More than a few people have pointed out that a status report is long overdue, so I’m posting this EVERYWHERE. The status of Cowboys & Engines is it’s freakin’ AWESOME! I know it isn’t fair to gloat when I’ve seen the film and you haven’t, but I’m excited!

Before a film goes off for its final sound design, scoring and audio mix, it’s necessary to “Lock the picture.” As a director, this means stepping back and committing to no more tweaking of the cut, no more editorial changes. From the standpoint of flow and shot-by-shot juxtaposition, the movie is done.

I spent the last few days making little tucks and adjustments, and putting in temporary versions of some of our big establishing shots for timing purposes. So, even though I’ve seen the film (500 times? More?), I got to spend a lot of time seeing it as a whole, rather than focusing on its individual parts. And I’m so incredibly proud of what we accomplished, I want to shout. The impulse to share C&E, even though it isn’t done, is SO STRONG, that I feel more certain than ever that we have a winner.

You have to recognize that every director has largely gone cold on a film by the time you see it. It’s new for you, but for the creator, you’re sick to the teeth of it by the time you release it into the wild. You know every crease, line, wrinkle & wart on the old girl. The most you can reasonably hope for is comfortable affection.

But… once in a great while, you get a film so special that you rediscover it again on the other side. The blemishes fade, and what’s left is a magical piece of art that gives you chills and you think, “I helped create this.” This weekend, I learned that Cowboys & Engines is one of those projects.

So, there will be no apologies that we’re so late in delivering, or that we’ve taken so long to finish. The decision not to rush was the right one. What we’ve made has simply taken time. Because it’s special.

Enough ephemera. I know you’re hoping for some nuts and bolts information. On our current schedule, the film should be completed around the first week in October. Once it’s completely done, we’ll release a new trailer online, and schedule the premiere screening (which some of you may well be attending).

Post-premiere, password-protected download links will be emailed out to everyone. That will, hopefully, keep ya’all sated while we prep the physical packages. Discs have to be authored, artwork printed, t-shirts made, there’s the matter of a small book I have to write… etc.

Realistically, expect all the physical goodies to go out very early in the new year. I’d promise sooner, but, y’know, I’d be lying.

Yeah, this has all taken a lot longer than any of us imagined. And you know, I’m so very glad that it has.

I swear to Bob, the powers that be at Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment will just never fucking get it. After years of utterly clueless adaptations (the Fantastic Four films, DaredevilGhost Rider, et. al.,) it seemed as if we were finally seeing the beginnings of an era when the big studios would do comic book properties that appealed to the core audience as well as the “flyover states.”

With its slate of films, Marvel has done something that was previously seen only with Star Trek: create one huge, planned, inter-connected universe for all its characters to play in. From Iron Man to Agents of SHIELD to the four upcoming Netflix series that will culminate in a Defenders line-up, everything Marvel has done since they had the power to do it is all the same mythology. There are even rumblings of letting Pixar do an animated Marvel film that would be canon… Hell, even the miserable Incredible Hulk, the first film to be a part of this universe, gets a, Easter egg in Ant Man to remind us that, “yes, it’s a terrible film, but it’s still ours, and we love it anyway.”

And it’s working. It’s working really, really well.

Naturally, the studios that (sadly, oh so sadly) own several of Marvel’s tentpole properties are trying to build their own interconnected worlds; Sony is giving Venom his own films to lead into Sinister Six. Shame it’s all based on those shitty Marc Webb movies.

Fox, capable of turning any windfall into an embarrassment, is blowing the X-Men universe completely out of proportion, and possibly adding Josh Trank’s DOOMED Fantastic Four reboot into the same continuity.

And then there’s Warner Bros., owners of DC Entertainment. Holy fuck, do these people NOT know what to do with comic book properties. They say those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, so let’s take a quick jaunt down memory lane…

