Music Vids from MOG2

September 20, 2010

Due to recent requests, I have sought to find and make available the two 1995 music videos to support the 2006 release of Men of Gray II, Flight of the Ibis.

Unfortunately, I have only been able to locate bits and pieces of each of these two historic Trinidad & Tobago music videos, and only in a low quality VHS copy.  If if find better, I’ll post them.  Meanwhile, here are the snippets of these videos:

We created the music videos to promote the movie, as you can tell by the way they are cut together with scenes from Flight of the Ibis.

  • Love and Pain was written and performed by Tricia Lee Kelshall.
  • Winning Lane was written by Sean Bartholomew (also known as Adrian Bartholomew), and performed by Sean, Tricia, and David Rudder.
  • Both videos (and the movie) were directed by me, Ric Moxley.
  • Sean Bartholomew created the musical score for the movie.
  • David Rudder and Tricia Lee Kelshall were both in the movie.  David performed as himself in one scene and Tricia was a co-star and the female lead.

All three of these Trinidadian musicians are still active.   See recent news on Sean/Adrian here, here, and here.  See Tricia on youtube, performing Mindcircus, the hit single from the 2001 Way Out West – Intensify album, which reached #39 in the UK charts.  David Rudder’s Facebook fan page is a good way to stay abreast of his music and recent news, or from his official Web site http://www.davidmichaelrudder.com/.

Finally, here’s a nice picture of the three of them together, taken by Trinidadian photographer Mark Lyndersay behind the scenes during production of Winning Lane:



An Influential Gift

December 25, 2009

Got a nice gift from a friend. I can tell, even from a cursory flip-through, this this gift, a book called The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, written by Karl Iglesias, is going to be influential to this blog, at least, but likely even influential to my career.

It will influence this blog because it’s a treasure trove of inspiring and thought-provoking quotations from well-known screenwriters or from others whose words are relevant to the career and efforts of writers. Since I have a large and growing collection of quotations for screenwriters broken down by topics (such as quotations on screenplay structure, scene structure, story characters and characterizationwriter motivation and inspiration, narrative and storytelling, and the lighter side of writing and being a writer), I hope to expand that collection as I read this books, adding selected quotes that provide me with direction and inspiration.

It will also influence my career because of the instructional value of the material, which Iglesias has grouped topically. Some of the topics are on the challenge of staying motivated, while others are about getting your script seen and sold, or about understanding the competitive landscape. Example topics:

  • Being Committed to a Career, Not Just One Screenplay
  • Being Comfortable with Solitude
  • Believing You’re Talented Enough
  • Becoming Possessed by the Story
  • Making Deadlines Your Motivator
  • Avoiding Distractions
  • Rehearsing Your Pitch until It’s Flawless
  • Not Being Paranoid about your Ideas Being Stolen

As you see: very practicable topics to a career-minded writer.

From the book, here’s a useful thought from Garrison Keillor for writers on the topic of avoiding distractions. “Close the door. Unplug the phone. Cheat, lie, disappoint your pals, if necessary, but get your work done.”


Movie Watching: The Obsession

December 12, 2009

As you can imagine, watching movies is a uniquely immersive, engrossing experience for a filmmaker. Even when I’m not in the midst of a writing or directing project, every movie is more than mere entertainment; it’s also an opportunity to study, to learn, to grow … either looking at the movies critically (i.e., “What I would domovie-reel differently is…”) or to admire them (i.e., “Wow, that really worked!”).

Fortunately though, I am still able to turn off the analytical processes of my brain and just participate mentally as an audience member. In fact, I always try to do that on my first viewing—to just enjoy the movie as a viewer. If I cannot “suspend disbelief” and get fully into it for those 90 minutes or so, it’s usually an indication of a flawed movie: an insufficiently engrossing story, overtly flashy directing or lighting or camera choices that draw attention to themselves, weak or unbelievable acting, or other production shortcomings.  But if the movie is good, I’m a pure viewer on the first viewing. 

