Beasts of the Southern Wild – Nominated for Best Picture Oscar!

Beasts of the Southern Wild has been nominated for Best Picture! I had a chance to interview director Benh Zeitlin over the summer and write about the film for On Tap.

Beasts was a labor of love for Zeitlin – he spent two years editing it – and the film features non-actors in lead roles, like Quvenzhané Wallis, who was nominated for an Oscar for an Actress in a Leading Role. This brave little kid is the heart and soul of the movie, the eyes through which we experience the story.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a crazy film and unlike anything else you’ll see all year.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – Now on DVD

beasts of the southern wildBeasts of the Southern Wild is now on DVD!

One of the most unusual movies of 2012, this film is magical realism in the swamps of Louisiana. I had a chance to see a preview when it came out and interview director Benh Zeitlin – check out my article in On Tap. The movie was a labor of love for Zeitlin and the local folks who helped create this unique film.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is unlike any other film that came out last year. While it has an environmental theme, it does not hit you over the head with it like some graceless Al Gore production. It’s a story of family survival and holding onto your home – even if it’s a shack in the bayou.

Behind the Screens – Read it for Film Festival Secrets

Behind the ScreensDo you dream of walking down the red carpet? Want to see your film on a big screen?

Then get Behind the Screens, the new book by Jon Gann that uncovers what film festival programmers really think. Gann, the founder of the DC Shorts Film Festival, has interviewed the directors of top festivals from around the country, including:

• Ashland Independent Film Festival
• Byron Bay International Film Festival
• CineSlam/Pride of the Ocean
• DC Shorts Film Festival
• LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival
• Napa Valley Film Festival
• New York Film Festival
• Prescott Film Festival
• Razor Reel Fantastic Film Festival
• Scottsdale Film Festival
• Seattle International Film Festival
• Sonoma International Film Festival
• Sundance Film Festival
• Tallgrass Film Festival
• Washington Jewish Film Festival

Every film festival is different. Rather than blindly submitting your film to every festival you’ve ever heard of (and paying hundreds in submission fees), spend $20 to get this book. Do some research and target the right festival for your film. Behind the Screens reveals what programmers are really looking for, in their own words.

Full disclosure – I’m a friend of Jon’s and have been a judge for DC Shorts for years. DC Shorts is unique in that anyone can volunteer to be a judge. The films selected reflect an urban sensibility and a preference for comedy. A lengthy documentary on deforestation wouldn’t be a good choice for DC Shorts while a “meet-cute” flick set in Dupont Circle would be ideal.

Other festivals have their own unique attributes, shaped by the festival director and the audience. They have their own culture. Which is why it makes sense to get a book like Behind the Screens, where you get narrative information beyond what you will find in a directory of film festivals.

V/H/S: A Horror Flick for the YouTube Generation

vhsIn the latest issue of On Tap, I have an article on V/H/S, a new horror anthology that opens this week. In this bloody collection of short films, a group of thieves come across a stack of mysterious videocassettes, each more disturbing than the last.

Lots o’ blood, gore, genital removal, sex, nudity, impaling, screaming, running and shakycam. But if you’re into that kind of thing, then this is the movie for you.

I screened the movie on a laptop and had the chance to interview Joe Swanberg, one of the directors of V/H/S. His short film is pretty interesting – it’s a horror flick told by Skype, where you watch a guy and his girlfriend chat online, as things steadily go wrong. Directing two actors who were both on the screen for the entire movie was a real challenge, according to Swanberg.

It’s always interesting talking to directors – Swanberg shared the thrill of seeing his flick on the screen at Sundance. When he heard the shocked gasps of 800 people in a theater, he knew he had succeeded.

Lawless: Moonshiners Go to War

Lawless poster with Tom HardyFinally, a movie where northerners are the bad guys.

It’s Lawless, an action flick about Prohibition-era moonshiners starring Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy plus sexy redhead Maggie Chastain.

