PFF 2006 - Awards Ceremony

Bruce & Connie Dellis

Arizona Filmmaker of the Year 2006

All I have to say about the PFF 2006 awards ceremony is get on with it! It was an hour of dancing and music followed by a handful of awards, followed by more music, a few awards, music, etc. and on and on. The band wasn't bad, it was the waiting that was bad, and we weren't even up for any awards. It wasn't until midnight that the ceremony wrapped up, three hours after it started.

On to the awards, here are my highlights:

  • Brian and Dean Ronalds won Best AZ Short Film for Little Victim. This was well-deserved. Not only was it a great film, but they broke through in bringing some big-name talent to the valley.
  • Bruce Dellis won AZ Filmmaker of the Year. Bruce wrote and directed two great films that won in Screen Wars last year, along with writing the aforementioned Little Victim, Netherbeast which was all over film festivals last year, and the upcoming Netherbeast feature film. Why does he still have a day job?!
  • Andrew Jenks, Room 335 won Best Feature. This was absolutely the right choice, but it was major drama in getting the award. They had already given on Best Documentary and Audience Award to other films, at which point I thought AJR3 was out of the running. I assumed Best Feature referred to narrative films only. I guess not. Andrew himself was looking a bit dejected, likely thinking the same thing, up to the point they called his name to close out the night. We all took turns talking to Andrew in the down time between awards, and he was a great guy. This film is going to have a long run at the festivals, and he's already starting to get outright invitations. Beyond that, I'm sure he'll continue to make great films.

PFF 2006 - Andrew Jenks, Room 335

The premise for for Andrew Jenks, Room 335 was immediately engaging:

Just like the other residents at the assisted living facility Harbor Place,
I played bingo, hung out in the courtyards contemplating “the golden years,” and
even helped fellow neighbors change their oxygen tanks. However, unlike Tammy
(age 95) or even Bill (age 80), I am only 19-years-old.

My name is Andrew Jenks and this past summer I moved into a senior
residence in Florida. I moved into room 335. For one summer I did all of the
things that old people do. By the end of the summer, I had formed unimaginable
bonds with some of the greatest, and oldest, people that life has to offer. I
came to realize that it is in such friendships and the spirit in which you live
that meaning is to be found.

So, we planned to check it out and saw this documentary last Saturday night. This film really delivered the goods. Wonderful characters, plenty of humor, touching human interest, a bit of social commentary, and some truly unsettling real-life drama. Andrew Jenks is a real 19 year old, and he really did spend five weeks in an assisted living facility. While there he sees the good and the bad that goes on there (mostly the good, this isn't a film with an overt social message, and focuses on the wonderful people there), and leaves us with a lot to think about.

This film is a prime example of how story and character can carry a film beyond any technical limitations, of which there were many. Bad audio, shaky camerawork (even when tripod-shot oddly), bad lighting, bad exposure, bad color balance, cameras in view of other camera, microphones being bumped around, microphones in view of the camera, this thing was an absolute mess... and it didn't matter one bit, because you come away with a real affection for the elderly subjects of the film and a true respect for the young kid who devoted his time to this story.


Days of Being Wrinkle Free, Part IV

Since the last DoBWF post, I've done a number of editing passes through the footage, tightening up the edits, replacing shots, adding some insert shots between the major sequences, and generally tweaking unsteady/off-balance shots. At first, the chip scenes were cut, then one was added back, and now I am going to add some parts of all the chips scenes back in. Not where they were originally envisioned (which just won't work), but redefining what the scenes mean and putting them in different places.

I am also compiling a list of references found in the film. So far, I have found 16 references to Wong Kar Wai (mostly to Chungking Express) , and 7 references to the Cleary music video (it was unavoidable). I'm definitely interested in putting together a little behind the scenes video that shows the references side by side. There's no shame it. It was our intention from the start.

Finally, I was looking back at a post from November that has some stills of the final Tim Nm, CPA scene in the laundromat. Now that DoBWF is almost done, I'm excited to see the end of Tim Nm and how it will flow right from that dramatic and funny final scene into DoBWF. It's going to be pretty cool.

PFF 2006 - American Dreamz

I'll admit it, we saw American Dreamz Saturday night because of our addiction to American Idol. We know it's a guilty pleasure, so we're comfortable watching it while also checking out this film that satires the whole concept. Pop idol contests are but one half of this film, along with a plot line about a goofball president the puppet of his staff.

