Monday, May 17, 2010

The Laugh...

Peter Bogdanovich on comedy in the movies he directs…

*(I used this quote this morning because I saw Date Night a few weeks ago with a friend and I enjoyed it, but I wanted to LOVE it, and I didn't. I love Tina Fey, love Steve Carrell, loved the premise, so why was I a little disappointed when I left the theater? I think what Bogdanovich says here might come a long way in explaining it as this is EXACTLY how I felt in the theater).

"You set up something. You get a laugh with it. And then you top it. The trouble with most comedies today is that nobody understands the principle of topping a joke. This means that you get a laugh and then if you get a laugh on top of that one, it's always the big laugh. Most times you see comedy you feel kind of like you laughed but you wish that you'd been able to have a big release and the reason you don't have it is because they haven't topped the the gag. That's all it is it's as simple as that.

My favorite example of that in What's Up, Doc? was the sort of classic gag which was the one where the cars are all making a U-turn and they all smash into this Volkswagen bus which is parked along the curb. There are three cars and each one smashes it and each time it gets a bigger laugh. It never fails. The third car that this it is a bigger laugh. Now I could have left it there because I did three - one, two, three - and each one was bigger. Well, the topper is when the guy runs out who obviously owns the car, opens the door, and the whole thing falls over. Thats' the topper and that's the big laugh. The audience actually falls apart because you have led them up to that. It isn't that they're happy. It's a release. Because it's laugh, laugh, laugh, and you want one more and there it is. It finishes the situation - no way you can get another laugh with it."

Monday, May 10, 2010

A click a day...

One of the places that I volunteer with although - not as much lately as I'd like to - is Project Angel Food.

Project Angel Food's mission is to nourish the body and spirit of men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses. Volunteers and staff cook and deliver free and nutritious meals prepared with love throughout Los Angeles County, acting out of a sense of urgency because hunger and illness do not wait.

This year, they're one of the "ideas" nominated to receive a huge donation from Pepsi, if you have a second please help Project Angel Food move to #1 and receive a donation of $250,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Everything project by clicking here and then voting:

Vote every day through May 31st. With a simple online vote a day, you can help provide 50,000 meals, making a huge difference in the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors who are struggling with life-threatening illneesses and in need of free, nutritious food.

We’ve moved up to Rank #102, but we have much more to go. We need your vote every day to become #1.

You can also vote and share through Facebook:

1) Click Link Above
2) Click "vote for this Idea"
3) Click the Facebook icon on the left
4) Click "connect"
5) Click "vote for this idea" again
6) Click the "Share this idea" facebook icon to post on your wall

Thank you for clicking! And please do so EVERY DAY until May 31st.

Quote Of The Day

"It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop."
- Vita Sackville-West

Friday, May 7, 2010

What I Learned From Brett Ratner

I'm enjoying writing this "What I learned from..." series. I've met some remarkable people in this business, people who it's no mystery that they became successful. And what they had was often something that if you paid attention to, was pretty easy to learn. Since I had the pleasure of learning firsthand, I figured I'd pass it on.

What I learned from Damon Dash (previous article) was an easy lesson for me having been a lifelong workaholic, but what I learned from Brett Ratner - Director of the Rush Hour Movies, X-Men 3 etc... was a revelation.

First the backstory of how I know Brett, it'll be short because it's not terribly interesting. Sophomore year. NYU. I introduced myself to Brett, then a popular music video director, and he said I should be his intern. The next day I showed up at his office (then a production company in Union Square) and told the office manager Brett said I worked there now. No one ever questioned me and from then on, I guess I worked for Brett Ratner.

He was shooting a lot of videos and when he got swamped, he'd let me write treatments for the tracks he hadn't gotten to, which then led to me writing treatments for everyone else, which ended up paying my bills through school. He was also tremendously supportive of me as a filmmaker often letting me use accounts and vendors for free to finance low budget shoots of my own. I still credit Brett with being one of the most instrumental people in my career.

So here's what I learned from him: It really is okay, not just okay, it really is imperative, to toot your own horn, and to do it with excitement because you shape the way other people perceive your work in a very active way.

In other words, the work can be good, but unless it is groundbreaking, then you better be your own best hype man and make sure people pay attention to exactly what YOU want them to see.

Example. Brett had just done a video for Mary J. Blige. He wasn't happy with it. He came into the office in a rage. He was mad at this one and that one, going on and on about how much he hated it. The phone rang. It was the label. I put them through. I was truly interested to see how Brett ate humble pie. Here's what happened next. Brett: Did you see my Mary video? She looks hot. I made her look better than anyone ever has. No one is gonna look at her the same after this. She's soft, beautiful, sexy...

The label agreed and hung up. For those who watch True Blood, you'll know that Brett had just "glamoured" them.

He could have started with a million excuses and apologies (and there's a time for that too), but instead he started by finding the one great thing in the video (and she did look good) and pulled their attention to that, then went on and on until what they left the call thinking was Mary has never looked better.

Now, embedded within this is Brett's natural talent for making people feel like he's with you. He's never defensive, he always acts like "we" are on the same team, no matter if the "we" is the head of the record label or the valet parking his car. So when he went on about it, the label felt like they were a part of making her look great too and walked away feeling good about themselves.

I remember once in a director's workshop, the teacher telling an actor who was trying to "play" charming, that a charming person is charming because they make the person they're talking too feel like they are charming. And when you speak to Brett, he listens as if you are the most interesting, fascinating person in the world, he is enthusiastic about having just met you - God's most amazing creation, and then you're with him, and he pulls your attention to what he wants you to see.

It's a tough trick to master, but it has made him one of the most successful directors in Hollywood. If you don't get it right and you try, well, you can come off as a bit disingenuous. And the truth is, I don't think it's just a trick in Brett's case. I think he really is interested when he meets someone new and it shows, whereas so many of us are interested in showing who I am, Brett is interested in learning about the other person and it isn't something you can fake. In any case, and back to the point... while you're learning that, start finding the great things about your work, and instead of showing it to people and starting off with, "we really didn't have much money, time, etc..." start out with what's great about it so that that's what they look for.

Glamour them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Every day I mean to write a new post, but busy beyond belief... in the meantime, here's a lovely quote...

"To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the music the words make."
- Truman Capote