Thursday, April 16, 2009

Omaha, somewhere in middle America...

Alvin and I arrived in Omaha NE today.  Barely had time to catch our breath.  Apparently we will be meeting the Governor, two state Senators, two Mayors, a Brigadier General of a major Air Force base, and getting honorary Admiralties in the Nebraska Navy...  Carol is like the eighth wonder of the modern world.  Plus, we tracked down Coney dog (extra long!) at Sonic for Alvin.

Also, a great meeting with Mark Hoeger of Oberon Entertainment.  I am excited to see what chances we might have to work together in the future.  There is something reassuring about the straightforwardness of the mid-West that just makes you wanna shake hands and start working right away -- hard enough to break a sweat before lunch.

We will be on the radio in Tennessee tomorrow before spending the day at the autism conference.  So I have to hit the hay soon.

I would like to point out first a couple quick omissions from our Method Fest posts:
1. I got to see a Christmas movie called Cooper's Camera.  Imagine a far raunchier version of Christmas Vacation...  far far raunchier.  This movie cracked me up to no end, and while I have to careful who I recommend it to, I think it is destined to be a cult classic.

2. How Alvin was not nominated for Breakout Performance is beyond me.  Maybe people don't realize this is his first major on-camera role.

3.  That "The Unidenitified" was not up for Achievement in Low Budget Filmmaking is a travesty.  Other than the Fleck/Boden masterpiece, it was easily the best film I saw at the festival, and it as made for even less than our movie.  The scope was ambitious, covering such physical and emotional terrain, that if I had been told its budget was TEN TIMES what it was I would have remained impressed.  I find it especially disturbing when other nominees submitted incomplete or outright false figures.  If you have not calculated the market value of your back-end points into the budget, you have lied.  Period.  If you have not included the cost of the songs you are using, you are not being honest about what you spent.  If you own the camera you are shooting on, but do not account for that in your actualization, your numbers are false.  For something as genuinely noteworthy to be overlooked in the category of budget management in favor of projects that don't even know how to calculate a budget is just a shade too sad to be comical.

{photo caption: Nicholas Gray (L.) and Alvin Keith (R.) with La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Three Screenings and a Slew of Links

If You Could Say It In Words will play three screenings in three days in the fine state of Nebraska:
Thursday, April 16th @ 7:00 p.m.
University of Nebraska in Omaha.
CPACS Building. Room #101.
Co-Sponsored by the UNO Department of Theatre
Friday, April 17th @ 7:00 p.m.
in Lincoln, Nebraska at Bourbon Theater
(Formerly State Theatre)
1415 "O" Street
Co-Sponsored by Kinetic Brew
Saturday, April 18th @ 2:00 p.m.
in Bellevue, Nebraska at
The Eagles Club, 209 West Mission Street
Co-Sponsored by Olde Towne Development Committee with Bellevue FOE Club
For information about the local venues, contact Carol Blood at 402-517-1446.
We are also lighting up the Web at the moment.  Here are just a few links:
Well-wishers and friends, drop us a line!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If You Could Screening! "There Is No Try"

Sunday: the day of our screening... Sunday was largely about discovering the difference between "I will be there" and "I'll try to make it."  Apparently here in La-La-Land the word "try" frees one from the obligation to make any effort whatsoever*.  Those who didn't turn up, however, missed out.  We had somewhere north of 125 people-- that made us by far the best-attended movie at the Civic Center venue and one of the best attended of the festival at all!
First, a wonderful short film played to open our evening: "Worth" by Kathi Carey, an elegant 7-minute gem about a janitor (Sid Page) who finds himself compelled to play a violin up for auction.  Sharply polished with just a touch of melancholy, it was enthusiastically received by the crowd.

Then award-winning writer Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, "The Wire") introduced our movie.  He apologized for the appearance of nepotism (his brother Gerry appears in our movie, and was in attendance tonight); he cracked wise about the Afflecks and Baldwins before shifting gears to say... and Nicholas is still blushing about this... "I think this movie is exactly what Cassavetes intended when he was creating what we call independent film.  Unadorned.  Un-romanticized.  Completely naturalistic.  You feel like you just happen to be in the room with two real people living their lives."  Maybe that speech just set a tone, but the audience was incredibly responsive -- gasps, pained sighs, and even an outburst of cheering at one point.  It was a pleasure to sit near actress PaSean Wilson and her family, who could finally appreciate on the big screen what a crackerjack, scene-stealing job she does as Lucy.