The film was good, but missed its potential. It never went over the top into parody-land and got really funny, and it never really took a chunk out of someone with a well-done bit of biting satire. It just sort of meandered along on a decent, somewhat novel premise.

Hugh Grant, Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe, Marcia Gay Harden, they were all passable, not outstanding. Dennis Quaid was a cut above as the pres, if only because the character arc gives him some redemption as he transcends his buffoonery to some semblance of reality, while seemingly everyone else in the film sells out and shows their despicable sides.

Perhaps the funniest parts of the film were the depictions of the terrorist training camp that produces one of the pop idol contestants, and the sleeper cell that contacts him when he arrives in the US. It's five years after 9/11 and perhaps it's time someone went there, not that it is explored for anything more than its comedic potential. Yet, for this and the reasons above, I doubt the film will make a splash beyond its $19M budget.


PFF 2006 - Last of the Spanish Mustangs

Sunday night we saw Last of the Spanish Mustangs. This is a documentary by local filmmaker Len Johnson. The film looks at horse slaughter in the U.S. (mostly for European countries where horse meat is a delicacy), particularly the slaughter of wild horses rounded up on public lands.

I have to give major respect to Len for making this films. It cost him a lot of money out of pocket and put him in a lot of dangerous situations, from confronting those selling wild horses to slaughter to connecting with the horses themselves in the wild. It was a real labor of love, very genuine, and he does get his message across.

However, I can't say this was a great documentary. Too much of Len's TV background comes through, and it comes across as an overly long local TV special, not a film in its own right. Much of the humor just doesn't fly, and I think some of the better arguments that could be made for protecting the mustangs were left unexplored (perhaps focusing on the biological uniqueness and scarcity of the horses, rather than condemning horse slaughter and consumption outright?). He reveals a lot of shady government and business activities related to the horses. Yet, we already know the government and big business are shady. I kept waiting for a compelling argument and found none. At the same time, the emotional connection with the horses was scattered throughout the film, lessening the impact it might have.

Last of the Spanish Mustangs is a good, not great documentary with a lot of heart.

PFF 2006 - IFP/PHX Shorts Program

Friday night was the IFP/PHX Shorts Program, and the Matter of Chance extended family was in attendance. In addition to nine films in the Dead of Winter challenge, they showcased two other shorts: Chris Lamont's Paychecked! and AZSA/PFP collaboration Romey & Jules.

Paychecked! was a hit. This short documentary explored the world of the omnipresent payday loan stores, their outrageous interest rates, and the people that frequent them. It was upbeat and funny, not overly preachy, and fast-paced, fun to watch even if you never thought about these stores before. Good selection of music, too.

Romey & Jules was a melodramatic love story about the forbidden love between a mime and a clown. Immediately recognizable was Kirby Soderberg, of Pantomiming fame. Kirby was also in attendance, and we got to meet him after the program. Nice guy, much younger than I expected.

Of the Dead of Winter films, the first film (the name escapes me) caught my attention. It was stark black and white with great cinematography and editing. It featured a rambling yet rapid-fire poetic voiceover that spanned the whole film non-stop. Quite a mouthful. And who should show up in the credits but Justin Ward, the legendary and reclusive local filmmaker behind Manscare. I didn't catch in what capacity he contributed to this film, but it all made more sense when we saw his name.

It was good to be back at a PFP event. It's been five months since the Screen Wars award ceremony. Things are really looking up for this year.


PFF 2006 - Arizona Shorts Program B

On Sunday afternoon Brock, Angie, and I checked out the Arizona Shorts Program B.

The big draw was the Ronalds Brothers film, Little Victim. This local short film, written by Bruce Dellis, was a big step up for the Dean and Brian, their first film on 35mm. It stars Robert Wagner and Lori Singer, along with locals Laura Durant and the aforementioned Brian. This is a big deal, about as big as they come in Phoenix. Sure, major motion pictures occassionally film here and bring big stars (okay, very rarely), but this time it was the locals putting on the show, bringing in the big names.

The film premiered last August, but was sold out by the time I tried to get tickets. This was our first time seeing it. The plot synopsis is wonderfully intruiging without giving away a single plot point. So, we knew it had to be good, but every second was a pleasant surprise. Here is an talky ensemble piece, all of Bruce's wonderfully dry humor, completely absurd, thoroughly engaging, and hilarious. It was a great short film in just about every way. Great writing, acting, cinematography, sound, and even a few effects. What more could you want?

