Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year from the gang at These Amazing Shadows

Thank you for the support you have all given our project over the past two years. We hope that 2012 brings you peace, love and a few good movies.
Happy New Year!
Christine, Paul, Suzanne, Frazer, Doug, Alex, Brian, Peter, Scott, Matt, Larry, Chris, Mads, Fiona, Gracie, Charlie, Barbara, James, Michael, Travis and Kurt

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who is John Bunny and Why is These Amazing Shadows So Short?!

Comedic actor John Bunny (1863-1915).
The Library of Congress released the 2011 National Film Registry selections late in the day on Tuesday. There were a lot of great and some questionable selections, but several really caught our eye. One was A Cure for Pokeritis starring John Bunny. For a few years around 1910 he was the biggest movie star in the world. He was known for a " jolly, boisterous, and broad" onscreen presence. Today he is largely forgotten, but his career lives on thanks to youtube (see A Cure for Pokeritis below), on the National Film Registry and remembered with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (inducted February 8, 1960 - his star is located at 1719 Vine Street, Hollywood).

Other selections we really like are:
Growing Up Female
Fruit Cake Factory
The Big Heat
Stand Up and Deliver

The entire list of the 2011 National Film Registry selections can be seen at the end of this blog post.

Over the next week These Amazing Shadows will be broadcast on the PBS series, Independent Lens. We are very excited, but realize that the broadcast creates a little bit of confusion about how long is These Amazing Shadows (TAS)? Our original length is 88-minutes, which you will find on our DVD and Blu-ray. However, on Independent Lens it has been cut down to 53 minutes and 27 seconds. Most documentaries on IL have been been cutdown to conform to this length. We weren't excited about this situation, but understood the needs of the series. So if the broadcast length seems too short for you (as many reviews have said), then take comfort in knowing that you can still reach the full 88-minute promise land by watching the DVD or Blu-ray. Another thing we'd like you to know is that the formal These Amazing Shadows broadcast date of Thursday, December 29th at 10pm is not always followed by all the PBS affiliates. They are free to do what ever they want. For example, here in our home town of San Francisco the local PBS affiliate KQED will broadcast TAS at 11:00 pm on Tuesday, January 3rd and at 10:00 pm on Wednesday, January 4th (KQED Life). So, check your local listings for specific day and time.

Incidentally, before-during-after the Thursday and Sunday broadcasts we will be twittering using the hashtag #ILDocClub if you'd like to join us. Find us on twitter at @amazingshadows

The 2011 National Film Registry Selections:
Allures (1961) Director Jordan Belson was dubbed the master of “cosmic cinema” who created abstract imagery with color, light and moving patterns and objects. “Allures” is a five-minute film that Belson said “was probably the space-iest film that had been done until then. It creates a feeling of moving into the void.”
Bambi (1942) Disney’s personal favorite follows the adventures of a fawn named Bambi and his friends Flower the skunk and Thumper the bunny.
The Big Heat (1953) Fritz Lang directed this film noir starring Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame.
A Computer Animated Hand (1972) Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, created a program nearly 40 years ago to digitally animate a human hand. This one-minute film displays the animated hand.
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963) Filmmaker Robert Drew and several other documentary directors including D.A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock chronicled Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s attempts to stop two African American students from enrolling at the University of Alabama and President John F. Kennedy’s response.
The Cry of Children (1912)  This silent drama about child labor helped instigate labor reform.
A Cure for Pokeritis (1912) Rotund comic John Bunny, who died in 1915, was one of the biggest comedy stars between 1910 and 1915. In this farce, he plays a henpecked husband.
El Mariachi (1992) Robert Rodriguez’s first feature, which he made for $7,000 while a film student at the University of Texas.
Faces (1968) John Cassavetes' masterwork offers a razor-sharp critique of middle-class America. Gena Rowlands, John Marley, Lynn Carlin and Seymour Cassel star.
Fruit Cake Factory (1985) Chick Strand’s documentary on young Mexican women who make ornamental papier-mache fruits and vegetables.
Forrest Gump (1994) Robert Zemeckis directed this box-office hit, which went on to win several Academy Awards including best picture, director and lead actor for Tom Hanks as a sweet everyman who encounters all the major events of the 1960s and '70s.
Growing Up Female (1971) Ohio college students Julia Reichart and Jim Klein follow six girls and women from the ages of 4 to 34 at home, work and school.
Hester Street (1975) Director Joan Micklin Silver’s feature, which was financed by her husband, looks at Eastern European Jewish life in American in the early 1900s. Carol Kane earned an Oscar nomination as an immigrant who arrives in New York to marry.
I, an Actress (1977) The late underground filmmaker George Kuchar’s comedy about his directing techniques.
The Iron Horse (1924) John Ford’s seminal western focuses on how the country was united after the Civil War with the building of the transcontinental railroad.
The Kid (1921) Charlie Chaplin’s first feature length comedy-drama, about the Little Tramp taking in a foundling (Jackie Coogan).
The Lost Weekend (1945) Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning social problem drama that examined the effects of alcoholism with a realism that hadn’t been shown on screen. Ray Milland, who was known more for his lighter roles, won an Oscar for his performance as the young writer who loses everything when he turns to alcohol. The film also won Academy Awards for best picture, director and screenplay.
The Negro Soldier (1944) Frank Capra’s World War II U.S. Army filming unit produced this film that looked at the contributions of African Americans in society as well as their heroic contributions in the war. The film was produced as a response to discrimination against African Americans who were stationed in the South during the war
Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-1940s) Legendary tap dancing brothers Fayard and Harold Nicholas, who graced such films as 1948’s “The Pirate,” also shot home movies that feature one-of-a-kind footage of Broadway, Harlem and Hollywood.
Norma Rae (1979) Sally Field won her first Oscar as a single mother working at a textile mill in the South who attempts to organize the workers. Martin Ritt directed.
Porgy and Bess (1959) Otto Preminger directed this lavish version of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s folk opera, starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll. There are very few prints of the film in existence, so it has rarely been seen in recent decades.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) The horror thriller based on the book by Thomas Harris swept the Academy Awards, winning best picture, director (Jonathan Demme), adapted screenplay (Ted Tally), best actress for Jodie Foster as rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling and best actor for Anthony Hopkins as the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
Stand and Deliver (1988) Edward James Olmos earned an Oscar nomination in the inspiring true story of an East Los Angeles high school teacher, Jaime Escalante.
Twentieth Century (1934) Howard Hawks directed this breathlessly funny screwball comedy adapted by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur from their Broadway play about a egomaniacal director (John Barrymore) and his temperamental leading lady (Carole Lombard).
War of the Worlds (1953) George Pal produced this lavish, Oscar-winning, special effects laden sci-fi thriller based on H.G. Wells’ novel about Martian aircraft landing on Earth. Gene Barry and Ann Robinson star in this box-office hit. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Does "Pulp Fiction" belong on the National Film Registry? Or, I admit it - Quentin Tarantino is really smart.

