More from SDCC 2018: MAD Magazine, Nancy, and Witches!

Posted on July 30, 2018 at 10:07 pm

More from San Diego Comic-Con 2018:

Copyright MAD 2018
MAD Magazine: This was the first MAD panel with the new staff, following the magazine’s move from New York to LA in January. Bill Morrison and the less-usual gang of idiots introduced themselves “as the all new hip, cool, MAD,” reassuring us that “we’re just as slovenly and dull and ordinary as the staff in New York.” Then they proved it by showing us a series of hilarious tweets from people who really hate the new version and feel very, very strongly about it.

Morrison showed us some new features and introduced us to new staff, and made some of the room’s long-time fans by promising to bring back some beloved MAD classic sections like “The Lighter Side Of…” and “A MAD Look At….” He also promised that it would not always reflect “the white male perspective.” They’re also staying up to date with a Twitch channel for watching people do things.

And there was a tender tribute to the beloved Nick Meglin, the heart and soul of MAD, who died in May.

How to Read Nancy It has been said that the comic strip “Nancy” endures only because it takes less energy to read it than to skip it. It is both iconic and generic — a panel of “Nancy” is used to illustrate the term “comic strip” in the American Heritage Dictionary. Creator Ernie Bushmiller kept a copy open to that page in his studio.

Scholars Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden not only wrote a book about what is often considered the simplest comic strip ever; they wrote an excellent and very smart one. It seems somehow fitting that the strip they selected for deep analysis was the one that happened to fall out of a book and was thus easy to photocopy. And yet, it could be used to illustrate nine aspects of comics language. “The gag takes precedence over everything, including temporal reality,” they explained. “It’s a real kid in a completely unreal universe.” The gag may be simple, but the composition is very sophisticated, both in individual panels and in the strip as a whole.

WitchesSuperheroes tend to be male. Female characters with special powers tend to be witches. And the witches panel at Comic-Con had women from shows like the original and remake of “Charmed,” the original “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” (also about to be rebooted), and “Supernatural” to talk about feminine power and the threat powerful women have been perceived as over the centuries. Nell Scovell (creator of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and author of the acclaimed memoir Just the Funny Parts) talked about the wish fulfillment of the power of magic — to movie objects with our minds or to go back in time. Sabrina was a teenager finding her own voice and the powers were a metaphor for that. It was “a way to run all the old teenage stories through this new lens.” She also worked on the original “Charmed,” where “you undercut the horror with the sisterhood. They can be badass and then have tea,” like the Patsy and Edina on ‘Abfab,’ whose friendship makes their outrageously selfish behavior less appalling.

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Festivals

SDCC 2018: Leonard Maltin

Posted on July 30, 2018 at 4:48 pm

The name of the panel was “You’re Wrong, Leonard Maltin,” and the audience was invited to argue with one of America’s most respected and beloved film critics. Disagreement there was, but all presented with affection and good humor, delightful moderated by Jessie Maltin Hadfield, his daughter.

Maltin began by quoting Steven Colbert: “opinions are like mixtapes–I don’t want to listen to yours.” He continued by citing Harlan Ellison: “Everyone is entitled to an informed opinion.” He also cautioned us about ranking movies in top ten lists, top one hundred lists, etc. “They have one purpose only — for people to argue.”

All images copyright 2018 Nell Minow

The first challenge was to one of his most controversial reviews, just two stars for “The Dark Knight.” Remember this was at Comic-Con, where people have very strong feelings about superhero movies. “Each film is rated on how well it meets its own goals,” Maltin said.” (That’s my approach as well.) He stuck with his verdict on “Deadpool 2” as well. “We’ve seen it before. Mildly amusing but not cause for celebration.”

Maltin said that he always wants and even expects a movie to be good. Even when it is disappointing, he looks for a good moment or a good performance he can highlight in his review.

Maltin shared some good stories, especially one about shooting a five minute segment with Warren Beatty, dressed as Dick Tracy. “He will reshoot until somebody turns out the lights. He may still be shooting.”

By the end of the panel it was clear that people had very strong opposing views about movies but everyone loves Leonard Maltin.