  • Superman: The Movie thru Superman IV
    • One great movie, a mediocre sequel (made watchable in the Director’s Cut), an embarrassment and one of the worst films ever made.
  • Supergirl
    • Nominally, part of the same universe, though it isn’t sure itself. Hey! That’s five movies in the same mythology!
  • Wonder Woman
    • First, two TV movies with Cathy Lee Crosby… then, a TV series with Lynda Carter that has NOTHING to do with either them or the DC universe in general.
  • Batman thru Batman and Robin
    • Again, a solid first entry (though I’m not a fan at all), a silly, camp sequel (more suited to the Batman ’66 series than the big screen), and two execrable follow-ups. A new world for Bruce Wayne, devoid of any other super-heroes to play with.
  • Swamp Thing
    • Let’s make a crappy movie! And a crappy sequel! Then, let’s follow them with a crappy TV series! Let’s set them each in their own unique worlds!
  • Superboy
    • It’s Superman as teen, because teenaged girls love teenage Superman! But not when he’s part of a bigger universe, apparently.
  • The Flash
    • It’s cheese! And even though it’s on at the same time as Superboy, let’s keep them separated, for their own good.
  • Lois & Clark
    • Superman reimagined as a shitty, half-assed, badly acted romance! Yes! And another Superman universe! Score!
  • Steel
    • Shaq, as a character from Superman, only… without… Superman…
  • Smallville
    • It’s Dawson’s Creek, but with super-heroes! No! It’s Superman without Superman! And badly written and acted! And… not… connected to …anything…
  • Birds of Prey
    • It’s a bunch of Batman characters we’ve really never seen before, but in New Gotham, and, uh… Batman has retired…
  • Catwoman
    • Well, we’ve learned our lesson! If we’re going to make a terrible spin-off with a different actress, let’s set it in a different universe with no Batman at all!
  • Superman Returns
    • It’s a reboot! It’s a sequel! It’s… a mess, really. It references the Donner films, but is set in modern day, and everyone is suddenly twelve years old… who knows what universe this is part of?

Which more or less brings us to the modern era. That was just the way studios treated comic book properties then, so where do we stand now?

Well, let’s begin with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, which stands alone as it’s own work. We have Green Lantern, which lives in its own retarded bubble. We have Man of Steel, which isn’t part of Nolan’s world, (despite being produced by him) because his was “too real, and too dark.” I guess a patricidal, sociopathic, mass-murdeing Superman just isn’t dark enough for The Dark Knight, so… another new continuity.

Of course, the courtroom drama sequel, Batman v. Superman takes place in the same universe, with a different Batman, and if they ever get that far, the Justice League film will be part of this continuity after a Green Lantern  reboot, and a few other solo films. Personally, I’ll believe it when I see it.

On TV, you’ve got Arrow and The Flash, both connected. However, they won’t be part of the Justice League film continuity because, well, frankly, neither of those bozos can carry a lead on the big screen, especially child-bride, West Hollywood heartthrob Grant Gustin (seriously, is Barry Allen in fucking high school?) Also on the small screen, you’ve goth Gotham, the Batman version of Smallville, i.e., Batman with no Batman! So, er, just a crime drama, I guess? Stupid, AND NOT CONNECTED TO ANYTHING ELSE!

Let’s not forget the Constantine  film, and the new Constantine series, which are related neither to each other, nor the rest of any ongoing DC continuity.

Coming up, we’ll be getting Guillermo del Toro’s Justice League Dark, which features a team of DC’s magic heroes, (including another John Constantine with no ties to either existing one), and which will also NOT be set in the Justice League universe. I mean, WTF?!? Why are they even called the Justice League then?!?

A few days ago, DC Entertainment announced that Shazam (you guessed it), will not be connected to any of the other DC films. Even though they had just figured out how to make him fit into the comics (Shazam, for those in the know, is really the only guy who can routinely kick the crap out of Superman, so he’s a little bit of a problem.)

Lastly, and this was really the cherry on the sundae, a new Supergirl series was just announced, and odds are really high that, since it isn’t on the CW, and since there’s no Superman (that we know of) in the world of Arrow and The Flash, that it, too, will exist in it’s own little bubble. It’s fucking maddening.

Someone needs to stage an intervention. This is just absurd. I’ve never been a huge DC fan; I’m a Marvel guy to the core. But, seriously, don’t Batman, Superman and the rest deserve better treatment than this?

I’ve decided I need to set up a camcorder in one corner of our house so that The Unicorn & I, either separately or together, can just wander in, turn it on, post a video rant, and then upload it. I’m too persnickety about what I write to be a modern blogger, but that means you guys miss out on some great stuff.

No, I’m not going to attempt to catch you up on all of it. So, the bullet points:

  • Cowboys & Engines is coming together nicely. Not going to promise a delivery date, but soon. I will promise to deliver a lot of awesome.
  • I already know what my next project is going to be. A full-length feature film. Somewhat science-fiction, but more straight drama. That’s all you get for now.
  • Delivered Wetwork to Vivid, and I’m extraordinarily proud of it. I think it’s every bit the equal of Corruption  and Upload.
  • The documentary I shot & directed for Showtime is consuming most of my waking hours. This next week is going to be a long, delirious one, but the final product will be excellent.
  • Might be going off to shoot a Food Network show for 10-12 weeks. Dunno yet. Details elude my best attempts to capture the little fuckers.
  • Just delivered the script for Batman vs. Superman XXX to Axel Braun, so look for him to announce that soonish.
  • Ghost Adventures: Aftershocks looks like it’s coming back for a second season, so I imagine I’ll be off shooting that as well.
  • The Unicorn & I celebrated our one year anniversary. Poor girl.
  • Thought Guardians was pretty great, but wish we hadn’t seen it in 3D.