One of the reoccurring discussions at the annual meeting of the National Film Preservation Board to decide which films to recommend to the Librarian of Congress for inclusion on the National Film Registry is - does Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction belong?

There are times that it seems that Quentin Tarantino is a quite wacky guy who is all about superficial pop culture and that his films add nothing to our cultural heritage. But, then you see him in the above video of an interview by Charlie Rose. In it he makes some really important points about being a writer-director and he sounds quite intelligent and thoughtful. If you put aside his love of the spotlight (which is the source of his sometimes wacky persona) and focus on his filmmaking - it seems undeniable that he has an unique voice that has expanded our idea of storytelling. I don't appreciate/approve of his use of the N-word, excessive violence and his forays into misogyny - but he is a creative force to be considered seriously. Perhaps next week when the Library of Congress announces Dr. Billington's 2011 selections to the National Film Registry we might see Pulp Fiction among the films chosen.

The 2011 National Film Registry announcement will be made on or about December 28th.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Star Wars Anti-Festivus? And, Kudos to Zooey Deschanel

Yoda Star Wars snowflake
Star Wars fans have an incredible ability to incorporate their favorite thing - Star Wars - in to any holiday. Christmas is no exception. Above you see a very intricate Yoda snowflake decoration. Can you imagine the time it took to figure out how to create this work of Yoda. You can make your own and dive into this fanciful holiday project by going to (other DIY Star Wars snowflakes include: Imperial Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, R2-D2, C3PO, Boba Fett, etc...). You can make these snowflakes while watching the Star Wars Christmas Special video seen below.

(Written by: Dom Moschitti, Nick Murphy, Paul Ritchey, and Luke Brown, Directed and 
Produced by: Nick Murphy and Paul Ritchey, Voice Over by: The Staff of

It's not just Star Wars fans who celebrate a Star Wars Christmas - they are greatly encouraged by our friends over at Lucasfilm and other creative merchandisers. There are innumerable Star Wars Christmas gifts like:
Christmas in the Stars: A Star Wars Christmas Album - $49.99 (Amazon)
Supreme Edition Star Wars Stroomtroopers costume - $889.00 (Amazon)
Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar - $39.95 (
Star Wars Mimobot Thumb Drive - $24.99 (
Star Wars Clone Wars Ultimate Blaster - $87.99 (Amazon)
This list could on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on - definitely anti-Festivus. Festivus is that imaginary holiday created in opposition to Christmas that seeks to rid the holiday from a commercial stranglehold.

By the way - Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 as a way to celebrate the holiday season without participating in its commercialism and religious aspects. It was created by writer Dan O'Keefe and introduced into popular culture by his son Daniel, a screenwriter for the TV show Seinfeld, as part of a comical storyline on the show.

Zooey Deschanel from the television series, New Girl.
In a completely unrelated story we congratulate Zooey Deschanel (a These Amazing Shadows interview subject) on her recent Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a television series - comedy or musical. Her TV show, New Girl, is a breakout hit and has gathered a strong audience across all demographics. Not long ago she received a Grammy nomination in the category of "best song for a visual media" for her contribution to the Winnie the Pooh soundtrack, So Long. She is a great gal and a true movie fan (very knowledgeable) - it was such a pleasure to meet and interview her for our documentary.
Read more:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Little Stevie Spielberg Owns the Holidays.