Just as much fun — Maltin also appeared on a delightful panel paying tribute to the delightfully trashy Queen of Outer Space, starring Zsa Zsa Gabor and celebrating its 60th anniversary, and of some of the other cheesy Warners films of the era.

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Critics Festivals

SDCC 2018: Dazzling New Technology

Posted on July 29, 2018 at 9:38 pm

It’s fun to see the stars and get a glimpse of upcoming films and television series, but one of the highlights of San Diego Comic-Con every year is the chance to get a look at new technology.  Some of the highlights this year:

The Amazon Cube  Amazon Fire had a spectacular exhibit taking up an entire building a couple of blocks from the Convention Center. The star of the show was the new Cube, a combination of their FireTV and Echo. The small cube controls your television. No more remote controls, trying to figure out which one works the DVD player and which one works the cable.  You just speak to it, and it guides you seamlessly though all of the options — channels, streaming services, games, music.

EVO  I was utterly captivated by the tiny spherical robot from Ozobot. Beginning coders of all ages can program it to do all kinds of amazing tricks like following your finger all around a table. If you do not want to program it with the modular commands, you can take colored markers and draw on a piece of paper to make it follow the path you lay out, spin, and change direction. It has superhero skins, so you can have the Hulk interact with Ironman.

Cellarius Imagine someday that the most eagerly anticipated media property at Comic-Con was created not by media professionals but by the fans. That’s the idea behind Cellarius, a kind of Wikipedia of fiction.  Anyone can join, suggest or amend characters, and contribute to the plot.  Here’s how they describe it:

THE CELLARIUS UNIVERSE (CX) IS AN ORIGINAL, TRANSMEDIA CYBERPUNK FRANCHISE THAT LEVERAGES BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY AND USER-GENERATED ASSETS TO CREATE A COLLABORATIVE, FAN-CURATED STORY.

Copyright 2018 Sean Murray

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Festivals

SDCC 2018: Women in Hollywood, Location Managers, Superhero Composers, Top Sitcoms, and A Motion-Capture Monster

Posted on July 29, 2018 at 8:00 am

Some of what I saw at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, with excerpts from my coverage at Rogerebert.com and Thecredits.org:

Behind the scenes of The Big Bang Theory, The Good Place, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Photo by Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images Copyright 2018

Though it was billed as a panel of “The Big Bang Theory” writers, two of the stars showed up, Kunal Nayyar and Mayim Bialik.

Bialik said about the dress Sheldon described on the show as “looking like a pile of swans,” “We wanted Amy to have a dress that embodied all of her dreams and wishes. Why have just one? If she loves it, it’s not going to look silly.” Nayyar was not impressed with her description of the difficulties of the hoop skirt. “Did you have to ride a seahorse as Aquaman?”

On “The Good Place,”

Kristen Bell (Eleanor) envies her character’s forthright snark. “Eleanor is the ticker tape in my head of nasty, sassy things, not necessarily that I want to say, but I’m definitely thinking about anyone that I see. I don’t find that I get good results in real life when I say that, and I’m looking for good results, guys. I’m looking for smiles and happiness. And so I don’t say them but I do share that wicked, dark sensibility with Eleanor.”

They found Jumanji in Hawaii, Skull Island in Vietnam, Hogwarts in England, and Wakanda in South Africa. The script calls for a 1970’s gas station or a Jane Austen-era house of an earl or the topography of another planet? Location scouts are the visual artists and logistical wizards who find the places that you see on the screen and oversee all of the details to make sure the crew has what they need and that, like Boy Scouts, they leave the place better than they found it. A panel of location managers talked about finding a way for three helicopters to land in London’s Trafalgar Square. Their job is to take the creative vision of the writer, director, and production designer and “turn it into reality. We give them options, narrow it down, and then handle all of the permits, trashcans, port-a-potties, places to prepare and serve food, and parking spaces” for a crew that could include hundreds of people and all of their equipment. “It’s kind of like a moving circus.” They have to coordinate with local police and fire crews and make sure the area is safe for the cast and crew. “And most important,” he said, “is preservation. We leave it the way it was, if not better.” Sometimes pre-production schedules are so long that they come on board before the director, and just do the best they can, based on the script, preparing a number of options to present when the director is selected.