Beyond that first viewing though…

If the movie is good, I’ll often watch it several times to see what I can learn from it. What I look for depends on the movie and what I liked about it technically. I might watch it once to observe how the writer structurally crafted the story, and then watch it again to study the dialogue or how the characters interacted and affected the plot or how the writer designed the scene transitions.

If the directing was the magic of the movie, I will watch it repeatedly to observe how the director covered the scene (wide vs. tight, angles, lens choices, camera movement vs. actor movement, etc.) and then to study what they did with the actors (pacing, rhythm, intensity, gestures, props, relative positioning, or character-specific camera choices) or what they chose to do with the scene and production mechanics (lighting, sound, transitional devices, lenses, stage pieces, color, design, mood, etc. ) to help them tell the story in the most engaging, beautiful way.

Movies: the cornerstone of my continuing education program

Since leaving USC’s film production program several eons ago, and between working on professional productions, I have informally continued my filmmaking education, believing that no one has ever “arrived,” so to speak, as a completely learned pupil of screenwriting or directing. After all, the medium continues to evolve as viewer expectations change, as technology evolves, and as creative up-and-coming directors and writers bump up the game to new heights. So my knowledge of the craft must evolve too.

Besides, I figure that any writer or director can up his game by not only deepening his knowledge of those challenging crafts, but also by broadening his knowledge into the related crafts of the business that are so critical to the realization of the writer’s or directors vision, such as lighting, camera, special effects, audio, music, acting, and so forth.

After all, is Clint Eastwood’s directing success not positively influenced by his years of experience working as an actor? Could writer-director James Cameron have ever achieved such grand levels of success with films like Terminator 2, The Abyss, and Titanic were it not for his deep and continuing knowledge of computer graphics? Could screenwriter Diablo Cody have been able to craft such memorable and believable dialogue in Juno without immersion into the patois of today’s teenager?

So, I feel that broadening my knowledge is just an important as deepening it.

My homegrown formula for continuing education:

  • Reading books on screenwriting and directing
  • Reading the trades (from the entertainment business)
  • Reading screenplays (and the books from which they were adapted)
  • Acting and studying the art of acting
  • Watching and listening to TV and radio interviews with filmmakers
  • Watching behind-the-scenes features included with DVD movies
  • Attending (or participating behind the scenes in) stage plays
  • Discussing and debating the process and techniques of filmmaking with others in the business

And, of course, watching movies.  Lots of movies. Tons of movies.

It all works together. I get the most synaptic connections when I intersperse my movie watching with the more formal learning processes of studying the craft. Watching movies without also studying the art and craft of moviemaking limits understanding. Studying the craft without observing its application is just even more limiting. So I do both.

Buenos “notches”

I’ll usually gather my learning around a topic of some sort, which not only keeps the educational process fresh and fun but also measurable. Call it silly (although feel free not to), but I find satisfaction in being able to measure my progress through life, not unlike a beat cop purportedly carves notches in his nightstick. It’s why I make lists (I get great satisfaction in looking back at the close of the day or week to see what I accomplished). It’s why I set goals in writing and then mark off my fulfillment of them. And it’s why I usually study filmmaking by deep-diving into one subject for a period of time before moving on to another. I feel more accomplished, carving these notches into the nightstick of my moviemaking education. Now that we’ve beaten the hell out of that analogy…

For example…

I might do a director-focused study. Six months ago, for example, I immersed myself in the writings and movies of legendary filmmaker Edward Dmytryk. He’s written a number of textbooks on filmmaking and directed more than three dozen movies during his two-score career as a director, which had been preceded by decades as an editor, and capped by more than a decade as a filmmaking instructor.  He’s worked in and out of the big Hollywood studio system with some of the biggest names in the business, including John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, and Clark Gable. His work spans multiple genres, continents, and eras. He was my instructor at USC for a single class, and it wasn’t enough. So, several years after that class, I took the time, on my own, to go deep in my lessons. I’ve recently watched all the Dmytryk movies I could dig up, finally taking the time to see and understand exactly what he meant when he talked about his preference for Mise-en-scène—for editing without cutting by moving the camera and actors within the moment to do a close-up or wide shot organically, rather than doing multiple camera setups and cutting the scene together in post. It’s one thing to understand the theory, but quite another to personally experience the director’s style through his movies.