My family has a semi-tradition of going to the movies the day after Christmas. If we decide to do that this year we may very well end up at a Steven Spielberg movie as he will have two films in wide release: War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. Whatever you think about Mr. Spielberg's films you kinda have to admit over the past forty years (since Duel in 1971 for some and since Jaws in 1975 for most) he has been a major force in popular culture. When we were conducting interviews for These Amazing Shadows we would routinely ask "What movie had a big impact on you?" The film that was most often mentioned was Mr. Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

A fascinating look at the Spielberg style is the above video by Fandor, which takes a look at the so-called "Spielberg Face." Once you take a look at this video you will know exactly what that term means. There are certain things in our culture that we are not necessarily conscious of, but once made aware we realize that it is part of what shapes the way we look at the world. Pretty powerful stuff.

Kudos to Fandor's Kevin Lee for producing The Spielberg Face.

If you love Steven Spielberg or the process of how a film is made you should take a look at a video (link below) of a panel discussion on the production of War Horse. It includes many long time key Spielberg collaborators.

During our These Amazing Shadows interview of Peter Coyote, who starred in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, he told us he was surprised and a bit hurt that he has never been asked to work with Steven again. He pointed out that it is Steven's habit not to use the same actors from one film to another (at least one exception is Tom Hanks). That is not the case with behind the camera professionals - as the Hollywood Reporter panel discussion clearly shows. Very curious.

ADDITION AFTER POSTING: FANtastic story about a fan and erstwhile graphic designer who, on his own, designed credits for Tintin - Spielberg noticed the article and watch the video below!

The Adventures of Tintin from James Curran on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Director's Early-Early Work: Kubrick, Nolan, Scorsese and Spielberg

On Wednesday, December 14th at 8:00 pm (ET) TCM will broadcast one of Stanley Kubrick's earliest directorial attempts - Fear and Desire (see above). Movie critic and historian Leonard Matlin (who is featured in These Amazing Shadows) says of Fear and Desire: "Kubrick's elusive, shoestring-budget feature-film debut is an existential antiwar allegory centering on four GIs (including a very green Mazursky, in his film debut) stranded behind the lines of an unknown enemy and fighting a fictitious war in an unidentified country. Long suppressed by Kubrick himself--who also photographed, edited, and cowrote with poet/playwright Howard Sackler--the movie contains some striking imagery and shows the germs of budding talent, but generally comes off as an arty and pretentious student film."

This got us thinking about other directors early work. We often think of directors appearing as full formed geniuses/auteur/dictators, but often what you find in their early work is a clunky style that only remotely suggests their future potential. Thank goodness they find ways as young directors to experiment and evolve without crashing and burning in the public eye (although strangely that sometimes happens in the middle of their careers: Spielberg 1941, Bogdanovich At Long Last Love, Scorsese New York, New York).

Christopher Nolan: Doodlebug (1997)
A man waits patiently in his apartment to squash a bug, but he could be hurting himself more than he realizes.

Martin Scorsese: It's Not Just You, Murray! (1963)
Now middle-aged, mobster Murray looks back at his humble beginnings as a bootlegger and his rise to becoming wealthy and highly influential.

Steven Spielberg: Firelight (1964)
Menacing UFOs attack citizens of a town. 
NOTE: Be patient with this video - it is very rough. If you stick with it you'll see some familiar images from his future movies.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Turkish "Star Wars," Turkish "Rocky" and Turkish "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial"

Recently, Paul and I had lunch with Frazer Bradshaw, who was the director of photography for These Amazing Shadows. Frazer is always full of interesting film related stories. He told us about the incredible Turkish remake of Star Wars (see above). Here is the lowdown:

"The Turkish-made film commonly known as Turkish Star Wars is notorious for it's bootlegging of Star Wars clips. Released in 1982, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (AKA: Turkish Star Wars or The Man Who Saves the World) was created in Turkey during a period of massive political upheaval. American-made films were not easily acquired and were often remade with a Turkish cast and setting. The musical soundtrack is entirely lifted from Western film hits of the time, primarily using Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are also scenes incorporating the music of Moonraker, Flash Gordon, Battlestar Galactica, Planet of the Apes and Disney's The Black Hole."  You can download the entire film at the Internet Archive:     Want more? Here come Turkish Rocky (my favorite) and Turkish E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

ALERT!: Need three partners to bid on 'Wizard of Oz' Ruby Slippers and Cowardly Lion Costume

Debbie Reynolds (famed actress and These Amazing Shadows interview subject) is auctioning off her amazing Hollywood memorabilia collection on December 15, 16 and 17 as part of the "Icons of Hollywood" Auction at the Paley Center for Media Arts in Beverly Hills. I am seeking two or three partners to pool our money to bid on two items.


1) The first item I want to bid on is the Cowardly Lion's costume from The Wizard of Oz. The auction catalog says the following,"This costume was worn when the Cowardly Lion first meets Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road and sings ‘If I only had the Nerve’ as well as when he later sings his trademark, ‘If I were King of the Forest’ in the Emerald City. This Cowardly Lion costume is very special because it was worn in some of the most magical moments of the film. It is one of only two known costumes worn by Bert Lahr in the production of The Wizard of Oz.”

