Sunday, August 28, 2011

INDIE: Misery Loves Company

For those of you who have been following the hiatus on this blog, please allow me to explain my whereabouts for the last three months.

Illustration by Carlo Sitaro
Beginning in April I began working on a new (old) film project that has slowly consumed my life over the last four months. The film, Misery Loves Company, is a project that has been floating around for eight years. While other projects came and went this one remained bound on my shelf. It was during the course of teaching a class on film study and production that I got the itch to be creative again. The script did need some work, having gone through several revisions averaging one per previous attempt at filming, it had been a few years since I last looked at it. Along with the script came notes, addresses, telephone numbers, and sketches of scenes, artwork, and locations. This was enough to convey general ideas to others and build on for further development.

The complete detailed account of the production will be covered on the film’s website in my production diary, however, here is some additional insight into the production.

As stated above, the script had been sitting around for eight years. That’s a long time for anything to just sit around. It got to a point where I was left with three choices:

1)    Leave it alone and move on
2)    Try to sell it to someone else
3)    Cut the shit and make the freakin’ thing

Clearly I chose the latter, but not after a severe psychological struggle and debate. So much time had passed from the inception of the story to the point where I was in a position, professionally, to film it that I was no longer passionate about it. This pointed me towards the idea of trying to sell it, or even give it to someone else and let them go through the trouble of making it. The problem was I did have a pretty big investment in the characters and the story, not to mention a huge amount of respect for the filmmaking process. To put these characters into the hands of a stranger, or a novice – someone who wouldn’t, or couldn’t understand them completely would be like throwing your child in a dumpster. Now I may be a villain from time to time, but I am not a monster. This brought me back around to leaving it alone and moving on with life. The problem with that solution was that I still wanted to be a filmmaker and work on projects, ones of much greater ambition and complexity than this one. Realizing that no one was going to knock on my door and say, “Here’s a bunch of money. Go make your dream project,” I resolved to do the best I could with what I had available, which happened to be a pretty polished small-scale script.

Steven Bendler (Cliff), Peter O'Brien (Brian)
& Carly Ballister (Veronica)
The script for Misery Loves Company was always intended to be filmable, adhering to the basics of independent filmmaking: a small cast, few locations, and a practical story. Simple needs don’t require extravagant costs. Having completed my previous film, RIPHOUSE 151: Could’ve Been’s & Wanna Be’s (2008), out of pocket I felt I could do the same with Misery Loves Company. In fact, it would be even easier since I had been working and earning money – a luxury I couldn’t afford on RIPHOUSE. However, the process of making that film did prepare me for undertaking a feature and getting into the creative workflow. In that regard I knew exactly what I was capable of on a film set and this helped to figure my budget for the film. Remaining modest, Misery Loves Company is still the most ambitious and costly production I’ve ever undertaken. Surprisingly, with all of the grief, turmoil, and curveballs, it was also the smoothest and most well executed of my projects, considering the amount of material versus the timetable.

This was in part due to the extensive (eight year) pre-production phase of the project, but also because I didn’t go at it alone. Beginning with the cast, we worked hard at rehearsals for the weeks leading up to principle photography. While that was underway I spent my free time working with the storyboard artist, translating the words on the page to images. When either of those tasks weren’t going on I was usually meeting with the cinematographer to discuss and review the storyboards or working on securing additional cast and crewmembers or locations. The dedication of everyone involved is what made Misery Loves Company possible and the words on the page a tangible “reality.” Their enthusiasm is what keeps the interest growing.

To keep up with all of the events involving the film please follow the Misery Loves Company weblog.

You can also “Like” the film on facebook for more direct updates involving the cast, crew, and screenings.

Expect regular posts here at Visually Hidden from now on...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

REVIEW: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America – The First Avenger 
By Carlo Sitaro 

Edited by Peter O’Brien 

Captain America – The First Avenger (2011) tells the story of a young man from Brooklyn, Steve Rogers, who strongly desires to join the United States Army during the second World War. His chances are very poor because his body structure doesn't reach the minimum requirements for the American Army. Steve (Chris Evans) is very skinny and short, but shows a beautiful inner value, a noble heart. Even though he can't support himself in terms of muscular strength, his honest and pure soul is always ready to defend the defenseless.

A German scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who works for the American Government finally noticed Steve and decided to approve his enrollment, under his close supervision. Apparently, everything seems to be normal and Steve begins his training. During the first days of his training Steve compensates his body deficiencies with a brilliant mind and extraordinary courage that never allows him to give up.

Dr. Erskine initially fights against Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) because Phillips believes that Rogers is not good enough to join for the US Government special treatment. The doctor reminds Colonel Phillips that it is necessary to be a good individual with a strong heart; someone without anger or bully behaviors. “Good could be excellent...but bad becomes worse after the treatment,” he says.

This special treatment is basically an organic substance that improves physical abilities such as stamina, muscle strength and mental concentration. The goal is to prepare a new generation of super soldiers that will fight the Nazis.

Meanwhile, an evil man from Hitler's army, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), reaches an ancient church where a mysterious cube with an incredible power is discovered and stolen. Schmidt finds a team of scientists to help him to develop this powerful energy from another world. Once they finally find the way to use and control this energy, Schmidt decides to acquire the rest of this power for himself. He becomes “Red Skull,” and after his betrayal from the German Army, he becomes the founder of an independent, powerful and dangerous division called “Hydra,” whose aim is to command and conquer the entire world.

Directed by Joe Johnston with a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely,
Captain America – The First Avenger (2011) is an entertaining adaptation of the popular comic book series to the big screen. I don't know if the experts will love, hate or moderately approve this effort, but I personally think that Captain America – The First Avenger (2011) avoids being too patriotic, providing a nice story with interesting human values and funny moments that every remarkable movie possesses. 

Illustration by Carlo Sitaro
The enemies are pretty much condemned, without any obvious chances to succeed, and Red Skull is the classic villain, waiting for his defeat. I found a good standard in all the main actors, but especially in the remarkable interpretation by Hugo Weaving. He gives, in accordance with his previous characters, the right performance. Weaving is an extraordinary actor with a specialty for playing “bad guys” (we certainly remember his excellent portrayal of Agent Smith in the Matrix series). His performance, through his very expressive, magnetic eyes, could bring additional, deserved, recognition that he wasn't entirely able to gain after V for Vendetta (2006) (acting through a flat, inexpressive mask is a challenge for any actor), directed by James McTeigue.

There is only one logical consequence of a movie where everything is under the spotlight of Captain America's quest. We explore his background, his story and personal motivations and values inside an interesting environment, that’s not too tragic when compared to the real world. In this regard, everything is pretty close to Jack Kirby's comic book concept where the persona of a fictional hero brings hope and strength to all the people who need something good from an obscure and sad reality.


For more of Carlo's artwork be sure to check out his illustration blog: Ballpoint Pencil Archives