the trend of filmmakers experimenting with various forms of distribution and has noted the positive and the negative aspects of each. He believes that one of the most appealing aspects of self-distribution is the flexibility it affords a producer and the fact that the filmmakers themselves are in charge of the film’s destiny since they know the limits of their own funding. He also believes that an enticing aspect is the fact that you can be creative about how you wish to market the film. The aesthetic of the campaign and the means used to raise awareness is at the discretion of the producer.

Some of the negative points of self-distribution are that producers may have a lack of expertise in the area of marketing and publicity. A professional distribution company will bring a fresh perspective, years of expert experience and most importantly, exhibitor relationships. A distribution company will have the key contacts in the area of DVD rental/retail and will have good relationships with cinemas.

Another key danger, as Patrick points out, is that “a producer can often have too biased an opinion of their own film and think it is actually better than it is, therefore inflating expectations which results in higher expenditure incurred in the distribution that is not recouped – a distributor can provide a balanced opinion and provide realistic expectations.” Thinking realistically about your films appeal is key to successfully marketing it. The more you can zone in on your demographic, the more focused your campaign can be.

Patrick advises that “when self-distributing you first need to look at your film and see what “hooks” there are that can be effective in your marketing campaign, i.e. is there an obvious theme, a cast member with a public profile, etc.? From here free marketing tools such as Facebook and Twitter can be exploited, directing your output at specific groups.

A recent example of a self-distributed film is Risteard O’Domhnaill’s The Pipe, a documentary about the Shell to Sea campaign in Corrib which is being self-distributed by Scannáin Inbhear. Rachel Lysaght, producer of The Pipe has found that taking on the distribution themselves has proved to be highly successful. Though it is too early to know if the film will be a financial success, Rachel has found that the film’s socially relevant subject matter has allowed them to use social media to create a bona fide community around the film.
At the moment the film is being screened in a number of cinemas all around Ireland and they are also utilizing Access Cinema and Cinemobile. The screenings, often accompanied by Q&A’s, have been enormously successful. The company has maintained the film rights for the U.K. and Ireland but has sales agents abroad after a successful run in the film festival circuit culminating in a standing ovation at their screening in the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
The only drawback that Rachel found was that staying on top of social media and community-building can be extremely time-consuming. It is a full time job engaging with the various platforms The Pipe has been using to promote itself.

A word of advice from Rachel is that filmmakers should be aware of who their potential demographic is from the first day. They should know in the pre-production stage and consider the demographic all the way through the production and to the marketing phase. Knowing your audience is the key factor in strategically advertising your film. TG4 will screen The Pipe in Febuary 2011 and a DVD release is tentatively scheduled for Spring 2011.

Another recent Irish documentary, Pyjama Girls has been successfully self-distributed by Still Films. Pyjama Girls examines the phenomenon of inner city Dublin teenage girls who wear brightly coloured pyjamas on a day-to-day basis. This observant and sensitive documentary was certainly suited to engaging with an online community because of its subject matter. The film’s director Maya Derrington believes that documentaries might be more suited to self-distribution because it's easier to track networks and target groups who have direct interest in the subject matter.  You can direct market to those groups either online, virally or physically by phone or in person.” She also thinks that films can potentially get a much better financial deal by distributing theatrically without the aid of a separate company. “The venues take 65% and distributors would on average get about 35%, of which they retain 65%.  So in the traditional set-up, the filmmaker comes away with 35% of 65%.” Bearing in mind how difficult and rare it is for an independent Irish film to make a profit from their film, every little helps and the money the company decides to budget for distribution will most likely be much smaller than the cost of outsourcing. Because Pyjamas Girls has already broken even (with the aid of some funding from the IFB), Maya wouldn’t hesitate to self-distribute on their next project, though she would give the marketing campaign more time if she were to do it again.

The introduction to Ireland of digital cinema has made the physical distribution of films much cheaper and easier. Films no longer require huge reels. A small hard drive, simply packaged is all that needs to be delivered to the cinema now. One of the first Irish filmmakers to take advantage of this was Liam O Mocháin whose company Siar a Rachas Muid Productions released his film W.C. theatrically by means of digital hard drive in 2009.W.C. was the first film to be released theatrically in Ireland via digital hard drive. It played at Movies@Dundrum, SGC Dungarvan, and Eye Galway. Liam believes that it is distribution rather than getting the film made that can be the real hurdle for many indie films.

Nonetheless, Liam sees plenty of opportunity for filmmakers who aren’t afraid to think outside of the box; “However much it costs to make or how it’s out there, it’s what is on the screen that counts for the audience…Digital distribution from VOD, streaming, downloads are all part of the new world of distribution. You can now split your film rights giving digital to one company, TV and home video to another and sell the film on your own website.”Being savvy about the possibilities of the digital world has given Liam an edge as an indie filmmaker. Although it is always difficult for a self-funded, indie film to become a financial success (W.C. still hasn’t quite recouped its initial investment) Liam believes the only important thing is that your film gets made and gets seen and the advice he offers to fledgling filmmakers is Get your film out there, but remember as well as getting the glory you also get the bills!

Last summer saw the nationwide release of recession-themed comedy drama Situations Vacant, produced by Anne Marie Naughton for Park Films who took another route entirely. The film was distributed by the company itself but she asked Brendan McCaul (formerly of Buena Vista) for his expertise in Marketing and Distribution. Because of his knowledge in the field and his contacts in the industry, Situations Vacant avoided some of the pitfalls of non-professional distribution. The film screened in eighteen cinemas nationwide from a digital hard drive. Anne Marie believes the most important thing about self-distribution is to give attention to detail and not to presume that publicity work is being done; “It is important on a national release to make friends with the cinema managers and projectionists and pop in to check that the posters are being displayed correctly and that your trailer is being run as often as possible.”