The auction house, Profiles in History, has established a pre-sale estimate of value to be in the $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 range. I have $400 cash, so need some partners who can come up with the remaining $1,999,600 to $2,999,600. Caution - the amount could be higher if we get carried away during the bidding. 

The second item I want to bid on are the Ruby Slippers - also from The Wizard of Oz. The auction catalog says: there are four pairs of screen used Ruby Slippers known to have survived the seventy years since the making of The Wizard of Oz. One pair is the center piece of the Icons of American Culture exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.  Another pair was unfortunately stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and will likely never be recovered. The third pair is in private hands and will not be reaching the market any time soon.


The final fourth pair up for auction are marked on the inside lining, "#7 Judy Garland" and the leather soles are painted red on the bottom. The lack of felt, in addition to light, circular scuffs evident on the soles indicate their use in the extra-close-up or "insert" shots when Judy Garland taps her heels together at the film's climax. Author Rhys Thomas recently commented on this particular pair of slippers stating, "There's no question in my mind that they are the crème-de-la-crème of all ruby slippers."  Their condition is near mint.

The pre-sale estimate of value is $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. I have about $274.89 available for this item. My partners would need to come up with the remaining $1,999,726.11 to $2,999,726.11. 

(Also, I'll need some money for airfare and lodging)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Film Reconnects Us to the World

In These Amazing Shadows, Robin Blaetz says "film reconnects us to the world and to our experience of our lives in this space, in this time." It is such a beautiful thought. The idea that we can go into a dark theater and be reconnected to the world is on its surface a strange notion. But, film has that ability to allow us to observe in an intimate and clear way the details of the world that we often don't have the time or inclination to see. A good example of that is the above video, Timescapes, by Tom Lowe. He describes it as a "portrait of the American Southwest." What really jumps out at me is the spectacular starry sky. Most of us in the US are urban dwellers. We forget how the incredibly beautifully universe is available to us in the night sky. Lowe's film has reconnected me to the world because now I am dedicated to getting out in nature to see the stars.

Tom Lowe was named Astronomy Photographer of the year in 2010 and has been working on Timescapes for over two years.

Tom Lowe on Vimeo
Tom Lowe on Facebook

Monday, December 5, 2011

These Amazing Shadows Holiday Gift Guide!

It's up to you if you'll take this TAS Gift Guide seriously, but we do! We don't encourage anyone to focus too much holiday energy on buying gifts. Simple activities like gathering with family and/or friends is always best. But, sometimes a reasonably priced and well thought out gift can be a joyous thing. Off we go! (when writing a holiday gift guide we feel strangely compelled to use a lot of exclamation points!)

For the wannabe movie star in your family!
Bid for a walk-on role in David O. Russell's next film.
Through the website you can bid on all kinds of amazing experiences and things. Don't have any information on how much of the money goes to administrative costs and how much goes to an actual charity.

David O. Russell is an American director and screenwriter, known for a loose comic energy and occasional conflict with his actors. His films include The Fighter, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, Spanking the Monkey (which I saw at Sundance years ago and wondered - "Why would anyone make a movie like this?")  At the time of this writing the current bid: $4,250 (bidding ends 12/13/11 10pm EST)

35mm Motion Picture Film is not dead! 
Own your own 35mm movie camera!
The LomoKino is the affordable choice for you avant garde filmmakers ($79.00)

This is a really fun idea but you must be aware of it's inherent limitations. It has a 3-5 frames per second frame rate. A professional 35mm motion picture camera runs at 24 frames per second. get a pretty funky image. Plus, the lens is very limited. All that aside - it is still pretty great. Especially with the crank - you rotate the advancing crank to shoot your movie. It's like being back in the silent era!

There is a large and enthusiastic community built around Lomo products. You can get lots of great advise from seasoned Lomography veterans.

The Art of Pixar (hardcover $50.00)
The Complete Color Scripts and Select Art from 25 Years of Animation
Over the past 25 years, Pixar’s team of artists, writers, and directors have shaped the world of contemporary animation with their feature films and shorts. From classics such as Toy Story and A Bug’s Life to recent masterpieces such as Up, Toy Story 3, and Cars 2, this comprehensive collection offers a behind-the-scenes tour of every Pixar film to date. Featuring a foreword by Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, the complete color scripts for every film—published in full for the first time—as well as stunning visual development art.

Vintage Japanese Back to the Future movie poster! ($250.00)
Why own an American version when a foreign one looks so much cooler!

Perhaps the best movie poster shop in the US is Posteritati in New York City. If you ever find yourself in NYC make a point to stop by their shop on Centre Street. They are really nice and will really educate you about the beauty of vintage movie posters. You don't have to go to their shop to buy - their website is quite excellent.

We're not kidding about buying foreign posters over their American counterpart. It is not just the different language they offer, but seeing how other cultures interpret our films through graphic imagery. Think of your favorite movie, then on the Posteritati website look around for a foreign version - you won't be disappointed.