I had a chance to see a preview of this new film and interview Matt Bondurant, author of The Wettest County in the World. It’s the story of his family, the wild and apparently indestructible Bondurants of Franklin County, VA.

See my article in On Tap for my take on this great new flick.

Interview with Morgan Spurlock, Director of Mansome

Morgan Spurlock
Morgan Spurlock

What makes a man?

I had a chance to interview Morgan Spurlock for On Tap magazine. The director of Super Size Me discusses his new documentary Mansome, which explores male vanity in modern America.

From beard contests to the epidemic of manscaping, being a dude has become a lot more complicated.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – A Mad Fever Dream of a Movie

Check out my article on Beasts of the Southern Wild for On Tap. It’s one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve seen all year. Set among a crew of misfits in the Louisiana swamps, it’s a harrowing look at environmental calamity, with the type of real-life danger that you rarely see in films these days.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Born on the Bayou

On Tap Magazine
July 2012

Opening July 6th, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a mad fever dream of a movie, filled with evocative images that will remain in your consciousness long after the film has ended.

Beasts of the Southern WildThis eco-drama was a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the top award for dramatic (fiction) film and for cinematography. Beasts of the Southern Wild has also been honored by the Cannes Film Festival.

“This is a simple movie about fighting for your home,” says director Benh Zeitlin.

The movie follows Hushpuppy, a six-year-old girl who lives with her father in a swamp community of rebels and misfits. Played by Quvenzhané Wallis, she is fierce heroine who struggles to keep her father alive and survive environmental catastrophe. Playing amid broken glass, rooting pigs and wandering drunkards, she is braver and stronger than any first-grader you have ever met.

Casting non-actors like Wallis is one of many risky decisions made by Zeitlin. For his first feature film, he violated the unwritten rule that directors should avoid working on water or with child actors.

Beasts of the Southern Wild embodies the can-do spirit of the Louisiana bayou, where it was filmed. Everyone involved in the film pitched in, providing boats and suggesting locations, in a community still struggling from the impact of Hurricane Katrina.

“We invited chaos in intentionally,” Zeitlin said, describing the makeshift filmmaking process.

Beasts of the Southern Wild was a labor of love for Zeitlin, a project that he spent two years editing. Over time, the story focused more and more on Wallis – she literally carries the film on her tiny shoulders. There is already Oscar talk around her striking performance.

A coming of age story and a tale of a community’s survival, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a crazed American jalopy of a movie. Packed with stunning imagery of the Louisiana bayous, Beasts of the Southern Wild is the harrowing saga of a little girl trying to survive in a world where the ground is literally disappearing beneath her feet.


Alpha Wins AU Visions Short Screenplay Contest

I was fortunate to be a judge for the short screenplay category of the American University Visions 2012 competition. As an AU grad and screenwriter, I was glad to help.

In past years, my fellow judges and I agonized over the decision-making process. This year, it was easy. We all agreed on one script.

That screenplay was Alpha by Christina Pamies. She wrote a thought-provoking science fiction script about alternate dimensions. In her story, people have found a way to travel from the “alpha” and “beta” worlds, encountering different and less perfect versions of themselves. Alternate Services is responsible for returning these “rogues” to their own dimension.

Alpha by Christine Pamies

It’s hard to write a sci-fi story that you haven’t seen a hundred times before. Alpha kept my interest, especially as I realized that our world was the “beta” reality. Pamies did a great job at making this concept seem plausible and tragic.

One of the other judges described the script as “emotionally mature” which was an apt description. While the scenario was sci-fi, characters grappled with outlandish problems of identity and reality like actual people would. In other words, it’s believable, the most important test for science fiction.

See the rest of the winners of Visions 2012.

Also of note is Pretty All the Time by Annie Coburn, which won for Outstanding Narrative Production. This is a great script too – it won the 2009 DC Shorts Screenplay Competition – and now has begun its life as a short film on the festival circuit.