Anne Marie hired a PR company to deal with the release and in the end believed that the company, though highly professional didn’t really aim the film in the right direction. One of her regrets is that they film wasn’t directed more towards its young demographic. The film was marketed in a rather non-specific manner and when asked what she would do differently next time she said she would “choose PR to match the film. It is important to understand the movie and its audience and then to create awareness through the target audience”. Another aspect that Anne Marie was lucky to be able to exploit was high-profile cast member Mikey Graham, a singer with Boyzone, who proved to be a major selling point despite only having a small role in the film. Situations Vacant is now finished a theatrical run and Park Films are looking into an Xtra-Vision Exclusive deal for the DVD rights.

Each of the above filmmakers seem to have a common tip for budding distributors; know your audience, find a hook and be aware of what your film is. Some films are better suited to self distribution due to particular social relevance, having a marketable name attached, or subject matter that can easily find a community on the web. Before you decide how you will distribute your film, look at your film, look at your demographic and figure out a strategy. Above all, it seems, you need to be creative in your approach to marketing outside of traditional means.
The world of transmedia is constantly evolving and creative, tech-savvy people are coming up with new, inventive, non-traditional ways of distributing art. With new VOD websites launching all the time it is important for filmmakers to keep an online presence and to make it their business to keep up to date with the changes in the technology.

Filmmakers must also think, from the pre-production stage about who their target audience is and how they can exploit aspects of the film in order to reach out to their potential audience. With technology moving so fast, DVD rentals plummeting and piracy soaring it is difficult to predict where the market is going so the most important thing for anyone embarking on a filmmaking venture is to know the market and the various resources available. Keep abreast of how other filmmakers are getting creative and always try to think outside the box.

By Charlene Lydon

Monday, December 13, 2010

Film Ireland Interview - Sé Merry Doyle on "Dreaming The Quiet Man

John Ford's 1952 classic The Quiet Man is often a controversial issue with Irish people. Though we may be proud of Ireland's involvement in the classic Hollywood film, the exaggerated cultural stereotypes it portrays can sometimes offend. The film has become the subject of acclaimed filmmaker Se Merry Doyle's (Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien, Alive Alive O -A Requiem for Dublin) latest documentary. I sat down with Sé as he put the finishing touches on his new film Dreaming The Quiet Man.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the documentary is the inclusion of an interview with Maureen O'Hara, who has broken her silence about her time working on The Quiet Man for a very candid and, indeed, delightful interview. Now ninety years old, O'Hara often avoids discussing the film as, Sé explains, 'she doesn't like anyone taking on The Quiet Man because she doesn't think they [filmmakers] can get it.' Despite her reported misgivings she talks animatedly, honesty and fondly about her time working on the film, her rather complex relationship with John Ford and her admiration of the The Quiet Man. Se was pleased with how the interview brings the documentary together. 'She just gave the most wonderful interview. You can feel the energy. She has some extraordinary insight into the film.' Her insight into John Ford himself was invaluable to the documentary. Se adds, 'She knew ail the nuances and she knew what a bastard he was. As she would say, he was the greatest son of a bitch, but he was the greatest director as weil, For me, as a director, it was a proud moment. I just thought, somehow, as the last person who could throw light on John Ford as a friend, talking to her would give us something really powerful. If I hadn't had it in the film I would always have been thinking, "oh man, I wonder what Maureen O'Hara would have said."
The genesis of the documentary is a rocky one, as Sé tells me. It started out as sort of an argument against the film's detractors. 'When I hear someone say it's a piece of tosh, I say, "how could you say that? This film was made by John Ford!" He's regarded as one of the greatest filrnmakers in the world ever. How could he make a piece of tosh about the country his parents were born in? And that was really enough to get me going on it.'