Composers talked about creating music for superheroes to save the world by.

Christophe Beck composed the music for the “Ant-Man” movies, matching the tone of the movie’s visuals and storyline. “It had to be quirky and off-beat but still making sure it was in the Marvel universe.” He explained that most popular music is in four beats to the bar, but he created this score in 7/8. “There’s like an extra beat in every bar.” For the Wasp character, he did five beats to the bar “to give her forward movement and great energy.” He found himself creating “a darker version of the theme” that was not right for the film but matched the end credit sequence.

I saw two panels of women working in Hollywood.

Copyright Nell Minow 2018

There was some good news at Leslie Combemale’s third annual Women Rocking Hollywood panel at San Diego Comic-Con. Women in Film LA director Kirsten Schaffer told the packed room that in the era of #MeToo and inclusion riders, “every studio and network has a program” to encourage and support women at every level of film production. When studios were invited sign up for WIF’s Reframe initiative, which is designed to work inside the system through conversations, resources, and data to assess progress, 35 immediately agreed. WIF is also going to be issuing a gender parity stamp—“think LEED certified or USDA organic—to let the public know which productions are close to 50/50. Their “Flip the Script” series of short films uses humor and empathy to show what women in film productions go through by using actual dialogue but switching the gender of the characters…A panel called “You Do What? Women in Film Production” featured Lauren Haroutunian (cinematographer, “Fangirling”), Alicia Varela (first AC, “Video Game High School”), Lolita Ritmanis (composer, “Batman Beyond”), Sylwia Dudzinska (AD, “You’re the Worst”), and Maritte Go (line producer, “Sleight”) discussing work in traditionally male-dominated fields of production, moderated by publicist Brittany Sandler.

And I really loved talking to Jason Liles about playing a gorilla in “Rampage” and two monsters in the upcoming “Godzilla” movie.

Copyright New Line Cinema 2018

I started studying my butt off, going to the L.A. Zoo just watching gorillas for hours, watching them be still but also watching them be alive in stillness. That’s really key, not just running around but just being. I watched “Planet of the Apes” behind the scenes, “King Kong” behind the scenes and anything with Andy Serkis or Terry Notary. I watched a lot of Koko the gorilla who learned to sign, every bit of footage I could find on her, and tons of documentaries. You just type in “gorilla documentary” on YouTube. It’s incredible the amount of stuff that comes up. So I found what was the most useful for me and just rewatched it and studied it.

Then I got brought on to the film and trained with Terry Notary who is King Kong and Kong in “Kong: Skull Island” and Rocket in “Planet of the Apes.” He’s done so many characters and coached some incredible performances out of actors. He trained me for three weeks in the Santa Monica mountains on all fours, hundreds of hours of miles with these arm extensions, learning to engage my senses as a gorilla and strip down what makes me Jason and a man and an American and a human and just be an ape. So it was a huge process. He got it to where I could basically lucid dream while awake as a gorilla. I can’t even describe it; I felt like I could fly at some moments. It was crazy.

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Festivals

Interview: Middlebury New Filmmakers Film Festival

Posted on July 28, 2018 at 9:05 pm

Copyright 2018 MNFF
The Middlebury New Filmmakers Film Festival, which takes place every August in the picturesque college town of Middlebury, Vermont, is unique in its focus on the first and second movies of novice filmmakers. From August 23–26, this year’s festival features a tribute to “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James and a slate of “films as journalism.”

Jay Craven, MNFF, Artistic Producer, Lloyd Komesar, MNFF Producer, and Phoebe Lewis, MNFF Associate Producer answered my questions about the festival.

How did this festival get started?

Lloyd Komesar attended a screening of Jay Craven’s 2013 film, Northern Borders (with Bruce Dern and Genevieve Bujold) at the Brandon, Vermont town hall — and spoke to Jay afterwards. They kept in contact and Lloyd proposed that they start a film festival. Lloyd had this idea to focus on new filmmakers and Jay refined this by suggesting a showcase for outstanding first and second time filmmakers — Lloyd agreed — and they started planning the inaugural Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival in July 2014. Thirteen months later, the first MNFF launched.

