Monday, March 26, 2012

Nobody Wants to be Scottie Pippen

Back when I was just a wee little boy, my Father and I would constantly watch basketball on TV. For the longest time, I wanted nothing more than to be a pro basketball player. I played all through grade school, middle school, junior high and high school. I was an excellent shooter and had a great knowledge of the game. I wasn't the most athletic, but dammit -- I was talented. When I realized I would barely top 6 feet tall and my Achilles tendon exploded inside my leg (not that I was super fast anyway), I soon accepted my fate and began plotting my way to Hollywood.

First time I ever saw my "new" ankle..
But back when I was living in a "basketball only" world, I learned a lot of valuable lessons that I still keep with me today. Many of them being about working with others. Teamwork. Teammates. Leadership. Sacrifice. All things that are insanely relevant to me today.. and I haven't set foot on an organized basketball court in years.

If anyone has ever noticed, or worked with me, they'll know that I like to have unique title pages on my scripts.. Not because I want to be different, but because I feel like having a unique title on the front of our script, our battle plan makes us feel like a team.. TEAM Madison County.. TEAM Roadisde.. TEAM Contracted. Unity is very important to me. I like to feel like I'm part of something.. with other people that WANT to be a part of what I'm doing.

Keeping with tradition of wanting to be a apart of something.. when my Father passed his number down to me, it became a symbol that I wore proudly. Something I wore with honor and pride.


Still to this day, you can find me usually wearing my basketball number in some form or fashion. I have hats, jackets, T-shirts, etc. I fell in love with the number for many reasons.. first of all, it was my Dad's. What son doesn't want to wear the number of his Father? My Dad's high school team would go on to win the State Championship his senior year of high school.. it was something that he, and many people in the small town in which I grew up, would never let me forget.. or live down. I HAD to match that. My senior year? I was in a wheel chair and crutches.

From as far back as I can remember.. this was in middle school.
A news paper article from "back in the day", with my Mother looking on in the background to my left.
My Father and I on the night of the MADISON COUNTY premiere.. and OUR basketball number.
Dad and I after accepting the Audience Award at the Little Rock Horror Picture Show.. sporting OUR number on my jacket.

But the number remained mine through my entire career. If the number was available, I was wearing it. Aside from my Father wearing it, my favorite player wore it.. Larry Bird. Bird wasn't the most athletic, or best player on the court.. but dammit, he was talented. He played hard and he was a leader. But being a leader means also knowing when to follow.. Bird knew that too. Another reason? Eric England.. EE.. 33. It was just meant to be. But the last and final reason? My Father told me about when he was in school, he once played against Scottie Pippen. Scottie would go on to play for the Bulls and win SIX NBA Championships alongside Michael Jordan, not to mention being included on the roster for the 50 Greatest NBA Players.

This is basketball.. the way I remember it. (I watched a lot of ESPN Classics).
When people thinking about the NBA, The Bulls, or hell.. even BASKETBALL -- Michael Jordan's name is usually one of the first things mentioned.

He was a leader. Born. Bred. The man was amazing.. but many people forget that Michael Jordan didn't win every game by himself.. he had a team.. a team of AMAZING players.. and his right hand man? Scottie Pippen.

When I moved to LA, I wanted to be Michael Jordan. I wanted to be the leader. I learned that really quickly. A lot of my life I wasn't Michael Jordan.. hell, I wasn't even Scottie Pippen. I was more of a Steve Kerr. I would come in and win the game if people needed me to, but I liked to keep to myself. I would stand out and "Wow" the crowd sometimes. I definitely made my presence known (kinda like Dennis Rodman), but in terms of forging a path? Rarely ever was I at the front.

When I started film school, I realized quickly that I was going to take charge. I had ideas. I had (some) knowledge.. but beyond all that, I had drive. I wanted to succeed. I wanted to do things my own way.. for the first time in my life, I WANTED TO LEAD.

So when I got out, that's when I grabbed life by the horns (Bulls, since they're topical at the moment). I started writing scripts, creating ideas, networking, putting together all the pieces of the puzzle to be my team. Along the way I've found several amazing members. I've found my Luc Longleys.. My Dennis Rodmans.. My Ron Harpers.. but never my Scottie Pippen? Why.. because in this town, most people want to be Michael Jordan.

Whenever a movie is getting made.. there's usually one or two people that really get most of the attention. It's either the director or the actor(s). Sometimes, you see a case like The Asylum or Roger Corman and it's about the company behind the film.. the money people.. They're the Jordans. But most of the time, they're not getting the spotlight because they're getting the money.. And that's more than enough.

