Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Hobbit featurette shows the emotion toll of filmmaking

Campus is mostly deserted today, what with everyone leaving early for Thanksgiving. Enjoy the trip!

This happens to be the time of year when courses assign final projects, and for film students, that might mean producing a short or a demo reel. It can be stressful... but you don't know the agony of filmmaking until you've seen director Peter Jackson behind the scenes on The Hobbit.

BoingBoing recently found seven startling minutes of footage on the Blu-ray of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies showing the improvised, chaotic production of the final chapter of the trilogy. The crew finished sets, costumes, and scripts at the last possible moment, shooting battle scenes with no context and eventually delaying filming for a year. This speaks to the troubled final state of the films, but the most distressing part is Peter Jackson's visible fatigue.

In every shot, Jackson looks near-death – haggard, sad, tired, and reportedly going on only three hours of sleep a night. At one point, he took an extended lunch break just to figure out how to make the next scenes work. Look at his thousand-yard stare: if The Hobbit didn't break Jackson, it came close.

So, the film project you're working on over break will not be as stressful as The Battle of the Five Armies. And it definitely won't let down Andy Serkis as much.

Monday, November 23, 2015

See Leonardo DiCaprio's next big (award-winning?) film early!

November and December are the peak release months for prestige films. Academy Award nominees are announced in January, and the big hopefuls have a habit of popping up right before the deadline. We've been fortunate enough to share passes to a few of these movies, but we're saving the biggest for the end of the semester...

We have advance passes to see The Revenant, director Alejandro González Iñárritu's upcoming frontier movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio! The Revenant is in serious contention for Best Picture, and DiCaprio is an early favorite to win Best Actor – potentially his first Oscar. And you can see it almost a month before everyone else. Lucky you!

(Plus, there will be a Q&A afterwards with supporting actor Will Poulter!)

We have only 40 admit-two passes to give away for this screening on Thursday, December 3 at 7pm at the Georgetown Loews 14. Follow this link to redeem your pass before they're gone. This screening will no doubt be packed, so you'll need to arrive way in advance of the 7pm start time to ensure that you get a seat. Passes don't guarantee that you'll get in!

Snag a pass now so you can lord it over your family for Thanksgiving! Or, because it's an incredibly exciting movie that you can see weeks early for free before it becomes a hot topic.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Raise awareness of film censorship by making a censor watch paint dry

Still from Paint Drying via Charlie Lyne
There's a lot of insightful talk about the role film boards play in censorship – why do these unaccountable groups get to decide what can practically be released? – but sometimes it's more fun just to be a jerk about the whole process. This is one of those cases.

In an act of crowd-funded ultra-spite, filmmaker Charlie Lyne plans to submit an epic-length film titled Paint Drying to the British Board of Film Classification, which will require a censor to watch hours of basically nothing. The BBFC charges per minute, so Lyne is raising cash to submit at least 14 hours of video. Besides being obnoxious, Lyne started this project to raise awareness about the censorship performed by ratings boards.

It worked, and now we're cheering for Paint Drying to go the distance. Mashable confirms that the BBFC will be required to watch the entire film, so many Lyne can slip in a single f-bomb at some point just to keep them on their toes.

For a more serious take on the issue, seek out This Film is Not Yet Rated (DVD 2414). In the meantime, we're waiting for a DVD of Paint Drying.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New Acquisitions - November 2015

Another month has passed, we've added another hundred titles to our collection. The obvious big highlight is the first season of Empire, the massively successful hip-hop drama that has been a boon to television in more than one way. You might also spot Going Clear, the famously damning exposé of the Church of Scientology, and the Wachowski's totally-off-the-rails sci-fi wonder Jupiter Ascending.

But you may notice a ton of oddly named, vaguely threatening-sounding films like A Dangerous Possession and The Tattooed Stranger. Our media librarian Chris Lewis is currently on a mission to add every single film noir to our collection, and these are some of the new additions. We're getting pretty close! If you ever need to research the film noir genre, we are more ready for you than you might be prepared for.

Hit the jump for a full list of what's new...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Television directing is still not very diverse

Behind the scenes of Empire, one of the few shows with a strong track record for diversity in directing talent

Much ink has been spilled about the changing face of television, with new shows (and their showrunners) finally expanding the diversity of experiences and characters on television. But even at a time with different people represented on screen in growing numbers, the picture behind-the-scenes has often still not caught up.