The talkback was highlighted by the attendance of and comments from a group of young people with Asperger's Syndrome from F.A.C.T.   The unofficial conversation after the talkback was even more interesting as people's more personal questions started to come out.  Then at the after-party we had even more conversation with Dennis and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Josh Olson (A History of Violence) as they swapped on-set stories, dissected Mamet, and observed what the rest of us already knew: Nicholas does a pretty darn good Pacino.  (... marking the second time he blushed tonight.)  

Monday marked the departure of Adam and Katie back to Philly, leaving Nicholas by his lonesome to take in one of the festival's best features: The Unidentified.  Written and directed by Kevan Tucker and starring Jay Sullivan and Erin Ecklund, the drama charts the struggle between cynicism and idealism amongst a group of NYC twentysomethings.  Nicholas admitted to the film's reps at Method Fest (Tucker, Ecklund and producers Stephen Gifford and Tim O'Neill (who also edited) that he was a bit nervous to see their movie, as we've been festival buddies the whole week.  But he couldn't stop talking about it.  We look forward to seeing more out of this group in the future.

Nicholas was hoping to change his travel plans to stay till the festival's conclusion on Thursday-- hey, with attendance figures like ours, we could be nominated for something!-- but apparently JetBlue's cross-country flights got exponentially more expensive this week.... and Katie insists that the dogs won't be able to wait until Friday to see him.  So off he will go later tonight, and join his producing partners back East to cross fingers for the ballot results.

One exception to the "try" rule: we did have one friend legitimately try to make it, only to be foiled by an automotive breakdown.  She and her husband spent the screening waylaid on the side of the highway waiting for Triple A.  But then, to be fair, she neversaid "Try"-- she told us "I will be there", and "try" turned out to be an unfortunate circumstantial epilogue.  So remember: as Yoda says, Do or do not.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mercedes, Mexicans and Miracle Fish

Day 3 was madness. Once again our team split up for maximum coverage. Adam took in the Japanese Vacation; the very American "To Live and Die in LA" shorts; and the jam-packed, standing-room only 16 To Life--by far the best-attended feature to date. Adam reports on some fine acting from their young cast, and solid storytelling by director Becky Smith.

On the shorts: Adam says they lived up to their thematic grouping. Deeply immersed in the L.A. experience, these were tales of industry people struggling with industry jobs and the toll taken on their non-industry families. A notable and joyous exception was "Dockweiler", which was about two dudes picking up trash on the beach. (Actually, it was a layered, character-driven piece about the struggle between redemption and rage.) Special mention should also be given to “Animated American”, a painstakingly crafted love note to the dying art of hand-drawn animation.

Katie, meanwhile, hit Taking the WaeWae Express (New Zealand) and the "Growing Pains" shorts, which contained her two favorite pieces yet: Luke Doolan’s "Miracle Fish" and Destin Cretton’s "Short Term 12". Both these films screened at Sundance previously-- no surprise given their surehanded styles and unimpeachable quality. "Fish", a visual masterwork from Australia, follows a solitary eight-year-old on his birthday as he discovers his school mysteriously deserted. Spare, haunting, yet utterly crisp, it kept the audience riveted frame to frame. Cretton’s semi-autobiographical "12" was a messier affair but no less fascinating: a guidance counselor at a teen halfway house struggles with maintaining order in the broken world of his young charges. Unsentimental but deeply empathetic, there was not one false note struck.
Nicholas, meanwhile, had great things to say about the Mexican feature Teo's Journey, about a 10-year old who gets separated from his father at a border crossing. Next was the World Premiere of A Deal Is A Deal, starring Mackenzie Crook of “The Office” fame (U.K. version). Deal sported some sterling performances from its pedigreed British cast (Colm Meany, Imelda Staunton, and Quantum of Solace’s Gemma Arterton), anchored by the eminently watchable Crook.

But, of course, none of us have yet learned how to divide ourselves into two or three people, so there were a couple heartbreaker decisions. We’re upset we missed Russo-Young’s You Won’t Miss Me starring Stella Schnabel, given the glowing reviews from other filmmakers. Adam and Katie met the lovely team behind Fiona’s Script, only to learn that their film had been cruelly scheduled opposite the juggernaut Mercedes-Benz gala, held at the Method Fest corporate sponsors' Calabasas dealership. (Fiona’s people: we’re sorry we didn’t make it!)