Another standout was Reflect, a moody reflection on memory and loss, with excellent cinematography and direction. I came in a few minutes into the 20 minute film, so maybe I didn't follow everything, but I doubt the missing minute or two would have filled in the gaps. The film was intentionally elusive, like a prolonged dream. Well done, total suspension of disbelief, which is sometimes tough to come by in local shorts.

The other notable was In the Eye of the Beholder: The Diane De Vries Story, about a woman born with no arms and no legs. She's quite the character, has led quite a life (Masters from USC, talented social worker), and gets around well. The scenes of her amazing improvisational activities to get through normal human functions were mezmerizing. In the end, she's probably overachieved based on her handicap, and its catching up to her. Currently, she's quite down on her luck, yet still optimistic. A well done local documentary, probably just the right length for the subject.


Rendezvous, Part V

Rendezvous screened tonight to a packed house at the IFP/PHX (formerly Phoenix Film Project) Shorts program at the Phoenix Film Festival. It was well received many, understood by some, and took home the award for Best Ensemble. Congrats to Brock, Gabe, Micah, and Angie (and William Jennings, I hope we can find this guy). I don't count (I was a voice for goodness sake).

It was nice to be back at a PFP event, the first major event since the Screen Wars season finale awards. Networking, schmoozing. It was good to meet Paul Santa Cruz, an enthusiastic filmmaker new to narrative films, director of Alone. Rendezvous will be screened again on Sunday morning.

The Micah Blowers Explosion

Farewell, Micah, it was great to have you around!

Next Tuesday I'll pick up the final mixes of Micah's album from Greg at Sound Tracks Studios in Mesa. From there, they'll go to Roger over at SAE for mastering.

Micah's album is a long time in coming. I always thought it was weird that for years Micah didn't have a computer or the Internet, but had a 16-track ADAT home studio in his basement. He had the gear to get it done, but it was rather low-tech. Most of the instruments were half-broken, duct-taped, or had other quirks. His cymbals are full of cracks, and holes he drilled to stop the cracks... and the music is great, not despite those problems, but likely because of it! The lo-fi instrumentation and recording techniques create an insane world of squawks and feedback.

Micah and his brother Justin (and the occasional friend) have been working on the songs for years. There are tracks that are five years old or more, and other tracks on the same songs that are recently written and recorded. There were reportedly 40 or so songs to pick from, and Micah chose 13 for the final album.

The sound is absolutely outrageous. So far I can't compare it to anything I have ever heard. Oh, there is the occasional part or two that conjures up Radiohead or Pink Floyd, but its momentary at best since Micah jumps from part to part in rapid-fire succession, like a madman driven to create and never repeat himself. Yet, the totality of the songs and album as a whole is unlike anything. Next to this, Radiohead or The Smashing Pumpkins seem completely precise, planned-out, and fine-tuned, even something like Paranoid Android seems cookie-cutter compared to the sonic assault of Micah's music.

Connecting Micah with Greg was a good step in getting this album completed. Not only did it give Micah a deadline to work with, but put the project in the hands of someone with an outside perspective and great skill. Greg has proven to deliver in the past with Fatigo and Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl releases. With a little polish (just a little) to clean up the tracks and EQ them into some semblance of consistency and listenability, we get this album that retains a raw and original edge, with no technical barriers to disrupt the listenability and acceptance of this as a professional album and work of art in its own right.

The final touch will be Roger's mastering: additional fine-tuning of EQ, application of compression, along with the fades, timing, and spacing to forge the album as a cohesive whole. It cannot be understated the positive influence Roger's tweaking will have on the album. He never fails to peel away subconscious sonic issues to reveal the essence of the music, like windexing a dirty mirror. After mastering, you will hear things you never heard in the music before, and there is a lot of layers in the music that demand to be heard. He'll make sure that you can, and that it translates across a variety of systems, from his custom-designed mastering studios, to your home theater, to the car, to the boombox. Also, the songs will just feel like a unit, smoothing out the differences inherent in tracks recorded years apart. The studio mixes were light years ahead of Micah's old home mixes, and the mastered tracks will be a similar leap in quality.