I assure you, for as much money as Michael Jordan was making.. the people above him and signing his checks, were making MUCH MUCH more money. But the difference? He got the spotlight. That's usually the trade off in this industry. I didn't come out here wanting popularity, or limelight. I didn't seek fame.. I seeked success. Success is defined very differently for many people. For some (myself included)- It's happiness. Most of the world considers it money or fame.. but for those who truly know what success is.. it's happiness. Hell, Michael Jordan left basketball for baseball seeking "success".. to be happy. To be fulfilled.

But along the way, I've found people that I've worked with that I want to work with for the rest of my life. Some of them are working on being their own Jordan and looking for their own Pippen.. they want to build their own support system, but when called upon, they will gladly come join my team and for that, I am forever grateful. I would do the same for them.. which is where the word "TEAMWORK" comes in. You support your team.. no matter what. In everything they do.

In this journey of leading, I've also had to learn to follow.. I like to be in control. That's part of being a leader.. but I also know when to follow. I also know when to step aside and learn something.. Jordan did this numerous times in his career. He would let Pippen take the reins if he was having a bad night. He would assist Pippen.. but when the clock was close to zero and there was only time left for one shot.. JORDAN was getting the ball. Not because that's how it happened.. because HE WANTED IT. Being a leader means hitting the big shots.. and sometimes missing them. When you hit that big shot, people shower you with attention and affection.. but if you miss it.. it's all your fault. That's the best part of being a leader, in my opinion. You get to share the credit with the team for the big win (because no one ever does anything by themselves) and you get to take the blame in the loss.

A lot of people forge that in this town. They're so busy wanting their own spotlight.. their own validation, identity that they forget who they are and what their role on their "team" is. If Pippen wasn't a true friend and team player, he would have said "Fuck it" and went to his own team where he could lead. But he knew a good thing when he saw it. He knew that he would never be Jordan.. He would always be in Jordan's shadow.. but he knew he was part of an amazing system and he was still a winner. And that's what this town needs more of.. people that want to be WINNERS and not just FAMOUS. It's a lonely place at the top (so I'm told), but when you find people that don't want to steal what you have.. but embrace it because they were a part of it.. that journey and that position at the top (which you then SHARE with them) can be a lot happier place.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Reverse Effect

Been meaning to get my blog for March done and here on this St. Patrick's Day of 2012, I finally found some time. Before I get into my usual rants, raves and psycho-babble-bullshit, I wanted to take a moment out of my day (and a spot out of this blog) to recognize a few friends/colleagues of mine that deserve some praise!

First up, congrats to my buddy Steven C. Miller on the SXSW premiere of his new action/thriller THE AGGRESSION SCALE! Steve has been a friend of mine ever since my earliest days out here in LA. We started going to church a while back when I reached out to him with no friends, whatsoever, in LA. I asked if he'd be so kind as to point me in the direction of a church and he did more than that.. he opened me up to a great group of people in LA and for that, I am forever grateful.

But Steve wasn't my only bud that took part in the ass-kicking.. Travis Stevens (a superhero of a producer), Zak Zeman (also a superhero of numerous powers.. among them, producing, writing and taste in music) and Evan Katz (another talented writer friend) all supported Steve and his vision as producers on the project! Zak was also a producer on the mega-popular V/H/S.. so congrats on TWO amazing films coming out to him!

Also, tonight on SyFy, Drew Daywalt's quirky killer leprechaun movie, LEPRECHAUN'S REVENGE had its official premiere! Drew's been dabbling in the dark stuff for a while now as a master of horror in the short form.. but tonight he took his talented and stretched them out for the world to see.. bravo dude! I can't wait for the next one!

Congrats to all of these fine folks and click the links to check out trailers for the films!

Okay, so.. life has been pretty crazy lately. MADISON COUNTY, as most of you know, is coming out May 8th! Recently we recorded the commentary, which hopefully will provide some insight into the making of the film.. and a few laughs. ROADSIDE is in post sound and I can't WAIT to get our composer's music on it. We're bringing back the ultra talented Igor Nemirovsky to do the music (who also did Madison) and let's just say.. he was born to do my movies :)

Can't wait to share all the exciting updates on Roadside as they become more available.. this is one film that I couldn't be more proud of and can't wait to see if get out there!

Currently, I'm knee deep in pre-production on my next feature film.. CONTRACTED. If you haven't seen any of the announcements, check out some of the links below and they should fill you in. This is a film that I've had brewing around in my brain for quite some time and finally the opportunity arose to make it with a really great, talented and passionate group of producers. Nothing excites me more than making movies with people that WANT to make movies!

Bloody-Disgusting makes sure I'll never get laid again with this headline.

This chick thinks I'm related to Freddy.

Now they're just spreading rumors..

Love Joblo. Good people.

I'm happy that we're able to bring back some of my cast and crew from Madison and Roadside on this film. As is the nature of the beast in filmmaking, you don't always work with the same people.. but you try to as often as possible (if you enjoy working with them, of course). Luckily, I've been able to get a lot of my usual suspects on this film. We're shooting in Los Angeles -- which will be an adventure of sorts since I'm used to shooting in more "film-friendly" places -- and on a budget like ours, we're definitely going to get creative to not let LA get the best of us.