And presently, I’m doing a screenwriter deep-dive, studying the work of William Goldman, which includes reading many of his scripts and novels, watching Goldman interviews, reading his books on the craft of screenwriting and selling scripts, and, of course, watching the movies made from his screenplays. This deep-dive has been not only mind-expanding but downright enjoyable. Try reading one of his nonfiction books about screenwriting and you’ll see what I mean. His writing style is absolutely delightful, as engaging as the content. And so many of the movies have become classics: moving comedies, thrillers, and dramas. A real kick.  And a real education.

Or, I might choose a movie genre to study for a time. As my Blockbuster movie queue indicates, I’m presently engaged in a heavy round of study in political dramas, since the current screenplay project is one. It’s helpful to know what I’m up against, and to learn from those that have come before by observing and figuring out why certain passages in other political dramas are gripping or confusing or compelling or inspiring or boring. It’s a tricky genre: easy to get sappy or melodramatic. And if it’s based on real-world scenarios or events, it’s also easy to get too detailed in an effort to faithfully render it.  So, I’m trying to avoid such pitfall by studying their mistakes and by imitating their successes. 

What’s next?

I’m planning to do a deep-dive on the legendary filmmaker Frank Capra, as he is one of my favorites, more for the storytelling and subject matter of his films. Also on my list: the films of Lawrence Kasdan, Charlie Kaufman, and Neil Simon.

When I get a few moments, I’ll post a list of the books I’ve read or plan to read regarding film directing or screenwriting.


A Cacophony of Culture?

October 9, 2009

Right. I get that music design is normally a postproduction thing. Primarily.

Unless you’re shooting a musical.

And, no — this movie definitely won’t be a musical.

However, one lasting impression from my four times in the country of Trinidad and Tobago (once for two months, once for nearly 10 months) is the omnipresent role of music there. Even in the very atmosphere itself, really.

Must be something in the soil

It seems that music not only reflects but defines the people of Trinidad and Tobago. If you’ve traveled the country much, you know what I mean. The music is everywhere and anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago – where ever people gather (in crowds of one or more). image

And so, for a movie that we plan to shoot in such a music-centric land such as Trinidad & Tobago, I feel it’s important that the movie’s music design begins now, influencing even the structuring of the screenplay.

Whether I’m thinking as a writer or as a director, I feel it’s important to consider the rhythm and volume of a culture into which the movie will be set. And in the land of Trinidad and Tobago, the volume is up, the rhythms overlap, and the music styles often clash. Beautifully!

I guess you could call it…

A cacophony of culture

… because the mishmash of music you hear on the streets is an honest reflection of the Trinbagonian people: diverse, divergent, overlapping, and surprisingly harmonious.

In that sense, while the near-constant amplified dissonance of so many concurrent and competing sounds can seem a bit discordant or dissonant, it really is as natural and harmonious as can be, when you consider the culture.

I wonder sometimes…

How aware or unaware is the average Trinbagonian of either the volume or the concurrency of the music? If you’ve lived that way from birth, do you notice it? or is it like breathing: a thing that happens at a subconscious level?

To an outsider just visiting the country, it can be initially jarring to the senses. Overwhelming!

I recall feeling psychologically exhausted the first time I spent more than 30 minutes on the streets of downtown Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. I couldn’t wait to escape to the aural insulation of an air-conditioned car, windows up, driving AWAY from the hullabaloo.

But then … you adjust.

Just as I adjusted to working in the (initially) suffocating humidity, I adjusted also to the musical cavalcade. I came to appreciate, and even look forward to, the signature chorus of sounds and music that, like the rooster’s crow, signified the dawning of a new day. And which, unlike the cock’s crow, continued until after nightfall.  🙂

Oh, and I should mention: there were real rooster cock-a-doodle-doos mixed in to the daybreak chorus of sounds too. And the screeching of wild parrots flying over the hills. Morning in Trinidad.

I think it’s the weather too.