Sé attended the anniversary celebration of the The Quiet Man in the IFI with all the Quiet Man 'maniacs' who were also in attendance. After shooting some footage of that event Sé then travelled to Cong in Co Mayo where the film was shot to take a look at the lasting effect the film has had on the town. This trip was made before any funding had been secured, and the team consisted of just himself and a cameraman. 'We iust hung around and I met Nancy and Jack Murphy who own Cohan's hardware store, which, in the film, was Cohan's Bar, and they were just incredibly ordinary but very exciting people. The reason I went to Cong was because everybody involved was very old and I was afraid that they were going to die. It's what you call time-dependent material.'
With this renewed sense of urgency, Se, armed with a pilot made from the footage from Cong and the anniversary screening, began to seek financing but found it more difficult than anticipated. There was no interest from any of the institutions that we went to. They were all so prejudiced against the film... People at RTE felt it was too local, that it was a silly Irish film. They just didn't get it.'
It was with Alan Maher (of the Irish Film Board) that Sé finally got the penny to drop with someone, 'Alan immediately got what the argument was, what my hope was. I wanred to shoot a lot of stuff, do a lot of interviews. It was a chance encounter with him - maybe it's like chat with a lor of films. There 's always somebody who gets it and you hope that it lands, and it landed on him.' With IFB on board, Sé secured further funding from the BAI and TG4. The documentary then began to take shape and a host of John Ford admirers were interested in coming on board to discuss why The Quiet Man is indeed more than just a bit of blarney!
Upon assembling die first strands of the documentary Se realised that the documentary he really wanted to make was not a defence of the film, but rather a film about John Ford and his Obsession' with Maurice Walsh's story. In demonstrating the passion Ford felt for making The Quiet Man, the reputation it has for being a scourge on the Irish international identity could perhaps be waylaid and replaced with the respect that Sé feels it deserves. With the title changed from The Quiet Man: Millstone or Milestone to the less contentious Dreaming The Quiet Man.-the documentary had found its focus, and instead of a debate, it had become a celebration of the film itself and the cinematic master and enigmatic figure, John Ford.
Central to the documentary is the notion that The Quiet Man is really a masked biography of the director himself, who was born in America Co Irish parents who raised him wich songs and stories from their homeland and whose mother idealised Ireland. Sé explains, 'What I'm propagating is that he turns this film into his own biography.' Sé goes on to point out some of the similarities between the central character Sean Thornton (played by John Wayne), and John Ford himself. 'Ford was a very cantankerous man and his/outsider spirit is explored in the film. And Sean's obsession with Maty-Kate - Ford was having an affair with Katherine Hepburn at the time, whose name was Kate and his wife's name was Mary.' Sean Thornton's yearning for Ireland, the idealism surrounding it and the feeling of being an outsider in the place you considered 'home' are all aspects that Ford could relate to and are important in understanding the intentions of the film.
The segment screened for me spoke volumes about the central discussion in the documentary. The segment included a typically colourful and impassioned interview with Martin Scorsese, in which he discusses the scene where Sean Thornton (Wayne) first arrives on the train in Castletown. Sean walks through the train station to find die horse and cart that will bring him to lnnisfree and Scorsese makes the point that Sean is literally walking from the real world to the fantasy/mythological world that is lnnisfree. Sé points out, 'Innisfree is not Ireland. Castletown is, but lnnisfree is an imaginary place that goes back to pre-Ireland, pre-Christian ritual and all that sort of thing. So he's playing with all these rituals. But at the same time, Sean Thornton is an American. Ford knows the central character is an American who has a dewy-eyed vision of Ireland and the Irish people are playing up to the Americans stereotype of us. So he's playing with that.'
One of the more common criticisms of the film by its detractors is that Ford has created a damaging mockery of Irish cultural identity. This point is effectively countered by Se by proposing chat Ford is celebrating the mythological elements of Irish culture and playing with the idealism that is often attached to the 'homeland' of so many Americans, Ford included.
The documentary takes a look at many areas of interest for Quiet Man fans, but is also historically interesting for any cinephile or indeed any Irish person, The effect the Film has had on Cong is remarkable and the archive footage that is included in the documentary from the making of ihe film is an invaluable look at Ireland in the 'sos. Interviews with Cong locals Jack and Nancy Murphy are insightful and endearing, and contrasted with the archive footage, which shows the glamour and excitement in the air at the time of shooting. Ir was unlike anything rural Mayo had seen before and the impression the film made on the local economy is still evident some sixty years later.
Now putting the finishing touches on what he describes as 'the most difficult piece of work I've ever done, the film Sé has created is unlike any other documentary about The Quiet Man. Neither a defence nor a detraction, the documentary attempts to reconcile the cultural hyperbole with the knowingly playful use of stereotype and idealism that Ford perpetrates within the film. Sé concludes, I suppose all I can say about The Quiet Man is that I'm trying to open a door. Obviously anyone who loves the film will enjoy it, but itwill open a whole new perspective on whatthey were saying. There was a genius at work here, and Ford did spend the guts of twenty years getting it to happen'.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Directed By: Steve Antin

Cast: Christina Aguilera, Cher, Cam Gigandet, Stanley Tucci

Rating: 5/10

It is rare that a pop singer will rise from the stage to shine on the silver screen. Arguably the most dazzling of these popstars/actresses has been Cher, who lit up the screen in such gems as Witness, Moonstruck and The Witches of Eastwick. She even went on to win an Oscar for her rich performance in Moonstruck. Past pop sirens have tried and failed to replicate Cher’s success; Britney (Crossroads), Mariah Carey (Glitter, Precious), Miley Cyrus (The Last Song) and now it’s Christina Aguilera’s turn. We know she’s got the pipes but does she have the chops for acting?

Burlesque is an easy film to slag. It’s a bit too easy a target and from the guffaws of the audience it’s easy to imagine we have another Glitter on our hands. It isn’t quite a disaster of those proportions and is possibly a future guilty pleasure for a lot of people due to some fun set pieces, truly remarkable costumes and just the general camp aesthetic of it all.

Ali (Xtina) is a small-town waitress with no family, a mean boss and a depressing job. So one day she closes the restaurant, sings on the table-tops, then heads off on a bus to L.A. She is down on her luck, wide-eyed, naive and penniless. That is until she encounters The Burlesque Lounge, a crumbling burlesque theatre with no money but lots of heart. Ali is smitten and is determined to earn her place on their stage. She blags her way into a waitressing job and befriends the kindly barman Jack (Twilight’s Cam Gigandet), whilst both infuriating and charming Cher’s fading star Tess along the way.

Jack is happily engaged to Natalie, played by Glee’s resident naughty catholic schoolgirl, Dianna Agron, but things are rocky, a fact which isn’t helped by Ali sleeping on their couch while Natalie is away. It isn’t long before Jack and Ali’s friendship deepens but you’d be surprised how long the writers tease the audience before giving them some of the most bizarre foreplay ever committed to celluloid.

Needless to say, Ali is soon revealed to be the club’s greatest asset and might just save the joint before the bank forces them to sell to slimy investor, and Ali’s potential love interest, Marcus (Eric Dane). But can she come out of her shell enough to get the crowds in? Can she defeat resident bitch, Kristen Bell? And can she realise before it’s too late that Marcus is a sleazy capitalist who is only interested in her for her moneymaking potential?

Burlesque is a truly ridiculous affair. All dazzle, no edge but nonetheless a guilty pleasure of sorts. The script was originally written by Juno’s Diablo Cody who knows a thing or two about burlesque given her background as an exotic dancer. However, it is clear the script has been tinkered with beyond all recognition. I found myself longing to feel Cody’s presence in the film, despite my usual nonchalance about her work, but this feels like her territory and her draft was probably a lot edgier than this.