In analysis for Variety, Maureen Ryan discovered that white men directed about three-quarters of all television episodes over the past several years across all networks, including streaming platforms. Even at Netflix – often an incubator for new voices and perspectives – no woman of color directed any episode of their shows last season. As Ryan notes, this is in contrast to elsewhere in television production, where writers' rooms have become increasingly diverse. The article partially points fingers at the exhausting television production process, where only trusted, experienced directors land major jobs... and few of those established names are women or people of color.

The article is an insightful read, particularly for the anecdotes from television industry professionals. Ryan even hints at a few solutions, such as expanding mentorship programs cultivated by the studios and guilds. There's room for practical progress, even if it's coming too slowly.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How big movie franchises are bypassing the critics

Last year, we mentioned the idea of a post-plot movie, where property-driven movies transcend the need for strong narrative drive. Bryan Bishop at The Verge has noticed an odder, more troubling trend: the post-critic movie.

Films have historically depended on advance screenings for critics to generate positive buzz. This is especially true for smaller or less-promoted films, which can capitalize on high marks on Rotten Tomatoes to generate pre-release attention. Now, rumors indicate that the upcoming Star Wars film will not screen for critics... because it doesn't need to. Bishop points out that major franchises like Star Wars or Marvel have seized on fans and online communities to generate hype, and for movies with stratospheric expectations like The Force Awakens, studios have no reason to put more information out early.

There's a separate but adjacent phenomenon where studios won't screen bad films to hide their quality (see this summer's Fantastic Four), but this is different. The worry isn't bad publicity: it's losing control of the publicity. If you already have loyal fans at Comic-Con and pop culture sites sharing every trailer, why let critics change the direction of the conversation?

Bishop makes a convincing argument of why this is happening and what it portends for the future of the film. The short version is that people who will see The Avengers in theaters on opening weekend don't care about the quality, so expect more direct marketing to those fans instead of indirectly through reviews. The doomsday scenario Bishop predicts in which non-fan cultural media vanishes is a long shot, but we're definitely steeping in that direction.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

See The Night Before a week early! (Yes, Christmas in November, sorry.)

So here's the deal: we absolutely do not want to contribute to the early glut of pre-Thanksgiving Christmas and holiday celebration. Thanksgiving is a great holiday, and November deserves to be its own month. That said, holiday-themed movies are coming out early this year, and since we have advance passes to one, we are obliged to promote it. (Also because it's an exciting one!)

Our advance passes this time are to see The Night Before, an upcoming, R-rated Seth Rogen comedy about a group of manchildren celebrating their last raucous Christmas party together before they grow up. Joseph Gordon-Levitt co-stars as one of Rogen's friends, a great casting choice that might counterbalance Rogen's usual antics. The movie opens on November 20th (too soon!), but we have passes to see it on Monday, November 16th at 7:30pm (even sooner!).

The movie screens at the Regal Stadium 14 in Gallery Place on Monday. Grab your passes from this link or in-person at the Media Services desk. As usual, remember that these passes don't guarantee that you'll get in; show up early to ensure that you get a seat.

(Hopefully this will be our last holiday season-themed post for a few weeks... but at least we did it in the service of something funny!)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Your new podcast recommendation: You Must Remember This

Via our collections coordinator Molly Hubbs, we have a podcast recommendation for wonky film history types.

You Must Remember This is a weekly hour-long program about secret tales from the classic film era. Every season, host Karina Longworth covers one major topic of Hollywood history across a dozen or so episodes. Earlier this year she tackled Charles Manson's connections to the film business; she's currently working through the stories of MGM's producers and stars. Above, we've embedded the most recent episode (#64) about Spencer Tracy's on- and off-screen relationships.

This is strictly film nerd territory, but if you've ever been curious about the reality behind the glitzy image of old Hollywood, it's audio catnip. You'll come away with a much better understanding of what made the studio era tick.

If you enjoy You Must Remember This, you might also like Moguls & Movie Stars (DVD 8381-8383), a TCM-produced documentary collection about the film business from its birth until the 1970s.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Farewell (again?) to Betamax

It's the end of an era that we thought had already ended. After nearly three decades of stubborn persistence, Sony has finally chosen to discontinue the Betamax videotape.

For those who missed out on the 80s, Betamax tapes were the main rival for VHSes before it was clear which videocassette format would be most popular. Betamax tapes had some clear benefits – compact size and higher image quality – but VHSes cost less to produce and attracted more publishers. (As legend tells, adult entertainment helped drive the sale of VHS machines more than Hollywood movies.) Although Betamax tapes lost the battle, they continued to find use as a recording format for professional film production. But it's unclear why Sony was still manufacturing them... or who was using them.

