Getting More Immersed with Indiewire


  The Penske Media purchase of Indiewire has resulted in an expansion of my role as crafts and awards season contributor.  Beginning this week, I begin Emmy coverage of below-the-line contenders along with my usual Oscar season crafts reporting, working closely

Immersed in Blu-ray: Hitchcock and Bogart


The WB Archive Collection gets Hitch and Bogie on Blu-ray and they've never looked better for home viewing. In Kent Jones' indispensable doc, Hitchcock/Truffaut, he reminds us that Truffaut was on a mission to correct misconceptions about Hitch as a lightweight

Immersed in Books: Farber on Film


For the first time, the complete writings of film critic Manny Farber is available from Library of America, edited by Robert Polito (Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson). Manny Farber (1917-2008) was the first modernist film critic to write like a modernist.

Below the Line

The Tree of Life Goes Blu

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Editing, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life bows on Blu-ray today (Fox Home Ent.), providing the opportunity to dip into his brilliant summary statement about coalescing nature and grace. The imagery by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is stunning in HD (which is why he’s the Oscar front runner so far). Coupled with the superb DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (the score by Alexandre Desplat is magnificent along with the use of various requiems), this is reference quality.

The Tree of Life is a free-form, existential journey that captures fleeting moments of life.  It primarily focuses on a Texas family in the 1950s, setting up a tension between nature (personified by Brad Pitt’s conflicted, talkative father) and grace (personified by Jessica Chastain’s peaceful and quiet mother).  It’s bookended by a present-day segment about the alienation experienced by the eldest son, Jack (Sean Penn), a successful architect haunted by childhood memories.  Early on, sparked by a moment of grief, the film suddenly leaps to a birth of the universe segment that addresses the meaning of the cosmos.

The bravura birth of the universe sequence can now be studied and appreciated more closely as well (also a VFX Oscar contender): “It’s a real coalescing of ideas and metaphysics about the history of the universe that takes us from [notions] of origins right through some semblance of the Big Bang to the early genesis of stars and galaxies and planets forming, ultimately life itself on planet Earth,” explains Dan Glass, the esteemed visual effects supervisor who oversaw the VFX-laden sequence.

The work was divided into three realms: Astrophysical, which dealt with the early cosmos and evolution of the universe, stars, galaxies and planets, principally handled by Double Negative in London (under the supervision of Paul Riddle); Microbial, the molecular and cellular origination of life, which was primarily done by the London boutique One of Us, with supplemental work by Method (the splitting off of DNA strands to form more complex organisms, supervised by Olivier Dumont) and the father/son team of Peter and Chris Parks, who shot interesting flows of colors; and Natural History, which focused on the much anticipated dinosaurs, created by Prime Focus/Frantic (supervised by Mike Fink and Bryan Hirota).

Editorially, Malick utilized what editor Mark Yoshikawa calls a “relay system of editing.” He adds, “He didn’t want the presence of the editors’ fingerprints on it.  That is why he always had Chivo [Lubezki] and Joerg [Widmer, the camera operator] grabbing bits that we could never really use for traditional coverage.  It was very challenging.”

Will Skyfall Fly for Bond?

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, James Bond, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

So, there’s been a lot of Bond news and speculation lately: the title Skyfall (based on several domain names privately registered for MGM and Sony Pictures), which might turn out to be true or just as bogus as Red Sky at Night. If true, it’ll be fun figuring out the context: Operation Skyfall?

What we do know, however, is that French TV actress Bérénice Marlohe has been officially signed as the next Bond girl along with Helen McCrory (Harry Potter’s Narcissa Malfoy) and Ben Whishaw (Layer Cake with Daniel Craig) in undisclosed roles. They will join Craig, Judi Dench, and Naomi Harris as Moneypenny. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes have long been speculated as the super baddies, with scribe John Logan teasing a literal or metaphoric return of arch rival Blofeld as the head of the SPECTRE-like Quantum. That would fit Fiennes nicely. Or they could replay the old good/bad reversal game from For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights (culled from Fleming’s Risico short story).

Meanwhile, India has been derailed as a prime location because of a railway dispute involving a vital action sequence on top of a train, so they now will shoot in South Africa. Also, Istanbul returns to Bondage (previously used in From Russia with Love and The World is Not Enough) for the opening. Sultanahmet Square and Bosporus have been earmarked for 10-15 minutes of action. Finally, the exterior of Duntrune Castle in Scotland has been leaked by the owner as the site of Bond’s ancestral home for the climax in which all the villains are gathered.