Which brings me to the title of this particular blog entry.. because at the the current stage I'm at in the pre-production process.. most of my decisions will highly affect the quality in which CONTRACTED is made. Re-writing the script and locking in some of the cast (which is one of my favorite parts of the process) are high on the list right now.. but also, working on the visuals of the film.. how it will look and feel.

Every movie I do, I have a couple of personal objectives.. I want to tell a great story and make a solid movie. "Solid" is a very broad term, and what I mean by that is a well-made movie. I don't want it to look like an indie film, or as little like an indie film as possible. I want it to be able to compete with the studio pictures and stuff that are going to be in the redbox next to us anyway. Why? The audience isn't going to care. Nor should they. A movie is a movie.

But.. when I first became interested in filmmaking, the world was a different place. See.. "back in the day" as they say, indie films were less popular/mainstream and almost a sign of a bad film. Almost like "B-Movies". People would watch an indie film and say things like "why does it look funny?".. a lot of times they were referring to the digital photography.. or the lack of stars.. or even just the poor filmmaking techniques. They couldn't really put a finger on it.. but they knew it was different.

NOW.. we're at a different place. Movies like Paranormal Activity and numerous others have accented a generation built on independent/low budget films. It's funny.. because when I would show my friends, family, etc a low budget movie.. they would ask the same things. I would have to explain to them how this movie was made and why it was "different" than the movies they were used to watching. But the funny thing is now.. low budget films have almost had a reverse effect on the viewer. Rather than thinking a low budget film looks different, they're used to it.. they're used to the digital cameras, the new techniques and the lack of stars in their films. Audiences have almost come to EXPECT lower quality in the films they watch..

Which is why one of the greatest compliments I get on Madison County is "Wow.. it looks great!" or "It looks like a real movie!". A lot of times I ask myself.. "Is that really a compliment?". I mean.. it IS a movie. I want it to look good. My DP did a good job, I want to think that I did a good job on the shots, so why wouldn't it? Then.. I remember the "reverse effect". Where people EXPECT certain things from low budget films.. now, rather than being startled by the LACK of quality in a film.. they're startled by the QUALITY in a film.. which is something I never took into account.. at least subliminally.

I mean, I've ALWAYS wanted to make "good looking" films. Films that were cinematic and easy to watch. That's part of my job as a director. But never did I think it would become a "stamp" of sorts. See, now.. when I'm in a meeting with a bigger company, or even a smaller producer.. one of the main selling points that is brought up is how I'm able to achieve a "big look" on little money. I always wanted to do that.. not because I thought it would make me stand out, but because I wanted to show audiences/people/viewers that little money didn't HAVE to mean little quality. Isn't that every filmmakers goal? Apparently not. I've begged and pleaded with companies like The Asylum, who make such gems as SNAKES ON A TRAIN and TRANSMORPHERS to let me direct a film for them.. just to see if my theory is correct. I can't even get THESE GUYS to let me do a film for them!

Some of the main films Madison County gets compared to are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake), The Hills Have Eyes (remake) and Wrong Turn.. among others. While a lot of people complain about "originality" -- which when you watch the film, you'll see how it's nothing like those -- they fail to see that they're comparing it to multi-million dollar films. Now granted, there are a TON of tiny budget films out there that look like a million bucks. But rarely ever do you see them made in the under $100k range (which Madison County is). And that was one of my goals.. to make a movie for far less money than even the ORIGINAL films of the horror golden era were made and make them look like the high dollar remakes of today. So far, it's worked.

But my main point is that it startled me that people are startled by the quality of low budget films these days. This screams to me that the people cutting the checks need to really evaluate the filmmakers they're putting behind the cameras. I see studio films that look like garbage, have no substance and are just plain dull. Who am I to judge though? They're making more money than me.. as are their films.

But I want to hope and pray that the future of cinema are lurking on the internet, same as me right now.. hoping for that one shot where they get the chance to make a "big film" that can make a difference. In a day and age where this town wants to cash in on fads and recreations of popularity, we need some fresh air. We need some new voices. Someone that will do something in the right direction and the decision makers will trying to follow that example.

My next film, CONTRACTED, is hopefully a step in the right direction. It's a hot topic so to speak.. I mean, sex sells.. but it's a gruesome little movie. Intimate, dark and bleak. But I'm hoping it hits enough high notes to where someone wants to put it out there on a larger stage. Same thing with Roadside.. a very high concept film that could be a very popular film in cinemas.. asking audiences "What would you do?".

As my May start date for Contracted gets closer, I'll update with cast information and hopefully some fun behind the scenes type stuff. Maybe we'll have a big online orgy and catch whatever this nasty thing is together ;)