That said, the party itself was pretty darn entertaining. All the gals got dressed to the nines-- Katie wore something besides jeans for the first time since she got to LA--and we got to see a little of that famous L.A. plastic surgery on parade. The boys, meanwhile, ran the gamut from sharp suits (Adam) to stylishly scruffy (Nicholas). Impoverished indie filmmakers sipping free drinks amidst Benzes they couldn’t in five lifetimes afford to buy-- if that’s not a metaphor of some sort, we don’t know what is. Bottoms up!

Stay tuned, because the next entry will be a doozy: the main event: when If You Could Say It In Words takes its Method Fest bow!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Best Film I've Seen In Two Years

Yesterday was a minor whirlwind of films at the fest.  With Adam's flight delayed, Katie and I split up between venues to see as much as we could and support the other filmmakers.  It left us with some tough choices.

First I caught a festival of shorts that included one really spectacular film set in Mumbai.  It was called "Andheri", directed by Sushrut Jain.  I will be keeping an eye out for that name in the future.  It reminded me a little of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - so naturalistic that its drama seems to come zipping in from nowhere and catches you off guard.  Another name to watch for is Alex Fazeli, who made a short so perposterously good on a technical level with only 4 days and $26,000 that I can't figure out how he managed.  His short got him signed and I'm sure we will see his name soon,  (This program of shorts also contained the worst short film I can imagine, I won't mention it by name... but it made Righteous Kill look like Raging Bull.)

Katie saw a program of shorts called Addicted To Death (they are all themed) that included a particularly disturbing piece called Coverage.  It evoked the same kind of social critique as Haneke's Funny Games; not for everyone's taste, but will evoke a visceral reaction all the same.  Also of note were the visually stunning "Welgunzer" by Bradford Schmidt and the black comedy "Death In Charge" by Devi Snively.

Meanwhile I was faced with the difficult choice of seeing the world premiere of Anytown starring Matt O'Leary (The Brain in Brick) which was getting strong buzz for the lead performance, or the new Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck movie Sugar which had already screened at Toronto and Sundance and opens wide soon.  It seems like I should have gone to Anytown, but after the shorts I just watched I wasn't feeling up for a story about hate crimes in middle-America.  Plus I really really wanted to see Sugar.  I heard some great things in the lobby about the one I missed, but I cannot say I am disappointed in my decision...

Sugar is hands down the best thing I've seen this year and easily better than anything I saw all of last year.  This list could go back farther, but I don't want to waste time list-making.  The movie follows the life/career of a teenage baseball prospect in the Dominican Republic as he gets plucked to come to the U.S. and work his way through the minor league system.  This is the best baseball movie ever made, and somehow it's not even about baseball.  (Those of you about to invoke the holy trinity of Bull DurhamField of Dreams, and The Natural can save your breath... they aren't even close!)  This is arguably the best sports movie I've ever seen, and might just be the best movie on the immigrant experience I've seen.  As spare and minimalist as Gone With The Wind is sweeping and epic, it makes their last film -- the excellent Half Nelson -- look like a mere test run for their talent.

Afterwards, I am glad I was on tap for a series of shorts again as I could not have done another feature in the wake of that movie.  This batch was exceptional: a fantastic piece with Sir Derek Jacobi (in a SHORT!!) called "Sydney Turtlebaum" that will be expanded to a feature soon, an hysterical short called "Cute Couple" that is playing its well-deserved umpteenth festival (and I was surprised to find out an old friend as one of the stars!); a well-written and quite troubling piece about an adopted son who won't talk to his birth-mother called "birth date"; and a simple but exquisitely executed little comedy called "Old Dogs" about a trio of Cocoon-aged bowlers who stumble across a bag of cocaine and try to find a buyer for it so they can supplement their social security.  These were the perfect end to the evening for me.

Katie and Adam caught the feature Stephanie's Image and a short piece called "Open Your Eyes" that they have both been raving about.  Despite the great things I saw, I am instantly jealous after hearing their praise for this one.  Maybe I can talk the filmmakers into giving me a screener...

We got a mention today on -- nothing you probably don't know already, but it's exciting to be on their radar.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Opening Night, Adam, and more ASD meetings

So yesterday was opening night, where the feature screening was a movie called "Adam" starring Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne.  Adam first screened at Sundance, where it was picked up by Fox Searchlight and will get theatrical distribution in a platform release starting in July and going nationwide by Labor Day.

The particularly intriguing thing about this movie, for me, is that it is from another writer-director who independently about five years ago came up with the following plot for a movie: a young woman trying to sort out the direction in her life has a chance encounter with a fascinating but strange young man.  She falls in love with him, but his Asperger's Syndrome makes a normal relationship difficult.