With the advent of streaming platforms that now almost universally work in browsers and on nearly an electronic device, it seems that we'll never have another "format war" as intense as what Betamax wrought. Device manufacturers and publishers will always fight over who gets the most popular content, but there's no longer a question of whether one of two whole mediums will become the global standard.

As anyone still setting on their pricey Betamax collection can attest, that's for the best.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Brave Wired blogger binges the entire Bond series for your benefit (and amusement)

From Moonraker, one of the Bond movies on the "Nah" list

James Bond's latest adventure, Spectre, hits theaters tomorrow. Reception on this one is decidedly mixed (Daniel Craig's Bond seems to get it right every other movie), but it will no doubt be a box office sensation here as it has been in the United Kingdom. Love the Bond movies or not – and there's plenty of room to talk about the franchise's sexism – the fact that this is the twenty-fourth film in a fifty-year-old franchise is remarkable and ripe for analysis. How have six different performers treated the role? And over five decades, has the series ever been consistently good?

Wired writer Erik Malinowski tackled the quality question this week in an article breaking down which of the Bond movies work and why. After an apparently 50-hour binge-watching session, Malinowski was able to split the movies roughly in half keepers and half throwaways, with the edge going to the better ones. Much of the article talks about the merits of each individual film, but there's a recurring pattern: the best Bonds are a little campy, thrilling but not too dark or angry, willing to acknowledge their cultural context, and featuring a strong supporting cast for Bond to play off of.

Malinowski's run down is of course subjective but makes a good primer if you needed a refresher on less-remembered Bonds before catching Spectre. If the reviews are credible, there's 14 movies on that list that you might just want to watch instead

(Our collection includes most of the Connery, Brosnan, and Craig films. Ask at our desk to see if they're available!)

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Introducing Kanopy, now streaming the Criterion Collection

Cinema fans and students rejoice: you can now stream a huge chunk of the Criterion Collection through Kanopy.

Kanopy is a digital video service the AU Library just subscribed to that offers access to full-length films – and in our case, that means hundreds of the titles available through the Criterion Collection, the go-to brand name for film buffs. Their titles read like a list of the greatest movies of all time. Hoop Dreams, Seven Samurai, The Great Dictator, and Tokyo Story are some of the most cherished, ever, and all five are available to stream instantly from your choice of device.

To access Kanopy, visit this AU-specific website. You might notice movies labeled "Request"; we only have access to the Criterion titles, so not everything on Kanopy will be available. Follow this link for a list of just the Criterion Collection's films. Many of these are also accessible through the catalog now, so if you searched for Burden of Dreams on DVD, you'll find a streaming version too. (As with all our streaming video sites, you'll have to log in with your library credentials if you are off-campus.)

We've bragged about the quality of our world cinema and silent film databases, but access to 300 titles from the Criterion Collection takes the cake. If you need to see a significant film for a course or just want to watch one of the classics, there's a good chance you can see it for free, right now, on the same device you're using to read this.

We'll wait here while you check out Kanopy. You'll want to.

Monday, November 02, 2015

A grueling look at making The Simpsons, start to finish

Digital techniques have greatly sped up the rate at which animation is produced. South Park can turn out a full episode in a week, and some topical YouTube videos can be cranked out even faster. But the producers of The Simpsons have opted to keep things slow, spacing our production over nearly a year to ensure that every little background detail and facial tic has been revised and remastered. For maybe the first time, The Verge offers a look behind-the-scenes, telling the story of how an idea for a Simpsons script grows into a full episode.

Despite the lengthy turnaround, it sounds like this process still often comes down to the last day, and the staff certainly never gets a break. Of particular interest is the work of the "timer," a production member who breaks down every action and detail frame-by-frame as a blueprint for contracted animators. Ongoing quality issues aside, you'll develop a lot more respect for the show's craftsmanship when you see how every single detail – even character fidgets and mouth movements – have to be spelled out for an entire 22-minute episode.

If you want a practical example of why all the revision matters, check out our DVD copy of "Some Enchanted Evening," the last episode of The Simpsons's first season (HU DVD 14324, disc 3). That episode had a famously troubled production cycle, eventually produced twice and resulting in the quality control process described by The Verge. The DVD includes commentary explaining the process as well as a few select clips of the doomed original episode. It's a great complement to the article to prove why the show needs a longer production cycle.