With the perpetually warm, tropical climate, the windows in Trinidad & Tobago are almost always open in homes, businesses, and cars. Which makes for this fascinating undulation of overlapping sounds as you walk or drive down the road.

I don’t suppose then that you would experience the aural mishmash in an equally musically-oriented country that has a cooler climate; the music would be more contained by the closed windows and doors.

But, no, it’s more than that.

It’s not just that the windows are open. Because you don’t get a comparable musical kaleidoscope effect in the cities of the hotter regions of the US. Not even close.

Part of what creates the Trinbagonian musical cacophony then has to do with the way that most Trinbagonians…

Embrace the climate

At least compared to Americans in the southern USA.

Now, I’m sure part of this open-air environment is about economics — not as many people in Trinidad and Tobago can afford air conditioning as in the US — but it also has to do with the strange tendency of most of us Americans to

(A) simultaneously seek out and settle in to the country’s hottest climates, and yet;

(B) spend so little time letting that climate anywhere near our bodies: living in air-conditioned homes, driving to work and the store in air-conditioned cars, and then working, dining, and shopping in air-conditioned businesses.

By not embracing our climate, Americans are more culturally cut off from the people around us than in an open-windowed, open-doored culture like Trinidad and Tobago.

But it’s more than that, too.

It’s also the melting pot effect.

Indeed, the US was once a great melting pot, as we often call ourselves even today. But we are a lot more homogenous now compared to many other societies. And certainly compared to Trinidad and Tobago.

And that’s my point with this whole music thing — how the ever-present musical mishmash is a perfectly natural reflection of Trinbagonian culture, which is a true melting pot of French, Spanish, British, African, Indian, and island peoples (did I miss any?).

But here’s the thing; even as each culture’s unique flavors, accents, dress, attitudes, and music have influenced one another, the unique cultures of each have not become so diluted as to loose their distinctness. So you get diversity harmoniously.

And that, you see, is why I describe the musical melting pot of the Trinbagonian culture as a beautiful cacophony — as clashing without clashing, if you embrace the sound as being a reflection of the people whose past 50 years, with a couple of notable exceptions (1990 comes to mind), generally accept and even take pride in their cultural diversity.

So, while Men of Gray III, The Midnight Robber is not a musical per se, I am purposely structuring the screenplay to…

Reflect the musical rhythm of the culture

My intention is to infuse the scenes with the music you would hear if you were in such a modern-day Trinbagonian moment, and to use that music to tell the story as much as the dialogue or images of the scene.

Sometimes, this infusion means envisioning a specific song that’s appropriate for the mood and the moment.

Sometimes, it’s more about the type of music that would be playing in a certain neighborhood or a certain type of occasion that the movie will portray.

Sometimes, it’s about the volume or the degree of musical cacophony in a scene or sequence: whether it’s subtly underscoring a character’s emotion or overpowering the dialogue, causing people to yell, for instance.

But, ultimately, it’s about building a movie that respects and realistically portrays the country’s culture, so that it will entertain and be embraced by Trinbagonians at least as much as it will the rest of the world. With its music as a natural and interwoven thread of this story, i think we can do that.


I’m in Director Heaven!

September 11, 2009

I can’t believe it … I’m astounded, amazed, and overjoyed. You aren’t going to believe what I just found…

I’ve been going through a couple boxes of old family videos this week, finally getting around to transferring them from VHS to the computer and to DVDs (hopefully before they had begun to deteriorate!). I had not watched them in years and years.

Then, much to my surprise…

Right in the middle of a family tape from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I discovered a treasure trove of video from the 1990 Men of Gray movie’s production that G. and I shot in Trinidad – stuff that we both assumed was no longer in existence!

First, a cool find, but not “director heaven” …

I found a TV interview for national television that we did during production. We were being interviewed on TTT (Trinidad & Tobago Television) — the country’s only imagestation at the time.

The show was called Community Dateline. I don’t recall the name of the show’s host, so please shout it out if you know.  

Being interviewed was me (Ric Moxley – as director, editor, and co-writer), the movie’s producer-writer-actor G. Anthony Joseph, and Corbi Hilburn, who DP’d the first half of the movie. image

There’s some fun stuff here, including a couple clips from the movie, behind the scenes stories, and more.