Wow, huh?  Sound familiar?

Needless to say, I have been insanely curious about this movie.  How much will it overlap with ours?  Will they be direct competition or will the two pieces be complimentary contrasting views of the same topic?  I asked everyone I knew who saw it at Sundance what it was like, and went google searching for clips.  I also tried writing to Max Mayer (writer-director) to see if we could chat.

Apparently Fox Searchlight prevented us getting in touch, but before the screening we found each other and had a really great bit of conversation.  Two of his producers were there, Leslie and Miranda, who could not have been nicer; they even threw us a plug during their Q&A.  With luck, this means a lot of people will go see both films to get their own comparison/contrast between the two.

And in great news, for both projects, they really are extremely different, both in tone and purpose.  I think much of this difference grows out of the fact that their aspie character has been diagnosed.  He is fully aware of his condition and has a certain amount of support structure in place to help him cope with the difficulties it can present.  He is able to explain Apserger's to his paramour early on; she gets to read up on it.  The movie does a nice job of explaining in good detail what is going on as the couple works to overcome the challenges.  

In ours, Nelson has never been diagnosed, only ostracized.  His coping mechanism is nothing more than an often insufficient ability to mimic the neurotypical people around him.  His network of support is non-existent, as is his ability to explain himself.  As a result, we wind up telling a wildly different story, despite the overlap in plot points.  I told Max, it's like being in an art class and seeing the way the guy on the other side of the room painted the bowl of fruit -- a completely different persepctive, and a completely different interpretation.

That said, it was weird to see that we occasionally made very similar choices in terms of sound design or certain camera angles as a way to capture the life of an aspie when he's alone.  There was an issue with the screening print, so I wish I could tell you more about the look of the movie.  But I can tell you that Hugh Dancy was quite good playing the title role.  His is a more open and obvious expression of AS than in our movie, as befits the character he was playing.  What I liked most is how delicately he handled a character who is aware of his own miscues and still powerless to control them.  Rose Byrne, as always, looks stunning even when playing a modest every-girl.  They made a nice choice to have her in too much makeup a lot of the time, which lent her a sense of insecurity that is not easily associated with an otherwise beautiful woman.  Amy Irving is fantastic in a small role, and I am happy any time I get to see Frankie Faison's work.  Also, I am jealous of Deb Talan being on their soundtrack.

On the whole, Adam is almost exactly the movie I specifically told our cast we were not making (not because it is in any way bad, just because it was not our movie); so I am glad to see that the people who did make that movie made it very well.  It is genuinely heart-warming and very sweet; it will make a terrific date movie and will serve to create a positive awareness of AS that has been sorely lacking in our culture.

As for the rest of opening night: I got to meet several more filmmakers that I missed at yesterday's party, including some random connections from Philly and NYC.  One actress who is out here with her movie is friends with Marin and had heard about this project two years ago!  Also, Jon Tenney was here last night.  He has been in a number of movies, including one of my favorites You Can Count On Me.  But he is probably best known currently for his work on The Closer as Kyra Sedgwick's husband (also my favorite character on the show, so I enjoyed meeting him).

And lastly, I had the chance to talk recently with a couple of behaviorists who work with autistic children.  Both run sizeable and well-known clinics in the L.A. area.  The process called ABA is quite controversial in the ASD community: proponents argue that is creates essential life skills for people on the spectrum so they can be more independent, whereas detractors say it is a cruel, Pavlovian way to try and force autistics to act more "normal".  One of these conversations in particular, with Dr. Ronald Leaf, was utterly fascinating.  I will not write about it here in detail, as this is already a long post.  But I will give you this highlight: I listened to one of the pioneers of ABA absolutely eviscerate the ABA industry in this country!  His words: 95% of what's being practiced out there is "bad ABA"; it's a robotic, cookie cutter approach that doesn't really address the needs of the child as a whole person.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The OC and a party -- unrelated

The meet'n'greet last night was fun.  Several bands played (some very good, other less so).  The party was on the grounds of a living museum (obviously, after they had closed for the day... otherwise the lights and PA system would have been WAY out of place), but this meant there was an area with horses and sheep and other farmland creatures.  The band up when I got there was a zydeco outfit.  I was in my element!  So I grabbed my little gift bag and a margarita, and promptly ditched the other filmmakers to go see the horses for a while.