If you have any tolerance for this kind of nonsense and you are expecting the worst then you might buy into the stylistic opulence it serves up. The costumes are glorious, the Rob Marshall-lite performances are great fun and of course Christina’s vocals are incredible. Cher is unfortunately less successful musically. She still has the voice but her diction is somewhat garbled due to her stiff, botoxed face. The role of Tess is great fun for her I’m sure but the film is just so saccharine that she doesn’t get a chance to get down and dirty with the role. Christina’s acting is nothing to get excited about unfortunately. She isn’t terrible, but the character of Ali is just so ridiculously doe-eyed that it’s impossible to take her seriously.

Be prepared for a silly plot, some hammy performances, a lot of skin (but no bare breasts, don’t get too excited) and visual candy. If you know what you’re in for you might just enjoy this mess of glitter and tassles! Oh and it earns a whole extra star for Stanley Tucci’s marvellous presence!

 - Charlene Lydon

Monday, November 01, 2010

Aaaaargh! Screen Screams. Film Ireland's Memories of Horror.

Check out this great online article from FILM IRELAND that I contributed to. Very interesting and had great fun writing it up. My piece was on Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot. Oft overlooked, but bloody scary!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Easy A

Directed by: Will Gluck

Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Aly Michalka, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow.

Rating: 6/10

One of the greatest teen movies ever made, Clueless, was an update of Austen's Clueless. Likewise, Easy A is modern take on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, this update is not half as clever or as relevant as it's predecessor. Olive is a funky, spunky, teenage girl who is well-liked but not really noticed in the social world of her high school. A bookish, witty and quietly hot young woman with a heart of gold, Olive accidentally lands herself in hot water by telling her overbearing best friend (Michalka) that she had lost her virginity. This tiny lie explodes all over school as the leader of a Christian mob (Bynes) spreads the rumour around like wildfire. As a favour to her gay friend, Olive agrees to pretend they have had sex so will stop getting bullied. Soon, she is accepting payment for saying she’s had sex with all the geeks and losers in school who hope that it will make them more appealing to girls. However, it isn’t long until the somewhat well-intentioned Olive finds herself in way over her head.

Easy A is a very entertaining film with some colourful supporting characters and a fantastic ensemble cast. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci play Olive’s overly liberal, ex-hippy parents and are adorably quirky, yet extremely warm. Both characters give the film some of the depth that the shallow void of high school social politics takes away. Lisa Kudrow is also impressive as the school guidance counsellor who finds herself in a very tricky predicament. But enough about the grown-ups, this film’s young cast are all fantastic too! Emma Stone is a star on the rise since she appeared in Judd Apatow’s Superbad and easily graduates to leading lady playing the complex heroine of the film. She has a wonderful girl-next-door quality and is a likeable balance of attractive and ordinary-looking. She has great comic timing and ability to evoke warmth and chemistry with everyone she shares screen time with.

A major flaw in the film, despite Emma Stone’s great screen presence is that the character of Olive is poorly characterised and her change from confident young outcast to attention-seeking vixen is disarming and, unfortunately takes away from the film’s considerable charm in other departments. Olive is adorable and her change to corset-wearing vamp doesn’t quite gel with the smart, self-assured young women at the start of the film.

There’s something quite old-fashioned about Easy A. It seems to suggest that having teenage sex is shocking. I can’t imagine that there’s a high school in America (or anywhere in the western world) where a girl would become a celebrity because she admits to having lost her virginity. In many ways the film has a lot to say about teenagers and it goes to great pains to steer clear of patronising them, but there is nothing progressive about Olive’s story.

These flaws, though fundamental can’t dampen the high spirits of the film and the charming big heart that it wears on its sleeve. The script is at times eloquent, always hilarious and though it brandishes its John Hughes references a little too heavily at times, it does evoke his intuitive, respectful love of teenagers.

This is an enjoyable teen movie that could have been the next Mean Girls but misses the mark by poor characterisation. It’s still a fun trip to the cinema though!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Social Network

Written by: Aaron Sorkin

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara

Rating: 10/10

Don’t be put off by the less than tantalising subject matter of David Fincher’s latest film, The Social Network. If the legal battles of the world’s youngest billionaire don’t sound like your cup of tea, do not deny yourself the chance to see this film. A distinctly unique film in every way, The Social Network balances the machine-gun and biting dialogue of Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing) script with the tension and atmospherics of Fincher’s direction in such a way that what is created is truly different to anything you’ve ever seen.

The opening scene of The Social Network, in which we are introduced to our protagonist Mark Zuckerberg, says everything about the character, his motivations and his contradictory personality that you could possibly want to know. He is on a date with Erica (Rooney Mara) and pontificating about the important of getting into the exclusive Finals Clubs at Harvard. The intensity with which he speaks and the determination in his voice speaks volumes about his obsession with success, not for money but for the power and social standing that comes with it. The girl is unimpressed, breaking up with him in a rage over his constant ranting, saying “you’re gonna go through life thinking girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd but that won’t be true. It will be because you’re an asshole”. Interesting setup for film’s hero. Sorkin’s script starts as it means to go on. As the story of Facebook’s inception unfolds it becomes clear that there are no heroes in this story, and no real villains. The hateful rich guys are really the victims and the underdogs are the wrong-doers. Empathy does not come into the equation.

It seems to me that the central discussion in the film is the delicacy of ideas. As technology moves forward, it seems it is not a matter of who is creative enough to push things forward but who will get there first. Sometimes the progress of technology dictates where the ideas will come from and it really was only a matter of time before someone came up with and idea like Facebook. So when the snooty Winklevoss twins approach computer genius Zuckerberg with an idea for a social networking site with the prospect of exclusivity, Zuckerberg hates them for placing such importance on something so shallow, but goes off and creates the site for more social reasons. Friends finding friends; looking up someone you meet in a bar, etc. Despite this “good intentions” perspective, Zuckerberg did, essentially, steal the idea from the Winklevoss’s (or Winklevi, as he refers to them). So when the lawsuits start to fly it’s not a matter of knowing who to root for, it’s just going along for the ethical ride.