The 23rd Bond entry begins shooting in November with Sam Mendes at the helm for domestic release Nov. 9, 2012, in honor the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

A New War Horse Trailer Gallops on Display

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Movies, Music, Oscar, Production Design, Tech | Leave a comment

As with The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21), the new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (Dec. 28) emphasizes more action. A galloping horse named Joey leaps across the exploding battlefield at night during World War I, underscored by John Williams’ majestic score. Flashback to Albert taming, training, and riding Joey in the warmth, beauty, and comfort of rural England. But all that is shattered when Joey is taken from Albert, and we follow the horse on its epic journey that reaches No Man’s Land.

As production designer Rick Carter asserts, this is part of his post 9/11 “nature of conscience” exploration amid the “Goya-esque disasters of war.” The same goes for Spielberg as well.

ADG Wants to Organize Previs Artists

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Movies, Production Design, Tech, VES, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Visual effects artists aren’t the only ones being courted by guilds and unions: The Art Directors Guild, Local 800 of the IATSE (ADG), wants to organize previs artists, and has launched an informational site called Artists for Direct Action.

“It’s a natural fit for previs talents to be represented by the Art Directors Guild,” said president Tom Walsh in a prepared statement.  “Our new site will let them know what they can do to claim for themselves the rights all other ADG members currently enjoy.”

ADG claims a long history of visualization synergy with previs artists through its existing crafts professionals: production designers and art directors; scenic and graphic artists; set designers and model makers, illustrators, storyboard, and matte artists.

ADG organizer Peter Koczera noted the guild’s new website will be regularly updated and that he personally is available 24/7 to guide previs artists through the procedures they may follow to assert their rights as artists in the workplace.

It just so happens that I have a prominent association with both the ADG and The Previsualization Society. In fact, I moderated a day-long previs session at the ADG back in January 2008 that directly led to the formation of the Society (see above photo). So I understand the craft of previs and its importance to the industry, and the tug-of-war that exists in a competitive but mutually respective turf war. Moreover, I also understand and appreciate the artistic importance of the crafts associated with the ADG, and how they are leading the way in a whole new digital paradigm.

Thus, in trying to be balanced, I reached out to the Society and got the following response:

“The Previsualization Society, a non-profit trade organization, was formed for a singular purpose — educating professionals who consume and practice previs in order to maximize the effectiveness of the process. A previs department collaborates with a wide range of disciplines and departments from one end of production to the other. Everyone involved needs to be working together toward a common purpose, and the Society has been tasked to focus on fostering the necessary understanding. The ADG was the original anchor and host of the ASC-ADG-VES Joint Technology Subcommittee on Previsualization. The first announcement of The Previs Societies existence was made at ADG headquarters. The Previs Society will continue to pursue our mission of education regardless of what actions the ADG takes in pursuit of its goals.

“The Society was formed to be a collaborative voice for the previs discipline. ADG seems to want to draw the Society into the debate over whether unionization  is right for employees and employers involved in previs. The Society is not the forum for this debate and should not be drawn into it.

I will definitely be exploring this further.

Deadline Approaches for Oscar Shorts

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Events, Movies, Oscar, Shorts, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

This coming Monday is the deadline to submit entries in the Live Action Short Film, Animated Short Film and Foreign Language Film categories to be considered for the 84th Academy Awards. Complete entries must arrive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 5:00 p.m. PT that day.

In the short film categories, filmmakers must submit an entry form, one film print or copy in an approved digital format, and all other required materials by the deadline. Pixar’s La Luna by Enrico Casarosa is an exquisite animated entry. In the Foreign Language Film category, filmmakers must submit entry forms, one English-language subtitled film print or copy in an approved digital format, and all other required materials by the deadline. Only one motion picture will be accepted from each country.

Complete 84th Academy Awards rules are available at http://www.oscars.org/rules. Additional information may be obtained by contacting Awards Coordinator Torene Svitil via phone at (310) 247-3000, ext. 1116, by fax at (310) 247-2600, or by e-mail at tsvitil@oscars.org.