That’s enough for now. I’ll try to rant & rave about something soon. Y’know, like I do.

 

I finally broke down and watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If I wanted to be kind, I would say it was fairly mediocre, but the fact is, it pretty much sucks, and it sucks in a way only Disney can deliver. We got the Wonder Bread version of the Marvel Universe. A bland, boring slog through re-tread stories of double-cross and triple-cross filled with new bad guys, and a handful of… Jesus, D-List villains? E-List, maybe? I mean we’re talking about guys like Scorch (surely you remember him from the Night Thrasher comic?) and Blackout for fuck’s sake.

In fact, it doesn’t matter, because they’re so removed from their forgotten comic-book counterparts, they might as well be all-new creations anyway. Then, of course, there’s Garrett, who’s also from the comics, and also completely forgotten, the origin of Iron Man villain Blizzard, and Deathlok, the only thing close to a “marquee” character introduced in the show, although he got a name change and a complete makeover to allow him to pass in public. We also get the setup for Franklin Hall to one day become a very boring Graviton…

All of which begs the question why? Why bother dredging up meaningless characters if you aren’t going to make them something interesting? In AoS, they’re just a bunch of soldiers and spies and agents and extremely tedious people. I realize I’m a bit out of touch, but things do still happen in comic books, don’t they?

Picking on the obscurity and mismanagement of the supporting characters is really the wrong place to start. There’s so much else wrong with this show that’s even more damaging.

The main problem is that AoS starts off not know what it wants to be when it grows up. A team of plucky outsiders led by gruff-but-caring commander who doesn’t play by the rules? How original. Is it The X-Files? TorchwoodCSIMission: Impossible? The answer is yes. It’s all of these. The setup of the show is so derivative and so familiar, it’s like a reboot of a show you remember watching, but can’t recall the title of.

The cast of Abercrombie & Fitch models they’ve surrounded poor Clark Gregg with certainly don’t help. Are we really supposed to give a shit about these people, because if we are, fail. Apart from Ming-Na Wen, who’s fine as Melinda May, the rest all taste like Shredded Wheat. The pretty boy badass traitor, the other pretty boy badass not traitor, the attractive-in-a-family-friendly-sexless-way hacker, and the idiotic, socially-retarded Beaker twins. Not only is it a mess, it’s a very familiar mess.

The chaos is partly due to the fact that the show’s first half is plainly marking time until it can get to the events in Winter Soldier, at which point it becomes a different series altogether. The split is plainly delineated by when they stop using the “Icers” (is this ABC Family, for chrissakes?) and start actually shooting people. Frankly, the changeover is clunky, mismanaged, and unforgivable.

It’s obvious that Joss Whedon’s little brother was given too much authority riding on his bro’s over-inflated coattails. Someone at Disney should have cracked some skulls. Or maybe the problem is equally over-inflated film hack Jeph Loeb, the guy who single-handedly destroyed Marvel’s “Ultimate Comics” line (which was previously awesome) after giving us the finale to Lost. Yeah. HIM. Regardless, what we actually got is shameful. How many McGuffins, red herrings and false flags do you have to fill one season with before you admit the writers were running on empty?

Let’s have a quick tally; Coulson’s on a personal quest to learn how he was revived, and why, and boy is he pissed about it. Skye is on a personal quest to find her parents, and then everyone isn’t on a quest to find out who and what the fuck she actually is after they learn she was once classified as an “Object of Unknown Origin.” (Haven’t they read the comics? She’s Mantis. The Celestial Madonna. Duh.) Everyone is on a quest to find the Clairvoyant, who watched Saw, and uses people to control other people controlling other people.

So first, the Clairvoyant is this fat guy coming out of a building, then it’s Brad Dourif, in the most WTF piece of wasted stunt-casting I’ve ever seen, then it’s scenery-chewing good guy Bill Paxton turned into scenery-chewing bad guy Bill Paxton… except he’s also Hydra, which means he’s really just a cog in Robert Redford’s big machine… except he’s also been working his own thing to get to Coulson’s life-regenerating serum for his own purposes, and to make a ton of money with Centipede… or something.

And, of course, Agent May is a traitor… except she’s not. And Hand is a traitor… except she’s not. And Ward definitely isn’t a traitor, until he is. And Deathlok? Well, he’s a guy with powers who goes nuts and gets shot and becomes a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent then double-crosses Coulson then double-crosses Garrett. It’s just flat-out bad scripting. If they’d had the sack to kill one of the muppets in the final story arc, I could have cut them some slack, but alas.

Mainly, though, the show just feels cheap. When characters fight, they smash through a lot of drywall… when they “trash” Coulson’s plane, they never trash it too badly… And no matter what far-flung part of the world they have to visit, it always looks and feels a lot like L.A. Streets of Hong Kong? No, that’s Broadway in  Chinatown. Forest in Norway? Try Griffith Park. Portland? Pasadena. It reminds me of the old I Spy series… You can go anywhere you like, as long as it’s in L.A. County.