Buy a goat and sheep for a family in need. ($120)
Save the Children online store

One of the greatest struggles families face in poverty-stricken countries is the inability to grow or maintain essential livestock herds. Farm animals keep families fed, provide valuable income and can grow into larger herds with even more potential. The combination of two goats and a sheep gives a family the means to succeed. There are many less expensive options.

These Amazing Shadows DVD and Blu-ray!!  
(you know we had to include it)
It really is the perfect non-fuss - one click away - perfect gift for pretty much everybody! Did we mention it is the perfect gift? (prices vary)
Shop PBS:

What do the films Casablanca, Blazing Saddles and West Side Story have in common? Besides being popular, they have also been deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and listed on The National Film Registry. THESE AMAZING SHADOWS, an 88-minute documentary, tells the history and importance of the Registry, a roll call of American cinema treasures that reflects the diversity of film, and indeed the American experience itself. The current list of 550 films includes selections from every genre - documentaries, home movies, Hollywood classics, avant-garde, newsreels and silent films. These Amazing Shadows reveals how "American movies tell us so much about ourselves... not just what we did, but what we thought, what we felt, what we aspired to, and the lies we told ourselves."         Plus, a lot of fun bonus features!!

Christine, Paul, Suzanne, Doug, Alex, Brian, Peter, Frazer, Larry, 
Matt, Scott, Chris, Barbara, James, Michael, Travis, and Kurt

Friday, December 2, 2011

Marvelous Montages

A commercial runs before the featured video. Be patient!

Recently Kevin Yost (Lucasfilm editor and seen in These Amazing Shadows) sent us a link to the film, Precious Images by Chuck Workman. It features approximately 470 half-second-long splices of movie moments through the history of American film. This film has been the long considered THE standard by which all other film montages are measured. It won an Oscar as best short and was added to the National Film Registry in 2009.

We consider Doug Blush, who co-edited These Amazing Shadows, to be just as good as Mr. Workman. That point of view is supported by John Lopez of Vanity Fair who called Doug's work in These Amazing Shadows to be "the montage to end all montages."

Another great montage editor is Stephen Garrett of Kinetic Trailers. Stephen edited the These Amazing Shadows trailer. In 2010 he edited a Martin Scorsese tribute montage for Golden Globes that is considered one of the best film montages of recent memory. See it below.

When a director is working with an editor a lot of verbal discussion goes on, but it is always best to support an idea with visual aids. Way back when Paul and I were first starting to work with our editors, Doug Blush and Alex Calleros, we put together some ideas (including montages) to show them what we had in mind for TAS. Below is one early (and very rough) example of something we presented to our editors to show them what the doc might feel like. Some of it survived - but most was discarded. Ah, the vagaries of the creative process!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Telling the truth in Hollywood

In this video director Terry Gilliam is amazingly open and direct with his opinion of Steven Spielberg movies. Hearing what he had to say reminded me of a surprising situation that developed during the shooting of interviews for These Amazing Shadows.

The first interviews for our documentary were in Washington DC. One of the standard questions we asked was, "What is your favorite movie and why?" Though it is a rather predictable softball type question most people took delight in answering.

We then moved on to interviews in Los Angeles and we asked our film industry interview subjects the same question, "What is your favorite movie and why?" To our surprise hardly anyone would answer. Most were afraid by answering they would offend someone they knew or worked with because they didn't pick their film. This seemingly simple question turned out to be a very politically loaded question in the film capitol of the world. At first we were really shocked, but then began to understand.

We did not interview director Terry Gilliam, but given his candor in the above video we wished we had. In a world where we are all hungry for openness and honesty Terry is a rare bird indeed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Good & Bad Homages, Tributes and Ripoffs

If you're a successful director, filmmaker or auteur with a unique style you're sure to spawn a bevy of imitators and expressions of admiration across the Internets that take the form of a tribute video, reinterpretation of your work or downright ripoff. Above you will find a skillfully edited example of an homage compilation of Christopher Nolan's work by Dutchman, Kees van Dijkhuizen (who is all of 18 years old according to his youtube profile). This video is part of his [the films of] series that includes Ridley Scott, Tim Burton and David Fincher. I think [the films of] Christopher Nolan is his best.

A less successful "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" video was done by me over two years ago when we were trying to figure out the tone and point of view for These Amazing Shadows. I've always been taken by the old style newsreels of Pathe News, March of Time and Hearst Metrotone News. The fast talking infotainment style evoked a certain excitement and urgency that is so ripe for satire and reinterpretation. Above is a very crude attempt (and by crude I mean awful) at using the lively newsreel style to make the kinda dry subject of film preservation come alive. My only defense is that I threw it together quickly and cheaply to show others the basic idea. Out of some failures you don't really learn much other than how to wince. Below you can view the real deal.

Newsreels on the National Film Registry:
Jenkins Orphanage Band (Fox Movietone News)
Hindenburg Disaster Newsreel Footage
Republic Steel Strike Riot Newsreel Footage

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22nd

Detail from the These Amazing Shadows Amazon page. The "This Item" is These Amazing Shadows.
November 22, 2011: (today!) These Amazing Shadows (TAS) released on DVD and Blu-ray by PBS Video. A great holiday gift, you can find it at Shop PBS and Amazon.