It is a testament to the filmmakers that this film is as interesting as it is. It really shouldn’t be as thought-provoking or profound as it is. Aaron Sorkin proved as showrunner of The West Wing that he had the capability to see the good and evil in decisions, a person need not be evil to make a very poor decision. Here, in The Social Network, there are no black and white characters; the morals are decidedly grey making for a very mature take on the courtroom drama.

There is a fine mix of quirky wit and sober menace, with a wonderfully nuanced performance by Jesse Eisenberg who has previously shown great talent in the likes of The Squid and the Whale but lately seems to have been pigeon-holed as the poor man’s Michael Cera. It’s great to see him living up to his potential in a truly memorable performance. Justin Timberlake also impresses as the infinitely charismatic Sean Parker, creator of Napster, who comes on board with Facebook midway through its ascent, causing all sorts of internal ruptures. Credit must also go to Armie Hammer who played both Winklevoss twins with meat-headed vulgarity but also with maturity and humanity.

This is a film with universal appeal, it is simply an excellent film, it cannot be denied. It’s difficult to imagine anybody not getting hopelessly sucked into this story. Come Oscar time, if I don’t see Sorkin’s name in lights, I’m starting a Facebook group called “Like if you think The Academy are idiots”.

 - Charlene Lydon (from:

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Phantom's Cinerama 80's Horror

The 80's was a time of great hyperbole; the clothes, the music, the horror movies. Artifice was hip, and it reflected in the grandiosity of the decade's horror films. Subtlety wasn't the Blair Witch Project in the 80's. It was a decade of in yer face scary monsters, blood and good-natured horrific fun.

This year as part of the Screen Cinema's annual Scream Cinema Monster Mash, Phantom FM are inviting listeners to vote for their favourite horror film. The choices are delectable:

Evil Dead 2
The Shining
The Lost Boys
Friday the 13th
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

My money's on The Shining but my heart belongs to Poltergeist. There's a movie that deserves to be on the big screen!

Last year's Scream Cinema Monster Mash played such gems as Child's Play, The Thing and a surprise film which turned out to be Frank Darabont's The Mist, screened in black and white as he had originally intended. Superb! Hopefully this year's lineup will be as fun and varied as 2009.

So get on over to Phantom FM Cinerama and get voting (for Poltergeist)!

Seeya at the Scream Cinema!!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Death & Life of Charlie St. Cloud

Directed by: Burr Steers  

Witten by: Craig Pearce, Lewis Colick  

Starring: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta

Rating: 5/10 

The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud had the potential to be a pretty interesting, dark story of mental illness and grief which is unfortunately wrapped in the swaddling of a cheesy, majorly “Disneyfied” disaster of a script. Charlie St Cloud (Efron) and his little brother Sam (Tahan) are best friends who are torn apart by a tragic car accident. Charlie survives, Sam doesn’t, but soon after his death Charlie starts to meet Sam’s ghost every evening at sunset to play baseball. Five years later, Charlie is working in the graveyard where Sam is buried and completely unable to move on with his life, foregoing a college scholarship in favour of hanging out with his dead brother.

The film is shot expertly and is remarkably easy on the eye. Shot around Vancouver, Canada, the idyllic seaside town is beautiful and evokes and sense of perfection which gradually becomes a tragic trap in the second act. Director, Burr Steers keeps the story ticking along well and the rare moments of doom and gloom are affecting at times. However, the major problem with this film is in its outrageously sappy script. Think Nicolas Sparks crossed with The Ghost Whisperer and you’re halfway there. In fact, this film would be more comfortable on the Hallmark Channel than in the cinema. As the story twists and turns, you can stay on board to a certain extent given the fantastical concept but towards the end, the writers take things a little too far. I don’t know how the story ended in the book but the final twenty minutes of the film are inconceivably lame.
If this is Zac Efron’s way of trying to become a “serious actor” he’s going to have to try harder. His acting is actually pretty good. As he proved in last year’s likeable Me & Orson Welles he has fantastic screen presence and is well able for the high drama and the tender moments. The camera loves him (and his wet/naked torso, which is highlighted at every opportunity, proving the “feminine gaze” is alive and well). Unfortunately there is little to work with here as the script is so terrible that no actor could make it seem any less vomit-inducing. 
The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud is a supernatural drama which had the potential to be touching, but is far too soft for its own good. Any darkness in the story is usurped by the fairytale ending and the unwillingness of the filmmakers to take Efron’s fanbase out of their tween comfort zone.
-          Charlene Lydon


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"The Town" Dublin Premiere with Ben Affleck (Here Be Spoilers!!!)

Crowds gathered a couple of hours early outside the Savoy Cinema on O'Connell Street in anticipation of writer, director, producer, movie star and all-round talented guy, Ben Affleck, who was attending a screening of his new film The Town, hosted by the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Coming to the attention of critics and screaming girls alike in 1996 with the superb Good Will Hunting which he co-wrote and starred with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck's star rose and rose as he went from indie darling to heartthrob to action hero until, more recently his star began to dwindle due to some truly awful additions to his CV (the worst of which involved J.Lo). The handsome star seemed to be on a downward spiral and was in danger of becoming a mere house-husband to wife Jennifer Garner and their two daughters. However, as it turned out, he was not waning, but merely had his head down working on an exciting new venture into the world of directing. Blowing the socks off Hollywood with his debut, Gone Baby Gone, Affleck shocked  everyone by making a self-assured, technically brilliant and highly engaging emotional drama starring his brother Casey and Amy Ryan, who he directed to an Oscar nomination for her role.
Now he has returned again to gritty drama, this time more action-centric which focuses on a gang of bank robbers in the Charlestown area of Boston, an area notorious for bank and armoured car robberies. This time he also takes the leading role as emotionally lost bank robber Doug in The Town. This is an outrageously slick movie with twists and turns aplenty and more tension than I usually like on a Monday night. The film is currently enjoying critical and financial success Stateside and will surely enjoy the same when it opens here on Friday 24th September.