I may put some of this up on YouTube, so you can see it too.

Now, the part that puts me in director heaven:

What played on the tape after that interview was the real gold: several pieces of the raw footage (i.e., straight from the camera, outtakes and all) from the production. This is incredible.  We thought that the original footage was history – completely lost.  But there it is, in bits and pieces, unfortunately, but there it is. 

Sadly, some of it has been recorded over with family movie clips, like, “…And here we are in our new Sherman Oaks apartment with our newborn daughter” (who, by the way, just graduated high school this year, which really puts the historicity of this footage in perspective). But I never would have guessed that any of that raw footage would have survived.

One of the reasons I’m excited…

…is that, since the movie was mastered on 3/4 inch tape, and because all the editing was done during the pre-digital age (which means that even a master copy of the edited movie is a copy of a copy of a copy), any VHS copy I have of the edited movie suffers from some quality degeneration. So, to have come across segments of the original, unedited raw footage from production is a kind of goldmine for me.

I didn’t find enough of it in this discovery to ever re-cut the movie, which is what I would like to do someday. But there is some good material there, including behind the scenes pieces and (what we thought was) off-camera banter, plus some worthwhile things we shot but that didn’t make the final cut.

Among this raw footage discovery:

  • A lot of “B-role” material we shot while driving through the downtown Port-of-Spain city streets, capturing traffic, crowded sidewalks, police officers in action, famous landmark drive-bys, etc. – stuff I needed  for cutaways and montages, etc.
  • All the footage (takes and outtakes) from the Lavantille interior and exterior drug bust scene that we did with one of the Gopaul brothers (Dale, I think) and Julien.
  • Several day and night exterior and interior car scenes between the characters Joe Cameron and his partner Ivan.
  • In-progress police training at the St. James barracks, used for cutaways and transitions, shown here. 

Police recruit training at St. James barracks

  • A street drug deal scene, and Joe following a dealer on foot
  • Chaguaramas sunset driving shots (for following thug Louie to the home of big-time dealer Marcus, where Joe and Ivan bus’ up d place.

I think there’s about an hour’s worth of production footage altogether. Who knows? Maybe we’ll do something with all this someday. Like cut together a behind the scenes clip or two.

As a bonus, it turns out that we had in this treasure trove of once-lost footage…

About five seconds of Horace…

Horace James. Wow. God rest his soul. 

At the time (1990), Horace was the a head show producer at TTT and was instrumental in the success of this movie.  First, while he wasn’t directly a part of the crew, Horace was a mentor to me and G., teaching us about theimage business of doing business in Trinidad & Tobago, which is a bit of an art.  Second, he was a kindred spirit, feeling our pain and compassionately helping us through the trials and tribulations of making a movie. Third, he contributed pragmatically, being our primary liaison with the TV station, who sponsored much of the production and provided most of our production and post-production equipment.

Horace’s office, which is where I shot this tiny snippet of video, even became our production office during production.

Sadly, Horace James is no longer with us (nor is TTT). I sure do miss him. One of the good guys. And so, while It ain’t much, I’m glad to have uncovered the small bit of production office footage.


Watched the 1990 Men of Gray Movie today

September 9, 2009

I hadn’t seen the movie in probably eight or 10 years. To my surprise, I enjoyed the viewing immensely!

Don’t get me wrong…

My surprise enjoyment is not a disparagement against the movie. mog-1-Russo-n-menIt’s just that I generally find it hard to watch stuff I’ve directed or edited (or both, in this case) because I can’t easily settle into the role of a viewer of any movie I heavily participated in.

And directing or editing a feature length movie is always a substantial investment of body and soul. Consequently, watching them takes me back to the production of it.

Isn’t that a good thing?

Definitely, since I have many good memories with each production, after all. Still, viewing them again is mostly a hard thing emotionally.