Getting Immersed with John Gaeta at the Palo Alto Fest

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Festivals, Movies, Oscar, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

As part of the inaugural Palo Alto International Film Festival this weekend, I will have a casual conversation with Oscar-winning visual effects designer John Gaeta (The Matrix movies, Speed Racer) about interfacing with media, the future of movies, and possibilities for more experiential storytelling. The event will take place Sunday at 3:00 at Talenthouse in downtown Palo Alto, and will be streamed live.

Additionally, there will be two screenings of Méliès’  A Trip to the Moon, with Technicolor’s Tom Burton discussing the celebrated digital restoration (Saturday at 2:00 and 4:00).

Here’s the complete speaker line-up:

Friday, September 30, 12-1p

2 – 3 p.m. Tim Draper: The Future of Media, http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/timdraper_paiff2011_paiff2011

3 – 4 p.m. Making the Startup Kids with Vala Halldorsdottir and Sesselja Vilhjalmsdottir; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/makingthestartupkids_paiff2011_paiff2011

4-5 p.m. How Much Is Your Idea Worth? with Saad Khan (CMEA CapitalFilm Angels) and Eric Edmeades (Kerner Group), moderated by Sunil Rajaraman (Scripped.com); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/isyourideaworthanything_paiff2011_paiff2011

5:30-6:30 p.m. Global Cinema Tomorrow with Alesia Weston (Sundance Institute), Santhosh Daniel (Global Film Initiative), Jasmina Bojic (United Nation Association Film Festival); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/globalcinematomorrow_paiff2011_paiff2011

7-8 p.m. Encyclopedia Pictura: Isaiah Saxon, Daren Rabinovitch, Sean Hellfritsch; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/encyclopediapicturaisaiahsaxondarenrabinovitchseanhellfritsch_paiff2011_paiff2011

Saturday, October 1, 11-12p

3:15-4 p.m. Paul Debevec: Achieving Photoreal Digital Actors; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/behindthesceneswpauldebevec_paiff2011_paiff2011

4:15-5 p.m. Steven Gaydos:  Writing “Road to Nowhere”; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/stevengaydos_paiff2011_paiff2011

5:15-5:30 p.m. Uwe Bergmann: Photographing Molecular Particles; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/uwebergmannphotographingmolecularparticles_paiff2011_paiff2011

5:30-6 p.m. Stuart Bowling: Advances in Cinema Image and Surround Sound; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/stuartbowlingadvancesincinemaimageandsurroundsound_paiff2011_paiff2011

6-6:30 p.m. Jim Helman: Hollywood in a Digital Worldhttp://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/jimhelmanhollywoodinadigitalworld_paiff2011_paiff2011

6:30-7 p.m. Jens Peter Wittenburg: Beyond 3D; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/jenspeterwittenburgtheimpactof3donstorytelling_paiff2011_paiff2011

Sunday, October 2, 2-3p

10:30-11:30 a.m. Digital Filmmaking & Distribution: Whose Tail is Wagging the Dog? with Michael Murphy (EVP, Gravitas Ventures), Dale Djerassi (President of Djerassi Films, Jaman Networks Advisory Board), John McCrea (GM, Tunerfish), and Danae Ringelmann (Indiegogo.com).  Moderated by Britt Bensen (Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder at On Demand Weekly); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/amovieinsearchofanaudience_paiff2011_paiff2011

12-12:30 p.m. Nickhil Jakatdar: The Future of Mobile and Movies; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/nickhiljakatdar_paiff2011_paiff2011

12:30-1 p.m. Brett Crockett: Delivering Cinema Sound to Mobile Devices; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/brettcrockettdeliveringcinemasoundtomobiledevices_paiff2011_paiff2011

3-4 p.m. Interfacing with Media: A Conversation with John Gaeta.  Moderated by Bill Desowitz (indieWire); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/breakingthefourthwallaconversationwithjohngaeta_paiff2011_paiff2011

4-5 p.m. Ditching the Divide – Merging Technology to Manufacture Cinema with Matthew Meschery (Director of Digital Initiatives, Independent Television Service (ITVS)) 
Katie Gillum (Associate Director, Disposable Film Festival) 
Hannah Eaves (Vice President/Digital & Engagement, LinkTV) 
Michella Rivera-Gravage (Director of Digital and Interactive Media, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM)) 
Tanya Marie Vlach (Eye-Camera/Eye, Tanya).  Moderated by Santhosh Daniel (The Global Film Initiative); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/ditchingthedivide_paiff2011_paiff2011

The complete festival lineup is available at: http://paiff.slated.com/2011/schedule/week

Spielberg’s War Horse Poster Unveiled

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Movies, Oscar, Production Design, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

EW got the first look yesterday at the poster for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (Dec. 28). Anthony Breznican notes how similar it is to the cover of the young adult book by Michael Morpurgo. The World War I drama concerns British farm boy Albert (Jeremy Irvine) being separated by his horse, Joey, when it’s sold to help on the front lines. Albert is called to the front line himself and goes on an odyssey to reunite with his pal.