PaSean Wilson, who plays Lucy in the movie, joined me.  We did a little interview about the movie (that hopefully an be heard over the band who was playing at the time), and then circulated about to see who we could meet from the other projects.  Some unintentional comedy happens when you are in a circle of people and everyone has just gotten all twinkle-eyed over the hilarious synopsis of one person's movie; then they ask me what ours is about and suddenly everyone turns all serious -- like the pastor caught them passing notes in church.  The trailers for a bunch of the movies here were being projected onto the side of a barn, so I eventually learned to just point at the right time and say "That one."  

I was keeping an eye out for Max Mayer, from the movie "Adam" -- which is also about a man on the autism spectrum who falls in love.  It is interesting to me that two movies with similar plot but starkly different tones are on the circuit at the same time.  But he will not arrive until tonight in time for his screening.

In news from my outreach work, I met with a support group in Orange County, led by a woman with Asperger's who now works with aspie kids.  A couple of the parents and I had a long talk over coffee about several issues, mostly pertaining to the way the law covers services.  For exampl, there has been a lot of proposed legislation around the country lately that would make services for people on the spectrum more widely covered by state insurance laws, but a great deal of bickering over what services should be included in that coverage.  It would be easy to see this as a bunch of petty differences that need to be put aside to get the bill passed.... UNTIL you hear these mothers discuss the finite but critical difference of therapy that helps with problems that are intrisically damaging to a child (such as self-injury or gaining the proper respect for the dangers of traffic) as opposed people who want to use aversion techniques (read as borderline abusive) to force people with ASD to make more eye contact than they feel comfortable with.

I am off to the gym before Katie arrives today and I move my base of operations from Greg's couch in Hollywood to a hotel near Calabasas.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

METHOD FEST UPDATE: Dennis Lehane, writer of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and the Scorsese movie Shutter Island will be officially presenting our movie at Method Fest!  We're honored and thrilled to have Mr. Lehane introduce our film this Sunday night.   We can only assume he will say nice things.

Meeting with F.A.C.T.

One of the highlights of a festival for me if the chance to do some outreach in the autism community; I'll be posting a couple of updates on those meetings here during the week. 

First, I had the chance to meet with a wonderful group called F.A.C.T.  They have programs for both younger and older children, where the kids can work on socializing in low pressure environments and with other kids who are on the spectrum.  

I met with parents during the younger children's time.  They were such a supportive group.  A new family with an autistic child had just moved to town, and the mothers were helping answer questions about school districts and suppport services, as well as dealing with some employees at Disneyland who did not want to extend the ADA help to autistic families.  They talked to me about a therapy with which I am not familiar known as RDI and shared some of the stories about receiving mis-diagnosis before getting diagnosis.

The older group met later.  Those kids work on, among other things, public address.  They write and perform presentations for schools on what autism is to help the student bodies acclimate to their students who are on the spectrum.  The kids were really great, and several shared their presentations with me (which were fantastic!  if you have a school that could benefit from their visit, contact them.), and then we talked for a while about their feelings on the way ASD is usually portrayed in film and TV.  These kids find the overblown representations commonly found really grating and even insulting.  They were more eloquent on the topic than I am able to reproduce here.  It was especially flattering towards our movie to hear them praise Alvin's work so highly.

I can't thank them enough for allowing me into their meeting, and for sharing their work and their feelings.  Very inspiring.  Several said they were coming to the screening this weekend, which is exciting.  I really hope they take time to meet the NT attendees.  We get used to those same exaggerated representations we see on screen all the time; it might help to meet some actual people on the sspectrum and see what they are really like.

I will post again soon about the Orange County Aspie Support Group, and a fascinating conversation I had with leading ABA proponent Dr. Ronald Leaf at Autism Partnership.  For now I have to get ready for the filmmakers' meet'n'greet tonight.

...WORDS at Method Fest

... been a while since we rapped at ya, as Mr. Hightower would say, but that's because we have been planning for the next big screening!

 If You Could Say It In Words is coming to the L.A. area!  We'll be making our West Coast Premiere at The Method Fest in Calabasas on Sunday March 29, 7 pm. [TICKETS].  Writer/Director Nicholas Gray is in LA as we speak, meeting with three different autism / Asperger's Syndrome groups.  Monday was a terrific session with F.A.C.T.; Tuesday will be the Orange County Asperger's Syndrome Meetup Group, and Wednesday he has a private Q&A session with controversial author Dr. Ronald Leaf. 

Tune in right here as we give you the day-by-day rundown... 
Wish us luck-- and if you're in the area, Angelenos, come on up & see us on Sunday!