I believe the band name is 99% set on Interpose (though Micah never definitively made the call). The album title is moreso up in the air. At least the songs have names. We'll target September to release the album. If Micah can get a band together, there'll be at least an East Coast CD release show, if not one in AZ as well. I can't wait!


Snow Day 2006

Once in a while we do get some snow pretty darn close to this desert city. It happened a couple weeks ago. We headed up to Carefree to check it out. There were people everywhere, lining the streets for miles. Families building snowmen, frat boys building snowwomen, and snowball fights.

We loaded the trunk with snow and made special deliveries to friends and family. Check it out.


Sound Neg

Brock, I thought you might appreciate this article (page 5-6, POV). This guy shot on sound negative, intended to record optical sound, and it resulted in a crazy look.

IFC Media Lab Update

With seemingly no advanced notice on the IFC Media Lab web site, IFC began screening the first batch of top-rated films Wednesday night. A total of five films were screened. The March Media Lab Results show will be replayed nearly every day through the end of the month, with an April show to follow (and on and on, conceivably).

We didn't make the top ratings this time around, but there's always next month. Regardless of making the ratings (which are still all askew), most of our films have now been seen by over 100 people each. Intense Math, which has been camped out on the front page for some time now, has surpassed 500 views! That's good exposure, no matter how you cut it.


Rendezvous, Part IV

Rendezvous has been accepted for the Phoenix Film Project's Dead of Winter screening at the Phoenix Film Festival. The film will be screened as part of the IFP/PHX Shorts program on Friday, March 24, 8:35pm, and Sunday, March 26, 9:35am (click screening date and time to purchase tickets). Awards will be presented at the Friday screening.

A three-minute cut of the film will be screened (down from the original 4:18). It was tough to get it down, but as you might expect, it is very tight. Also, it is a high-quality version, much better on the audio and video sides than the version that was screened at the A3F.

Shan Pin Koh

I recently got an email from an old friend I haven't heard from in eight years. I knew Shan Pin Koh when he was a high school student in Malaysia. We'd chat about the Smashing Pumpkins and Malaysian swap meets where he could pick up trays of Intel processors and memory on the cheap. Later, he attended the University of Michigan where I almost got him deported over an MP3 scandal.

It's 2006. He's back. He's taking some great photographs.


Spring Is Here

Looks innocent, doesn't it? They all do.

Last night I took Micah down to Mesa to get started mixing his album. I was tempted to hang out at the studio and observe, but I didn't want to be the interfering record industry guy (yeh, right!). Anyway, I had a few things to do, so I checked in, and headed back out.

I hit the post office and dropped off an eBay sale. Next, I hit Mill Avenue. My destination was Borders Books to find a copy of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly for Micah. He used to be in a band by that name, but doesn't want to call his current project that. For one, this is a different project. More importantly, there is a film adaptation of the book coming out. It could be good, or it could suck (stars Keanu). Either way, it will seem like a rip-off, and no one will care that he's used the name for years.

That being said, Micah does need a name and need it fast. He's been searching other books for inspiration (such as 1984, from which he got the potential band name "Interpose" and the potential album title "Courage + Cowardice," both of which have since been scrapped), but figured why not go back to the original source? I have been hunting around for the book, been to a number of stores, and no one seems to carry it. The synopsis is a mindmelter, I can't wait to read it myself.

Anyway, I struck out at Borders and headed down Mill to find a bite to eat. A block down I feel something fall on my shoulder. At first I thought it was a leaf from a tree and brushed my shoulder... and got a handful of bird crap! Man, was I pissed! I was surprised how mad it made me to get pooped on. There I am on Mill walking around with crap all over me.

I went back to the parking garage in hopes that there was another piece of clothing in the car, but there wasn't. So, I cleaned it up as much as I could, turned it inside out, and went back up to find a new shirt. I went into Hippie Gypsy, considering a Bob Marley shirt, only to realize I am just not cool enough to pull off the "stoner" look. Over to Urban Outfitters were I debated between a shirt with a disassembled Fender Strat on it (said "Ensemble"), or one with a toddler working some turntables (said "Teach Them Well"). This time I realized that I'm not cool enough to pull off the "hip hop" look, so I opted for the guitar. I ducked into the Valley Art bathroom and changed, tossing the soiled t-shirt.