November 22, 2010: We received a phone call from the Sundance Film Festival informing us that These Amazing Shadows was selected.

(clockwise from lower left) My Grandmother Lauraine, my Mother Audree, my Great-Grandmother Allie and my sister Nikki.
November 22, 1909: My Grandmother Lauraine (we called her Ama) born. She was a major influence in my life.

November 22, 1899: Hoagy Carmichael born. American composer, pianist, singer, actor, and bandleader. He is best known for writing "Stardust", "Georgia On My Mind", "The Nearness of You", and "Heart and Soul", four of the most-recorded American songs of all time. He appeared in To Have and Have Not (seen above) and The Best Years of Our Lives (selected to the National Film Registry 1989) among other films.

Jacqueline and John Kennedy
November 22, 1963: John Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) in Toy Story.
November 22, 1995: Toy Story released in 2,281 theaters and remained in wide release for 13 weeks. Toy Story was selected to the National Film Registry in 2005.

Scarlett Johansson with Woody Allen.
November 22, 1984: Actress Scarlett Johansson born. Best known for Lost in Translation, Match Point, Girl with the Pearl Earring and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978).
November 22, 1958: Actress Jamie Lee Curtis born. Best known for Halloween (selected to the National Film Registry in 2006), Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda and True Lies.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Awards, Accolades and Trophies

Louisville's International Festival of Film Best Documentary Award - a Louisville Slugger.
I have very mixed feelings about film awards. On one hand they are fun (the anticipation, debates and awareness they create) and competition is as American as an award winning apple pie. On the other hand awards are subjective, capricious and often just silly popularity contests (though there is nothing wrong with being popular!).

Over the past eleven months of our distribution of These Amazing Shadows (TAS) we have been faced with making decisions that qualify or disqualify us for Oscar and Emmy consideration. We elected early on to be part of Sundance Selects which brought with it a special one month Video-On-Demand release during the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011. That VOD release disqualified us from Oscar consideration for 2011. You may be thinking, "Dudes, an Oscar Best Documentary nomination for TAS is a rather remote possibility anyway." - and we would pretty much agree with you. At the time of the decision there was a little irrational voice inside my brain warning not to lose our Oscar consideration, "Don't do it! You never know! TAS could be a contender!" I quickly and easily quieted that high pitched irritating voice and we made what we thought was a good business decision. We disqualified ourselves from Emmy consideration because we elected to release our DVD/Blu-ray on November 22nd, which is prior to our national PBS/Independent Lens broadcast on December 29th (check local listings for exact date/time). That is an Emmy no-no. We balanced our chances for an Emmy nomination (yes, that high pitched voice of warning did return) against getting our DVD/Blu-ray out for the holiday shopping season.

Screen grab from our iphone video of accepting the Savannah Film Festival Best Documentary Award.
As they say - when you close one door another one opens - These Amazing Shadows recently won two awards: Best Documentary at Louisville's International Festival of Film and the Savannah Film Festival. We thank both festivals for the honor and attention they have given our doc. The Louisville's International Festival of Film award is really cool and unusual - it is a Louisville Slugger bat with an award inscription (please see it above). Paul says he is going to print up a bumper sticker that says, "My slugger can beat the hell out of your Oscar!" As a note to my family and friends who notice that only Paul's name is on the bat - most festivals for some reason cannot wrap their brains around the notion of co-directors. Sometimes my name is left off and sometime Paul's name is left off websites, awards, etc.

Paul and I were present for the Savannah Film Festival (really great festival) awards presentation. It was a fun affair with about 900 people in the audience. As Paul and I take turns addressing special events on behalf of TAS it was Paul's turn and he gave a very good acceptance speech. I was on stage shooting the whole thing with my iphone much to the delight of the audience (see photo above). We will post that video soon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A National Film Registry Halloween!

Count Floyd (from the 1980s show SCTV) is NOT on the National Film Registry but we include this 
clip because he is so darn scary and its amazing use of the 3D process! James Cameron - watch and learn!

Halloween is just around the corner and if you have finally stopped going out trick or treating (even though you look really good in that Sexy Zombie Nurse costume) you might want to stay home and watch a really scary movie. After you have opened that bag of mini-snickers that you bought to give to kids that come by trick or treating but figure eating a couple wouldn't hurt - check out the following scary movies that are on the National Film Registry:

Young Frankenstein

Fantastic outtakes from this hilarious Mel Brooks/Gene Wilder film. The quality of this youtube video is pretty bad. The actual film is a beautiful piece of black & white cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld - who knew a thing or two about that lost craft.

The Exorcist

"Somewhere between science and superstition is another world..." Aspects of the film are based upon a rite of exorcism performed by the Jesuit priest, Father William S. Bowdern.

Michael Jackson's Thriller

Notice he begins with the disclaimer, "Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film no way endorses a belief in the occult." Really. I mean, really?

Other suggestions:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Now - stop eating those mini-snickers! Think of the kids!

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's Party Time Independent Lens Style - Plus Julie-Zooey-John News

(l to r) Doug Blush, Lois Vossen, Paul Mariano and Christine O'Malley.
These Amazing Shadows will have a national broadcast on the PBS series, Independent Lens on Thursday, December 29th at 10:00 pm.