Why the focus on new filmmakers?

New filmmakers often receive too little support at larger film festivals. By dedicating all our efforts to encouraging and promoting emerging new talent MNFF has carved out a valuable niche and offers many beginning filmmakers a legit chance to have their film screened.

How are the films selected?

Filmmakers apply through Withoutabox and Film Freeway and can submit shorts or features — documentary, narrative, animation, experimental. We have programmers who do the initial screening. Artistic Director Jay Craven then screens films rated in the top 20% and selects the films that will play at the Festival. He also curates approximately 10–12 films that were not submitted. Jay consults with Lloyd fairly broadly — and, together, they discuss and decide special events, guests, honorees — who have included documentary filmmakers Barbara Kopple, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, and Bill and Turner Ross, writers Russell Banks, Jay Parini and Dick Lehr, actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Murphy and many others.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s festival?

Our Opening Night film, “Personal Statement,” by first-time director Juliane Dressner, is exceptional. It recently opened AFI Docs to great acclaim. We will be honoring the distinguished documentary filmmaker Steve James and screening his latest film, the Oscar-nominated “Abacus: Small Enough To Jail.” First time director Tom Herman is bringing his marvelous film, “Dateline-Saigon,” to Middlebury for a Vermont premiere. The film brilliantly tells the story of the first American journalists to cover the Vietnam War in early 60s Saigon. Academy Award winner Peter Davis will join us for a tribute screening of his first film, the seminal “Hearts & Minds,” released in 1974 and often cited as the greatest documentary ever done about the Vietnam War. We must mention the greatly anticipated appearance of David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, Oscar-winning Production Designers for “La La Land,” who we will honor for their sustained excellence in this crucial aspect of movie making. Mohammed Naqvi, the intrepid and fearless Pakistani filmmaker, will be receiving our Courage in Filmmaking Award. And we will close out the Festival this year with the very moving documentary, “The Sentence,” directed by first timer Rudy Valdez.

When do films become journalism?

Most documentaries are forms of journalism, as reporting, feature journalism, or investigative journalism. The work explores any number of situations with some outcomes that are sort of predictable and others that are not. We’re paying special attention this year to documentary filmmaking that functions as investigative journalism — where the filmmakers are trying to discover the currently unknown and take us to substantially new understandings of their subject matter.

Why the focus on production designers?

Production designers are as important as any creative player on the filmmaking team. What we see on screen is the result of the world they create, visually — the colors, textures, props, ambient qualities, period specificity. They command the largest department on the project, usually — and intersect directly with what camera and lighting contribute. They are essential players — and the Wascos, our special honorees at MNFF, are among the very best.

What films have been the audience favorites at your previous festivals?

We’d start with “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” from Alexandra Dean, which wowed the audience last year. “Among the Believers,” from Hemal Trevedi and Mo Naqvi, riveted its audience in 2016. “The Guys Next Door,” from Amy Geller and Allie Humenuk, was a genuine audience favorite that year, as well. Our Opening Night film from 2016, “Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith,” from Jesse Nesser, lingered in people’s minds for months, as did last year’s opener, the hilarious and poignant “Take My Nose, Please,” from Joan Kron. Other favorites: “Captain Fantastic,” “Peter and the Farm,” “God Knows Where I Am,” “Dina,” “The Peacemaker,” “Abundant Acreage Available,” “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George,” “Landfill Harmonic” and “The Wolfpack.”

What do you hope for this festival in the future?

We hope for continued dynamism of the festival experience, with all of the anticipation and investment we see from audiences and filmmakers. We want the audience to continue to grow and to develop further appeal to young people, which is why we have created a Kids & Family Day at MNFF this year, which will feature the Sundance favorite, Science Fair. We’re also working to develop our audience among college and high school students. And we want to keep expanding our “family” of emerging filmmakers. We love producing our special events — and like to keep mixing up the scope and variety of who we bring to our audiences. With four years under our belts, there is much to build on and many new roads to go down, but at its core, the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival will always be about providing a welcoming home for first and second timers.

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Festivals Interview
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