Affleck was greeted by screaming fans but was rather quickly ushered inside to talk to the eager press. He was joined by his very lovely co-star Rebecca Hall, who looked elegant in a contemporary black gown, no doubt by some designer I know nothing about (feel free to inform me if you have any idea). they eventually made it inside and gave a brief introduction to the film, promising to come back for a Q&A after the screening.

Luckily, they kept their promise, because by the end of the film, the salivating audience were dying to pick Affleck's brain about the making of this fantastic thriller.

JDIFF's Grainne Humphries mediated the session and began by asking him if was aware of Charlestown, growing up in Boston. He replied "I grew up quite near Charlestown. I knew of it’s reputation. It was notorious, an Irish neighbourhood. It had 49 murders one year and only 25 were solved because of their famous “code of silence”.  The murders got a lot of media attention, the bank robberies, less so. He felt that the bank robberies and the criminals themselves were interesting characters and enjoyed the research part of the process which seemed far more simplistic than one might imagine; "Actually, I did a lot of internet research. I researched robberies in Boston, then Googled any names I came across then found out their prison, called up the prison and asked if I could have an hour or two with them. They all said yes so I travelled around to all the prisons. It was fascinating and they all had great stories" Seemingly, a lot of the situations in the film were taken directly from these men including a great moment where the gang are at the end of a long chase scene and they find themselves eye to eye with a beat cop and he looks away, not wanting to get involved.

Apparently some of these guys ended up in the movie. they were encouraged to come in for the open extras casting and they were really happy to be cast and Affleck thought “good, 'cos I wouldn’t wanna see you angry”.

The spotlight then moved to Rebecca Hall who has thus far been fairly quiet. Grainne asks about her experience in the film. She reveals that Ben is; "irritatingly good at everything he puts his mind to. Irritating and inspiring." Affleck adds that there is a balance of action and love in the movie. The heart of the movie is a guy who just wants to change. A woman is often the only way a man can change his ways. "I wanted to cast someone magical, not just some starlet. Someone you could really fall in love with." Rebecca's first day was when he realised she was perfect for the part. they shot a very difficult scene in a laundromat. It was a difficult scene because she had to come across flirty at first and then have a breakdown, but she pulled it off perfectly and Affleck was sure he'd picked the right woman.

The session then opened up to questions from the floor, with someone asking Ben "If someone put a gun to your head, would you rather direct or act and what was the most difficult part of directing this movie?" Rather surprisingly, I thought, he claims he would rather direct. "
You get to steer the material more.There's times when you're an actor...or at least when I'VE been an actor where I've been wanting to steer the ship one way and the director is wanting to steer it another way and I don't know that either one of us is right but it's very frustrating to be at cross-purposes...I anticipated that everything was gonna be hard so nothing really surpised me in it's difficulty." He went on to say that one of the biggest challeges was getting the cast and crew to believe in him and earning their trust. Also, the specificity involved in shooting the action scenes is a lot less fun when working on them, than watching them. He also gives a shout-out to his cast (and therefore himself) by saying that the most interesting thing about action is that you can have spaceships, or dragons fighting one another or whatever but if you don’t care about the characters then it’s not effective so when action sequences work it’s a real testament to the actors.
When asked what his favourite scene was he said, "I really loved the stuff with Rebecca at the ice hockey rink with all the kids around. I think its really added to the coda of the piece and it was really moving. I loved all the white in the background. And it was easy to shoot...everything else was terrifying."
Some cheeky audience-member asked if he would like to make something in another genre. He laughs and replies; "I guess I better do something different. After Gone Baby Gone I would have liked to have done something different but I really wanted to play this part so I went for it."
A lady in the audience (presumably someone's Ma) interjected to tell Ben that she thought he and Rebecca  were "lovely" and she was glad he went in and shot those fellas in the shop....ahem...moving on!

Ben gets all giggly when asked if he has any plans to work with his brother again? He laughs that the thing about brothersis that you have a great rapport which is great for working together but if you butt heads on something you just wanna kill them. "I’d love to work with him again...I’ll do anything as long as he knows I’m the boss (laughs)!"

Both he and Casey had films in the Venice Film Festival this year. Ben talks a little about Casey's hoax documentary, I'm Still Here. He calls it a "wonderful film all about the media and Joaquin Phoenix plays a character who is finding the whole thing difficult who loses it". He deftly avoids talking about the scandalous outrage that was a year-long lie about Joaquin Phoenix's fake foray into rap music and emotional breakdown.

Someone in the crowd asked was Heat an influence to which he again, gets a bit giggly: "Heat...hmmm (laughs) Yes, Heat. That movie!" His odd reaction is due to the fact that all the guys in prison that he interviewed during his research invariably asked “so, you know that movie Heat?” And when he was conducting research in the FBI the guys brought him around, took him through the offices and they had a POSTER of Heat in one of the offices. Part of being a director, he claims, is sometimes picking the right people to steal from. Heat was definitely an influence, as was Rififi, Gomorrah, Amores Perros.

A member of the audience asked what the collaborative writing process was like and Ben answered, "Writing Good Will Hunting was a very different experience because we improvised a lot of it. We would record ourselves talking our way through it and then write it into the script." The process of writing The Town was different because there was a very long draft of the script and then Affleck wanted to add all these great stories from the prisoners soa lot of material had to be cut "because nobody wanted to make a 6 hour movie". The rewriting process also changed the ending from the source novel.  In the book, Dougie dies in the end. Ben felt that ending would be very hard to play so they changed it. They thought very hard about changing it back but it didn’t feel right so they changed it again and made him die in another way, but it still wasn’t working so they ended up changing it back. Ben slyly plugs the eventual home release "The other ending will be available on the Blu-Ray."