We had a blast at the Independent Lens (IL) season 10 launch party at Monty in Los Angeles last week. The series producer, Lois Vossen, really made us feel welcome and part of the IL family. Monty is a cool-hip bar in downtown Los Angeles and was jammed full of IL staff, IL alum filmmakers, members of the LA doc community and a live performance by The Bricks. The music was loud, drinks were flowing and the food pretty darn healthy and tasty. It was one of those parties that with the loud music you had to really lean into the person you were talking with and listen/focus carefully in order to hear anything - which leads to a kind of fun intimate conversation that you don't often get in everyday life.

TAS producer Christine O'Malley and International Documentary Association president Eddie Schmidt.
Paul and I were joined at the soiree by TAS producer Christine O'Malley and TAS editor Doug Blush. Christine and her husband, Patrick Creadon, previously had their doc, Wordplay, broadcast on Independent Lens in 2007. Doug was the editor on that show, so he and Christine felt right at home hobnobbing with all the film folk. It was Paul and I who felt like fish out of water as we have little experience with attending "launch parties." The IL staff made us feel really comfortable. They are really quite a talented and fun bunch (see below).

IL Staff: (l to r) Krissy Bailey, Voleine Amilcar, Lois Vossen, Dennis Palmieri, Richard O'Connell, Desiree Gutierrez.
The only difficulty of the evening was that IL asked us to say a few words about our doc to the crowd. As Paul and I divide up this type of responsibility - it was my turn to be the public face of TAS. I am not exactly sure what I said but Paul assured me that I didn't embarrass us. Chris Paine, the filmmaker responsible for Who Killed the Electric Car? also spoke. He is a very nice man and just the kind of person you would imagine that would make a doc about electric cars. He has followed up that doc with a new one called The Revenge of the Electric Car, which will be released theatrically beginning on October 21st. The trailer looks great.

A buffalo head and Lois Vossen look on as Kurt Norton says a few words about TAS, IL and PBS.

- These Amazing Shadows was selected as Best Documentary at Louisville's International Festival of Film. We are honored and appreciate their wonderful taste.

- One of our favorite TAS interview subjects, Julie Dash, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her breakout film, Daughters of the Dust.  Julie is currently developing two projects: a mini series on the little-known 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, which was the only all African American, all female battalion during World War II, made up of 855 women, and a cyber thriller called, Cipher, a story centered on a young African American woman who’s an encryption specialist, who “holds the keys to our digital liberty.”

- Another favorite TAS interview subject and It Girl, Zooey Deschanel, has scored a big hit with her new TV show, The New Girl. It scored remarkable audience numbers making it the first new sitcom in 20 years to win it's first three nights in the highly valued adults 18-49 demographic (why do they call it "adult 18-49." Are there kids that are 18-49?) Unfortunately, due to the vagaries of television programming her show will not be on the air again until early November. So much for letting a show develop it's audience. If only our producer Christine O'Malley was in charge of all TV programming this sort of thing wouldn't happen!

- Yet another favorite TAS interview subject (okay, almost all our interview subjects are our favorite) John Waters is touring Australia (October 19-29) with his one-man show, This Filthy World. It is a vaudeville act covering his unusual obsessions and film career. John says, "I invite Australian moviegoers into my cinematic world to show them radically intelligent and disturbing movies that will push them closer to the edge of cinema insanity."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Growing Up Female

Screen grab from Growing Up Female.
A letter from Mary J. Schirmer.
Hi, folks. I don't usually make requests like this, because I know everybody's busy. But this is the opportunity to make a difference for an important documentary made by a female filmmaker. Please consider emailing (Donna Ross) to request that the film GROWING UP FEMALE is included in the National Film Registry.

The nomination committee chooses 25 films per year, and GROWING UP FEMALE has come close to making the cut for the last five consecutive years. As you know, women are seriously underrepresented in the film industry on the whole, and we can make a difference by including this film in the Library of Congress.

I've met filmmaker/college film instructor Julia Reichert who, with James Klein, produced, wrote, directed, and edited this feature film in1971 -- right in the midst of the modern feminist movement.

GROWING UP FEMALE looks at the lives of six females, ages 4 to 35, and the "forces that shape them -- teachers, counselors, advertising, music, and the institution of marriage," Reichert said.

The film has been shown in colleges and high schools over the past decades and earned glowing recommendations from Susan Sontag and Gloria Steinem.

GROWING UP FEMALE has screened at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and the American Film Institute in Washington DC. This month it will be shown at Lincoln Center.

The film recently received a grant to restore it on a new film print.