Why? Because, in watching them, my mind flashes back with shocking clarity to the challenges and sacrifices of making each scene – the inevitable resignation of settling between what I envisioned for the scene and what was ultimately possible under the circumstances. To a degree, I suspect that…

All movie directors feel this

…because of the nature of the beast. Directing a narrative feature takes vast imagination and vision in the planning. But creating is always more costly than envisioning.

So, once the director has that glorious mog-1-kickup-avision firmly fixed in his mind, he must then begin carefully chiseling away at that fantastic masterpiece (fully formed in the fantasy of the mind), reducing it to a state that matches the budget, the cast, and any technical or time constraints.

The final movie – what’s left after all the difficult and sacrificial choices leading up to, and through, production and post production – may be viewed by audiences and critics as a great movie. Even so, the movie will inevitably be but a dim reflection of what the director envisioned.

For me at least, mog-1-Russo-threatensthe sought-after movies I had envisioned are still as strong in my mind as is the movies we were actually able to shoot. So, when watching any of these past movies, I’m reliving the sacrifices, even as I’m viewing the victories and remembering great cast and crewmembers.

Also, making a movie is like running a marathon or having a baby (although I’m not speaking  from personal experience on either analogous example) in that they all can be incomprehensibly grueling to go through: seemingly impossible tasks. When you have finished running a marathon or birthing a baby or making a movie, there is not only great satisfaction but great relief that it’s over!

Which is why it’s hard for me to watch … usually.

So you can imagine my surprise, finding today’s viewing so enjoyable.

And it certainly isn’t because the resulting movie mog-1-Joe-stalksclosely resembled my sought-after vision.  I assure you, there were countless necessary subtractions between the vision and the reality of this first Men of Gray movie – it had a budget of less than $10,000, for goodness sake!  🙂

So I should have felt the same discomfort in viewing this movie as with any other that I’ve directed. But, watching it after all these years…

I was having just way too much fun!

I mean, sure — there’s only so much mog-1-showdownyou can do with less than $10,000 when making a full-length feature movie, right? But that actually becomes its charm, in this case. Honestly, it’s pretty amazing what we were able to pull off under the  circumstances.

For instance, most ultra-ultra-low-budget movies are carefully crafted to control costs (like having a small cast, very few locations, mostly daylight shots, minimal action, etc., for example).

But, no, not this movie…

It was a freakin’ epic!

I don’t have the exact numbers, Image-0012but there were probably more than 80 people in the cast, some two or three dozen locations, countless night shots, and maybe a dozen high-action scenes.

Oh, and we made it in a country that has no movie industry — no infrastructure to support film production.  So, my hat is off to producers G. Anthony and Ria Joseph for what they were able to accomplish in putting this whole thing together.  Truly remarkable.

In fact, I could do a half dozen posts about the amazing challenges and crazy adventures in the making of this 1990 movie – and may in fact do so at some point. But suffice it to say, there’s a lot of bang in the bucks we had to work with.

And so I had a ball watching it again

Plus, it was my  first feature film and my first time in Trinidad & Tobago. Image-0009Seeing all those locations and reliving all those memories made me laugh and smile. The guerrilla filmmaking tactics we employed could be strung together and would make a hilarious documentary movie. Remembering those adventures as the movie unfolded scene by scene, how could I not enjoy myself?

 

A great trip. 🙂  And, because I know the movie is very hard to find, I’ve added these screen captures from it to give you a sense of the flavor of that movie.

And, as I suspect, watching the first Men of Grey gave me a few ideas on where to go with the current story, Men of Gray III.

 


No Script Progress Today

September 8, 2009

How’s that for a compelling headline! 🙂

I had some personal business and an urgent project request from one of my WriteWorks Agency clients that kept me from the movie project today.

You know, after making a daily habit of screenplay development, it feels … inappropriate … to not touch it for a day.

But, something fun; I’ll soon be watching the founding 1990 Men of Gray movie – the first feature-length movie I directed. I haven’t seen in perhaps 10 years because I no longer have a VCR and my only copies of the movie were on VHS videocassette or on 3/4-inch industrial tape.  But I’m getting transferred to DVD.

It should be a strange, haunting, and yet pleasant trip down memory lane to see it again.  Hopefully tomorrow.