Sep 28 2007

The Hard Cost of Fantasy

The movie business is so peculiar. It is a business that is all about creating whimsical, imaginative, daring artistic visions… but when you have a chance to actually MAKE that vision, you have to engage in a lot of cold, logical, pragmatic discussions about it. The nuts and bolts of hoisting the dream high is the ugly part the audience doesn’t get to see. This is where the writer grieves over a cut scene, where the director pulls his hair out over a studio mandate. This is where raising the age of the child lead in your film affects millions in marketing costs. This is where you have to be reasonable and rationally debate the fuffy, silly bits of fantasy you cooked up.

And this is what my meeting with the Fox execs was like last week. This is studio filmmaking.

Still, I had a really good meeting with the top brass (I like that phrase: “top brass.” As if I flew a fighter jet to the lot). The visual presentation knocked them out, and raised questions at the same time. They liked the artwork enough to ask for MORE (which they will actually start paying for). They want more from me to explain the tone. No green light yet, but at last I have something to do! At last, something real is happening.

It’s fun to get some more concept art made. I’ve pulled in a couple of new artists and it’s helping ME get a handle on the look of the movie too. The other concern is the budget. Apparently these paintings scream “CRAZY MONEY BURNING MACHINE.”

So today I met with David Starke, VP of Feature Production and John Kilkenny, head of Fox VFX. SO educational. And so cool to talk about the physical production hurdles. This is the beginning of a big magic trick we need to pull off: making an expensive-looking movie for an amazingly low price.

We “got into it,” as my manager likes to say. Sets, locations, practical vs. CGI effects. Now this is fun. It’s surprising to know that CGI is rarely the easy answer that people think it is. John and David actually seemed to prefer a lot of the old-school tricks, such as miniatures, forced perspective tricks and real locations. Many of these traditional techniques can save a lot of money, and in the end, actually look better than CGI. Computer effects take a LOT of refining to get right. It’s also too easy to make change after change after change. The temptation to tweak a shot long past the shoot date has run up many a budget, and fast.

And can I just say that walking into a soundstage filled with minatures would be so freaking COOL.

Then we talked about all the location possibilities. Economic leaps can be made by shooting in New Zealand, Australia, Romania, Prague… good thing I don’t jet lag much. This is part of the adventure.

This is the thrill of pulling off a big, big magic trick. But I have no idea where I’m going to hide this money-eating, eight-foot hairy rabbit.

Sep 13 2007

The Waiting Game

I wish I had more to blog about. But patience seems to be one of the main ingredients in filmmaking. It helps in the meticulous process of making a film, but it also comes in handy when you are waiting to make one.

That’s where I sit right now. In the waiting room. Every once in a while, someone in white pokes their head out, I look up from my magazine and they say, “It’ll be just a few more minutes.” In this metaphor, I am thankful that there are at least some current issues of Entertainment Weekly and a candy dish.

What can I tell you? Even though I have been hired to direct a film for Fox, I still have to get a “green light” from the execs. There has been a bit of an “executive shuffle” over there, so next week we sit down to make sure the right people are reacquianted with the project (and make sure they are excited enough to make it). This should be an aggressive re-pitch of the project, with all producers on deck, some flashy artwork and a lot of charm spewing out of Zach Braff. It actually does spew out of him. You can’t resist it. Beware.

I have two other films that are being set up with Weinstein Company, but I am still waiting on those deals to be worked out. This involves waiting for certain people to come back from flying around the world long enough to focus on me before they run off to buy something else. I am presently thinking of sending them a picture of me on a milk carton, with the caption, “Have you seen my deal?”

But any time you find yourself waiting, you can also be proactive (and no, I do not mean the facial cleanser endorsed by Kelly Clarkson).

Zach Braff, Adam Braff and I have been meeting regularly to create new concept art for “Andrew Henry’s Meadow.” A couple of artists have worked up some great paintings under my direction which we have blown up to poster-size. They are spectacular, showing the scale and beauty we want to acheive in the movie. I wish I could post them here! …..But I can’t.

I’ve also written the first act of my original fantasy film. And no, I can’t share much of that either. But let’s just say that I recently sent giant mechanical spiders chasing a rocket-powered tank through a burning village. That’s fun.

The other very exciting thing I have been doing while waiting is taking meetings with a childhood touchstone of mine… a company that was started by a guy with a beard and a little green frog.

Hopefully I can make an announcement about that soon.

But until then, you can have a taste of the slow torture I enjoy… known as waiting.

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