Find more information about the National Film Registry at

So, if you feel moved to help in this effort to include a film about women and produced by a woman, please take a moment RIGHT NOW to email Donna Ross, National Film Preservation Board, at

Thank you.
Mary J. Schirmer (screenwriter/instructor)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Donna Ross Really Exists: Or, how to nominate a film to the National Film Registry

Donna Ross of the Library of Congress with These Amazing Shadows co-director Paul Mariano.
The National Film Registry clock is ticking. If you want to nominate a film to be considered for the 2011 selections to the National Film Registry now is the time to make your move. It is a very simple process to nominate/vote for a film.
There are a few simple rules:
1) The film must be at least ten years old. (That means Gladiator is now eligible!)
2) The film must be "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." (That may sound lofty, but don't forget - Animal House, Blazing Saddles and The Producers have met that standard.)
3) The film must be American, or at least have some sort of relatively significant American involvement. (Example of a film on the NFR that stretches the "American" involvement: Lawrence of Arabia.)

Once you have decided on a film you want to nominate you should check to make sure it is not already on the National Film Registry. The Library of Congress maintains a complete list of the 550 film on Wikipeida at the following link:
Okay, you've discovered that your nominee is not on the NFR, so what do you do next? You should write a short statement on why the film is important to you or to American culture. You don't need to sound like a film scholar - just write from the heart and try to be somewhat coherent.

Then, (drum roll please) you email it to Donna Ross at the Library of Congress
You can send it by the US Postal Service to the following address:
Donna Ross, Boards Assistant
National Film Preservation Board
Library of Congress
Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation
19053 Mt. Pony Road
Culpeper, VA 22701-7551

In this world of faceless bureaucrats it is refreshing to know that when you send in your nomination it will go to a very specific person - namely, Donna Ross. Donna works at the Library of Congress' Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Culpeper, VA. We first met Donna in November 2009 and have found her to be a very nice, hard-working person with a good sense of humor.
National Film Registry Nomination Information Website:

The 2011 National Film Registry selections will be announced on or about December 28, 2011. By a planned coincidence, These Amazing Shadows, will have its premiere national broadcast on December 29, 2011 as part of the PBS series, Independent Lens, which will be hosted this year by Mary-Louise Parker. Check your local listings.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Do "Clerks," "Rocky IV," "Mary Poppins," "The Warriors," "Showgirls" and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" Belong on the National Film Registry?

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.
A strength and weakness of the Internet/social media is that anyone and everyone can hurl their opinions/desires out in to the world. It actually works to great effect when it comes to true grass root campaigns to get films on the National Film Registry. Facebook has become a launching point for many efforts - some one might describe as unusual choices. Here are some examples:


Of these campaigns we rank their viability in this order:
1) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (need I explain why?)
2) Rocky IV (because of Mr. T.) (I was corrected that Mr. T was featured in Rocky III, not Rocky IV - so I have no justification for having Rocky IV ranked number 2 other than Sly Stallone directed)
3) Mary Poppins (because of great music and unspoken sexual tension between Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke)
4) The Warriors (because of the clothes)
5) Clerks (because I worked at a convenience store during college)
6) Showgirls (because Peter Verhoeven is a very passionate filmmaker. I'd rather nominate Starship Troopers)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Risky Recycling: "The Wizard of Oz" and "All Quiet on the Western Front"

(clockwise from top left) Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, James Franco and Rachel Weisz.
In both exciting and discouraging news two classics are about to be messed with. Disney announced that their The Wizard of Oz prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful has begun production with the man, the myth James Franco jumping into the role of The Wizard. The story goes something like this:
"The pre-Wizard, a magician finds himself cast off into Oz. There he meets a sparkling group of sister witches — both good and bad — in Rachel Weisz as Evanora, Michelle Williams as Glinda and Mila Kunis as Theodora, and alongside his assistant, played by Zach Braff, he finds himself further and further immersed into the magical land.”

Gee, where's Shia LeBoeuf? Actually, the three women are really strong and James Franco is a good actor so maybe this production has a chance. Certainly is a fun idea. So, why the heck not do it and see what happens. What's another 150 million dollars (my guess at the budget) gambled on a movie. Recycling art is a great idea. I'm thinking about painting a prequel of Van Gogh's Starry Night and calling it something like, Starry: The Bright and Sunny Day.

The Wizard of Oz was selected to the National Film Registry in 1989 - the first year of Registry selections.

Detail from the theatrical poster for "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930)
We feature a segment on the classic war film All Quiet on the Western Front in our These Amazing Shadows DVD Bonus Feature, Lost Forever. A long time employee of the Library of Congress, David Thompson, made it his personal goal to restore this amazing work of art. His dedication and success in the restoration of AQWF shows how one person can make a difference in this crazy world.

Mimi Leder, who directed Deep Impact, The Peacemaker, and a lot of TV, will direct a new adaptation of Eric Maria Remarque’s classic novel. Leder will be working from a script by Ian Stokell and Lesley Paterson. The press release announcing this new production of All Quiet on the Western Front says that in this version, "most of it takes place in the last 24 hours of the war.” One of the strengths of the original Best Picture Oscar winning version (directed by Lewis Milestone) is that you saw over time the changes that occur to the soldiers - so it is not clear why this new adaption is worth pursuing. Hummmm, Lewis Milestone vs. Mimi Leder. One hopes she can rise to the occasion.

All Quiet on the Western Front was selected to the National Film Registry in 1990. Another Lewis Milestone film, The Front Page (1931), was selected to the National Film Registry in 2010. The Front Page was remade by Billy Wilder in 1974.