And can I take a moment to address something the really bugs the fanboy in me? Are WhedonCo really setting up a Marvel Universe with NO mutants, and NO actual metahumans? Apparently, they never plan on getting the X-Men back because their absolute certainty that no one in the world has psychic powers means there are NO mutants. (Let’s forget that grunge-rock Scarlet Witch and burner Quicksilver are in Avengers 2.) Apparently, there are aliens with astonishing abilities, and altered humans (like Cap, and as Spider-Man would be if they ever got him back, or the Fantastic Four), but no one born on Earth has inherent powers. I find this approach disturbing, but I guess we’ll see.

Supposedly, season 2 will be darker, have higher production values, and be more akin to modern television series with a solid continuous plot rather than 10 fractured ones. I’m skeptical. Frankly, S.H.I.E.L.D. has more to answer for than just Operation Insight.

 

 

Sam Lai, Private Ai
1987

I know a lot of you who own copies of Sam Lai, and maybe even some of you who worked on it are saying, “Hey! Waitaminnit! That movie is finished!”

Um, no. It isn’t.

For the uninitiated, Sam Lai, Private Ai was a short parody of the hard-boiled detective genre. Like everything I’ve ever produced, written, directed or shot, the production had its problems, some minor, some less-so. There was drama about casting, drama with the cast once we had them in place, drama replacing the ones who just didn’t work in the roles (sorry Tom), and drama writing around the ones who quit or vanished during the year (what the fuck were we thinking?!?) it took to complete filming, reshoots, and then more reshoots.

At one point, our relationship with Doug Harms, the star of the movie, had deteriorated to the point that he was flaking on shoots and not returning calls. Somewhat panicked at the thought of losing our lead with two-thirds of the movie shot, Ken & I arranged a conference call with Doug to discuss where he stood and how he felt about the project. Doug skipped that call, and we got his answering machine.

Ken & I left Doug a message, disconnected him, and then stayed on the line with each other to discuss our options. As we talked over the next half-hour, we got more and more belligerent about our wayward star, eventually descending into outright insults, kidnapping scenarios, and fantasies detailing funny, but violent, retribution. It was during a lull in the conversation that Doug’s machine finally beeped… because its tape was full… and Ken & I realized with shock that we’d just become characters in a modern update of I Love Lucy.

Amazingly, that phone call seemed to have been the kick in the ass needed to get Doug back on board, and we finished the film. Well, I say “film,” but the fact was we’d settled for videotape. VHS, to be specific, which wasn’t an issue until we got into post. In actuality, the movie looked pretty goddamned good. We processed it in black & white, and the softness of the VHS gave it a bit of a film feel. One short film festival we showed it at even had the film professor at Scottsdale Community College (go Artichokes!) assuring his students Sam Lai  was shot on 16mm.

If only.

In those days, there were only two ways of editing half-inch tape. One was to get out a helical scan block and physically cut the tape with a razor once you measured out your shot. The other was to sit down in an editing suite with big, flying-erase head machines, and do a straight-up assembly edit. The fact that we had about 20 hours of raw footage made it rough. The fact that the technology at the time was such that each edit left a pop on the audio track was a total fucking disaster.

We tried everything we could imagine to fix it, work around it, or hide it. In the end, we cut the picture, and looped the entire fucking movie. Given the janky-ass, Jerry-rigged, redneck tech setup we used to record the dialogue, it’s a fucking wonder that it worked at all. And the cast really did their best to recapture the performances of the original footage. When it was finished, Ken & I told each other that no one would know the difference, and that really, it had all worked out for the best for xy or z reason.

The truth is the sound sucked, and we knew it. But there was nothing we could possibly do about it, so we lied to ourselves and called it done. As I mentioned above, we screened it at a few places, and people enjoyed it. Cast & crew seemed happy. I was so sick of the damned thing, I don’t think I’ve watched it in 25 years. But I can’t help thinking…

Enough people liked Sam that I’m convinced there’s something funny in there. If it was good with that shitty dubbed audio, it should be great with the live sound. All it would take would be getting those VHS masters (which I have) digitized so I can put them in Vegas and go to work. I bet the end result would be fairly fucking awesome. Certainly, the sound would be a revelation compared to what exists now. It’d be like hearing the un-dubbed Mad Max for the first time.

But with the constant barrage of projects demanding my full attention, there’s simply no way to even consider stepping past putting this on the To Do list at the moment. I do hope that, someday, I get to revisit this little rough gem from my past so I can polish the fucker up.

Get an email whenever I blather.

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It is only the great men who are truly obscene. If they had not dared to be obscene, they could never have dared to be great. — Havelock Ellis