Production Designer Rick Carter revealed to me via email that War Horse represents the latest film he’s worked on post 9/11 about “the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war.” War of the Worlds, Munich, Avatar, and the upcoming Lincoln are the others. Since Spielberg directs four of the five, it’s apparent that he’s on a similar nature of conscience journey.

The new War Horse trailer will be unveiled next week with the release of Real Steel.

Trailering More Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Books, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

Stand aside Muppets, here’s more of the real deal. The new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21) looks grungier and more ominous as we get deeper into it. I especially like the golden hued interiors in contrast to the snowy white exteriors. And Rooney Mara is beguiling; Daniel Craig burns with intensity; Christopher Plummer is refreshingly vulnerable; and Stellan Skarsgård looks quietly sinister. David Fincher is definitely in his element.

Meanwhile, TOH reports that Music Box will release the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition Blu-ray on Nov. 22. The box set will offer more than two hours of additional footage not seen in the theatrical versions of the original Swedish films (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).

Moneyball: ‘The Island of Misfit Toys’

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Comments Off

Moneyball (opening today) reminds us that baseball is as much about psychology as poetry. As with anything in life, you can’t fulfill your promise without confidence and nurturing. And, not surprisingly, director Bennett Miller follows Capote with another literate and mournful biopic of a creative iconoclast on a life-changing journey. Only in this case, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt at his most fascinating and charismatic best) is spiritually adrift because baseball has broken his heart (he blew his chance as a player). But that doesn’t prevent the driven and resourceful Beane from reinventing himself,  rekindling his love once again (the script by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian crackles with metaphor and wit).

Moneyball ironically begins in 2001 with the A’s losing a devastating playoff series to the Yankees, and subsequently losing their stars to free-agency. With a small payroll, there’s just no way to compete with the Yankees, but, thanks to a young economics wiz (Jonah Hill), Beane embraces a revolutionary approach to scouting players through computer analysis, and slowly transforms his “island of misfit toys” into a competitive team, and going on a wild, record-breaking ride in the process.

Moneyball is fundamentally about the difficulty of adapting to change and learning to survive and thrive with less — an apt metaphor for our times. Wally Pfister ‘s cinematography has a gritty yet surreal quality at times, in keeping with the volatile tone. The transparent VFX wizardry involving stadium seating is by Rhythm & Hues (supervised by Edwin Rivera).

A Dangerous Method Dissected

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

There’s an interesting irony that the very week Citizen Kane bowed on Blu-ray, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (Nov. 23) took some early critical hits for being uncinematic. Just because it’s theatrical and talky and visually spare? Some Came Running’s Glenn Kenny hit back with some very persuasive aesthetic arguments about the power of Cronenberg’s visual style and how it serves as a compelling counterpoint to the rivalry between Michael Fassbender’s romantic Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen’s rigorous Sigmund Freud.

It just so happens that I attended a screening a couple of weeks ago, and I was particularly struck by the strong visual style. As Kenny points out, for instance, the depiction of the initial treatment of Keira Knightley’s tortured Sabina Spielrein is brilliantly constructed. Jung insists on sitting behind Sabina as she attempts to describe what’s troubling her in an attempt to remain unobtrusive and detached. And as she recounts her sexual repression and compulsion for S&M, her face and body contort as though she were possessed by the devil. All the while, the two-shot and closeups reveal an attraction/repulsion that will develop between Jung and Sabina.

Meanwhile, screenwriter Christopher Hampton told F.X. Feeney during a Q&A how rigorous a director Cronenberg is and how much he’s learned from his narrative skill (which can’t be divorced from his visual style). I look forward to exploring this and more in greater detail as we get closer to the film’s release because it’s such a rich cinematic experience.