An audience member asks was it their intention to make the film feel true-to-life and questions some references to CSI in the film. "We really tried to make it feel real. The references to CSI were impovised on the day. In fact I’ve never been in a movie where lines get into the movie and the gag reel" then he quickly changes his mind and says..."actually, no I have."

An avid fan of Rebecca Hall proclaims that he loves her and then proceeds to ask what her journey has been like in her rise to movie stardom. She looks overwhelmed and exclaims tha it has been amazing. From Starter for Ten to working with Chris Nolan on The Prestige, then Woody Allen now Affleck (makes a thumbs down gesture, then laughs). She claims it has been a whirlwind but nothing really has changed. "I’m still getting jobs I want and so far have been working with people who really excite me."

The floor is then closed to questions and Grainne Humphries closes the Q&A with the inevitable "what's next" question. Ben states that he is starting a movie in 3 days in Oklahoma with Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weiz, to be directed by Terence Malick. An exciting prospect if you ask me. He then thanks the audience graciously and says goodnight to rapurous applause from the crowd and motions for Rebecca to answer the question, though she seemed to think they were finsihed. She answered that next up is The Awakening, a supernatural drama and a movie with Will Ferrell, Everything Must Go. She will also be appearing in Twelfth Night at the National Theatre in London.

At that the stars bid the adoring crowd adieu! All went back to normal as I excitedly bounced off to discuss my new favourite heist movie with my friends over a pint! 

 - Charlene Lydon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Joe Dante Interview

Legendary director JOE DANTE is releasing his much-anticipated, The Hole 3D this week. A filmmaker who has never been afraid to scare youngsters with such films as Gremlins, The ‘Burbs, Small Soldiers and The Howling is using 3D to great effect with his latest fun foray into horror. He talks to Totally Dublin about the film, his days on Eerie, Indiana and what he learned from working with Roger Corman...

The Hole along with many of your previous films including Gremlins and Small Soldiers are dark family films that contain actual menace. Is this something lacking in today's family films?
There’s a tendency to make family films a little “treacly” and that’s somewhat old-fashioned and I think that comes from underestimating children. I remember when Gremlins came out there was this great, big drama about the scene where the Mom puts the gremlin in the microwave and there were all these parents complaining that their children are gonna put their little brother or sister in the microwave; or put the poodle in the microwave; or put the cat in the microwave and I just thought it was so ridiculous because children are smarter than that. People are always underestimating them.

I think the best children’s films are the ones that are not specifically aimed at children, but are aimed above that because children can pick up on things much better than people realise. I think they can tell the difference between fiction and reality much better than people imagine. And I base that on being a kid! 

So, do you think kids like to be scared?
I think kids LOVE to be scared! I was an “atomic fear” child. I grew up in the 50’s where everybody thought the bomb was gonna go off at any moment. Every plane that flew over was a possible bomb-dropper. But I was drawn to go see these “giant ant” movies, movies where radiation was gonna change strange things into huge monsters. And these movies scared me to death. I would come home and have terrible nightmares. My parents would ask “if they make you scared, why do you go?” and I would say “because I have to”. I was drawn to these scary movies, even when they scared me the most.

Look at Grimm’s Fairy Tales, look at Disney movies. They all have huge scary moments. Everybodys first scary moment, usually, is seeing the witch in Snow White, which some people haven’t seen in a long time, it’s pretty intense. The flight through the forest and the transformation of the Queen into a witch and the way that they try to kill her in the forest, it’s pretty grim stuff!

Over the years, this odd genre, horror, which has never gotten any respect, it has always been treated as a third rate genre, we find the only consistent money-maker has been the horror movie, the lowly horror movie! It has been the one thing that studios can always count on to make money. That’s because younger audiences like to go and watch depictions of death that they can laugh at and feel superior to.

Speaking of young people, your young cast in The Hole 3D are fantastic. Do you find it difficult when directing such young actors to get the right balance of fear and lightheartedness?
Well, I’ve done a lot of pictures with young kids for some reason. I don’t have any of my own but when I look back over my filmography, there’s all these movies with kids, many of which, you might notice, are from broken families, and my family wasn’t broken.

Part of the fun of working with kids is they don’t bring a lot of baggage with them. The main thing when you make a movie initially is to cast it and after that you’ve done half the job at least. One of the things that the studios like when you’ve got a kid in your movie, what famous kid can you get? They want Miley Cyrus, or they want Hilary Duff, or Zac Efron. The problem is if you cast it that way the baggage that the kid brings with them outweighs the character. Now it’s Miley Cyrus playing the character, it’s no longer the character. I think for a movie like The Hole you need fresh faces for audiences to feel “he could be like me”. I don’t think people identify very much with celebrity kids but they do identify with kids that seem like real people and it’s not hard to make a kid actor, if he’s good, seem genuine.

When you’re acting as a child it comes from a less cluttered place than when you’re acting as an adult so the trick is to find people who have the chemistry. Certainly Chris (Massoglia) and Haley (Bennet) had chemistry. We had them read together, we had all the contenders read together actually. And these two really had a spark which made everyone in the room instantly think these are the ones to cast. And Nathan (Gamble) who I didn’t meet, I had just seen him in The Dark Knight and he was a pretty great actor and I said I didn’t have to meet him and if he wanted to do it I was glad to have him. And in a way that worked out. Him, Chris and Teri Polo really, really looked like a family.

The Hole called to mind a TV project you were heavily involved with, Eerie Indiana. Did your work on this influence The Hole?
I think so. Eerie Indiana was a dream project for me because I was in on the ground floor and I was there from the pilot and when they asked me to stay on as a creative consultant, I did several more episodes and it’s a dream for a director to have a TV show to go to when he’s not directing a movie. I just say “well I’m not doing anything, I can go direct a few episodes of Eerie Indiana”, which is a show where I know who the characters are because I helped to create them. And again, that was another case, if I hadn’t been on that show the kid they would’ve chosen to play the lead would have completely wrong. Everyone wanted this geeky kid in the lead but I said “no you have to use this other kid” who was slightly more attractive but I think he’s much more of a real kid and they went with my idea and it worked out.