As if it wasn't bad enough, I didn't even find anything on Mill I wanted to eat, and the used book store across the street from Borders ended up being closed. There was no point in my walking down Mill in the first place, and no need to get crapped on.

Now, I'm told that Mill is like that every Spring. The sidewalks are caked in the crap, it's a real health hazard! Anyway, that's how I learned that Spring is here.



Gabriel Loyer - The Arc

I was perusing the Matter of Chance Productions web site today, and something hit me about one actor, Gabriel Loyer.

He starts out playing good guys—victims, even—in I'm Not Crazy, The Glove Box, Outside In, and Intense Math. Then, he begins what seems like a string of bad guys, leaving a trail of carnage in his wake: Lelay in Winter's Day, a Sheriff's Henchman in Arizona Citizen, and Rupert Gallows in Rendezvous. Next, he'll be a drill sergeant of sorts (do I have this right?) in Filmic, a boxer who gets his due in Everlast, and finally Fidel Castro in Sierra Maestra.

Gabe is going to a dark, dark place. What up with that?


Days of Being Wrinkle Free, Part III

Well, I gave it a shot. I was dead tired last night, but I sat down and started hammering away at the footage, editing section after section, like some kind of editing machine. Unfortunately, the day got the best of me. I looked at the clock. 11:30pm. Halfway done with the edit after a couple of hours work. It just wasn't going to happen. Maybe next year.


Days of Being Wrinkle Free, Part II

It seems I keep watching the footage, but not getting a whole lot done. I'm way too left-brained to deal with this footage.

Hey, I did give a shot at giving it a structure. Made a call to Jeremy to consult, and broke up the footage into about fifteen sections. Started to go through section by section, then jumped to the end to see if having an ending together made the rest of it make sense. Then, gave up for a few days.

Well, the Inspiration Film Festival says they will take a look at "works in progress," so if I want to get it in, I have to hit it hard tonight. All the books say not to rush to meet a deadline, and to just wait until next year. However, to that I say, hey, I have never gotten anything done without a deadline, and we could really use the prize money (were it to get that far) this year.

Rendezvous, Part III

The latest on Rendezvous... The film screened Thursday, March 3 at the AMC Arizona Center 24 theater in downtown Phoenix to a sold-out audience of about 450 people. It finished 8th place overall out of the 56 films in competition. No awards this time around, unfortunately.

It would have been nice to win some awards, but we can look on the bright side. First and foremost, it was a blast to make the film. I think it's fair to say it's a much better film than AGTC was a year ago, so we continue to improve our skills and ability to work under pressure. I'm very proud of the film. Who knows, it might have done better if the visuals were not so hopelessly jacked up due to the compression compromises I had to make to get the film to tape the Sunday of the competition. The final version looks and sounds light years better.

8th place out of 56 films is actually better overall than last year's 5th place out of 21 films. Really, there was some stiff competition. Some great films, certainly a major step above last year's crop, and by many of the same teams. Everyone is improving.

The award-winning films really didn't do it for me, but there were some major standouts. My favorite may well have been Agape by Irish Productions. The film was really fresh, honest, unassuming, and just fun and funny to watch. A real feel-good buddy film. Other notables were So Good, in the no-music-just-dry-humor vein. It may have been a bit long, but the long takes just added to the absurdity of it all. Very nice.

Of the more serious films, Disillusion really stood out to me. It had this strange tone throughout, you knew something was not right, but you didn't know what. The ending was beautifuly done with editing and music to hit an emotional point. The acting was perhaps a little over the top, but all in all, very effective. Infection was one that wasn't immediate likeable, but has been on my mind ever since. It actually did a good job of taking you out of the present day into its alternate world. The fireball was a little much, but the long rotating shot in the living room was well done, and the gas mask guy passionately playing piano was a true Fellini-esque touch, so absurd you have to kick yourself for not thinking of things like that.

There were other films I liked, as well. Our buddies Bob Rue and Brian Ronalds were in a horror spoof that was first class. I tend to appreicate all the little things, considering the time pressure these films were made under.

Further on Rendezvous, it still has a lot of life left in it. It will probably be featured tomorrow on undergroundfilm.org, and it has a good shot at making the Top 25 in the Phoenix Film Project's Dead of Winter challenge, which would get it screened twice at the upcoming Phoenix Film Festival and give it a shot at some awards.