The show itself didn’t really work out unfortunately because it had a pretty bad timeslot. But oddly enough, years later they started to run it on the Fox Network as a kids show in the morning and it became so popular that they said “well now we only have 18 episodes, we need more episodes” so they went to Canada and they shot several episodes with a different cast in a replica house and they made it seem, with editing, that the kids from the previous episodes had transformed into these other kids. You haven’t seen it cos it’s really lousy. But the first eighteen episodes were quite good. There is a DVD of the whole series but you’ll have to go on Amazon to find it.

You started off making films aimed mainly at adults with The Howling and Piranha then with Gremlins the target audience got younger and wider. Was this a plan?
Gremlins kind of redefined my career because it was my first giant hit and a lot of people are not lucky enough to get that big a hit in their career so I was immediately offered family movies so I did a film called Explorers which was Ethan Hawke’s first picture and River Phoenix’s and that was a fun time except for the fact that the studio changed hands and they made me release the movie unfinished. They just said “stop, stop working, it’s finished”. So I was never very happy with that movie, even though people have come up to me saying they loved the movie when they were kids and all that. To me, I just look at it and see an unfinished movie.

After that I did Innerspace  which was not a kids movie but it was certainly a family movie and then I did The ‘Burbs, which was the same and then Gremlins 2, and Matinee. They were all family-oriented pictures so I was kind of “typed” a little bit. But you don’t really have a plan, you’re just lucky to keep working.

Earlier in your career you worked closely with the legendary Roger Corman. Is there anything you learned from Corman that you still use today?
All of us, and there were quite a lot of people who worked for Roger, we all learned stuff we never forget and stuff that we constantly use on movies big and small. The only thing that ends up on screen is the thing that happens between when you say “action” and when you say “cut” and there may be a lot of time between you saying that or you may go from shot to shot very quickly. You basically try to maximise the amount of time you actually have to run the camera and minimise the time you spend to light and block and do all the things that aren’t on camera.

When you work for Roger you learn the best way to block a scene so that you don’t have to light it and you don’t have to do a reverse and you don’t have to take extra time for the close-up. You can move people around in the frame so that the close-up comes naturally in the shot. And all those things, are things that you take with you when you go on to make movies. You might be making a film like Gremlins 2 where it’s like watching paint dry between shots. It’s like, “oh the puppets are broken, we gotta wait”. But you still have to hurry up when you’re shooting the shot because you have to get on to the next set-up. Then you find in your head all these little tricks that you learned when you worked with Roger and you trot them out again.

I heard a rumour that you were working on a script for a film about Roger Corman making The Trip?
That’s true actually. I have a script and it’s very funny. It’s called The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes. It’s about Roger’s experience taking LSD and making The Trip and it’s a movie I’ve been trying to get made for several years. I’ve had various actors attached and money has fallen out and money has come in and actors have gone away. It’s been quite an odyssey actually. But I think we’re getting to a point now where there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Right now happens to be a really tough time for getting movies financed, the economy being what it is.

I have to ask...
You’re going to ask me about Gremlins 3! I know you have to ask and I’m afraid I’ll have to tell you the same thing I’ve told everyone else; there are no plans to make Gremlins 3. I think rather than do Gremlins 3D, they’ll just go back to the beginning and start over and reboot the whole thing with different designs and different technology.

The technology we used in the first films has been outdated for many years and movies are defined by what we do with the technology. There were things we could do so we wrote them into the script. There were things we couldn’t do so we took them out. We put up signs on the set saying “Funny Things Gremlins Could Do” and people would come in and write “Throw darts at Gizmo”  and so we would do that. It was very ad-hoc filmmaking but I just don’t think that technology is relevant anymore and I think that they’ll want to get some new ideas because obviously it’s a well-known franchise.

Recently James Cameron's commented that Piranha 3D uses 3D exactly how it shouldn’t be used. How do you think 3D is best used?
That was a “rant” actually. His point should have been, I don’t know whether it was or not, that the idea of 3D is being sullied because so many movies that are not made in 3D are being released in this fake 3D process that’s added later and is actually very inferior to the real thing. It causes  eyestrain and it’s very dark and it’s an impediment to actually watching the movie. Piranha 3D was a movie that was not shot in 3D. So, I think the basis of his rant, although it sounded like he was criticising the movie, was that 3D is a viable medium and we now have the best quality 3D that we’ve ever had and a chance for it to be really used intelligently by filmmakers but that is being damaged because there are so many crappy products out there that people are going and getting headaches and thinking why should they pay extra money to get a headache and see a very dark version of the movie that isn’t even really in good 3D. So I think the whole greed factor has the possibility of killing off what may be the last wave of 3D. I think that’s a shame because I think that 3D is a very useful storytelling tool. I don’t think it should transform cinema so that everything is in 3D, nor do I believe that when 3D TV’s come out people are going to sit in front of their TV’s for the same amount of time as they watch regular TV and watch the news and watch Oprah in 3D because that’s ridiculous.

Do you have The One That Got Away, a movie that you regret didn’t get made or a movie you would’ve liked to get made?
I have a couple. I have a script by Terry Jones of Gulliver’s Travels that’s really wonderful that I never managed to get made and I have a script called Termite Terrace which is about Chuck Jones’ early days at Warner Brothers. But I’ve learned my lesson, never develop a script that involves characters that you don’t own because I couldn’t rewrite it for Woody Woodpecker, it had to be Bugs Bunny. That one never got made, they made Space Jam instead.

- Charlene Lydon (from Totally Dublin: )